I do not need to tell anyone, specially a parent, about our children. And yet it is sometimes worthwhile to be reminded of their real worth. Although Parenthood, like life itself, does not come with a set of instructions we have plenty who would guide us in all aspects of child rearing. We have enormous volumes dedicated to helping us decipher the ins and outs of raising children. So i am not going to repeat here what we can all find elsewhere. I am going to mention a few things we might keep in our minds, simple things, but important things.
Once they have entered our lives, convenience is no longer part of the journey. Children are incredibly inconvenient. Their needs appear in a variety of ways through sound mostly. For the first couple of years they fluctuate between being adorable and monstrous or gurgally cute and screamingly needy. Of course everyone knows this.
In the interests of keeping it simple. babies are incredibly plastic both physically and mentally. They are an infinite sponge for learning and can handle the small bumps and bruises of growing with ease. All we have to do is expose them to stuff and the natural order of things does the rest. In the beginning our presence is fully devoted to the baby's needs. Our reward is the warm fuzzy of unconditional love, and the baby's laugh and smile.
As the early bloom of child rearing nudges past the 2 year mark several things come to mind. We now enter the era of the EGO and Self Image. Ours and the Child's. Some have a natural gift for retaining contact with the developing child, some begin to lose it. Either way all of the things that will affect the child in their adult years begins to emerge and submerge. Imagine a secret compartment where stuff, a tiny bit at a time, gets stored. On the surface everything appears normal or almost normal. But later on the compartment springs a leak, at 12, 17, 24, 33, 38, even later. At every one of these leaky moments we get to learn about ourselves, readjust what we know about ourselves and move on with living.
As parents we can, if we learn soon enough, limit the size and content of the secret compartment. We can also help with the leaks when and if they occur. So, what is this magic elixir?
Before everything is Nutrition. Do not take the easy road. Wholesome, fresh, whole grain food. Variety, non-processed, balanced. Lots of color. Moderation, balance intake with activity. Limit artificial, limit preservatives, limit sweets. Chubby in the beginning translates to health issues later on. Do not fight over food. a missed meal or two does not translate into an issue or starvation. The body will over a span of a week demand what it needs. Pay attention and consciously guide the process.
Recognition. Children are needy. They always vie for attention. We often tend to immunize ourselves against this constant demand for attention by simple dismissal. "That's great Mamie, now I'm busy right now but I promise we'll do XXX together in a little while." "How was school today...do you have any homework?...Just a second I have to take this call" "Dinner time, where is everybody?" "That was great Bobby, Hey Jim how was golf today?"
Recognition, not at the surface level but at the human level. Listening, person to person, eye to eye. No interruptions, no digressions, no solutioning. Just non-judgmental paying attention. It is part of developing awareness and giving each moment its own unique attention, each child their own unique recognition.
Approval. A baby can do no wrong. We do not criticize a baby, problem solve for a baby, disapprove of a baby. Our basic expectation is a baby will talk and do stuff soon enough. Until then we just enjoy the process, moment by moment. The baby responds to this unconditional approval by developing every one of its natural abilities. We expose them to textures, colors, sounds, flavors, and visual delights, and we always approve of them at a very deep level. They intuitively find great joy at this moment in their lives.
Approval and recognition allow a child room to develop, explore and grow under a security blanket of self worth. As we demand more and more from the child we confuse teaching and guiding with a judgmental attitude, criticism. Criticism translates to disapproval which translates to "I am deficient in some way" which affects their self worth. Everyone learns differently. As an aware, observing, paying attention parent who approaches their child's world non-judgmentally, you can discover how the child learns most effectively and manage their strengths while slowly overcoming their weaknesses without threat. Awareness and the non-judgmental observer within you not only reduces drama in your own life, it eliminates unnecessary drama in your child's life.
Exploring. The child does not know what we parents know. So they explore, try stuff out, experiment, and make mistakes. While we look out for them and try to minimize any dangers they might experience, their exploring is a pretty ok thing to do. However the stuff they get into is often nerve racking for a parent. It is hard to stop the word NO from escaping our lips as we anticipate danger or disaster in the making. The awareness and non-judgmental observer skills we are developing help in most cases. If we can we try to teach decision making skills early on when the outcome for poor decisions are not life threatening.
Rescuing a child who forgot their lunch or lunch money. Bringing their books to school that you found on the table that morning. The forgotten jacket, boots or hat. These are moments when the outcome for forgetfulness is a safe consequence to experience.
Speaking of consequences, the over riding idea is that the child should experience the consequences of their decisions as early as possible. The parent must never be the consequence. The input from the parent is to insure, without judgement, lecture, or the urge to be right, the child is responsible. A simple example: The child is tired in the morning, gets up late, misses most of the breakfast, and forgets lunch or lunch money. About lunch time the child is really hungry and the school who has not learned the decision and consequences game, allows the child to call home. Mom simply acknowledges how hungry she would be if she had missed breakfast and lunch but she will make sure there is a healthy snack when the child gets home. No rescue, no lecture, child owns the problem and the consequence.
When Mom says clean the room, pick up your clothes, wash the mud off your shoes, come to dinner, do your homework or any of the other 10,000 things we ask the child to do to create a sense of ownership and responsibility, the unassuming rebellion must have consistent consequences. This type of consequence is different. It is more difficult to create a consequence and at the same time have the child accept ownership and responsibility for their decision (to do or not to do).
Of course the sitting down to dinner can be a fun thing and a great time for a family to connect. But if there are too many things going on maybe this can only happen once during the week and maybe on the weekend. Often this is creative marketing. Often children participating in creating and cleaning up is a good thing. Laundry however is potentially a different issue. We could solve all clothes issues by the child (when they are old enough) being responsible for one or two loads a week, including drying, ironing if needed, sorting and hanging up.
If we begin the process of teaching the child how to make decisions in their own best interests early enough, they will be able to make the tough ones later on. To drink or not to drink, to try the pill or not to try, to get in the car or call home, to study or not to study, to have sex or not to have sex......life decisions are sometimes difficult. It is good to be prepared.
To start out being a loving, caring, paying attention parent is a natural and beautiful thing. But, there is one truth we neglect as we begin our parental journey. "Our personal journey continues no matter what our parental ideals were". Whether early on or later our lives take hard left and rights. Since the range of our dysfunction is so vast, we would spend way too much time here talking about what bad things can and do happen in our relationships and in our lives.
So the goal here is to acknowledge this and move on to provide insights that prevent our personal drama from making a mess of our children and potentially prevent our own self inflicted drama from taking over everything good in our relationships.
When we tell someone to "Grow Up" what we really mean is we want them to handle the trials and pitfalls of life with courage and grace. Stop whining or complaining and deal with it, what ever it is. Quit living in a dream world, drop the illusions, stand up and fight. Take responsibility, do what is required of you and get off your pity-pot. You get the picture.
Actually there is a sense of superiority in telling someone to grow up. Our own EGO or Self Image is puffed up a little because at this moment in time WE are dealing with our own stuff and really have little tolerance for the complainer that is not handling their own stuff.
What we do not realize is that we all are living an illusion, we are all dysfunctional, and our EGO/Self Image dominates every moment of our lives. Nothing is ever enough, not success, not winning, not wealth, not love, not approval. Our past haunts us unmercifully and the future is always our salvation. The moment is mostly lost in yesterday's pain or tomorrows hope and fear. There is a part of us that is as needy and demanding as a 2 year old.
If we understand early on (although it is never too late) a few principles, all of this can be avoided. Remember that secret compartment. Well when two people come together it starts leaking, say in and around 2 years. Our masks fall off and our personal issues/pain becomes visible. This begins the process of growth, hurt, growth, hurt, etc. Over time our primary relationships deteriorate until one of us says "Uncle" or learns a new way to see the world and our primary partner.
Since this is not therapy all we can do here is accept what each of us goes through and teach how to see with a clear eye all of the stuff that comes up. As we become more and more aware, each moment in time, as the observer in us become more present in our everyday lives, the strangle hold that our Ego/Self Image has on us diminishes and finally is eliminated.
The physical and emotional pain we inflict on each other and our children is no longer the unconscious result of crazy unconscious behavior. When we get to choose, really choose with awareness, we rarely chose the path of hurt and pain. Our paths in life and our children's paths are now filled with self discovery and the mystery of life. Both we and they slowly empty the secret compartment and we as parents constructively help the children navigate life while they explore and learn and seek their own path.
SEEING IS BELIEVING-How Does All of This Apply