I like to start my day by doing some daily stretches and deep breathing before the kids wake up (if I’m lucky). Not only does it help my tired old bones and muscles to wake up, but it mentally and spiritually centers me for the important task of embodying LOVE and PEACE for the day (again, if I’m lucky!). My favorite breathing “mantra” is “Love is patient (on the inhale) , love is kind (exhale).” (See more on this strategy/ ritual from last year’s post: “Love is Patient, Love is Kind”.) Recently, I got a new and helpful perspective on this idea of parenting “stretches”.
Last week I was on vacation with my parents, kids, and aunts and uncles in New Braunfels. One of my favorite things about being with family is seeking out the wisdom of my elders. No, aunts and uncles, I did not say “elderly” elders YET! In some ways, I have always been an “old soul”, soaking up the words and thoughts and conversations of my parents and their piers, often choosing to sit with the grown-ups as a child rather than at the “kid’s table”. In recent years, I have often been the only “cousin” of the 8 in my generation at these gatherings since it’s easier for me to make the 4-hour drive to New Braunfels, Texas from Dallas than for my cousins to travel there from Chicago, California, Zurich, and Seattle. So I find myself around the table sharing morning coffee and conversation with my “elders” on vacation, my husband back in Dallas, a child on my knee.
One morning after biscuits and sausage, I lingered at the the table and picked the brains of my wise aunts for retrospective parenting advice while my kids played outside. My Aunt Alaire, also a long-time family psychologist, said one of the most helpful parenting lessons she ever learned was from another family therapist that she saw years ago when her 2 boys were school-aged. At the time she was having a difficult time connecting with her younger son Ethan, because their two personalities were so different. She felt it was much easier to relate and get along with her older son Michael because he is much more like her, and she understood him. Ethan was a different duck. He didn’t do what she wanted him to do, didn’t like what she wanted him to like, didn’t behave in a way that was familiar to her, didn’t share common interests or personality traits. He was his own little person- go figure! The therapist told her that to be a successful parent with him, to connect with him, she would have to STRETCH as a person. She would have to make herself play some video games with him, perhaps giving up her vision of shared musical and artistic endeavors. She would have to get down on the floor and play “cars”!
As parents, our main job is to connect with our kids, to discover and encourage the development of their inner lights. It is not to make them into miniature versions of ourselves. It is not to transfer as if by digital “download” all of our same values, philosophies, characteristics, and ways of being. Sure, life would easier if they were just like us, not to mention our spouse or boss or friends. But wouldn’t life be boring that way?? And I believe that when we SLOW down and focus on being parents with “purpose”, we receive the gift of actually becoming better people for the world, of growing and stretching as individuals – growing and stretching in tolerance, love, patience, and grace. I mean on our good days. (If you were up feeding a new baby slash comforting a wakeful toddler every couple of hours last night – been there, just focus on SURVIVING slash not killing anyone today!)
As parents, if we are resisting and fighting against our child’s very essence, their unique way of being in this world with all that has to offer, then we are denying and rejecting their very essence, and they feel that. They can’t speak it, but they feel it. I am reminded of a powerful quote (though I can’t remember from whence or whom it comes, sorry)…“What you resist persists.” In other words, the more you dislike something about your child and focus on that, the more it will drive you crazy! The more they will pick up on your negative energy and respond to it. It’s the negative effect of another of my favorite parenting quotes, “What you focus on, you get more of.”) Our job as parents is to offer unconditional love and acceptance of our children, just as they are. (This does not mean of acceptance of misbehavior, but perhaps of some of the inner workings that lead to that misbehavior.) When our children feel loved and accepted, the rest will fall into place – the brain connections, the open communication, the emotional health, the ability to achieve full potential. Our job as parents is NOT to be stumbling block on our child’s path to becoming themselves, even if you have to STRETCH like Plastic-Man to meet them where they are.