“A person’s a person no matter how small.” – Dr. Seuss
As my four-and-a-half year old daughter grows, I have begun to hear myself in her play and in her interactions with her brother. And it isn’t always pretty. Despite my intention to be more conscious, loving and positive with my children, I still have moments where I revert to thoughtless reactions like saying, “STOP!,” when a calmer response would do; using knee jerk if/then threats (if you can’t calm down, then we can just go home right now!); and using power instead of patience to elicit cooperation.
Not only are these not conscious parenting practices, but in my home, they come back to me in the form of my children yelling, “STOP!” at each other constantly; my four-year-old telling her little brother, “If you don’t play with me then you’ll be dead. Do you want to be dead? (A four-year-old twist on an unfortunate parenting strategy of an unattractive alternative paired with the desired option), and lots of shouting and power struggles. And ultimately, they do not respect my children as people.
Before I had my own family, I used to wonder why some people treated perfect strangers with more kindness and courtesy than they treated their own family members. Yet, now with a family of my own, I sometimes find myself falling into this same bad habit.
But why, for those of us who do, do we do it?
Is it because we’re tired?
Because we’re reacting on auto-pilot?
Because we think that there will always be time for forgiveness later?
Whatever the reason, I would like to keep this from becoming the norm in my family. I would like to infuse my interactions with my children with Respect, Love and Joy, so that their interactions reflect these same qualities.
“I am your parent… I am here to guide you, help you learn to regulate your emotions and behavior, to model good boundaries and expectations with the same love and respect I want from you, to set an example of what healthy, connected relationships look and feel like, so that when you grown up, you’ll know how to peacefully and lovingly raise your own family. Because I love you. “
I love this quote because it is infused with the importance of seeing and respecting our children as people, not somehow less deserving of our respect because they are children. Parenting Coach, Carrie Contey, has a similar belief that she often talks about, that children are not “ours” to “mold into adults,” but rather little people that we are sharing this journey with. I love the sentiment and value in this.
And yet, I’ll admit, it isn’t an easy shift without an effort to stay conscious.
When my children act or say things that I feel strongly about, my thoughts, if I listen to them, are not often respectful or understanding. They are more often than not thoughts about myself, how I am feeling annoyed, exhausted or overwhelmed; or thoughts that judge, blame or deny reality. Or the reactions come so fast, the thoughts behind them pass unnoticed.
Without a pause to think, the empathetic thoughts don’t always have time to take shape.
When I think this way, it often follows that I disregard their feelings, brush off their upsets, or ignore their needs because I am busy, distracted or overwhelmed. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens enough for me to want to make a change.
And on this journey to more conscious living, this is an important goal. I can work on being more respectful, more aware of their needs, feelings and desires wanting to be met, acknowledged and heard, just I try to be respectful of others.
I can do this, by stopping to pause before I speak, before I step in, before I react.
I can do this by asking myself, “How would I respond to a cherished friend in this same situation?”
I can do this, by putting a copy of Rebecca Thompson’s quote in my kitchen and reading it every day, to remind myself that my children are deserving of the same love and respect that I want from them.
I recently read Saydi Shumway’s essay Put Your Heart On in the book Deliberate Motherhood, published by Power of Moms. In her essay, Shumway talks about how we, as mothers (or fathers), are always doing things for our children and our families – cooking, cleaning, washing, packing, organizing, helping, driving, etc. – sometimes in moments of stress, the enormity of all that has to be done can be overwhelming and lead to frustration, annoyance or resentment. She suggests that, because there is no escaping all that needs to be done, a shift in perspective to the reason behind our actions, can make an incredible difference. For most of us, we do all of these things because we love our children. Yet “loving” them is rarely on our list of things to do.” “But by recognizing love as the motivator behind what we do, everyday mundane tasks suddenly become meaningful.”
As many parents, I can get lost in the busyness of the morning rush or the urgency of dinner prep and forget that what I am doing, I am doing out of love for my children. And in this space, I can find myself frustrated, rushing and wanting to focus on the task at hand rather than attending to those very children as they demand their needs be met at that very moment (as children are wont to do). In turning to them with respect, I also want to turn to them with love, rather than frustration or exasperation, and to embrace the time I have with them before they rush off to school or drift off to sleep. I want them to feel loved, through every interaction.
I can do this by responding to my children, at their level, looking into their eyes, with focused attention.
I can do this by being conscious of how each of my children feels most loved, or their “love language,” and remembering to spend time speaking this language each day.
I can do this by remembering the love motivating my work throughout the day, to keep frustrations and false senses of urgency at bay, so when I am interrupted by soft little voices and tugging hands, I can respond with love.
For more ideas of how to demonstrate your love throughout the day, read Creative with Kids post on 100 Ways to be Kind to Your Child.
Joy, as highly as I regard it, does not come natural to me. I have never had what anyone would call a “bubbly personality.” Yet I want to be joyful. I want to feel that natural, carefree, high of emotion; lost in the moment. And even more, I want my children to be joyful. And with children there are so many opportunities for joy (as there are so many opportunities for frustration). When I begin to feel overwhelmed or see the dark clouds rolling in, I’ve begun trying to infuse the moment with joy to keep the storm at bay and turn the moment around.
I do this by singing Elizabeth Mitchell’s So Glad I’m Here (which shifts my perspective to one of gratitude).
I do this by putting on some happy music and dancing around kitchen with one or both of my little ones (my current favorite is Ingrid Michelson’s Be Okay).
I do this by overcoming my natural disinclination towards silliness and make a funny face, sing a funny song or make up a funny game, which starts my children giggling – always a sure way to bring myself a little joy.
For more on getting more joy in your parenting, read Left Brain Buddha’s, Five Ways to Make Parenting More Joyful.
Hopefully, if I can remember to do all of these things, or pause before reacting long enough to remember, interacting with my children with respect, love and joy will become my first, thoughtful, response.
Thank you for reading!
What about you? Do you have any practices that help you to be respectful, loving and joyful with your children? If so, I’d love to hear them!
Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook