I read this great post from Positive Parenting over the weekend and had that moment of tension I always do whenever someone takes a parenting stand. Even this list of facts that supports things I believe in left me feeling either judged or uncomfortable on behalf of the parents I know who philosophically disagree with one or more of the concepts those facts were supporting. While I have strong opinions on just about everything there, I know there is only one rule I hold all parents to, one unequivocal parenting should: Love Thy Children. After that there’s a short list of “probably shoulds,” things I feel pretty strongly about but understand there are instances where it just doesn’t work out, and then there’s a much larger list of “what I decided for myself,” which I feel equally strongly about but know there are arguments to be made in many different directions.
This is what I know for sure: parenting is personal. It is the most personal thing you will ever do. There is a surreal amount of (often conflicting) information available today on just about any parenting decision you could possibly make. But you also have to take into consideration your child, and oftentimes yourself as well. What works perfectly for one parent (who is absolutely convinced it is the right way for everyone!) may end up being completely useless for you. You have to decide for yourself who you are as a parent, observe who your child is, and do what works best for you as a family.
I believe you also have to be flexible in the moment, and be willing to let go of things that used to work in order to try out new things that might better fit where you and your child are today. To paraphrase Eva Roodman: “If it’s working for you, keep doing it until it isn’t any more, then do something different.” We have a saying in our house: “That was SO five minutes ago.” It helps to remind us that our boys are always changing and that we need to shift with them, paying attention to where they are now, in this moment, as opposed to wherever they might be coming from. I think both the universe and our children have great senses of humor, and whenever we start to get locked into something rigidly, they all laugh at us and say, I guess it’s time to show them again, eh?
So as a mother, I’ve developed what appear to be guidelines. Very little is hard and fast, but it’s like I’ve set my own boundaries. Each new decision I make may show up differently, but still operates within that framework. Not surprisingly, it’s very similar to the framework I was living within before I became a parent.* Each “tenet” could be its own blog post (and perhaps I will flesh these out in the upcoming weeks), but here’s a brief peek at how I view the world as a mother:
Follow your intuition. It doesn’t matter what the books say — you have everything you need as a parent right here in the form of your intuition. Go with what resonates. This is most difficult in the middle of the night when you’re sleep deprived with a short-circuiting brain, but always the most important thing you can do.
Children are people, too. From day one, your child is an independent human being with her own wants and needs, which may end up in conflict with yours. Your child is almost always telling you what she needs. You might not always be able to hear it (see “short-circuiting brain” above), but those behaviors that are most likely to cause that short-circuiting are her ways of telling you what she needs. Now, whether or not you’re able to do anything about it in the moment is another story.
Look through the symptoms for the cause. Crying, hitting, throwing — these are symptoms. If you can find the cause, you’re much more likely to both be able to stop the challenging behavior, and increase the connection you have with your child, enabling him to be more secure and confident and, ultimately, happy. “Good” behavior is just one of the happy side effects.
What would LOVE do? My husband once said that the first three rules of our household are Love, Love, and Love. I couldn’t agree more! Whenever we start from a place of love, what follows next is always good. Now, let me be clear — love does not mean being permissive. Children biologically and developmentally need you to set limits, but I choose to enforce those limits from a place of love.
Natural first. Whether it’s about breastfeeding or babywearing or clothes made from organic cotton, my instinct is to start with the most natural choice. It doesn’t always stick (Spider Boy hated to be worn and was almost always “stroller boy”), but the natural world provides us a good model for this parenting journey.
Choices, choices, choices. Life is full of choices, and we are constantly making choices whether we’re aware of it or not. I try to recognize that I can make conscious choices in each moment, and I try to provide choices to my boys so they can begin to recognize the power of choice in their lives.
When your first instinct is to say “no,” ask yourself “Why?” The more a child hears the word “no,” the less meaningful it is. Whenever I hear myself starting to say no, I ask myself where it is coming from. Sometimes it is obvious, like when danger is imminent. Other times I’m just too exhausted or overwhelmed or short-circuiting or whatever it is to really be able to say yes — while I may wish things were different in that moment, I have to work with what I have. But sometimes a “yes” response would be just as valid. It might not match my ideal picture of the moment, but that’s okay. I turn the moment into a win for my child, which ultimately is a win for me as well.
Take a step back. It is so easy to always be in your child’s space, literally and figuratively. There’s that amazingly soft hair begging to be stroked, and that almost overpowering need to put an end to any frustration he might be experiencing. But they’re little people who need their space just as much as you do, space to figure out who they are, how the world works, and how they fit into it.
Always do your best. This is based wholly on The Four Agreements (Don Miguel Ruiz). Your best today may look different from your best tomorrow; it is changing from moment to moment. But focusing on doing your best with what you have in the moment enables you to parent in freedom, without self-judgment or regret.
All things in moderation. There’s nothing wrong with letting your child watch an episode of Angelina Ballerina (Spider Boy’s current fave) or have a cupcake at a birthday party, but you probably don’t want her watching 4 hours of television a day or eating cupcakes with every meal. I think the flip side is true as well. I would struggle with a complete ban on television because we all need a break every now and again, and while our best efforts to introduce Spider Boy to the joys of chocolate have failed, exploration of food comes in all shapes, sizes, and flavors.
So that’s the, ahem, brief summary of my parenting philosophy. How it manifests on a day-by-day (or even moment-by-moment) basis is always changing, but the big picture remains the same, beginning from that place of deep and abiding love. Namaste.
* If you’re interesting in reading more about my life philosophy, here’s a good series from my woefully out-of-date blog on Learning to Fly (now on this blog): Steps to Learning How to Fly.
Originally posted on Pachamama Spirit