The other evening, my husband and I sat chatting over a glass of wine and, as parents do, we very quickly began talking about the children. We often analyse our own parenting. It just seems natural to us, in our bid to raise decent humans, that we reflect on the things that go well. Or don't.
My husband said that lockdown has left him feeling guilty. Welcome to my everyday, buddy. Despite seeing so much of the kids and being around the lunch and dinner table with us, he sees disappointment in their eyes, particularly in our youngest, when he turns down their pleads to play hide and seek. The daily juggle that mums are used to; how to keep everyone happy, entertained and fed whilst keeping the house in some order and for many mums, working too. The guilt weighs heavy. Lockdown means working from home, but to our 3 year old, it just means we're home. He has no concept of what work means or what pressure careers can bring, especially when you depend on one income. It doesn't matter how much we'd love to hang with our little dudes, building garden forts and picnicking under the tree, we have to give time to other things. Unless we are willing to go homeless or insane, which funnily enough, we're not. But our youngest doesn't understand that. They get quality time with us. I'm a massive advocate for connecting deeply with our children. We routinely make a conscious effort to have fun and spend time together but if I'm honest, I think no matter how much quality time we give they'd always ask for more!
So, why do we feel guilty when the majority of the time we're not giving the whole of ourselves to our children, is so we can do things FOR them. Like earn money to keep them sheltered and fed! Or take time for ourselves because it just makes us a nicer! Our expectations are unrealistic, thats why. These are moments to teach our children to respect the needs to others. To understand how to be patient or find a way through boredom. We feel guilty because their emotional discomfort hurts us, yet we feel we're the cause too. Complicated!
I came to the realisation during our chat, that we have to accept we won't always be the 'perfect parent'. I think so many of us think 'perfect parenting' means taking our children through childhood without being the cause of their difficult emotions. I don't think that's possible. That's not to say we shouldn't try. But sometimes, our job is to guide our children through challenging feelings that are directly related to us because it prepares them for life. Somehow we have to find a way to do that in the least toxic way we can and keeping attachments healthy! One of biggest lessons we can take from it is self forgiveness. We do the best we can with what we know. I think that has to be our aim.
In 2010 my daughter arrived and with years of teaching experience behind me, where I had excelled and made fantastic connections with so many students, I believed I’d have the parenting thing down to a fine art. I naively believed that I would have control over her experiences and our relationship. The authoritative approach that society says adults should take with children was so deeply instilled in me from my own childhood and my years teaching, that I also believed that no matter what her character, I would say jump and she would do just that.
Her baby years were straight forward, and she was a textbook baby, sleeping well, eating well and smashing through her milestones without batting an eyelid. Lucky us! I took this as evidence for what I wanted to be true; I had this parenting thing down! But during her toddler years I realised that something didn’t feel right. There were more battles than I was comfortable with and too many occasions where I felt I was being judged or she was being judged, and I questioned how good a mother I was. I slowly crept towards anxiety, high, unrealistic expectations and punishment-based discipline
I’ve always had an intuitive nature and the ‘it’s just a phase’ advice wasn’t resonating. Logically it just made no sense to just keep doing the same thing and getting the same results. I needed to look deeper. I needed to look deeper within myself, but I also needed to understand my daughter better. Being her mother did not automatically make me an expert in her psychology. That is something we must work for and even then, our children get to grant us that privilege (something they are more likely to grant us if we work to REALLY understand them). I read ‘How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk’ and that is where my self improvement journeybecause of motherhood began.
Reading that first book opened my mind to the fact that connecting with a child is such a crucial element of supporting their emotional development. To acknowledge their emotion and say, ‘You’re feeling upset’ naming whatever the emotion is, is so simple, yet so powerful. In those moments when big emotions are overwhelming and a bit scary, hearing that mum or dad understands is a safety net. It’s feeling relieved that someone else knows what’s happening inside you when you don’t. It’s knowing you are not alone. It’s relaxing into the arms of someone who is showing you unconditional love. It’s learning not to be afraid of feelings.
Many books later and I was a different mother. I felt empowered. Certainly not perfect, but armed with knowledge that meant less battles, confident, positive parenting and an extremely emotionally aware young child. But it was when I came across The Highly Sensitive Child that I could answers to questions I didn’t even know I was looking for. It was this book that taught me so much more about my daughter, filling in gaps in my knowledge and enabling me to connect with her on a whole new level. Now I see the world through her eyes and that gives me the perspective I need to help her with anxiety and other situations that she finds uncomfortable, for example, absorbing the difficult emotions of others, such as an upset, angry teacher or friend or an anxious relative.
Learning about the complex depths of my daughter’s character have really taught me to support her in real, helpful ways that suit HER reality, not with clichés, soundbites or what my own opinion tells me she should feel or do. I’ve learned to accept that I can influence her experiences and therefore have huge responsibility over her beliefs, values and actions but essentially she is who she is and will be who she wants to be, not who I dreamt she might be, as I cradled her when she was 2 days old, on our first night at home. Learning about her emotions and their triggers has been a lesson in never judging a book by its cover. It’s also provided lessons in outdated parenting styles, how people expect more of children than they do themselves and how adults are prepared, unconsciously in most cases, to negatively impact a child’s emotional development in exchange for their own emotional comfort. This incredible 9-year journey has so far shown me that, like any relationship we are in, it takes both of us to nurture it and my responsibility, as the adult, is to find out howto best nourish us both. We must find our own ways to guide our relationships with our children in the right direction, with respect and calm, but not without boundaries. Discovering my daughter is a highly sensitive child has taught me so much, but above all its taught me that all any of us want is to feel connected and understood. When. we allow ourselves to understand that we all experience the world differently in small or massive ways, we can truly accept, connect and enjoy each other.
I’ve always been interested in child psychology and assessing children’s attainment and cognitive development. As a teacher this was always a strength of mine. But my motherhood journey has taught me more than I could ever have anticipated and I think it's made me a better person. It's certainly made me a more patient, content, accepting and grateful one! Parenthood changes us but doesn’t award us instant knowledge about the little people that we are gifted with. It does however, give us a chance (if we choose to use it as such) to grow as a person, learning more about people, relationships and ourselves with clarity, awareness and understanding that can be confronting but so liberating at the same time. Never under estimate what your child can teach you. Just look a little deeper.
Hey! I'm the founder, creator and voice of Ink and Scribbles. Sharing thoughts on child well-being and parenting that are based on my teaching and parenting experience, and NLP learning.