Sunday, November 10, 2013

A More Peaceful Approach to Parenting

With reflection on the now eight years since the day that my son was born, and I first became a parent, there has been plenty of opportunity to examine my own approach to parenting. I read some books on parenting, and had some conversations with other parents, trying to get their recommendations, as well as a sense of the potential mistakes that many parents make.

Even still, I cannot say that I had a definitive approach to parenting, any set or standard approach or way of thinking. Mostly, I wanted to learn as I went along, and not get too attached to some version of allegedly perfect parenting that I would stick to no matter what. Truth is, I think much of life is like that - meaning, that we sometimes get convinced that there is one right way of doing things by design, and we need to stick to that approach come what may.

He was a real person, and there were some real problems along the way. That is the way that real life sometimes gets in the way of our perfect plans. We build things up in our own mind, until we sometimes foster unrealistic expectations and ambitions, and if these concern other people, particularly young children, then we can do a lot of damage with a lack of flexibility on our own part. That was something that I simply did not want to do.

Of course, eight years is a long time in anyone's life. And I have made plenty of mistakes along the way. Things that I regretted when I made the mistakes, and things that I came to regret over time. But the thing is, mistakes are what we are meant to learn from. Life goes on, and our children deserve better from us than simply getting some sense of guilt over past mistakes. When we make mistakes, we need to rectify them, and learn from them, so that we do not repeat them.

Probably the best single piece of advice that I got on parenting, just before I became a parent, was this: don't beat yourself up if you find yourself doing things that you swore you would never do.

The woman who told me this had a deadpan face and tone when she said this, and it felt like the truth at the time. And when I made such mistakes - for mistakes are what they were - along the way, that single piece of advice, more than any other, is what kept coming back into my mind. Accept that you did something that you never expected, much less wanted, to do. Learn from it, and more importantly, use it. Do not get too attached to the significance of it, do not allow it to trip you up, or shake your confidence. Life goes on, and you should move on with it. Much like with everything else along the way, you learn from it.

It might seem like an obvious piece of advice, and perhaps it is. But think about it. Life is difficult, and very challenging. When it seems at times that all we do is make mistakes, and we see only the high costs of those mistakes, it can add to the frustration, and that itself can add enough pressure to assure more frustration and even more mistakes. Life is not easy, and it is easy to give up, if only temporarily. The truth is that kids can test our patience like nothing else in life, and this can be a dangerous recipe for disaster. Kids remember some things that we may have done along the way, especially if our reaction goes overboard. We all swear that there are some things that we witness other parents doing that we swear, when we are older and become parents ourselves, we will never, ever do, no matter what.

I am sure that I am not the only parent who has witnessed other adults looking at us with eyes too wide, or with expressions that question, or probe, or just seem to linger a bit longer than we feel comfortable with. Clearly, they are questioning us, thinking that we yelled just a little too loudly, or should allow kids to be kids sometimes. This can be helpful but, let's be honest, as well: it can be harmful as well. We cannot allow others to do our parenting for us, so we cannot simply go with the expectations of others. After all, their standards of parenting simply might not be our standards, either. It is best to stick to what we believe is the best approach for our children, as well as for ourselves.

But the reality of having a kid doing things when we perhaps have had a long day, and have not been sleeping all that well just lately, and just want to get through this day....well, there are times when we find ourselves fatigued, worn down, and prone to make mistakes. To get too short, perhaps snap to anger, or go too far in disciplining when something is not a big deal.

That was the case with me. I have an overly quick temper at times, and you might lose a sense of scale when you just have had enough. The bills pay up, your job (or perhaps jobs in the plural) sucks, or is taking a toll on you. There may be other problems, obviously, as well. Your relationship is not going the way that you hoped or planned. The bottom line is, life goes on in every other way as well. it certainly, generally, does not get any easier once you become a parent - far from it, actually! And when the problems seem to be piling up, and the solutions seem to be hiding better than they ever have before, the stress can get the better of you. This is reality.

It was important to hear someone else, a woman who had a daughter that was healthy, smart, and seemingly happy, and who shared a solid relationship with her mother, say that it was important to forgive yourself in making mistakes. Making mistakes, after all, is how we learn in life. We might not be proud of them, but they are inevitable. And the point is to learn from them. In the case of parenting, and much else in life, for that matter, the point would also be to get up from them first and foremost, and not simply give up on yourself as a result.

Sure, that might seem obvious enough. But for all practical purposes, sometimes our own worst critics are ourselves. And it sure helps knowing that someone else has made similar mistakes, and may have carried similar regrets, yet still wound up overcoming that to assume her parenting responsibilities successfully.

As you may have guessed, that was not the only helpful advice that I was given. But I have to say that, of all places, one of the things that influenced my parenting style the most actually came from an unlikely source: the television.

There was a story about a kid (maybe around 18 years old, if memory serves) that had been brutally beaten to death under mysterious circumstances. The news program was interviewing the parents, and of course, there were plenty of questions for them. One of the questions was whether or not they felt any regrets.

They said that they had none, because they always made sure to tell their son that they loved them. So, even though he met a horrific end, the last memory that he would have of his parents would be an affirmation of their unconditional love for him. That was a beautiful sentiment, and it made me think quite a bit. The result was that I always try to make sure that I mention to my son how welcome he is in the world, that he means the world to me, and that I love him. Too often, we can get so wrapped up in our own lives, that we lose sight of some of these simple things, and too many people regret their last memories of being with some loved one being some kind of dumb confrontation, and last words regretted. or, perhaps, some falling out that was never remedied before a loved one passed away.

And I just could not bear the thought of something like that ever happening. So, I want to remind him of just how much of a blessing he is to me.

That might sound corny, or even mushy. But he is my son, and I honor my place in his life as a parent. Mistakes or not, i want to do it right, and want him to feel that he has someone in me that he can trust, that will always look out for his best interest. In short, hopefully he will always see in me home, on some level.

Of course, there are tons of articles out there, providing advice for would be parents, or people who are already parents.

This one, I noticed, was from a different kind of website that usually does not address this particular issue, and so I figured it was worth not only taking a look, but sharing it for any out there who might be interested, as well:

"Peaceful Parenting" posted by M Caulfield of Exposing the Truth, September 17, 2013

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