I often feel I am my own worst enemy when it comes to parenting my children. My latest feat is to try and learn to keep my mouth shut. Usually if I can hang back a bit and let my children sort things out for themselves when the situation is safe, they will come to good conclusions on their own. When I speak for them, or jump in with my own ideas on how to solve the problem, I am eliminating the opportunity for them to think for themselves. They miss the chance to gain some experience self-regulating because I’m regulating for them. They can’t observe and interact because I’m chiming in with what I feel to be an appropriate solution. I find myself bound by what I think I need to do in order to teach my children, when in fact what I need to do is be a good role model and mind my own business!
I have been a teacher for over 10 years. In the environment of a classroom, where rules are tantamount, there is a definite benefit to reducing certain aspects of students free-thought. With a classroom of 30 students, you don’t particularly want them questioning you on every rule…as an example, imagine a classroom without the one about raising your hand to speak during lessons?! I have a lot of practice reinforcing children’s behaviour to conform to my ideals. But this is not the way I want to parent my children. It is also one of many reasons we want to keep our children out of ‘the system.’ I have a lot of baggage when it comes to discipline and ‘teaching,’ which is proving so very difficult for me to unlearn.
I often end up chattering on about things they already know, or could easily learn by just carrying on. An example here would be when my son had piled a laundry basket over the top with boxes. They were teetering and I warned that they would likely fall when he picked up the basket. Such a seemingly innocent comment is so loaded, it is staggering. My intervention was so unnecessary. He would have learned that lesson when he picked up the basket, which he did end up doing, despite my warning. What I did succeed in doing was to show him that I think ‘mommy knows everything,’ which is clearly not true and a most unintentional subversive message. I was also cluttering his headspace with ideals of him listening to what I’m telling him to do. But much to my detriment, by requiring this when it isn’t necessary, I’m in fact watering down this request for the times in the future when I actually will need him to listen! Another underlying message was, ‘you are silly for trying this, when clearly it won’t work.’ This is how stories of self-defeat are born. By continuing my chatter of judgements, I am not helping them grow into the resilient people I want them to be. I am passing on the very things I’m fighting to rid myself of. It hurts to watch it all unfurl from my lips. I want to save them from myself!
I think the future of our planet requires empathetic, creative thinkers. These people are not products of conformist ideals. I’m trying to raise competent people who can think for themselves and are resilient problem solvers. I see no better way to do that than to encourage them to develop this skill as early as possible…if I can only get out of their way. My approach has been to try to not feed them the answers, but rather ask them the questions and then walk away. My favourite is, “How would you feel if you were in his position? What would you want to happen to make it right?”
My current goal is to build trust. I want them to trust that I will keep them safe, and often tell them that is my job. I also want them to trust themselves and their own abilities to solve problems, so I can’t let my solutions be the only ‘right’ ones. There are always multiple solutions to a problem. Making myself the centre of everything that happens in this home isn’t helping anyone. When I do create this vortex around myself, I just end up with everyone’s problems to solve – martyr mom in action! I also have to build my trust in my children’s abilities and autonomy, knowing that they have the capacity to figure out their own solutions. I reassure myself often that nature doesn’t make mistakes and it is not my responsibility to dictate the learning process for my children. I need to trust that I have laid enough ground work, modelled enough, made enough suggestions of possible resolutions. Trust. And when it turns out to no be the case, step in with some gentle guidance to keep things growing. I feel this interaction is rather like planting a seed beneath mulch, waiting, trusting that something is happening and that one day the effort of planting and mulching and caring will keep the seed safe enough to flourish.