Facing the Ugliness of Parenting

Yesterday our family awoke to nearly a foot of snow after a week of playing outdoors in spring coats.  At first I was so discouraged, feeling very much like I have had enough winter.  Then I came to see the beauty of soft snow piled high atop everything.  The snow was good for packing since it was quite mild, so we built our first snowman of the year.  But by the afternoon, there was nothing left of him.

The season of Spring winds wildly toward Summer.  It holds the space between Winter and Summer undulating between beauty and ugliness; on a surge forth toward something new.  I have been reflecting quite a bit on the connection between the turning of the seasons and my inner journeys.  Upon seeing Spring ‘regress’ to winter for a brief period today, I’m reminded of how often that happens with my learning progress as well.

As much as I wish it weren’t true, I have bad parenting days.  More than I’d care to admit.  It is easy to portray life as easy, or pretend that I have it all figured out.  It is just so easy to edit because we do it all the time in our digital world.  We only read about what has worked for someone else, or see pictures of the most beautiful gardens, food, or people.  Because no one wants to be scrutinized by the masses for something they have said, done or are.  The problem is that the act of editing only reduces potential.  It is reductionist.  In our forest garden, it is when we don’t edit out the extra stuff, it is when we keep the weeds and accept the garden as it is in order to learn from it that it begins to thrive.

So, it is with this spirit that I try to accept my ugly moments.  They are things I don’t want to remember because I shouted a bit too loudly, grasped an arm a bit too firmly, rushed in a bit too quickly to fix, focused a bit too much on going through the motions at the expense of connection, or worried a bit too much about what someone else thought of myself or worse, my children.  These moments feel terrible.  I thank myself for the times when I am conscious enough to recognize them, but that makes them sting all the more. Parenting is tough stuff.  There are days where I feel like I’m trying to claw my way out of a giant pit.  The most disheartening part is that it’s one of my own construction.  The ugly moments are the ones where I struggle against ideals; my own ‘weeds.’  They are the ones where I wish I had that picture perfect garden.  But ‘weeds’ have far more value than we give them credit for!  The ugly moments are the flags.  They are covering up the deep hurts, the conditioning, the process.

On my toughest days, I crave the support offered by the wise words conjured up by an ‘expert.’  Although I find great value in pushing my parenting in new directions and observing my work as a parent under a new lens of scrutiny, ‘expert’ advice rarely gives me the boost of confidence I need when I’m at my lowest.  The pursuit of ‘expert’ knowledge only leads to more comparing of myself to others, and ultimately to an ideal created by someone else.  I find myself wanting to look outward rather than inward for help, to a text that has carefully been edited to not include the ugly bits.  Feeding my ideal of what it means to be a ‘good parent’ inevitably holds me back.  The reality is that my unwillingness to accept what is prevents me from accepting where I am.   Allowing the ugly moments enough space to learn from them is what allows new growth.  I make mistakes.  A lot of them. We all do.  That’s how humans learn.

With my children, I see ‘weeds’ popping up all over the place!  They cycle through seasons much faster than adults, because their learning is happening far more rapidly.  They also have the blessing of less conditioning toward social norms.  My children’s weeds pop up in the form of undesirable behaviours that I don’t want other people to see, and ultimately judge me for.  The problem is not the ‘weeds,’ but rather my tolerance, acceptance and willingness to give their existence presence.  They are signposts, pointing toward the needs of my child.  The ‘weed,’ or behaviour is not the need, it has grown out of a deeper need.  Just as undesirable plants spring forth from the soil to keep it covered and repair it, my children’s behaviours point toward something yet unlearned.  I see my mothering role as a ‘gardener of humans.’   My job is to try and decipher what the deeper needs actually are.

In forest gardening, the goal is to have your desirable crops out-compete those you’d rather not have.  I consider permaculture parenting to be the same.  I want to encourage positive soul feeding behaviour in order to diminish that which is undesirable, regardless of whether the behaviour has been displayed in one of my children or myself.  When ‘weeds’ emerge, I try to treat them like I would in the garden, I start by piling on more mulch!  By mulching, I mean creating space for myself and exercising self-compassion.  Right now, I do this through meditation, photography and writing.  I work to create space and build up comfort around myself wherever I can.  I root deeper and regrow stronger.  For my children, I hope to also cultivate strong root systems.  I spend a lot of time with them in an effort to forge a deeply rooted connection.  With this strong foundation, we are better able to weather the storms, no matter the season.  It is always nice to watch the clouds break and the storm blow over, because they always do…eventually.

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5 comments

      1. Mothering guilt seems to be so rife in our culture, as we attempt to attain perfection, mechanizing ourselves, and measuring ourselves against standards of mysterious origin. I have every confidence in the choices I’m making for our family, and the ways I am being with my children. The difficulty is, as with all learning and growth, that sometimes my emotions and subsequent reactions reflect deep rooted cultural teachings from the past. This post was a reflection on the emotional journey of parenting. Wanting so badly to be that ‘perfect’ mom, recognizing that as unattainable. In learning how to observe and interact with my parenting, as though it were a garden that needs loving tending, I have been able to distance myself from the emotional spears which often appear suddenly and uninvited. ‘Weeds’ will come, as that is part of nature/part of being human. I am working to accept this fact and see value in the weeds, as they are the signposts telling us where to put attention next. The weeds represent a need, a deficit, an area that needs support and compassion. My goal is to develop creative long-term solutions to the ugly parts of my parenting, a perennial forest gardening of sorts 😉

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