Wouldn’t it be so much easier if there was a direct go-to manual for how to handle every kind of parenting situation?? I mean, I suppose you can do a Google search, and you’ll instantly reveal lots of solutions to your present issue, however it may not fit your mold.
When we were pregnant, you could take a class on how to be pregnant, how to have a baby, how to feed a baby, how to get a baby to sleep, how to swaddle a baby, how to babyproof your house, etc… The irony is, all of the above-mentioned is pretty much going to happen on its own – women have been birthing in the bush for centuries without a modern how-to manual. But the real nitty gritty of parenting happens without so much as warning of when the eye-rolling starts or how to stay calm when your kid is acting out or what to do when social media makes your kid’s life a living hell. And don’t get me started on the cliques of middle school!! But especially these days, how the hell are we supposed to talk to our kids about what is going on in the world? How do we be honest about all the crap when all we want to do is hide under a rock and protect them??
Parenting is often a combination of intuition, how they were raised (or the opposite of how they were raised), advice (often unsolicited) from friends, family, in-laws and information we find on the internet or books. And of course, parents rely on their immense love for their child to get them through challenging moments. And some of what we do works, some doesn’t; we do trial and error, in the hopes that we have more successes than failures and that we aren’t giving our kids too much fodder for their future therapist.
While all the above-mentioned guidance is helpful and can help through struggles, it sometimes isn’t always enough. I mean, you wouldn’t ever accept a job that you had no education, training, or previous experience in, right? But that’s often what parenting can feel like. So, sometimes we need to get training.
Years ago, in my search for my own tools to figure out who I was and how I got to where I was in my life, I stumbled upon mindfulness, which is the practice of living in the present moment, developing greater awareness and learning how to accept what is. Practicing this greater awareness also allowed for greater ability at managing difficult emotions as well as how to respond and not react.
Through deepening my personal mindful exploration, I got very passionate about mindful parenting. This seemed, in part, the closest answer to “where was my guide on how to parent?” I learned tools that shifted the entire culture in my home with my girls. This is not to say I no longer got triggered, but my ability to notice those triggers, with less reactivity, increased. As did my ability to have greater compassion for whatever my daughters were experiencing, as well as compassion for myself when it was really challenging. I was also then able to role model the very behaviors I was asking of my kids. I realized it didn’t really make sense to scream at my kids to calm down, when I clearly wasn’t calm.
One of the biggest lessons in my own parenting that I’ve learned is that I can’t protect my kids from everything. Dammit, I hate to admit this, but it’s true. But what I can do is be present, open, communicative, compassionate, empathic, loving…and did I mention, present?? That presence, and I mean actually being there (not just the stand-in version of you, with eyes cast downwards towards your iPhone, with the intermittent mutterings of “uh-huh”) is almost enough. Validate them; hear them; understand them. The truth is, we don’t have to have all the answers. There is no such thing as the perfect parent. We won’t always talk in a skillful way. But if we can be – authentically be there – through the good, the bad and the ugly, well then, I think that can almost be enough, and we won’t need the rule book.