I had a very thought provoking experience with my youngest daughter a little while ago. Kitty, then 6, is an incredibly sociable little girl, bright and bubbly and full of love. She also has one of the strongest wills I’ve ever come across! My older daughter, Georgie, is 12 years Kitty’s senior and she was born when I was just 26. For many reasons, I was far more controlling in nature 20 years ago and I have to admit I parented very differently. I think if I were trying to parent Kitty like I once parented, my life would probably feel like one constant battle.
My parenting of Georgie at six was much less ‘conscious’ and more based around the ‘shoulds’ of traditional societal demands. In short, the focus was about her conforming to how I needed her to be in order to feel comfortable myself; like a ‘good’ parent. How I needed her to be, was beautifully behaved and acceptable to everyone she came into contact with, be it her teachers, my parents, the people at the next table to us in a restaurant, a complete stranger in the street who we’d never see again; the list goes on!
‘Wow – what a beautifully behaved child you have!’ [sigh of admiration]
Whilst my intentions were always good and full of love, I constantly succumbed to the pressures of what everybody around me thought, both in respect of what I ‘should’ be doing as a parent, and what Georgie ‘should’ be doing as a child. The result of this: I would disregard my own intuition. What’s more, I would disregard hers. In fact, if I’m really honest, I don’t think it ever occurred to me to consider Georgie’s intuition because how could she possibly know what was best for herself at such a tender age? Wasn’t it my job to determine that?
Now don’t get the impression I was a parent who felt so unsure that I couldn’t decide anything for myself. I want it to be clear that I absolutely bought into the way I was, and at the time I thought I was a great parent! I definitely shared the traditional parenting values of my parents’ generation and the results I saw in Georgie’s behaviour from my being so strict and prim were amazing. She was one of the ‘best behaved’ and consequently, easiest, children I knew. I would look at other parents around me who were more lenient with their children and judge them because I felt they had no control over their kids. If my friends allowed their children to lead them a little too much, I would think they were weak, that they should put their foot down and act like the adult….
The fact that I was a bit of a control freak parent didn’t make me a bad one. It simply made me like most of the parenting population, today. It is fair to say that most parents expect their children to behave in a way that feels acceptable to them based on their own principles, regardless of how their children might actually be deciding to behave in any given moment. And in defence of those parents, it’s hardly surprising when you consider we’re not so far away from the generation of parents that believed children should be seen and not heard and where children were sometimes expected to behave like grown-ups by the time they reached the tender age of 12!
Allowing our children to learn what feels right for them
My now 19-year-old daughter is a beautiful, balanced girl full of empathy and compassion. She has endless wonderful qualities, including the ability to motivate herself and think pragmatically. There is little overt evidence that my past parenting techniques have damaged her to any great extent. However, whilst I can see she is beginning to know herself well, (at a very young age compared to me), my high standards for her have been replaced by her own high standards for herself. She can also be unsure of herself and sometimes seeks my ‘permission’ to do what already feels right for her.
It’s natural for children, and adults too, to seek assurances from others. But there is a fine line between running something past someone for their opinion, (that you may choose to take or not) and seeking reassurance because you don’t feel confident enough in your own ability to make a call. The latter can easily tip over into the territory of seeking assurance that what you choose to do will be acceptable to others. Ultimately, this is not a good place to be because there are a lot of people in our lives, so how do you choose who to please and who’s opinion to disregard? You are on a road to failure with that from the start.
Being overly ready to please other people can tear us up inside, it can be soul destroying. And there’s a reason for that. We are all built with the most powerful inner guidance systems. We know this as our intuition, but this is the knowledge of our higher mind. This is the part of us that is infinitely connected with everything in the Universe and it’s the part of us that truly understands why we are here, living the life we have chosen to be in at this time.
Embracing our children’s uniqueness
Not only does our higher mind, or ‘super consciousness’ know we are here to experience the most joy that we can, it also knows exactly how best we can each accomplish that. And this is as unique for us as individuals, as our DNA. The moment we listen to someone else’s version of what we should be doing above our own version, we ignore our own higher mind, which is the only thing that ever knows what is best for us on an individual level. Doing this will always put limitations on the amount of joy we can experience in our lives.
From early on in life, we generally have to learn to comply. We have to fit into a family, into a classroom, into a job role. If our face doesn’t naturally fit in those places, most of us change it to feel comfortable. Only then can we feel acceptable to those around us. And this is where I finally get to the story of what happened with Kitty.
On this particular day, despite my commitment to parent ‘consciously’, I found myself experiencing some conflict between my new values and my old values which, as I said, were based on a ‘traditional’ parenting approach. I was that person with a list of 20 mealtime rules and a ‘naughty step’ where you’d go to ‘think about things’. I’m not proud to share that I used to be someone who needed their word to be heeded in order to feel respected.
Kitty is a child that takes a little time warming up to new situations. She is extremely confident in familiar surroundings but when it comes to new things, she needs more support and reassurance than lots of children do. Nothing to worry about; she’s young and that’s just how she is. Having said that, I had been encouraging her to join in with some of the after-school activities with her friends for a while, mainly because I was convinced that she would really enjoy them. She wasn’t having any of it and I could tell from her response that it was largely due to fear of the unknown. Whilst this made me (silently) a little frustrated, I respected her feelings and didn’t push it with her.
A few weeks prior to this day, an external performing arts group visited school and did a mini show with the children to coax them into joining their after-school classes. Kitty came home full of it. One of the benefits that the group advertised was building self-confidence, so I talked to Kitty about the possibility of her joining up. Whilst she didn’t seem overly keen, she wasn’t averse to the idea either, so I put her name down on the waiting list for a class at a time when I knew others from her school attended. When I received a call saying that a place had become available and Kitty could go for a try out session, she adamantly announced that she wasn’t going.
A ‘conscious parenting’ dilemma
It definitely felt like a dilemma. My child was saying I don’t want to go and everything in me was telling me that her not wanting to go was just her fear talking, that if she could overcome that she would have fun and it would be a great experience for her. After all, I told myself, while she’s experiencing fear she’s not in a great place to hear what her higher self is telling her, so maybe in this instance, I know best…. We had a little chat about the importance of trying new things out in life to find out what we enjoy and how it’s natural to feel scared of new things. Then we made a pact that she would go to the trial session, but that she wouldn’t have to go back if she didn’t want to.
The morning of the day of the trial came and she was anxious about it when I dropped her off at school. I tried to reassure her and promised her that I would speak to the lady who took the group about her concerns before I collected her from school. During the morning, that lady, ‘Miss D’, called me to enquire about Kitty. During our chat, I felt like she brushed off my information that Kitty was anxious; she said it was perfectly normal and that she had been the same as a child.
Because Miss D was bold and chatty, I came off the phone thinking she was probably a perfect fit for the performing aspect of her job. However, I wasn’t convinced she would find her gentle, more compassionate side by 4pm, when Kitty would need it. I felt uncomfortable because she had been very assertive, forceful even, about the manner in which I should leave Kitty later (i.e. quickly with no fuss), but because she was also very pleasant, I quashed my concerns. I concluded I was being overly soft and told myself not to worry.
All the way in the car between school and the activity hall, Kitty told me she didn’t want to go, and all the way, I relayed the reasons why she should. To make matters more stressful, the satnav took us to completely the wrong place and we ended up rushing and being late when we were asked to be a bit early. (Another sign from the Universe that this wasn’t really the right thing to do, that I chose to ignore and push on through!) When we eventually found the place and after a very jolly introduction on Miss D’s part, I left Kitty in tears clinging onto the frame of the door whilst Miss D firmly tried to push her through it. I felt terrible, but five minutes later I had a text to say she was absolutely fine and joining in.
Fifty-five minutes later when I arrived to collect her, I was met with a face full of tears. The relief she felt when she saw me literally flooded out down her cheeks and I felt like crumbling myself. She refused to tell me a thing about what they had done and simply kept repeating ‘I’m not going back, I’m not going back’. I told her how brave she’d been and I promised her she didn’t ever have to.
Our children are perfect wherever they are
I had to work hard that week not to beat myself up for putting Kitty through something that could have left a damaging impression on her. I had forced her to do something she clearly didn’t want to because of my own deep-set beliefs about what would be beneficial for her growth and about what she would enjoy. It may well be that she would enjoy it if she gave it a go – she loves doing little performances at school so she’s certainly not stage struck, but that’s beside the point.
For whatever reason, she didn’t truly enjoy the experience. That may have been because of her predetermined mood, the lack of control she felt in the situation, doing something out of her comfort zone, the fact she didn’t particularly gel with Miss D; it doesn’t matter. She wasn’t ready to partake in the class. Maybe that’s simply because she wasn’t quite ready to let go of whatever insecurities she has around doing new things, but again, it doesn’t matter what the reason is. It’s ok because she is perfect exactly where she is.
When the Universe has lined things up for us because we’ve set a desire to do something, the circumstances surrounding them always flow very easily to us. Things feel effortless and like they are ‘meant to be’. Timing feels perfect. Needless to say, this set of circumstances didn’t feel effortless or even comfortable but I still pushed on in the name of knowing best and not giving Kitty mixed messages. At the end of the day, Kittyhadn’t set the desire to go.
Every parent wants the best for their children and everybody is doing the best that they can. Always. The difference between my parenting now and my parenting 12 years ago is huge and I am proud of the changes I’ve made because I consider them to be vast improvements. I was doing my best then and I am doing my best now. Even in times when you feel you’ve messed up, the thing to remember is that ultimately everything is perfect just as it is, whether it feels good in that moment or not.
I learned a lot from that little episode, for example, that I can’t push Kitty out of her comfort zone at a rate that suits me. I also learned how far I’ve come, because it felt uncomfortable for me that I chose the approach I did. It’s a valuable reminder that my new parenting ways feel better than my old ones. Twelve years ago, I might have felt frustration at Kitty for being silly or stubborn, but today I can take full responsibility for the situation myself.
Loving without conditions
Parenting is the most privileged role we can have in life and to honour our children’s wishes as much as possible is to give them the best start. We are born with a complete ‘knowing’ of who we are and what will make us happy; we just have to listen to our higher selves because they are the vehicle for us to remember. I believe our role as parents is twofold: 1) to limit the fears that cause limiting beliefs and 2) to love without conditions. The latter includes not placing our own expectations of behaviour around our children but instead loving them for however they choose to express themselves in their life.
When we dictate to our children how we want them to behave or what choices we think they should make, we are effectively sending them the message that they aren’t okay how they are; that they need to be different; or that they aren’t capable of making good decisions for themselves. What this does is dims the guidance from their higher self, or more accurately, their ability to see it. Clearly there are times when we have to protect our children from danger; we wouldn’t walk them along a clifftop and expect them to keep a safe distance from the edge, but we can guide them through their childhoods without completely turning off their ability to interpret whatfeelsbest for them.
Letting go of the need to control
If we are honest with ourselves, how many opportunities do we have on a daily basis to relinquish a little of the control we exert over our children? And if we decided to do that, what’s the worst thing that could happen? Our homes aren’t suddenly going to turn to disarray because we break a few of our own rules. Our children will naturally follow the examples of behaviour we set, so if all is well with us, what we are more likely to end up with is a relaxed home where everyone feels safe to be themselves.
I was in a sports club café with a friend and her two-year-old daughter the other day who kept trying to get down from the table to go in the nearby soft play. She hadn’t finished her lunch so my friend kept saying ‘no’ and the whole scenario was spiralling down into a battle of the wills. I sensed that my friend felt like people around her were judging, so I asked her what she would do if nobody else were in the room. She said she would let her get her own way at which we both laughed, and then she did just that.
Off her daughter toddled into the soft play and about three minutes later she came back to the table without anyone asking her to, climbed up onto her chair and ate some more of her lunch. Then she did the same again a few minutes later. It was brilliant! If anyone was watching and disapproving, we didn’t notice or care. At the end of the day what anyone else thought or felt about the situation was none of our business. I don’t think any harm will come of my friend’s daughter’s table manners as a result of that day. I can’t see her wandering around a restaurant in the middle of a meal in years to come, looking for other things to do while her friends chat and her food goes cold on the table!
In my example with Kitty, I decided that she was too fearful to hear her inner guidance and I waded in with an approach that I thought would help to fix things. In hindsight, a better approach for me to take would have been to simply accept her fear and respect that it still existed. She, with my support, will work through her insecurities at a pace that is comfortable for her. Just because I’m her mother doesn’t mean it’s my job to fix her. If I truly love her unconditionally and without judgement (which I do) then she is already 100% perfect. There is nothing to fix. The same applies to Georgie; she may have to manage the high expectations I taught her to put on herself, but she too is perfect, and who knows, that learned trait of hers may well be one of the attributes that helps her achieve exactly what she wants in life.
The way I choose to parent now is by being conscious enough about my own behaviour that I don’t diminish my children’s ability to hear their own inner guidance systems. That means always taking their opinions and feelings into consideration, regardless of how I feel about those. Only Kitty truly knows what is best for her and only Georgie truly knows what is best for her. With my support, they can learn to hear that guidance and act upon it.
It’s never too late to start living and parenting consciously, and if you feel like your own inner guidance system has become a bit dim, or like me, you feel you’ve contributed in the past to the dimming of your children’s in some way, don’t worry; all is well. Where you are, is perfect, and where they are, is perfect too. And just by reading this, your consciousness has increased because you can’t ‘unknow’ what you know!