Children are both our students and our teachers. For those of us who are parents, those lines can be blurred and crossed on a daily basis.
When we became parents, we knew we wouldn't be perfect, but we certainly didn't think we'd "mess up" in so many ways, did we? Likely, most of us went out of our way to read the latest parenting books, connect with "Mom" (or "Dad") groups and find resources that supported our parental values. Our intentions were good and we were focused. At a minimum, we surely knew what we weren'tgoing to do, and that was probably everything that our own parents did do!
Then baby came, began growing ever-so-fast and real life started to happen. Is he ever going to sleep through the night? I can't believe I just yelled at her! They want to do WHAT? What the heck did Dr. Sears know about MY child anyway?! Hmmm... maybe a boarding school IS in our budget!
Whether we are at the wee stages of wobbling toddlers or are trying to keep enough groceries in our fridge to feed that overgrown teenager, we have already learned that our off-spring not only have a mind of their own, but annoying habits that reek of our own dirty laundry! So what can parents to do to guide their children at this bump in the road?
For starters, it's an invaluable gift to hold space for and allow a child's "mind of their own" - as well as their spirits - to blossom. Imagine what you would have felt if your own parents had simply listened to and valued your perspective. What if they had really seen who you were, rather than spent so much energy trying to make you what you weren't? As parents, we can certainly "disagree" with our children - and it is our duty to set loving boundaries to protect them - but to truly see and honor our children for who they are is one of our most challenging and important tasks.
Children have two types of "bad habits" - the first they came in with, and the second is the stuff we've unconsciously handed down to them. The latter is usually what rubs us the wrong way the hardest.
To deal with - and integrate - our children's "faults" begin by seeing them as gifts instead. Perhaps your child is really hard on himself; Oh, he is a perfectionist and likes things to be done well.Maybe she is spacey and can't seem to concentrate at the task at hand; Ah, she has a lively imagination and is still living in the wonders of childhood. If we look closely, we will see that everyone's darkness actually comes from their light! By accepting and loving the darkness, we illuminate it with light which allows it to shine anew. The easiest way to integrate the energies we see as negative is by first seeing them with a positive perspective. From there, we can assist our children in bringing out their gifts in more "acceptable" or "productive" (loving!) ways.
Now for the pesky bad habits that they've taken on from us! Hopefully, reading (and re-reading) the previous paragraph will help this area because the same approach applies. Loving our own darkness can actually be harder than loving someone else's - unless of course that someone else is the one we've raised and is mirroring back to us that really, really dark stuff!
It is common knowledge that children are little sponges and learn by what we do and not what we say. And, unfortunately, most of our own bad habits simply ooze out of us without our awareness. STOP YELLING!, we yell. Why are you so critical of yourself / your brother / others?, we criticize. Or we worry, My child is such a worrier, what should I do?
Once we clearly acknowledge our own issues manifesting through them, we can begin to heal ourselves and support our children. Since much of this stuff is deep-rooted and out of control, seeking professional help from a therapist, spiritual counselor, or other professional may be a great step toward releasing these patterns in ourselves. The key here is to be completely loving and gentle with ourselves as we face and clear our own issues. For our children, when we begin our personal journey toward loving self-care, we are modeling a new behavior for them to follow.
Another place we can make a difference is with clear communication. Verbally acknowledging these similar patterns can help your children understand and embrace their shortcomings. Age appropriate conversations about your common issues of perfectionism, negative self talk, or worrying can help create a bond between you and offer your child a new perspective.
Finally, if and when all else fails - or perhaps this will be the mark of success! - learn to laugh at you and your child's perceived shortcomings. After all, laughter is known to be the world's best medicine!
Our Children, by Kahlil Gibran
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you, but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love, but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies, but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
But seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
And He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let our bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
So He loves also the bow that is stable.