BY DR. DAN PETERS
There is no job more important than being a parent.
There is also no job that is more difficult.
We go to school to learn to read, do math, science, and history. We go to college or training programs to gain knowledge and skills in an area of future employment. We receive job training or attend training programs once we are hired for a job. Yet, most of us enter the job of parenthood with no formal training and little preparation. However, we come to the parenting journey with years of personal experiences. These experiences are primarily given to us by our parents, family, and caregivers.
Whether having a child was planned or not, the reality is that most of us think and hope that love will be enough to parent our child. For those of us on this parenting journey, we know that love is unfortunately not enough. Our children come into this world as their own unique beings, with unique personalities and temperaments. They often do as they want to do rather than what we want them to do. We have expectations, hopes, and dreams for them. We also have worries and fears about them and their future. They make us happy, angry, irritable, tired, and scared.
We are living in a new frontier. Information about everything is at our finger-tips and comes at us constantly and with a rapid pace. We have access to more information than in the history of mankind which has allowed us to make scientific breakthroughs. However, this technology also makes us more distracted, less present, and busier. It also makes us compare ourselves and our children to others and worry about where we are falling short, what we need to do better, and what we wished was different. As a result, parents often feel less than and may end up focusing on their child’s weaknesses or problems as the expense of honoring and cultivating their child’s strengths and whole being.
There has been a paradigm shift in the science of parenting. This shift has put the focus on the parent as the primary vehicle for positive and purposeful parenting. This is good news. Why? It means that parents have a significant impact on shaping and guiding their children’s future by working on their OWN behavior. This new paradigm has found that parents who work on understanding themselves, identifying their parenting goals, are present with their children, and work on being healthy and engaged in life raise kids who are self-aware, can regulate their emotions, and relate well with others.
Every time we walk into a room or interact with our children, we are bringing in our energy. Our kids absorb our energy – both positive and negative – like energy from the sun. What most of us don’t realize is that we bring our past experiences, and the energy that goes with it, to our interactions with our children. We have expectations for how our children should behave and talk to us, how hard they should work, how silly they should be, and how much they should apply themselves. We have expectations and worries for their future. While some of these ideas come from our current life and communities in which we live, many of them come from the conditioning of what was right and wrong, what happened when we made a mistake, or what happened when our parents had a bad day or drank too much.
Becoming aware of how our past influences our current parenting and how our children trigger those past memories and experiences, are among the most important elements of parenting with purpose. Understanding the experiences and events that were harmful, shameful, or demeaning and being able to forgive and let go of the lingering effects of these experiences allows parents to more freely see their children for who they are and parent them in real time.
The next critical step in parenting with purpose is for parents to understand who they are – what they care about, what drives them, and what brings them joy and happiness. We cannot expect our children to experience happiness and joy if we are unable to experience happiness and joy and share it with our children. Understanding who we are and what we care about, along with understanding where we come from allows parents to engage with their children in the moment and focus on what is important.
The joy of parenting lies in the adventure and journey. The art of parenting comes from learning about ourselves while we are learning about our children. In being aware and present, we learn from our children and in turn are able to guide them in their growth and development. When we know who we are, we can help our children understand who they are. When our children can understand who they are, they can be in the world with joy and excitement, learn how to manage themselves, utilize coping skills for life’s inevitable challenges, and contribute to making the world a better place.
Photo: Parent Footprint/Shutterstock, used with permission