Recognizing our kids' own innate power and our own (as I've been writing about) can be easier in theory than practice! So how do we find this elusive balance of treating or children as sovereign beings and recognizing our own sovereignty? Let's start with getting to know permissiveness.
Permissive parenting may look like:
The antidote to permissiveness is not to be controlling or harsh! If you recognize permissive parenting in yourself, begin to find better boundaries for yourself without judging or blaming your child. Remember that every day and every moment you are helping your child to discover their true self.
The foundation for respectful parenting is self-respect. We can not give anyone else what we do not have for ourself, and that includes giving our children respect. There is no shortcut or bypass, no way to do it for our kids without doing it for ourselves, too.
This is a rough truth for lots of us. We become parent to a sweet little baby and want to give it the world, to fix the mistakes our parents made, and offer this child the love, acceptance, and nurturing needed. But to do that, we must confront and heal the dark, confused, and messy places in ourselves.
When parents treat a child as a wise and wonderful soul without treating themselves that way, they are permissive, indulging that child at the expense of their own needs and comfort, putting the child in a privileged or special position. As wonderful as each child is, they aren't more special than their parents, siblings, cousins, neighbors, or any other human being. As children grow, they need to feel their own power of self-expression, creativity, and purpose grow and emerge. At the same time, they need to learn to recognize and value these things in other people, beginning in their own family.
How do we help children to both feel their own goodness and balance it with other people? This is probably going to be a long and messy process, but we can start with two simple steps. For ourselves--slow down, be aware of our own needs and feelings, and respond to them wisely. For our children--slow down, be aware of their needs and feelings both from their more personal point of view and your broader point of view, and respond wisely.
We do need to offer our children special treatment, sitting up with them when they're sick even though we are exhausted, loving them even when they're rude and hard to love, reminding them to clean up after themselves even though we've already told them a hundred times. And we need to cultivate a sense of balance, seeing ourselves and our children as sovereign, innately good souls on a journey, souls whose needs may appear to conflict but who are learning the most important thing humans learn, how to be in loving relationship.
To raise a child as a sovereign being requires self-awareness, attunement, and emotional intelligence. As parents, we may be more controlling than we realize. We may think we're helping a child to follow their own path when it's really our path.
Not long ago it was not unusual to punish or threaten children for being gay, refusing to eat meat, wanting/not wanting to go to college, refusing to join the family business, or playing with 'girl' or 'boy' toys that didn't agree with the child's visible gender identify. Of course, there are still parents who do this, but most kids experience more freedom in these areas than they did a couple of generations ago. Cultural consensus is gathering around the belief that it isn't right to hurt children to make them obey us, and that child labor and exploitation are not acceptable.
Will you join me in exploring your own family structures and expectations? Let's get curious about the paths we may be pushing our children toward, and the alternate paths that may be right for our child even though they seem strange to us.
Tomorrow--the difference between respectful parenting and permissive parenting.
We welcome these helpless little babies into our lives and believe ourselves to be the ultimate force that cares for them and keeps them alive. But of course that is ridiculous! What keeps them alive is so much bigger than us. It's their own life force--that which drives them to nurse and breathe and move and connect. And it's something that I think of as Life Itself or Interdependence or Spirit.
It's not us.
We have a role, and it's a very important role. But it's not THE role.
Each child is born into the world a sovereign being, on a path that none of us understand. There will be challenges and gifts and handicaps that no sane parent would sign a child up for, but that may just be the most important things this being will encounter. Maybe it'll be a reading disability, or an allergy. Maybe a brilliant intellect or a weak one, a very sensitive personality or an insensitive one. Maybe the kind of physical circumstances that would make a weak person just give up and die, but somehow inspire this particular being to dig in and LIVE.
We are not in charge of the path. We are not in charge of challenges or gifts, only of helping these beings to be ready to face them. Connection and love are our true offerings, not safety or comfort.
If we are wise, we look on our children as incredible, wise, sovereign beings right from the start. We recognize that they are the ones who will rise to each occasion, who can and must conquer each challenge, the pain of falling down as they learn to walk or their first heartbreak. We honor their innate drive to learn and grow, the deep inner knowing that somehow guides them along their true path, and (at the same time) their profound need to be seen, loved, and accepted by us.
Life is busy, and it takes a conscious effort to allow ourselves time to BE. We have to slow down, put off the productive things that can feel important and urgent--washing the dishes, mowing the lawn, paying bills. Today, consider creating some space in your day today just to be. It won't be productive in the same way as things on your 'to do' list, but it can bring you back to yourself and your clear center. From this center, everything in your day changes because you bring peace into each chore, conversation, and moment.
Whether you are sitting in a quiet space right now or a noisy one, mindful listening can be a great practice. With it, we establish an open and friendly relationship with the sounds around us rather than a judging relationship. That intentional openness can find it's way into our day and life in lots of ways, especially perhaps into openness to sensing our emotions as they are without reacting to them.
Here's a guided mindful listening practice to try:
I love the term 'approximating.' It makes so much sense, recognizing the value of getting near to a goal rather than seeing things as simply right or wrong. As parents, we are wise to help our kids get where they're heading step by step with support. To do this, we need to establish expectations, that toys are put away before bed, for example. We start with our own example, tidying up after ourselves and after them when they're very small..
Kids will naturally start to help, and we can support this by noticing that they are approximating the thing we do. Simply acknowledging their work without a big fuss or reward encourages them. There will be times that they'll resist the habit of clean up. We don't need to demand perfection, just help them back to the path of clean up by supporting their approximation.
This works at every age. We can approach helping a child do homework, teaching them to drive, encouraging them to be respectful toward other people, in this same way. It even works with ourselves when prepare a few extra seasonal vegetables each week rather than expecting ourselves to prepare perfectly healthy meals each night.
Kids (and all people) integrate responsibilities bit by bit with support. They seem to master a skill, then may regress for a few days or weeks. With support, they master it again. Mess ups are less of a problem when we recognize that we can support an incremental movement toward mastery rather than believing in an 'all or nothing' kind of mastery.
In my own world last night, while Britain was voting to leave the European Union, the rain came. It's been so dry with surprisingly low humidity and hot temperatures. The gardens and yard were parched.
I was anticipating rain, counting on it for several days over the past couple of weeks, but it didn't come. I was impatient. Of course, I couldn't do anything about whether it rained, so I tried to remember to be open to life as it is. I watered the garden but I also closed the car windows. Last night as I 'realized' that it just wasn't going to rain that day, it started. A soft and steady rain (not the heavy thunderstorms we were warned of) fell for a long time.
This rain is, for me, a lot like that moment when things fall into place with my kids. Sometimes things are off, really off. They are mad, maybe because I was bossy or controlling, maybe because they're exhausted, maybe because a friend is having a rough time, maybe for reasons they don't even understand. As a parent, I really want to fix it, to reconnect, to get them to talk about what's going on. But it doesn't work that way. I can't force the rain. I can't make them talk. I can stay open and loving without being pushy. I can hang in moment by moment, day by day, allowing them to move toward me at their own pace and in their own timing.
Eventually, the rain comes and the child opens. It's so much better when they open because they want and choose to rather than because they feel pushed. The conversation is deeper and more authentic. The timing is right for them, the self-awareness is ripe. The connection is heart-ful and warm.
My life and work are guided by the these core understandings: that all beings (including me!) are capable of transformation and joy, that healthy parenting matters profoundly, and that simple practices can support each of us.