I came to parenting with a strong belief in the innate goodness and wisdom of children and with a sense that a parent's role is a collaborative and supportive rather than controlling one. Once I had kids, though, authoritarian beliefs and conditioning started to come up that I hadn't even suspected. Life, including growing up with an authoritarian dad and going to Catholic school, had instilled deep conditioning around compliance, authority, and obedience.
For all of my years as a parent, I've worked with the conflict between my core beliefs and my actual behavior. It hasn't always been pretty, especially in the years before I had a mindfulness practice. When my kids were little and loved to drop food over the side of the high chair, the part of me that knew they were exploring and discovering was at odds with the part that wanted them to stop making a mess and 'do the right thing.' When they were a little older and resisted going to bed, a small part of me understood their resistance while a large part felt frustrated and angry that they weren't listening. Now as they are older, new power struggles come up.
I don't like this authoritarian, controlling aspect of myself! I know it was in me before I was a parent, but I know that my experiences as a mom bring it out in the open where I can (and have to) see it. The truth is that my beliefs and ideas about children are not fully integrated with my conditioning. Bit by bit, I am recognizing the physical, emotional, and mental habits that play a strong role in my parenting. Each time I run into a conflict between how I act and how I want to act--and those conflicts are ever-changing through my kids' developmental stages--I get to see more conditioning.
I have learned that fighting it does not help. What does help is awareness and curiosity. Bit by bit, time by time, as I see old habits of control, authority, and suppression arise, I am becoming able to recognize them without acting on them. As I sit in the discomfort of this internal conflict, something loosens or shifts, leaving me more able to be present with my kids as they are.
As a mom (to 2 teenage sons), wife, and person in the world, I have been on a long imperfect journey. I have made many mistakes, but with mindfulness, emotional reflection, and lots of support I have learned enormously from those mistakes.