I truly believed that I was parenting in a very open-minded and progressive way prior to reading a book called Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn. I have tried very hard to be an open communicator, to resist punishing opting instead for turning it into a learning opportunity, to really hear my children, to love them in a way that I thought was truly unconditional, etc.. I believe that most parents actually do unconditionally love their children – that no matter what our kids do, we will still love them. The nuance that I am becoming more aware of is whether our children perceive that we love them unconditionally, based on how we act. The truth is that “perception is reality.” When I reflect on this truth, it makes me contemplate how my children may be receiving my well-intentioned parenting techniques. The following writing has helped me to build a basic framework regarding what my role really is as a parent.
The Prophet – by Kahlil Gibran, on Children:
And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, Speak to us of Children.
And he said:
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.
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 arrow might go swift and far.
Let your 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.
It is not unusual to think that our children are “ours” – like our property, as if we can treat them however we want (thank goodness most of us believe that we are responsible for treating them well). We think we have an obligation to shape them and form them into socially acceptable human beings – that there is some culturally defined marker of success that we are targeting as we shoot “our” little arrow children. And that if we, as parents, don’t do that work, our children surely would miss the mark. How would it be for you if you could let this go? How would it be for you if you could gently hold that bow (you as a parent) stable, grounded, strong, and lovingly as you send your beautiful arrows out to make their OWN mark? I am not suggesting that we relinquish all responsibility of parenting. I am just suggesting that we consider the possibility that we don’t own our children and that they, because of us or in spite of us, are going to be (and become) their own people – perfectly imperfect with their own dreams, goals, capabilities, idiosyncrasies, personalities, “mistakes,” and much more. Our responsibility is not to turn them into “someone,” rather to help them find who they actually are and provide them with the love, security, and opportunity to authentically be themselves and to spread their wings and soar. This week, just notice some things:
- What messages might we be sending to our children when we are critical of them because they are not meeting our standards (cleanliness, responsibility, academics, etc.)?
- How about the times when we are in a power struggle – fighting with our child? If we stopped thinking that he/she is “OURS” and we are responsible for “shaping” him/her, would we be able to let it go?
- Sometimes we demand respect from our children, but don’t give it in return. Maybe you believe that to be how it should be. Can you examine that belief and what our children might be learning from that imbalance?
- When our kids are acting in age-appropriate ways, but we are crabby, we blame them and criticize them for their behavior. What if we told them how we were feeling and asked for what we need? Could we take responsibility for what is going on for us? What do WE need?
”Instead of punishing our children by sending them into isolation, let’s offer ourselves time-out to discover our own needs, our own true selves. You cannot give to your child until you give to yourself.” ~Cheri Huber
I am fully aware that we do what we do from a place of love. We also respond to our children out of fear – fear that they will get hurt, fear that they will be a failure, fear that they will make bad decisions, etc. This, too, is usually rooted in a deep love and concern for our children. Nonetheless, it is often more destructive than it is helpful. Aargh, isn’t this frustrating? The really great thing about kids is that they are resilient…there is no reason to believe that we cannot undo what may have been done. We can change their perceptions by becoming more aware of and changing our behavior. And changing our behavior requires us to examine some of our beliefs and thoughts.
Just where is that balance between providing the boundaries that children need and controlling them?
How do we do this in a way that children perceive that they are loved unconditionally?
How do we love our children unconditionally and yet communicate that there is still room for growth and improvement?
Is punishment effective?
What do you wish your parents had done for you as a child? How did you perceive the love that they were giving to you?