A very dear friend of mine likes to say, “Relationships would be easy if we didn’t have to deal with people.” It’s funny but it’s also true. People are complicated beings and there is no more obvious example of this than in parenting. I long to connect with the hearts of my children so that they aren’t just obeying rules; I want them to receive our rules and boundaries in a way that causes their hearts to embrace them as further evidence of their parents’ love.
Through much pondering on my own childhood memories, I have drawn the conclusion that one way of making that heart connection is to view life from the perspective of my child (or teen). How? By remembering myself at that age. Obviously, now that I am an adult my default is to reason as an adult; the decisions I make are logical to me because I have made them with adult logic, and I have most likely articulated them in a way that an adult would understand. However, this is often not effective for a young person who is still mentally and emotionally developing. I can trace certain tendencies in myself to distinct childhood memories that were pivotal in shaping my emotional expression and social interactions – some good and some that I don’t remember with fondness. I know that my parents always had the best of intentions in how they raised me and my siblings but at times those intentions probably weren’t conveyed in a way that we could grasp at our particular stages of mental and emotional development. We interpreted their actions and rules differently and it shaped who we have become as adults.
How am I relating this new understanding to the interactions I have with my children? I am trying to follow these steps:
- Remembering me at their age. At this moment my children are little people in a big, big world. Things that seem obvious to me are not so obvious to them and their reactions will reflect this difference in perspective. Rather than getting frustrated with them when they are reluctant, frightened or upset I am trying to remember how I viewed the world as a little person. Doing this helps me to simplify the circumstances they are currently experiencing in a way that they can grasp.
- Don’t rush. As an adult I am always thinking of what needs to be done next while children just want to be in the present. The present moment holds much wonder to them. This can be irritating to someone who has a schedule to follow and plans to keep. But then I pause to remember that when I was a child I had the same wonder as they did; slowing down with my kids is almost as good as getting to repeat my own childhood! I want to savor this opportunity to go back in time.
- Avoid minimizing their emotions. It’s all too easy to steamroll over their feelings, but children’s emotions are just as real and valid as my own. Their responses may often seem melodramatic, but it is simply because these emotions are new to them and difficult, or even impossible, for them to articulate. I don’t want to stifle their emotions or cause them to feel shame for having them. Children have the wonderful luxury of being free of worry about other people’s opinions, and I want them to always experience that freedom when they are at home – they will experience the harshness of the world all too soon.
What I have gleaned from these childhood memories and maternal reflections is that parents can have rich and personal values they wish to instill in their kids but unless they are being conveyed in a way that children can emotionally interpret, those values can prove to be stumbling stones rather than building blocks in their children’s development. I am far from being an experienced parent, but I am seeking to learn as much as I can as quickly as I can and apply it right away.