I always thought I was a good mom.
I was, at least, a dedicated mom. I did everything I could for the benefit of my children. I played with them when they were little, spent time doing things with them, took them out on excursions to museums and other places of interest, read stories to them, and had fabulous themed birthday parties with cakes I made myself. I was the mom at every school activity or meeting, volunteering to help. I returned every circular, signed, before the due date. I sent in contributions and lists as they were sent out. I did things for my kids when I was near collapsing with exhaustion, very rarely asking for help, and soldiering on when I was ill. I spent hours doing homework and organising things for their projects. I quizzed them for tests and made study time-tables. I taught them skills around the house and how to behave. I basically organised their lives and organised mine around theirs.
Later on, I was the taxi – driving them to activities, and taking them to friends. My house became a place for friends to hang out, with Mom as the hostess, cooking fun food for the hordes, and providing never-ending snacks. Being a teacher, I was “available” during school holidays – which meant I didn’t get a holiday!
As all of you did, I made sacrifices for my children. As mothers, we so easily do without so that our children’s needs and desires can be met. I hardly ever eat ice-cream because my children love it. I rarely shop for myself, but will buy go on a shopping spree for them. I even went to teach overseas for a few terrible months to pay for their university accommodation fees.
Their needs always came first.
Because they were my responsibility. Not to mention that I loved them to distraction.
I always said that I wanted my children to be happy. After watching Dr. Shefali Tsabary, author of The Conscious Parent, in an interview with Vishen Lakhiani, founder of Mindvalley, ( free masterclass here) I have reason to question myself.
(Just had to include this pic. Isn’t the set gorgeous?)
Dr. Shefali claims that even though we say we want our children to be happy, we actually want them to be successful. To many of us, success is the measure of happiness. That means a good job, a nice car, a big house, a social circle, etc, etc. So, in Traditional Parenting, we create agendas and schedules for our children. We try to teach them how to become successful, worthy, and complete. We often say that we raise our children for the world. We want to ensure our children’s future success and make them fit into society. We are trying to shape them into becoming something. We are not letting them BE.
This prescriptive attitude to parenting comes from our own fears. Our own childhoods have created a blueprint of what the ideal parenting programme is. We have either embraced the way we have been parented and continued the legacy we have been taught, or rejected it and gone in the opposite direction. So children of strict parents may adopt a laissez-faire parenting style, while those with laid-back parents become overly strict.
I know that I have tried to show my children what I believe to be unconditional love, based on my own experiences growing up. But I also see the mistakes I have made. I realise now that my parents did the best they could, based on their knowledge and experience.
My key take-aways from this interview:
1. Your child is a sovereign being, a unique individual who came through you but is not yours to control or own.
A little bit late, but when my children left high school, I decided that they were now young adults and free to make their own decisions without interference, and free to accept the consequences of their actions. This was liberating for me because it freed me from a little bit of mommy-guilt. Of course, you’re still there to pick up the pieces, but the important decisions are up to them. My influence was mostly over. I had to accept that even though I had tried my best, they had grown into their own personalities. I had to accept them as they were. So some days I don’t like them much or don’t like what they do. They probably feel the same way about me! But since I’ve made that decision, I can have an adult conversation with them, make my feelings known, and then let it go. They don’t have to like what I say, but they can deal with it in their own way, and I don’t feel responsible for the outcome of their actions.
2. What you want for your child comes from your own brokenness.
Wow! Aha moment! I always wanted my children to be confident. I was a shy child (believe it or not) with many insecurities. I always wanted to be “good”, so that I could be loved, and I was the golden child while I played by the rules. As soon as I started rebelling against the expectations set for me, I turned into a monster, apparently. I did things of which I am not proud and made lots of mistakes which were to my own detriment. I was a cause for shame, which made me feel shame unless I was being “good” and conforming to the expectation. I felt unworthy and “not good enough”. I felt unloved a lot of the time. I never felt accepted for who I was. And even today, I have my doubts, and still try to be a “good girl”.
I vowed never to make my children feel like that.
But I’m human. And I see now that I’ve made many unconscious mistakes in the pursuit of being a good parent. As I look back at my parenting issues with my children, I realise now how my fears have played out and how I’ve projected my own insecurities onto them, despite my best efforts.
3. Connection before correction
We all have those awful times when we get into a fight with our children because of what they do or don’t do. The episode usually leaves both parties feeling misunderstood or even attacked. Mommy often feels guilty because she didn’t handle the situation properly.
Dr. Shefali advises looking at your triggers – the things that set off the tensions between you and your child. She believes these interactions are based on our ultimate fears. She suggests writing down the last time you were triggered by something your child did or said, and then chunking down until you get to the root cause of your anger. Please check out the video to see how she does this with Vishen!
As an example, use these words:
- I was triggered because…(what happened)
- I was triggered because (what happened) because…(your reason) because…
- I was triggered because (what happened) because (your reason) because (your reason) because…
- Continue doing this until the issue becomes not about your child, but about YOU.
I tried using this exercise with regard to the interactions I often have with my youngest. I often give him an instruction which he questions. He seems to challenge every simple instruction, and I have to explain why I need him to do things a certain way. This happens with regard to things around the house as well as his studies and organisational skills. I realised that this triggers me because I feel he doesn’t trust me / accept my authority/ respect my knowledge. Control issues! I need to let that shit go! As long as he does what he’s meant to, I suppose it’s okay. I acknowledge that I do feel super-protective of him, but I need to trust him to make his own mistakes.
4. We don’t want our children to suffer.
Do you remember being angry and upset, perhaps crying, and being told: “Stop it!” I vividly remember being forced to sit at a table and eat with tears in my eyes and a huge lump in my throat and pain in my chest. We’re not allowed to express our emotions, especially not publicly. We’re always told to “keep your chin up”. No wonder that as adults, and especially as women, we tend to keep our emotions to ourselves.
I think many women have gone the other way, especially with our boys. We allow them to cry, but nobody wants to see their children unhappy, which is why we go out of our way to save them from unhappiness. We dry their tears and try to make them feel better. We want to fix their pain because it hurts us so much. But pain is part of life and teaches us to be resilient. Dr. Shefali suggests that we validate their feelings and give them permission to FEEL. Suppressed emotion shows up later in unresolved issues – don’t we know about that!!
In essence, Dr. Shefali’s message is that our children are OUR teachers. Through our parenting, we find awareness of our own issues and opportunities for our own personal growth.
Please watch the masterclass! It’s amazing!
Love and light