By Cathy Lumsden
Now’s the perfect time to pat yourself on the back for all the amazing things you do with and for your children. It’s typical to discuss the sleepless nights, the worry and stress, and the hopes and dreams you have for your youngsters. However, many of you may not be appreciating the many loving gestures, and amazing day-to-day supports you offer to create a positive family atmosphere.
There are many definitions of parenthood, but one of my favorites is by Elizabeth Stone, professor of English and author of the book A Boy I Once Knew: “Having a child is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside of your body.” Like it or not, both how you are connected to your children and how you are connected to your mother are astounding. Recently, scientists have discovered children’s cells living in their mother’s brains. This demonstrates how interconnected we truly are with our children physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
How can you celebrate yourselves as moms and dads?
1. Make a list of all the things you do with and for your children.
This exercise is about internally acknowledging and appreciating yourself as a parent. It is easier to find the things you are doing wrong and to discount what you are doing well. Reflect on all the positive memories you’ve created with your children. One of my favourite childhood memories is of having a warm towel wrapped around me by my mom when I got out of the bathtub. Her loving arms enveloped me and I can still remember the smell of the towel and of her. Delightful!
2. Ask yourself why you work so hard to be the best parent you can be.
Most parents would answer, “Because I love my kids.” I’m asking you to go deeper. Perhaps you don’t want them to experience the challenges you had as a child. Whatever the reason, once you understand the ‘why’ you may appreciate that you are changing patterns passed down from generation to generation. As parents, we want our children to have all the opportunities available, and to protect them from disappointments, failures and stress.
3. What are the unique qualities and talents that you are modelling for your children?
How does your playful side come out with your kids? How do your time management skills help the flow of your lives? How are your musical, athletic or academic talents benefiting them? We take our innate gifts for granted. Take time daily to reflect on these strengths and how you are positively contributing on so many levels to your family life.
4. How have you emotionally grown being a parent?
Often the most challenging children can be your teachers. They may have pushed you to grow patience or empathy, compelled you to set boundaries or to say no, and forced you to stop yelling and to listen. These are all skills you probably needed to learn but that otherwise wouldn’t have been on your radar.
Life-long learning is part of being human: You have a choice to be a conscious parent; this consciousness brings growth, knowledge and control over your life. When you don’t use awareness you may become more angry or frustrated, and, as a result, you may use coping styles such as control, passivity, avoidance or perfectionism. Remember, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”
5. How do you encourage yourself and/or your partner as parents?
I suggest you tell yourself and each other this: “I’m doing the best that I can in this moment, and I’m open to learning.” When you do make a mistake, reflect on why you behaved this way and make a plan to do things differently next time. If your plan isn’t working, ask for help from a professional. Take time to be quiet and reflect on what is working well. Nurturing yourself, listening to your needs and desires, acknowledging what is working well, and extending compassion towards yourself will go a long way in helping you to be the parent you desire to be. Celebrate yourself as parents weekly. When you stop being critical of yourself, you model that you’re doing your best and demonstrate self-acceptance, which may assist your children to accept themselves more easily. Being partners in parenting is teamwork and demands mutual respect and encouragement.
Letty Cottin Pogrebin’s book Growing Up Free emphasizes the importance of eliminating male/female stereotypes. She stresses that it frees children from the prison of “I can’ts,” liberates them to experience “this is possible” and empowers them to know “I have more options.” More and more parents are jettisoning the traditional family roles that saw moms in charge of housework and childcare, while dad was the breadwinner. Thank goodness! This change offers freedom and choice for everyone to realize their strengths and joy at sharing positive family life experiences.
Scientific American, December 2012, www.scientificamerican.com/article/scientists-discover-childrens-cells-living-in-mothers-brain/
Elizabeth Stone, A Boy I Once Knew, Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2002.
Maureen Black, University of Maryland School of Medicine
Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Growing Up Free, New York: McGraw Hill