Have you ever heard that saying that goes something like “I was a much better parent before I had children”? I love it. Parenting is often much harder than we expect.
We imagine that parenting will involve joyous afternoons at the park, quiet snuggles on the lounge (I actually subscribed to magazines that I envisaged I would read while my newborn slept – what was I thinking!?), café dates with young children who sit still, fun-filled and stress free family holidays, well behaved children who never watch too much tv, leave their toys all over the house, refuse to sleep in their beds or eat their vegetables, who do their homework, listen to what we say, earn endless praise from their teachers and so on.
We think we need to have all the answers and be in charge. Teaching, guiding, showing our kids we have it all together, keeping our emotions in check.
If we don’t, we are failing. We are bad mums.
In reality, motherhood is full of challenges we often don’t know the answers to. Much of the time we feel out of our depth or blindsided by things we didn’t anticipate.
While it might look like everyone else has it all together, is in control and nailing every challenge, this isn’t the truth.
Not only is parenting hard, but as women who have entered motherhood we are in the midst of a long and very significant period of transformation, our matrescence. It affects every part of us as our priorities shift and identity shift, our bodies change and our place in society evolves.
It’s a lot, isn’t it.
What if, instead of seeing all the ways we fell short, we saw all the ways we were learning and growing?
Seeing the opportunities to learn
Our children invite us to learn and grow constantly. We learn by observing them, by interacting with them and by examining our reactions to them and our parenting experiences.
Children only know how to be their true selves until they are told that something else is required. They speak their minds with complete honesty, they feel and express their “no” with their whole body. How beautiful is that? So many women I work with long to be able to rediscover and be their true selves. What can we learn from our children in this area? Children are experts at living in the moment, soaking up the joy in the little things and following their desires. What can you learn from that?
Children are always giving us feedback. Through their actions (like when they make really big bids for our attention when we haven’t been present), their words (“your face is angry mummy”, “I don’t like it when you…”), or their body language and facial expressions (you know that moment when an upset child just melts into your arms for comfort, or when you notice the slightest change in their facial expression when you’re asking them to do something they’re nervous about). If that’s not enough for you, you can ask for their feedback.
There truly are endless opportunities to learn and grow with our children but it can be easy to miss the learning when we are focused on them. So, try to leave a little headspace for yourself, whether it’s in the moment or on reflection.
Let me give you an example. I find that often something is a challenge not because of what my child is doing but because of how it triggers me. It’s my response. This is an invitation for me to understand my own reaction. I get really stressed when we are running late. I try to do all the preventative things, but sometimes it just doesn’t seem to work, and if I try to hurry my son he says with so much frustration “stop rushing me. I don’t like it!”. On the surface that feels like defiance and a lack of cooperation, but if I think about it, it’s a completely fair response. I don’t like being rushed either and to be honest, my response isn’t really about him, it’s about all the stories I have about being late.
“If I’m late it means I’m disorganised.”
“I only have one child to get ready so it’s ridiculous that we’re late.”
“Being late is rude and disrespectful. It’s not what “good girls” or capable women do.”
Now I know that those things aren’t necessarily true nor will the impact of being late usually be catastrophic. But these are stories that I’ve been holding onto for a long time. My response to my son not hurrying up is really just a reminder that I can let go of these stories that no longer serve me.
I have learned so much through being a mother, including:
- How to be truly present and stay out of the past and future.
- How to have more fun and be less concerned with the more serious side of life.
- Rest is productive.
- How to create space for myself.
- My wellbeing needs to be a priority and not the last thing to get my attention or the first thing to go in busy times.
- I don’t need to have all the answers or have everything planned.
- I don’t need to be in control all the time.
- Different is positive and children are their own people who may not conform to what I envisaged and that is good!
- I can heal my own hurts and not pass them on to the next generation.
- I am not solely responsible for every detail of how my child turns out.
- I have a deep need to be more than a mum while also loving being a mum.
- How to slow down.
- The beauty of simple pleasures.
- I can be incredibly frustrated and still be loving.
- Deep breathing really does calm the nervous system.
- Big emotions are not bad.
- What unconditional love really looks like.
What have you learned? How have you grown so far?
Being open to the growth and learning
To benefit from all these opportunities, we first have to be ok with not knowing all the answers and being taught by our children. This can be confronting to our ego and if that’s the case, I encourage you to examine the stories you are holding onto about what it would mean if you didn’t have all the answers, or if you were to be learning from a child.
What would it mean about you? It is really true?
Would the benefits outweigh the discomfort?
Can you sit with the discomfort and open yourself up to the possibilities?
We also have to be open minded to a new way of being in the world. We have to be open to not controlling their every move, because what would we learn then? And what would they learn?
Lastly, we have to believe that we are capable of learning and growing, and that we are not stuck with a fixed level of capability, capacity or intelligence. This is called a growth mindset.
For your reflection
If you’d like to really soak up the learnings from your child and your parenting journey so far, reflect on these questions:
- How have your children made you question everything you thought you knew about parenting?
- What have you had to research for your children because you couldn’t answer their questions?
- How have your children reminded you of the pleasures of your childhood?
- How have they changed the way you view the world?
- What have they taught you about what matters most in life?
- What have they taught you about emotions?
- How have they opened your heart and taught you about love and acceptance?
- How has parenting pushed you to expand your capacity and do things you didn’t think you could do?
- What past hurts have your children invited you to heal?
- How have your children invited you to examine your own childhood and experience of being mothered?
- How have your children and your parenting experiences created opportunities for you to confront and overcome your fears?
- How have your children challenged you to examine who you are and the role model you want to be?
- How has parenting challenged you to change the way you approach life and create success?
Every day our children invite us to learn and grow so many times. Will you accept those invitations?