Musings: Healthy Parenting
Having raised a daughter almost into her third decade, I now have the luxury of looking back to savor all the hard work done. Although we can never be sure that greater challenges still do not lie ahead with our adult children, the days of constant tending in bringing up baby are gone.
It’s a bittersweet reality once they leave the nest — calmer and quieter, for sure, more privacy…but too calm? Joy and anticipation undeniably hang in the air before each of her return visits home. From diapers to playgrounds to dating and driving, those first twenty years are gone in a flash, and with them, your precious little wonder who is no longer a member of your household exclusively, but of the world at large. Remember this next time you are sitting up at 3 a.m. with your sick 5 year old, and stretch out your patience just another thirty minutes longer!
One of the harshest realizations a parent must make is that it is impossible to be a perfect parent and never hurt this child whom you love so much. We are imperfect beings, wounded in our selves, uninformed and unaware about many things in life.
At times, you will unintentionally pass misinformation onto your child due to your own ignorance. You will lose your temper and say or do hurtful things. You may, with all good intentions, unknowingly choose options in healthcare, schooling or discipline that undermine your child’s wellbeing rather than strengthen it.
You are trying to do the best you can with the skills, resources and knowledge you have, but babies are dropped, children’s fingers get slammed in car doors, adults lose patience. My daughter still bears a tiny telltale scar under her chin where my pointy ring nicked her tender baby flesh in my haste to dress her one morning when she was only nine months old.
The reality of our unfinished selves and the potential we have for unknowingly inflicting harm on these young and innocent ones emphasizes how important the qualities of humility and respect are in raising healthy children. Becoming a parent places one person in a very powerful position of authority over another, one who is physically and emotionally vulnerable. Because of this dynamic, and the huge investments of time, energy and money that parenting requires, it is all too easy for us to slip into believing and behaving as if we “own” our children or that they owe us something in return.
All Children Are Adopted
The surest way to avoid this pitfall is to remember that children have been gifted into our lives by a divine force and they belong to Creator, not us. All children are adopted. Parents are special caregivers entrusted with the responsibility of rearing these young beings until they are able to care for themselves. Each one is born to fulfill a divine purpose on their Mother Earth, not to satisfy the whims of parents or others.
At its best, parenting provides an environment where children are loved, provided for and protected, and shown the best ways of being human from the moment they are born. The exquisite beauty of this arrangement is that unconditional love can root most deeply within the parent/child bond, more so than with any other kind of human love. Nothing can bring as much joy to one’s heart as the pure love and trust bestowed by an innocent child, or the cherished bond cultivated over many years with an adult child. By humbly acknowledging that our children are not our own, that we are caretaking another’s precious treasure for but a while, our sense of respect for them grows naturally.
Respecting our children does not mean allowing them to do whatever they please. On the contrary, it means respecting the natural limitations of their immaturity and providing appropriate guidelines and role modeling so they feel secure in the very unpredictable world in which they live. Babies quite often cry because they feel insecure, having spent their first nine months of development in continuous contact with another human being. There is never too much holding of an infant that a parent can do. Slings, backpacks, shared sleeping space and of course, breastfeeding, are ideal.
Children learn most by example and will imitate whatever they observe and hear around them. This is why viewing violent TV programs or computer games is as destructive to your child’s fragile and developing nervous system as living with real adults who fight all the time. When children see examples at home or on television of people who are kind to one another, are of service to each other, and look out for the wellbeing of other people and creatures, they learn about the uplifting possibilities in the world.
While violence exists in our lives, so does peace. The more our children are exposed to peace, love and joy, the more they will be able to create and express this reality in their own lives no matter what’s going on around them. It’s the most precious legacy we can gift to them, more valuable than any object we can buy.
You do not owe your children closets full of clothes, cars or a college education. However, you do owe them the best of your love for calling them into your life in the first place.
Give to your children the thing you feel is most lacking in your life, whether it’s time, love, patience or money, and watch it grow. When you focus on sharing what is most valuable to you or scarce in your life, you will find it magically increases. Be aware of the special role your child is playing in helping you to regain balance in that part of your life and enjoy the generosity and healing you feel by sharing.
Whatever you give to your children, give because you want to — not because you have to — and mutual respect will develop. When the time finally comes for them to surpass you, you will humbly and gracefully be able to step aside and wish them well.