Recently, I was practice coaching a friend and we were expressing our desire to ‘parent consciously’. As I understand it, this means parenting in an intentional way: one that we have chosen, as opposed to being in reaction mode all the time, or parenting the way our parents did just because that’s what we know. My friends who have kids know a lot about parenting and child development. They’ve read the books and the blogs, attended the seminars, studied the research, taken the classes, consulted with their doctors, naturopaths, etc. They’ve done it all in an effort to be better moms and dads. So, are they? Has all that information-gathering made their job any easier? For my friend and myself, choosing our own parenting path had become an endless quest. In our search for answers, we had gotten hopelessly lost. What use is all the information if you don’t have a filter through which to sort it?
Often we get confused about our real role as parents. I get caught up in the ‘parental doing’ side of things; maybe because I’m home taking care of the kids, I tend to focus on all those activities and tasks I perform like packing lunches and driving to dance classes. What gets overlooked is the ‘parental being’ side of my identity. I read about these concepts in Gloria DeGaetano’s excellent book, Parenting Well in a Media Age. ‘Parental being’ refers to the inner qualities of your parenting such as your beliefs, values, and creativity. Knowing clearly what those inner-qualities are helps you to act with purpose and constancy in the face of struggle and fatigue. One of the hardest things I find about being a stay-at-home parent is that I am constantly ‘on’ (incidently, that was also the hardest part of being a classroom teacher). I have to make many, many decisions a day – some big, but mostly small – and respond to non-stop demands. You might think that with a background in early-education it would be easier for me to navigate these waters. NOT SO. It would be so nice to have a short-cut through all the bullshit sometimes. A clear route through the influence of media, family, friends, and societal norms to my own parenting Truth.
Parent coaching attempts to help parents get clear about who they are as parents; we speak about the “core part inside that forms the basis for all the parenting choices” (Parenting Well in a Media Age p.38). An articulated parenting identity acts as a navigation system. In the face of daily decision-making and stressors, it gives you a filter with which to reduce unwanted influences and noise. This inner-compass reduces stress because it directs your path. Parenting choices will align with the values and vision of the family.
I’ve been working on my own parent identity lately. What I’ve discovered is that I like learning. I seek out new information all the time, and I like talking to my friends about what they are doing as parents. What’s evolving for me, however, is my ability to take in all this ‘data’ and still trust my own deep knowing. To feel confident in my own path and not compare it with others. I’ve also been able to get in touch with my own unique parenting strengths and appreciate them. One strength is my ability to have fun and be silly with my kids. I recognize now how core this is to my happiness, and to the way I experience family life. If I want to feel more aliveness and satisfaction from my parenting, then I need to be intentional about doing the activities that generate playfulness and fun. When I hold onto my true purpose – my ‘parental being’- my priorities are crystal clear.
I’m also starting to understand that the only way to get clarity on my parenting identity is to take time for quiet reflection. I need lots and lots of time alone to just go inside. Unfortunately, this is exactly what’s lacking in my life. Since having kids, my interior life has suffered immensely. I live almost completely on the outside; doing everything for them and using all my mental energy to focus on their needs, their wants, their growth…
I remind myself that one of my values is to teach my kids to know their own minds and to trust their inner-voice. But the only way to know yourself is to spend time inside self. So I try to create opportunities for just that. I try to set the example for ‘doing nothing’ or being bored. I try to schedule time away for myself, and I have been taking more walks alone in the evening. I hope I’m setting an example for them, but more importantly right now, I hope I’m creating an inner life that will fuel my personal parenting identity.