We all want to grow up happy, well-adjusted children who find their way in the world. The “parenting” world is meant to inspire our journey as big people in the shepherding of our littles along such a path. Yet, while it is true that being informed in the raising up of your children can be a wonderfully helpful thing, it can also create the backlash of having you question whether or not you really know what you are doing.
It is at this point that angst can creep into our parenting dynamic and begin to interrupt our children’s growth. This is perhaps no more true than in the world of attachment-based parenting. The science of child development has very clearly revealed that children absolutely need to marinate in an environment of connection in order for their brains and their hearts to grow exactly as nature intended. The crucial experience created for the child is one of emotional rest, created by caring adults who are simultaneously in charge and full of compassion.
Knowing you are meant to foster attachment and connection with your children, you don’t want to mess that up. So you bend over backwards to keep them happy, to make sure you don’t rock the boat too much, to prevent experiences of upset. Oh the angst! At some point in all of this the child cannot help but wonder, “does my big person really have this?” An adult being able to manifest an in-charge kind of energy doesn’t really fit with an adult who is thrust into a storm of angst over how to parent their child.
At some point in all of this the child cannot help but wonder, “does my big person really have this?”
Angst-y parent energy ultimately undermines what the child actually needs. This is what I call the seedy underbelly of attachment parenting. It is the slippery slope that comes with longing to do right by your children according to the science of child development, and in the process, surrendering the natural hierarchy of the adult-child relationship. Children need their big people to indeed be BIG. If you shrink to the fear-based reality of molly-coddling, happiness-at-all-costs, anxiety-driven parenting, you are not at all in charge. In fact, quite the reverse. You are more likely being lead by your child and running to keep up from behind.
How does today’s parent avoid falling into the trap of parenting from a weak place of angst rather than a powerful place of confidence? Before rushing in to figure out what to do about all of this, consider, as Dr. Wayne Dyer said, that “we are human beings, not human doings.” So rather than focusing on the concretes of what to do, it might actually first be more helpful to focus on how to BE.
“We are human beings, not human doings.” – Dr Wayne Dyer
To support this I have developed a three-part mantra for all parents to use as the foundation of how they act and react moment to moment. The mantra is: “See it, Feel it, Be it.” See it simply involves observing the moment from a very present kind of place without assigning judgement or value. It might be that you see your child crying, hitting someone, or not doing what was asked of them. From there, move to Feel it. This is where you put yourself inside the heart and mind of your child and really understand empathically what is happening for them. Once you have landed there, you can then see the world through your child’s eyes and… Be it for them.
It is in this place of BEing that we land with what to do. That will look very different for every parent and child from moment to moment. There is nothing about the human condition that can be scripted precisely. In fact, in scripting anything, you abandon your BEing to get to the DOing. Eckhart Tolle describes the difference between knowing about something and knowing something. It is the difference between knowing about your child and knowing your child. The drive to “know about” divorces you from the essence of simply “knowing.” It is in the simplicity of knowing that you find your being.
To bring this all to life in your day to day world, here are some ideas about how to BE the kind of big person that is beautifully in charge:
- Do not confuse being firm with being mean.
With the increasing awareness of the importance of attachment to healthy child development, parents can sometimes feel trapped into being a bit of a doormat for their kids. The thinking is that being firm, having boundaries, and establishing expectations doesn’t fit with attachment parenting. This could not be further from the truth! The caring, compassionate, in-charge parent oozes energy that is absolutely firm, full of boundaries and high expectations. Having a big voice or unwaverable presence is not the same thing as being mean. Rather, it is one of the loveliest things you can do for a growing child.
- Know that you do not need your child to love you.
In the pursuit of what renowned psychologist Dr. Gordon Neufeld calls “right relationship” with your children, be very aware that you do not need your child to love you. Right relationship is all about parents being in the lead position, and children being able to lean into the support of that very in charge parent. When you concern yourself with whether or not your child will like you or be pleased with you, you sell-out on your in-chargeness.
- Do not look to your children as a source of your happiness.
Your children are not here to care take of your feelings. We do not have children to be happy. Instead, we have children because of the gift inherent to that relationship. This gift is that you have to grow yourself in order to grow a child. Your growth is to be aware of the programs that are being triggered inside of you (shame, lack, etc.) as you parent your child, and to then go inside yourself so that these things may be addressed. Very few among us will actually do this difficult work outside the experience of being parents. We do for our children what we often wouldn’t do for ourselves. It is nature’s way.
- Be the provider and never the pursuer.
In the context of the parent-child attachment relationship, it is the parent’s job to be the provider of contact, closeness and connection, and it is the child’s job to be the seeker. Never, ever should the two positions be reversed. If the child begins to step into the role of provider, it will become quite impossible to grow them up. You cannot be in the lead of a child who is in the lead of you. So you take care, fix, mend and provide, regardless of the circumstances.
- Get your swagger on.
Above all, as a parent you have got to have swagger – that intangible and all powerful way of BEing that will have your child absolutely believing in you. It isn’t that you have to KNOW all the answers. Rather that you must BE the answer. And this is something that comes from deep down inside the core of who you are. It is the look in your eyes, the tone of your voice, the posture with which you carry yourself, the certainty with which you declare something. Swagger is where it is at for any parent who truly wants to be in charge.
So the next time you feel that angst-y urge to google something about what is happening for your child and what you should be doing about that, pause for a moment and go inside yourself first. How big are you? How sure are you that you are your child’s very best bet? What is the invitation here for you as a person? How can you BE for your child who is depending on you? Then square up your shoulders, take a deep, powerful breath and STEP IN. Step into your power, compassion, and humanity as the very large, very in charge parent that you are.