As humans, we yearn to be seen, to be heard, to be loved, to be connected with. This too, is true for our children. Our relationship with our children provides them with their life womb. We need to nurture this space to ensure that the conditions are conducive for our children to grow and to flourish.
In conscious parenting, it is our responsibility to ensure that we tend to this space. We must make sure this space between the parent and child(ren) is full of warmth, connection and unconditional love. If we use the metaphor of our relationship as a plant, then we can consider what might be the conditions – the sun, the rain, the soil – that will nurture this relationship to grow?
How often do we stop and actually put conscious consideration into how we are doing in our relationships? More often than not, we only consciously begin to tend when there is a rupture, but nurturing the roots is actually more important than tending to the flower.
Our relationship is the foundation of any parenting moment, therefore we need to feed it, check it, tend to it. We need to consider what we can do on a daily basis to water this soil in order to nurture these roots.
For Noah and I, this means creating time on a daily basis to play, to have fun, to laugh, to move, to explore, to empower, to listen deeply, to show love and affection, to guide, to teach, to shake things off, to integrate, to reflect, to be grateful, to be kind; the list goes on.
For River and I, this means creating time on a daily basis for soul-to-soul connection, for cuddles and quiet feeds, delighting in each smile he offers me, it means doing mantra and mala practice with him and including him in the energy of my meditation, it means daily Reiki and speaking sweet words softly, meeting his needs, learning his signals; again, the list goes on.
Imagine how it might be if we were to consistently fill the space between the parent and the child with love, warmth, care and curiosity; if we were to continue to choose to respond in and through love before each and every engagement we share.
Our children deserve consistency and respect from us as parents, it supports them to feel solid being at home within themselves. The concept of listening before speaking sounds simple, right? But how many of us actually take the time to authentically connect with our children before each engagement? How often do you listen deeply before speaking to your child?
This week I challenged myself to pay closer attention to this space between my children and I; asking myself what am I willing to do to nurture our relationship in order to provide these conducive conditions for growth.
We were driving to town earlier in the week when Noah began to speak with me about death. He began the conversation by saying that he wanted to speak about dying but that he didn’t know how to speak about this and he asked, “Mummy, can you teach me how?” This request touched me; it was heartfelt, curious and sophisticated. I tried to meet him in this request by being attentive to what I sense Noah is ready for, I was showing him deep respect in his curiosity by maintaining integrity throughout this interaction. When Noah had enough, he simply said so and we moved on to what he was going to eat for dinner. It was as important to respond to his request, as it was to stop when enough was enough.
Attachment is a dance; it is the invitation to exist fully. The more we listen and respect our children, the more they know their communication is respected, then we watch as they open up to the wonderings that are bumbling around in their hearts and in their minds and we can notice how safe they feel sharing these with us. But how is it that we convey to our children this invitation for them to fully exist in our presence?
Well we can begin by creating rituals of connection. Beginning with connecting before directing; collecting their eyes, a smile, a nod. We can practice allowing our children to depend on us. We can engage, preserve and nurture our relationship. We can embody togetherness, together.
We aren’t designed to do things out of the context of relationship. When we collect eyes, a smile, a nod then we activate the attachment instinct of another. If we find someone avoiding our eyes, we should know, it is a cue to tend to our relationship.
Gordon Neufeld, a developmental psychologist and author of the book ‘Hold on to Your Kids,’ speaks of the natural spontaneous unfolding of a child’s potential if the conditions are conducive. When exploring attachment, Neufeld reflects on how marriage is also an invitation to depend. He asks us to imagine if your partner said to you that they weren’t going to do anything for you that you might be able to do for yourself. Realistically, we would say, see you later pal!
So why do we withhold this dependency from our children? In parenting, we can confuse independence with self-reliance. In order for our children to attach properly, we have to invite them to depend on us and we as the parents, need to know it’s ok for them to do so.
I want to support my children to adapt to the world and I want to accompany and accommodate them on this journey. I want them to feel my guidance, to feel my presence and to feel my support alongside them, no matter what.
Too often we try to work directly with behaviour. But going back to this metaphor of the plant in the garden, we need to tend to the soil, not the bloom. What is beautiful is that we aren’t alone in this. There is a natural, spontaneous unfolding of this potential if the conditions are conducive.
Keeping in mind that our relationship with our children is their life womb, we need to help more parents understand that we – as parents and caregivers – are the answer to our children and we must present ourselves as such.
We are the answer to their need for belonging. We are the answer to their need for significance. We are the answer to their need to hold on, to be like, to be with. We are the answer until they are their own person. This is how we win our children’s hearts, how we preserve our connection, how we form attachment. We respect them as a human being and a human becoming, an evolving whole.
We are also an evolving whole. I like to reflect and share some of my parenting experiences and how I am putting things in practice both as a way to integrate my own learning and also in hope of inspiring others, but I am very much aware of my own growing edges, of when I feel most stretched and of what needs more work.
Earlier this week Noah said, “Mummy, you are being a bit grumpy.” I defended myself first, before actually holding my hands up and noticing that I was. I asked Noah how I might shake it off. Our children have such generous hearts, they are the best teachers of mindfulness – of being present in each moment – and practicing forgiveness with ease. This was a good reminder from Noah that we as parents are growing up too and that each moment we have is an opportunity to start over.
In the live session with Miriam this week, she used the phrase of needing to “mother the mother, father the father.” I understood this as an invitation to practice loving ourselves as we also practice loving our children; holding ourselves with this same loving embrace.
How can we make love a choice for ourselves as much as we do for our kids?
I often see this practice as grounding, reminding myself of the ground beneath me, the sky above me, and the heart (or fire) within me. Taking time to breathe, to talk with a friend, to have a (hot) cup of tea and to put some support in place, gathering my resources and expanding my context.
I’ve done this with more awareness over the past week as I have been struggling with my own mental health. I have been leaning in to the support of one of my best friends who was home visiting, simply lifting the phone to her during these parenting stretches can be so cathartic.
I have also been video calling my parents and they have read stories to Noah so that I can get ready and get a few bits done in the house. Thank you technology and beautiful grandparents! I have found myself barefoot in the garden, breathing deeply before going back in the house feeling more resourceful, having expanded my context through connecting with the expansiveness of nature and the world.
Last week I spoke about this concept of expanding our context and dropping into our deeper self. This also means not taking things personally. Now, remembering that this is all a practice, I have to laugh at myself (now) when reflecting on a parenting moment earlier this week. I had just dropped Kevin at work and we were in the car outside the police station, I was gearing myself up to find the energy for the day ahead, shaking off my sleep deprivation, my cold and my chest infection.
Noah began to quietly reflect… “Mummy, if you were to work inside that police station all day, then Daddy could be here with me all day and that would be good ‘cause I like Daddy better.” Immediately I got defensive. I asked my toddler why he liked daddy better and then I got tearful, driving away in a secret puddle of misery and not good enough mothering.
What I discovered later in the week when I confessed my crumbling to Kevin was that Noah says that to him all the time (about liking me better). Really this moment was an invitation to expand my context but I missed the mark on this occasion.
The voice of my self-critic often tells me that I am not a good enough mother. On Sunday, a friend of mine invited me to lower my bar this week. He asked me to consider what would good enough parenting look like on a daily basis. So I have been wondering, how do I raise the bar in regards to conscious parenting, without giving myself a hard time for not being good enough? Can I raise the bar without increasing self-imposed pressure?
Again, if I use the metaphor of our relationship as a plant and I consider what might be the conditions – the rain, the sun, the soil, the warmth – that will nurture my relationships with my children to grow, what can I do for daily watering? As it was approaching dinner last night, this question came into my heart and my mind. I decided to feed the relationship between Noah and I with sunshine, raindrops and bare feet in the grass.
I had lots of reasons for potentially saying no to going outside last night; it was pouring, it was pitch black, stormy and windy and I am full of the cold and a chest infection. But, I said yes, inviting Noah to take his torch outside and experience this wildness together. I wish I could find the words to describe the magic, but in all the elements, he was in his element! He was shouting “it is so much fun being so wild Mummy!” and had the most genuine joy in his being. It was the best part of my day and I felt so grateful to have paused and decided to feed our relationship.
Parenting as a spiritual practice comes with such delicious simplicity. However, this simplicity that can only be fully appreciated when put into practice. I am a proactive seeker of everyday magic. I delight in the simple things in life like little love notes, a warm smile, unexpected kindness, Kevin making me a cup of tea and Noah asking for one more kiss or one more cuddle. These little things are the big things really!
I feel like it’s important to reiterate and remind myself how parenting as a spiritual practice is a practice. I was delivering some mindfulness workshops recently where I spoke about mindfulness as a muscle. Now this is my fourth year doing this parenting as a spiritual practice course and with each year that I increase my consciousness, my muscle of parenting (and living) in this way is strengthened.
I continue to practice a ‘yes let’s’ approach to living life and to engaging with my children, choosing how and when I use ‘no’ wisely. I am bringing in more humour and fun, like when Noah doesn’t want to leave soft play, inviting in an imaginative game where he is needed to protect River from the panthers at the car or playing the fastest mummy in town to race there!
I delight in these moments as much as Noah does and I have these deep sighs of relief when these efforts create graceful moments where we have compromised and brought together both our perspectives, to create a new path, seeking the solution together, as a team.
Talking of a team, Kevin and I are trying to consciously bring in more togetherness in the way we parent. One of the interesting themes that Kevin and I have been exploring this week is around the theme of truthfulness.
Embodying integrity with our children means always keeping our promises and only making promises that we can keep. It also means being thoughtful around what we tell our children.
I remember when I was a child, the sense of betrayal I experienced when I learned that Santa wasn’t real. When Kevin learned this, it was no big deal for him. For me however, I remember wailing. I remember being so broken-hearted that my parents spent years lying to me about this and feeling really silly that I hadn’t realised it wasn’t true, that I hadn’t noticed that sometimes Santa and my parents used the same wrapping paper…
So I began to wonder, how do we make sure we don’t compromise truthfulness, without robbing our children of the magic of childhood? Each parent will have their own view on this, but part of my own inquiry stems from my experience, together with my trust in the power of children’s imaginations.
I love imaginative play! I love the invisible world that Noah and I dive into. I love sharing with him my Shamanic journeys – full of spirit animals and spirit guides – adventures of all kinds. He delights in this magic with me and I nurture it wherever I can!
But Kevin and I are currently exploring how to find our way around the idea of Santa because I feel strongly about being truthful to Noah (and in due course River) and Kevin feels strongly about not being the Grinch and stealing the magic from Christmas, which I also totally understand.
So for now, we are agreeing to be thoughtful in our words and in our actions, asking questions like “what do you think?” and alongside this, remaining truthful and making sure that we practice that everything we say is true whilst also knowing that not everything that is true needs to be said.
Kevin and I were in hysterics during this discussion when we agreed to disagree on the topic of fairies. It turns out that I believe in fairies and Kevin doesn’t (yet). But I know that magic is real, I experience it every single day that I mother my two boys!