“Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives. Such striving may seem admirable, but it is the way of foolishness. Help them instead to find the wonder and marvel of an ordinary life. Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes, apples, and pears. Show them how to cry when pets and people die. Show them the infinite pleasure in the touch of a hand. And make the ordinary come alive for them. The extraordinary will take care of itself.” — William Martin
As I have admitted, I rather love structure. I find something grounding about having a general idea of what to expect in a day. And so it is no surprise that as a parent, I have always felt drawn to routines and rituals — especially when the children were small.
I can still recall those early days in Seattle. We would wake up early, eat breakfast in wee dark hours of morning, get ourselves ready for the day, tidy the house, and head out for some time in nature. We would walk among the trees and around a lake. The girls just loved to feed the ducks. They would play with plastic animals and scarves on a bed of soft pine needles. We would play at the park and head home in time for lunch and stories. Each day, the kids had a quiet time after lunch. The little ones would nap. When they outgrew naps, this was their time to read, play or listen to books on tape. The children usually enjoyed some small treat.
Do you see what I mean about how I love routine? It soothes me just writing about it! Time seemed to slow and cradle these daily moments. Reading by the fire or baking a treat in the afternoon. Bath time. My schedule protected these times. Allowed for them. I felt a lot of fear back then. I protected their childhood fiercely. If I had to describe our parenting style in the early to middle childhood years, I would say that we were high control and high support parents. We were very involved. We had high expectations. We showed a lot of physical affection. Interests were fostered and fed. If a child loved tennis, we would play tennis together. If a child loved art, I would infuse art time into the day. I was not a drill sergeant, nor was I severe. Our home felt warm, in fact. Yet amidst all this goodness, control was an important aspect of our life.
With that control, an underlying message was conveyed. While our family cultural script valued learning, excellence, truth, creativity and hard work — a flip side implied that love or one’s worth must be earned. Of course, this was entirely unconscious. The children were sensitive, creative, engaged, and seemed to be thriving. I had no idea.
The unconscious moved into the conscious as our two oldest daughters became teenagers. They exhibited tendencies toward perfectionism. Anxiety. Shame. Self-hatred. They held tightly to the damaging belief that their worth is tied to what they DO and how well they do it. One daughter expressed openly. Another daughter suffered inwardly for some time before being able to speak of her wounded places.
Our children challenge us. They also teach us.
As a result of their bringing their wounds to us, John and I were able to work on healing many of these false scripts. As it turns out, they were inside us all along. We were just passing them down. In this way, our children really can be some of our best spiritual guides. As I began to see my two daughters suffer, I desired to learn a different way. I wanted to create an emotional template that allowed for them to heal — and if possible, replace the former false scripts with kinder ones. Reading became a lifeline. The books that appealed to us most were books about connection over control. We savored sources that support the notion that our children do not come to us depraved or lacking in any way. In fact, they are whole and desire to do good naturally. All that most children really need is for us to support and trust them (and for us to grow ourselves up). Learning becomes about connecting with them — and allowing for them to connect with the larger world in a way that is both healthy and meaningful to them. Mistakes are all part of the process and invite sacred moments for introspection and reflection.
Some people assume that this type of parenting is permissive or that it allows children to do whatever they want. This assumption is not true! A different style of parent might need to seek out a different type of book for support. One that acts as a complement to their nature or style of parenting. Children all have unique needs too.
Here are a few books that really rocked our world. They are all gentle (because we really like that). We did not resonate with every single detail of these books, so take what you like and leave what you don’t! They are still well worth the read.
Parenting with Presence by Susan Stiffelman (an Eckart Tolle book)
The Conscious Parent (preface by the Dalai Lama) by Shefali Tsabary
Out of Control by Shefali Tsabary (John’s favorite)
Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn
As a side, we really enjoyed watching the television show, Parenthood as well. It felt tremendously nurturing and inspiring to our journey. Have any of you watched it? Did you like it?
I must admit that this is a bit of an introductory parenting post. In the coming weeks or months, I will reference many of these books for my posts on parenting. Feel free to look for those!
What books have been helpful to you as a parent? What is a belief about parenting that has changed amidst transitioning?