Being a parent is tough.
Parenting is the hard work of facing yourself and growing beyond your fears, doubts, and insecurities.
Like the cocoon before the butterfly, parenthood is an intense transformational phase of life. You cannot stay the same you entered into it — it changes you — for better or for worse.
Unfortunately for many of us, we fear it’s the latter.
Perhaps the inspiration that once flooded our veins the first time we held our newborn children is worn down over the years with the monotony of daily responsibilities. Perhaps when we imagined the kind of parents we wanted to be and the ones we are becoming, there’s a gap.
No one measures up to their own expectations.
None of us escape parenthood intact. It breaks us all down. But this is not a sign of failure. The struggle is not something to feel ashamed about, to judge yourself over or to fear judgment from anybody else. Everybody has a mountain to climb. Difficulty is proof of life. When we come to a rough patch, it’s a sign this amazing transformational process has already begun. Something new is now breaking through.
“Vulnerability isn’t so much about allowing others in as it is about letting you out.”
This cracking open of ourselves brings to the surface our own patterns of attachment, childhood trauma, and emotional baggage and triggers we still carry around with us. It exposes our unhealed wounds and the inner work we still need to do to integrate them. As Brené Brown observed, “It’s impossible to love our children more than we love ourselves. We cannot give to our children what we do not have ourselves.”
Sometimes, it’s not until we say out loud to a trusted friend: “I feel empty inside”, “disappointed with myself” or “overwhelmed with my life” we begin to move forward. Real change cannot occur without first a deep acceptance of our own fears, doubts, and insecurities.
If you already know this kind of acceptance by experience, keep going. It’s only from this place we can make practical adjustments to larger principles. Without it, the loftier the vision, the sharper the weapon of shame and defeat. For more on this foundational inner work, I recommend picking up one (or all!) of these amazing books:
the relational soul: moving from the false self to deep connection
the power of vulnerability: teachings on authenticity, connection, and courage
parenting from the inside out: how a deeper self-understanding can help you raise children who thrive
When it’s time to move forward, you can ask yourself, what principles do you want to guide your own parenting?
There’s a popular myth that suggests the only way to get real respect is to demand it. You might hear someone say, “Let them know who’s boss or they’ll walk all over you.” But the result is fear, not respect; it doesn’t cultivate trust and certainly, not love. The truth is no one can give you respect that you don’t first give out yourself. We can’t demand respect from our kids, we can only model it by giving it to them first.
Thankfully, there’s a paradigm shift happening in our culture on the verge of a name. You’ve probably already heard terms like gentle parenting, conscious parenting, peaceful parenting, or respectful parenting. Each addresses the simple idea of treating children the way you would want to be treated when you were a kid. Personally, I prefer the term “respectful parenting.” At the moment, it’s the name that resonates the most with what I’m after as a parent.
To be a respectful parent simply means you treat your children as whole human beings, automatically giving them the same level of respect you would give to any other person.
What if we treated children, even our smallest, with full-sized respect? Were you treated this way as a child? If not, how would your life be different now if you were? Could an entire generation better empathize with the rest of the world because they experienced a deep and holy respect during their most formative years? Anything is possible! One thing is certain — it’s an exciting time to be a parent.
As we near a cultural tipping point, there is now more solid verifiable research (thanks to the work of Dr. John Gottman, Dr. Daniel Siegel, Brené Brown and many others) and practical resources available (Janet Lansbury, Lori Petro, Dr. Laura Markham and more) to articulate important aspects of this new parental landscape.
Sound like a compelling vision? Ready for more? How might respect as a philosophical guide to parenting look in practice? If this post is the preface, think of the next one as the table of contents to give an overview and introduction to each upcoming chapter.