When I became a mommy I believed that parenting is about teaching your children how to be good people. What an incredibly intimidating belief! And not true.
For most of my motherhood journey I held this belief as I tried to teach our twins what is right and wrong, good and bad, how to sit, how to eat, how to speak and how to behave. It was not easy. For most of this time I believed it was my job as mommy to control their behaviour, to punish them when they step “out of bounds” and that their behaviour was a direct reflection of my parenting. Good or bad.
And then I started learning something different.
That I am not here to teach them, but to learn from them.
When my then 8 year old son screamed at me “Yes sir!” in public, he wasn’t being disrespectful (which is what I used to believe), he was inviting me to learn. You know that moment when Ethan Hunt puts on his “Mission Impossible” spy sunglasses, and the lady in his ear magically says “Your mission, should you choose to accept it”… well … that is what Liam was telling me. My lesson, should I choose to accept, is to learn from the situation. Any situation. He was telling me something. He was saying “Mommy, you are always telling me what to do, and it is really hard to have to listen to you the whole time. Back off a little and let me be.”
You see, I have started to understand that parenting is not about teaching my children, it is about being sensitive to the lessons they present me with. Not trying to “fix” their behaviour, but first seeing if this is showing me something I need to learn or heal. This lesson specifically was (and still is …) to stop trying to control everything. Stop worrying what others will think. Relax a little and let kids be kids. They are loud, energetic, have big emotions, need to play and just be kids. And also, let life be life, I can’t control everything.
In some ways I feel we are here to guide and empower them, yes. They don’t come out able to make their own sandwiches or play the piano (except maybe Mozart). They also need help in learning how to express emotions without being destructive (although honestly as adults we have a long way to go in learning how to work with our own emotions … so maybe even here we are not such brilliant guides).
Every time one of our children triggers me, the spy sunglasses lady is whispering in my ear “Your mission, should you choose to accept it”. The fact is, if we get upset about their behaviour it means that there’s some unhealed trauma or wound from our own past bringing up an emotion. Some fear that is controlling us in the moment. Some memory that is still hurting us (the parents). And our mission in that moment is to recognise this fact. To go, “Right, I feel angry (offended, hurt … insert emotion) about what just happened. What button in me did their action just push? Why is this button there? What can I do about the button?”
Let’s be honest. They push all our buttons. But the fact we conveniently overlook, is that the buttons are there in the first place! If there wasn’t a button, they wouldn’t be able to push it. Those fingers we point at our children saying “He makes me so angry”, “They frustrate the crap out of me”, “She really tests me”, should be pointing straight back at ourselves and our unhealed buttons.
The buttons Liam pushed when he yelled at me was my fear of rejection and fear of losing control. People were looking at us, at me. People were judging me as a mommy. I felt like I wasn’t in control.
Our mission, as parents, is not to raise respectful, obedient, well-behaved people (I want to insert here “who can’t really think for themselves”, but I won’t…). Our mission is to heal ourselves! Our mission is to recognise the button-pushing, and in those moments, zoom out to see the bigger picture, then act in love. And maybe for now we still over-react, or yell (I still do), or point a finger. But, if we are able to go back to those moments later and look at the trigger, then we are really accepting the lesson and growing.
In time, with enough zooming out and examining the button, that button will be healed. It will disappear! And you know what else will happen? The “challenging” behaviour of your child, related to this particular trigger of yours, will also disappear. And if it doesn’t, you will have healed yourself and will be better able to help your child work with their unhealed hurts.
In the end the only reflection that our children are of us, is a reflection of our inner hurts and fears. A mirror to the areas of ourselves that need healing. And in some cases a reflection of our own bad habits … Living a life of compassion, understanding and love, being honest about why we are offended, hurt or angry (i.e “It’s not you, it’s me”) is what will really teach our children.
Your children don’t need stricter parenting, they need healed parents, emotionally healthy parents. They need you to take a look at your own hurts (in love and without judgment). They need you to accept that the mission is you mommy, not them. And it is completely doable, I have done it and still do it every day. This is my mission. This, is what they teach me.
[Que Mission Impossible theme while you pop your fabulous spy sunglasses on. Go you, you brave mommy! You absolutely got this!]