Why 'UnconditionED' Parenting Is More Important Than 'UnconditionAL'
Last night I could have had a serious fall-out with my 9 year old.
In what is a constant battle to encourage him to take more responsibility for himself (he is after all, terrifying, more than half way through his childhood), I was asking for his help in putting his laundry away.
The laundry which I had washed, dried and folded (I don’t iron unless it’s an emergency), and which he had agreed to help me with… In exchange for pocket money!
Despite being effectively ‘paid’ for this minor task, he accused me of treating him as my ‘slave’.
These kinds of exchanges are familiar territory for so many mums and dads; how unkind we are to our children, the so-called unfairness of life the endure, despite the energy we put into giving them quite the opposite experience of growing up.
On a different day I might have felt quite annoyed by my son’s accusation.
I might’ve had to fight the urge to remind him how lucky he is; how, if we was alive in Victorian times, his skinny body would have made him a very useful – and hungry – chimney sweep.
Yesterday was thankfully not one of those days. I managed to practice what I preached in last week’s post about ‘realistic expectations‘.
But I did find this accusation rather funny, and so I found myself laughing out loud instead.
Not a very emotionally mature reaction to present to a frustrated 9 year old, who subsequently got annoyed himself and stomped off somewhere.
There are lots of behaviours I struggle to tolerate (being ignored is my nemesis) but angry storming off isn’t one of them.
Even if you are only 9, a bit of time and space to put yourself back together again on your own terms tends to be far more effective than being told off, or worse, still to ‘calm down’.
So I left him to it.
A few minutes later he came to give me a hug. Not a big restorative hug. He’s just always been a kid who likes hugs, so this was just a regular hug as we was passing.
Then realisation dawned… He was meant to be mad with me.
“I don’t even know why I did that”, he said.
He tried to go back to being angry, but the moment had passed.
So why am I sharing this?
Because it’s so easy to take our kids insults personally.
Because, when we squeeze our inner-resources dry to give them they life they have, we can quickly feel affronted by their behaviour or words.
And because we often don’t see how much our kids still love and need us; that their lack of gratitude, laziness, bad-temperedness etc., is just surface stuff.
Because we can get triggered instead; our kids re-open the unhealed wounds that we maybe don’t even know we have.
I’m not suggesting you start digging into your own psyche (unless you want to), but – when our own emotional states allow (and accept they don’t always) – ask whether your frustration or hurt or sadness, whatever, is all about what this child is doing (or not)…
Or whether there is a bit of you in there too?
I’ve made a conscious decision to try not to react to the occasional slammed door and stomping off, because, like many of us, I grew up in a climate where anger wasn’t acceptable; your job was to supress it, not to feel it, and certainly not to express it.
That’s not to say I don’t make parenting faux-pas. I do, all the time, despite everything I know and teach…
Because it takes more than just a conscious decision to do things differently than we’ve been conditioned to. It’s more like a daily practice.
Yes, of course we need to teach our children right from wrong, to express themselves better, to manage their emotions. But it never happens in the heat of the moment, and it never happens when we’re triggered.
It happens after we’ve given the whole situation some breathing space. When we let go of all the rubbish that comes up around ‘control that child‘ or ‘tut, tut; permissive parent’ or ‘make me happy, you bad mother!’, and accept what is.
What can you accept, as it is, today? What can you let go of? What can you work on UNlearning? 💖
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