“What it’s like to be a parent: It’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever do but in exchange it teaches you the meaning of unconditional love.”
― Nicholas Sparks, The Wedding
Of all the forms of the human condition, parenting is the one area most steeped in judgment, guilt and responsibility. As parents we live the life very much of being “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”. If something bad happens to your child (and even if it doesn’t) there is that feeling of worry, fear and guilt associated with what seems like each decision we make. Will drinking that cup of coffee adversely affect my unborn child? Should I immunize this tiny being or might it be causing more harm than good? Should I put my child to bed early because they are exhausted or let them stay up to spend time with their Dad when he gets home? Should I hold my child back from starting school to allow them to develop more social skills? Which school is the best for my child? Should I encourage them to do things they are scared of? Thousands upon thousands of judgment calls made every day, week, year of their childhood. No wonder we are all so exhausted! How would you prefer to parent your child/ren from a place of heavy responsibility or from unconditional love. Being in the moment with your child or worrying about the next day, month, year, decade of their lives? How can we be the best parent? This is a question we all ask ourselves.
“Unconditional love is known as affection without any limitations… love without conditions…it is that type of love which has no bounds and is unchanging …unconditional love is frequently used to describe love between family members, comrades in arms and between others in highly committed relationships. An example of this is a parent’s love for their child; no matter a test score, a life changing decision, an argument, or a strong belief, the amount of love that remains between this bond is seen as unchanging and unconditional.” Wikipida
Unconditional love defined by Wiktionary is:
- Affection felt for someone that is not dependent on certain qualities or actions. g. Mothers have unconditional love for their children.
Responsibility defined by Wiktionary is:
- The state of being responsible, accountable, or answerable.
- g. Responsibility is a heavy burden.
- A duty, obligation or liability for which someone is held accountable.
- g. Why didn’t you clean the house? That was your responsibility!
From the moment it is confirmed that you (or your partner) are pregnant and announce this to the world there is a sea of judgments placed on the relationship you have with your unborn child. We are all doing the best we can in a job that is one of the oldest. Why do we spend so much of our parenting in a state of heavy responsibility or fear, a state of guilt or blame?
In todays world there is increasing pressure on parents to be the ‘perfect’ parents as Brigid Schultes describes in her book “Overwhelmed – Work, love and play when no one has the time”, the pace of life coupled with the expectations society put on us and we put on ourselves:
- As mothers – there is the expectation to be both the ideal mother and the ideal worker at the same time. This effectively traps us into being the stay at home parent with little opportunity for external self fulfillment or the working Mother who feels guilty for not being the perfect Mother to her kids.
- As fathers –there is the expectation to be both the ideal worker and the ideal provider – which effectively ‘trap’ them into not having time to spend with their children even if they want to.
There is judgment everywhere and we are trying to live up to unrealistic expectations that are unachievable, which results in enormous misery, overwhelm and sense of great responsibility.
Even with the growth and self-awareness that has come from my years of studying the art of coaching, I still find that the area of my life where I still struggle the most is with my parenting. It seems that there are still buttons associated with being a parent, that I have not yet managed to defuse. Indeed it is my parenting that I am most challenged by as I continue to embark on my own journey of self-discovery and wisdom. I can be having a wonderful day steeped in gratitude and light and then after 10 minutes with my sons I can be raising my voice and tearing my hair out! Conversely, I can be having a terrible day, steeped in self doubt and obstacles to my moving forward and I can spend 10 minutes with my sons and I am transformed into a grateful optimistic being. Nothing affects us more than the presence of unconditional love.
This is what I discovered when I took a step back and looking at why my sons can create in me such diametrically opposed states of being:
For the positive state
When my children are displaying behaviour in line with my expectations of them. They are being kind, thoughtful, resourceful and I am uplifted and experience a feeling of succeeding as a parent.
For the negative state
When my children are being argumentative, vengeful, mean and disrespectful, I feel empty and frustrated. In these moments I feel I have failed as parent.
Is it reasonable for me to expect them to behave as I wish all the time? No, they are learning, they are coming to terms with their owns interaction with the world. I need to be an impartial interface. I need to love unconditionally, let them know this and relax my expectations. They will be much more able to deal with the world if I can show them how and be a good mentor. They need to see me fail sometimes, this allows them to see that we all struggle sometimes and that it is OK.
As we release judgement we become better parents. As we set our children free to find their own truth, we become better parents.
We tend to think of ourselves as teaching our children, but ….
What can we learn from our children?
- Children have the amazing ability to live in the moment. How can we meet them in these moments and connect?
- Children have natural curiosity and wonder. How can we better experience the world through their eyes?
- Young children have the enviable perspective of freedom of expectation, judgment and blame. It is us who teach them these things in order to survive in our world. How wonderful to be able to work together to be able to find a better middle road and for us to learn a way to re-embrace these wonderful characteristics.
I believe that through coaching it is possible to help parents take the time to reflect on their lives. To truly analyse what is most important to them. To help them let go of expectations (internal and external) and allow themselves to then construct their lives in a unique way that best suits their values and goals. This helps to shift the balance of child rearing back to that of unconditional love and living in the moment rather than feeling the heavy responsibility of our children’s future and being overwhelmed by the sea of expectation that surrounds families in our society. Parenting is hard; expect to fail sometimes because no one parents perfectly. It is being open to learning from these mistakes that makes all the difference in our children’s lives.
How might you more easily embrace the unconditional love you feel for your children rather than being weighed down by the responsibility of having to care for them?
Some questions to help move into unconditional love might be:
- What have you learnt about life from being a parent?
- What relationship would you like to have with you child/ren?
- What have you learnt from your child/ren?
- What would you like to do more of with your child/ren?
- What do you most struggle with as a parent?
Questions to ask ourselves as parents include:
- Is there a perfect parent?
- What is the worst thing that could happen if you make a mistake?
- What would you learn from making mistakes?
- What would your child/ren learn from you making mistakes?
- What is my responsibility as a parent?
- What are the most important things to focus on as a parent?
- Who and how much do I want/need to listen to from others?
Parenting is hard. We are all doing the best we can. There is judgment everywhere and we are trying to live up to unrealistic expectations that are unachievable, which results in enormous misery, overwhelm and sense of great responsibility. I will continue in my quest to defuse my buttons around parenting. Coaching has truly helped me to analyse what is most important for me and to become a better parent. I am not sure the defusing job will not ever be entirely done, but each time I notice a shift toward unconditional love I find immense joy permeates my life. Hopefully shedding light on my struggle as a parent can help you to achieve more joy in your life too!
If you have found this blog useful, you may like to download the FREE Summary Infographic that I have made for you! This has all the key concepts I mention above in a handy A4 page. Put it on your wall, in your glove box, anywhere that might serve a a reminder to you of how you would prefer to parent. All you need to do is follow this link, sign up for my newsletter (which you can unsubscribe to at any time) and you will get the Infographic!
Wishing you much joy in your parenting!
Schulte, Brigid 2014. Overwhelm – Work, love and play when no one has the time.Botross, Suzie 2013. Break free from Motherly Guilt.