Love and fear cannot exist in the same moment. This core premise that underpins Conscious Parenting’s Myth #5: A Good Parent Is a Loving One was huge “aha” moment for me. It answered a lurking dissatisfaction I’ve had with my parenting, and underscored a way out that my four-year-old daughter’s preschool teacher had recently recommended.
Like many parents, I had imagined motherhood would be a miraculously joyful experience. There would be bumps along the way, sure, but I knew I would be so grateful and blessed with this light of a being who was my child, that the bliss of the parenting journey would obscure any challenges. Plus, she was a delightfully cute little girl. How hard could it be?
Cue the empathetic laughter. Yes, my naivety set me up for what has becoming a baffling experience of watching my sweet little babe grow up to be a notoriously boisterous and precocious pre-schooler whose new favorite phrase when confronted by my “no,” is: “You’re not my mommy!”
Ah yes. As I have increased my efforts to control my “strong willed” daughter, we’ve developed a battle of the wills in which I often find myself delivery the final blow to her defiance with the words, “You have to (or you cannot) because I love you.”
It feels just as icky to write those words as it does for me to say them in the moment. I have enough self-awareness to know that every time they cross my lips, energetically something is off, and to question my parenting. But each time, I’ve also had the thought, “but this is what a ‘good’ parent does. I ‘should’ make my child eat her vegetables, put her iPad away, clean up the stuffed animals she just threw around the room, put on the warm clothes even if they itch, and on and on.”
And here’s the rub. Why did that feel icky? I was claiming love while operating entirely out of fear!
As Certified Conscious Parenting Coach Jenny Ng so succinctly puts in in Episode 42: Parenting Myth #5: A Good Parent is a Loving One: “In the name of love, we do a lot of things as parents that come from the place of fear. The, ‘what if my child cannot go to the university?’ And then we parents try to manipulate how they grow. Of course, it’s still from love, but it’s out of fear. It becomes control.”
I completely related to Ng’s story about how she, as a working mom, felt pressured to convey all her parenting wisdom to her daughter in the compressed time they had together in the evenings, stressing them both out. She also shared how she was recently triggered by her daughter sneaking off to play games on her iPad when she was supposed to be doing schoolwork.
In my case, I have been feel guilty that I send my daughter to full day preschool, and that the time we spend afterwards is often not the blissfully joyful vision I had pre-motherhood, but instead often a mutually irritating experience where we’re both dying for my husband to get home to break the tension.
What I had imagined as a parent child relationship that’s 95% joyful and 5% challenging was just the opposite. I found myself despairing over this, wondering how I could shift the balance.
I shared with my daughter’s teacher recently about this dynamic and shamefully admitted that I’d been indulging my daughter’s preference to plug herself into her iPad, which was leaving me feeling inadequate as a parent, and, honestly unloved.
As Amy and the Conscious Parenting Coaches so poignantly share in Episode 42, I was clearly expressing a need to control my daughter out of my own fears of being unloved, failing to create a “smart enough” or “successful enough” child.
My daughter’s teacher, who is trained in Buddhist mindfulness practices and a compassion-based approach to child development that’s steeped in acceptance, said, “Have you considered that Lexi’s school day is like your work day? She may be just as fried as you are by the time she gets home. She might be seeking screen time or pushing you away as her way of getting exactly what you’re wanting too: alone time to decompress.”
“Take some pressure off yourself,” she added. “We’re all dealing with a lot these days and sometimes as parents we need to let our kids play on their iPads.”
I had expected judgement from this instructor at a very “mindful” school where I was certain I was one of the only parents who let her child indulge in unregulated sugar intake and endless hours of Disney programming.
I also loved how Ng handled introducing what she felt was a healthy structure to her daughter’s online habits. Instead of imposing her will and telling her daughter she was doing it out of love for her child’s own good, she asked her daughter how she’d like to involve her mother in keeping her accountable to her school work.
In situations where my daughter Lexi is at her peak resistance, I have noticed that when I can let go of my ego’s compulsive desire to dominate and “win,” and can ask her how she would propose handling the situation, she often shocks me with her creativity and willingness to cooperate.
When I can let go enough to ask open ended questions and be ok letting my child “live and learn” on her own it not only drastically reduces my stress levels, it begins to bring the elements of joy and challenge back into healthy equanimity. It may not ever be 95% joyful, but I’d happily take a 50-50 split of bliss and bumpy, knowing that we are growing and challenging each other on our collective journey.