Today’s post is written from advice that I’ve witnessed working, in the moments that I’ve applied it in my six years of mothering. Its also advice that my inner child approves of, in fact, yearns for too. Know that I write and read this with Richard Bach’s quote ‘we teach…what we most need to learn’ plastered across my mind, from a place of sincere humbleness. It is just as much a gentle reminder for me as it might be for you.
See, I’m neither a perfect- nor even a natural- parent by any means. Before I had my son, Alex, six years ago I’d only really admired babies from afar. I recall the midwife after I’d birthed him jutting my elbow out a bit more, so that I would cradle my son’s head instead of letting it flop. It was my husband who changed his first diaper, and in fact, taught me which sticky tab went where.
Yet like fellow parents and guardians I know, my children are the pivot my very world spins around. They’ve expanded my ability to love, to give, to grow in a capacity far beyond what I thought possible. Yet sometimes I’m not sure if I’m serving them so well. I start things I don’t finish-star charts, Sunday school, family games night- I talk at them rather then to them at times, I can be too soft, which, I’ve read, can be more damaging than being too strict.
But I won’t stop striving to be a better mummy. And one of the things I’m so keen to gift my son and daughter with is a sense of self love. My self esteem was under the floorboards growing up. I’ll do all I can to make sure that when I wave them off, into their futures, they love and they respect themselves. To imbue our children with self love is a challenge and definitely not easy to administer in a bustling family environment, amidst peer pressure and a competitive educational field.
“The longing for love that is in every child is the longing to be recognized, not on the level of form, but on the level of Being. If parents honor only the human dimension of the child but neglect Being, the child will sense that the relationship is unfulfilled, that something absolutely vital is missing, and there will be a buildup of pain in the child and sometimes unconscious resentment towards the parents. “Why don’t you recognize me?” This is what the pain and resentment seems to be saying.”
(page 103-104 ‘A New Earth: Awakening to your Life’s Purpose’ Eckhart Tolle)
Does this garner a reaction from you too? “Why don’t you recognize me?” My inner child weeps at this. She has always been highly sensitive, philosophical and needy. Not easy growing up in a do-honoring family.
I came from a stiff-upper lipped British middle class family. Hugging, physical contact, positive reinforcement and talking about our thoughts and feelings was not the done thing. My well-meaning and wonderful parents didn’t come from a world where the Beingness of a child was tended to.
Besides, like many families, mine was very happy externally; we had a nice house, a very engaged mother, a brimful of activities, a charismatic London city-worker father, holidays to France. I couldn’t have asked for more from my committed family, on a human level.
But I felt I wasn’t enough. That I was a misfit. Age 15, I had had enough of feeling odd and burst out of the confines of my quiet shell, nose diving into heady rebellion. Drugs. Drink. Reckless sex. Anything to get me away from ‘me.’
I had such a rich inner world that made me feel different, needing validation, but there was no one I felt comfortable to confide in. My daughter is just like me, (which has its challenges)! We have a very close and affectionate relationship. My son is just like his father, which is why I admire and adore him so much. He’s more of an independent soul but he’s not short on hugs and ‘I love you’s’ or ‘we’re so proud of you’s.’ Yet, if I’m not mindful, I see the potential of our relationship turning out like mine with my parents- as teacher and healer Kim Eng says in her ‘Raising Human Beings’ article:-
“A passage in the Old Testament says that the sins of the father will be passed down from generation to generation (Exodus 20:5). Until we are ready to awaken and begin to experience our natural state of love, we continue to pass along a lack of consciousness to our children.”
Sometimes-when our children are different to us on the level of form like Alex and I, when we don’t have the same things in common, or similar personality type- we become distracted by this level of humanness. Thus we risk negating our children on the level of Being and leaving them feeling unrecognized.
Notice the dying aren’t hung about such surface details. Do you think Rosa Camfield, in her dying moments here, cares about the human differences between herself and her wee great-granddaughter she envelops, the mere 100 years that separates their existences?
The dying understand so inherently the importance of getting off the merry-go-around of identity and labeling things and people and just Being. But why should it take until we’re in the final stages of life to realize how to live? I remember seeing photos of Kara Tippet’s who died of cancer recently, with her beautiful young children. (Click here for picture http://www.mundanefaithfulness.com/home/2015/3/2/a-room-of-her-own ) Tears are spilling over my cheeks as I peer into it now. The family of six, limbs intertwined casually on the bed, brilliant, radiating beams from their faces, relaxed embraces, eyes on each other, dancing-sparkly- in love for one another. You can almost hear the laughter. Presence emanates from each family member. They are right in the moment, holding it, inhabiting it. It’s all they want.
So how can we be more present with our children? How can we honor their Beingness-practically- to foster this all-important self love?
* Have a no media night; no electronic devices
* Sit-down family dinners are a part of our culture in Europe. Over in the USA food is more rushed. Spending time-even after eating- being a family around the table is one of the very happy memories I had of childhood.
* Family meetings to share thoughts, feelings, what’s going on in the house, what you like and what you don’t. Children get as much say as adults.
* Walks in nature with your children
* Family yoga or sport
* Mummy/son or Daddy/daughter dates. Or the other way around:-)
* Camping/Fishing trips
* Crafts, cooking or any other activity that takes you away from the spin-cycle of life and melts you into the present moment with your children
* Sharing a chat with your children over ice-cream or hot chocolate
* Looking children in the eye when addressing them, not being distracted by multi-tasking. This isn’t always possible during the morning school rush but in my experience it does make my children more responsive.
* Long-held hugs, lingering bedtimes
* Really ‘being there’ as we brush our child’s hair, or paint their nails, or whatever it might be. ‘Do small things with great love.’ (Mother Theresa)
* Cozy chats not about the here and the now but of their dreams, the fantastical, the spiritual, your childhood, the topic guided by them.
* Making time to reflect back to our children their holy magnificence; how much beauty, power, love, creativity, etc, they posses.
* Its wonderful to have after school activities but there is a tendency to over-schedule a child’s time. Some children don’t mind this, but some-like my children and I who are sensitive- like time to lounge, to reflect, to absorb life.
How we love ourselves, of course, has a profound effect on our children. Children learn from our actions, so honoring our own body, mind and spirit, having a balanced lifestyle and extending kindness and courtesies to our own selves is all unconsciously noted by our impressionable little ones.
We, too, have one thing our parents didn’t- iPhones, iPads, all manner of other electronic devices and social media that are ingenious at pulling our attention away from what really matters, our children included. I know I’m guilty of it. Our mindful attention is warranted now even more than ever.
Sophie and I were watching Robin Williams’ 1991 movie ‘Hook’ the other day. Since motherhood, this poignant exchange between grown Peter Pan and his wife, Moira, always makes me weep, silently, as Moira tells Pan:-
“Your children love you. They want to play with you. How long do you think that lasts?…We have a few special years with our children, when they’re the ones that want us around, after that you’re going to be running after them for a bit of attention. So fast, Peter, just a few years, then its over. And you are not being careful. And you are missing it.”
If we consciously inhabit our time with our children not only are they much more likely to be self loving, rooted people, but we won’t look back and think we’ve lost our years, in a cruel puff of smoke, so tragically, so eternally.
I don’t think its necessarily how much time we spend with our kids, but the quality of that time. They feel if we’re really engaged with them or not. I believe offering our children this presence gives them recognition, validation, understanding. They want to be heard, obviously they oftentimes have an immature way to convey this, but they need a space to just be who they are. Its the hallmark of raising self loving children. I mean, if we don’t embrace them, make time for them, love them wholly, try to understand their intricacies, then it’ll be much harder for them to love themselves later in life. We are their way, their example.
Being present is the best present we can give them. Pun very much intended.
Dear friend, as a fellow parent or caregiver, please offer me your thoughts, ideas and experiences too. How can we foster self love in our children, especially if you have tweens or teens?
And-by the way- you’re doing a super job. Raising children is beautiful chaos; and no matter what else you think you might need to gift this world with, happy self-loving kids will be your best offering.