I often feel that parenting is like a walk across a tightrope. For each aspect of parenting, there seems to be a continuum between two opposite ways of doing things. Since last week’s post was about diet, take spoon-feeding and its opposite, baby-led weaning, for example. There are pros and cons for both and my approach when introducing my boys to solids was to do a bit of each.
To keep my balance on this parenting tightrope, I need to find the mid-point between the two extremes of each matter, skilfully judging whether to lean a little more this way or that, taking each step with intention. If I lean one way too much, I’ll fall off. These are the matters I’ve been struggling to find my balance on of late –
Giving My Children Space to Learn for Themselves vs Being a Teacher/Guide
When my boys are facing something new or challenging, I try to allow them the space to discover what they need to know for themselves. Through asking questions, trying things out and learning from their own mistakes, there is a lot children can work out on their own. I think it’s easy for us to interfere with their self-teaching processes and to undermine them by taking over. It pains me to watch parents coach their children on how to play on a playground. But, on the other hand, there are many other situations when I have wisdom born of experience that could help my boys. For example, friendships can be difficult for children to navigate on their own and there are times I find myself coaching my son through challenges with friends, brainstorming with him possible solutions to difficult situations.
How do I judge when to step in with a bit of guidance and when to leave my children to learn for themselves?
Teaching My Children to be Considerate of Others vs Becoming a People-Pleaser
I think it’s important for people to be able to see beyond themselves and to be aware of how their actions impact others, either positively or negatively. In our home, we talk with our boys about how their behaviour affects others, calling it the “ripple effect”. A typical scenario – one of them hits the other, the other cries and I get stressed trying to deal with two emotional boys. I point out (afterwards) the flow-on effects of the hitting as an example. Equally, when one of them shares a toy, making the other one smile broadly and they go on to enjoy an hour of playing happily together, I use that as an example too. But there are times in life when, in order to be true to ourselves, to back ourselves, we need to do things we know others won’t like. I worry I could over-emphasise consideration & kindness as I raise my boys, to the point that they may believe, as I did for many years, that other people are more important than they are and that it’s mean & selfish to do what’s best for themselves if it might upset others. I want my boys to know that they are equals with everyone and there are times when it’s appropriate – good, even – to act in self-interested ways.
How do I teach my children to judge whether to prioritise themselves or others in a situation?
Giving My Children Treats vs Creating a Sense of Entitlement
I like to treat my boys sometimes, just because it’s fun and I love them. It might be a surprise outing after school, a new book for the school holidays or something yummy in their lunchboxes. The catch, I find, is that, often, when I give a treat, they expect it again next time. “Are we going anywhere after school today?” “Can you buy me this book?” “I don’t like these crackers, can I have a cupcake like yesterday?” It’s a give-an-inch-they’ll-take-a-mile. Unfortunately, I always think twice about giving my boys treats because I’ll likely have to face pestering tomorrow.
How do I give my children treats in a way that doesn’t become entitlement or “spoiling”?
HOW TO KEEP BALANCE
There is a time to stand back and let our children discover for themselves. And a time to use what we know to teach and guide them.
There is a time for our children to be considerate of others. And a time to prioritise their own interests.
There is a time to treat our children. And a time not to.
I’m sure you have your own tightropes to walk as a parent.
You may have noticed that, as a tightrope walker eases themself along the rope, their weight is not perfectly centred for the entire walk – it’s not physically possible. So they do a lot of correcting as they go.
But a tightrope walker doesn’t have the time to do the maths and figure out precisely how far to lean, as they begin to wobble. They make these decisions in the moment, based on the feel. With concentration and full presence, when things feel wobbly, they know instinctively how to correct their balance. As parents, we can feel our way along the rope also. To notice the wobbles and know how to stabalise, we need to concentrate and be fully present, both with ourselves and our children.
When I have been maintaining my personal spiritual practice and I’m present with my boys, I am tuned-in and I find that I know what to say or do much more easily. It usually comes to me in the moment that I need it. If I am teaching one of them something new, I sense what I need to say and I know when I’ve said enough & should leave the rest to them. If I am talking with them about how their behaviour negatively impacted others, I find a way to validate their needs and wants as well. If I’m deciding whether or not to give them a specific treat, I can feel whether this treat is a good idea or not.
I also want to add that every family’s centre is in a slightly different place, which is why being tuned in with ourselves and our children is so important. Centre is not exactly half-way between two opposite ways of doing things, it’s actually the place that feels right. To give an example, I would say that, for my family, there is more standing back and allowing my boys to learn for themselves than explicit teaching.
IN SUMMARY – THE CIRCUS IS COMING TO TOWN!
Actually, parenthood can feel like a full-blown circus at times, with a sense of anything-could-happen. But that’s not all bad – there’s a lot of fun and spontaneity in life with children, the performers have well-developed skill and creativity. As parents, our greatest skill and creativity comes from parenting not only with our bodies and minds, but with our spirits too.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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