Be the change you wish to see in the world.Mahatma Ghandi
I didn’t really get this well-known quote until relatively recently. I used to think it was an inspiring thought but, really, what difference could little old me make in the world? I thought Ghandi’s words were for other people – the type of exceptional people who achieve extraordinary things that go down in history – like he did.
Then my husband and I had children, creating our own little “world” of sorts. Within this little world, everything felt magnified and I saw for the first time how the behaviour and attitudes of those around me (my boys) often mirrored my own. Having felt relatively inconsequential within the larger settings I’d lived in as a child-free adult, such as university and work, it surprised me to see the power of who I was in a situation.
Let me offer an example you may relate to. I noticed that, when I am feeling tired & overwhelmed, my shouty self appears (you can read about her here). My ability to tolerate small annoyances or to respond consciously to challenging behaviour vanishes and I seem unable to be constructive. I resort to raising my voice because I just want my boys to stop making so much noise/getting out of bed after they’ve been tucked in/fighting with each other…!
Next thing I know, my boys’ own shouty outbursts have shot up in frequency. Their fuses seem to have suddenly shortened and every irritation has them roaring either at each other or at me. When I’m not respectful and kind in my interactions with them, their interactions become less respectful and kind also.
Fortunately, what this points to is the fact that the opposite is also true. When I am peaceful and intentional with my boys, they are more peaceful themselves (well, as much as can be expected of two energetic brothers).
HOW OUR BEHAVIOUR IMAPCTS OUR CHILDREN’S
As parents, our behaviour has a two-fold impact on our families. One is energetic – if we bring the energy of impatience and irritation into our day, for example, our children can’t help but absorb some of that feeling. One is obvious – our kids learn by watching us.
So, in many respects, parenting is more about us than our children. We set the tone for our family life and we get to decide whether it will be light and uplifting or heavy and difficult.
Since realising this, when I feel that the dynamic in my family needs shifting, I have become more inclined to look at myself than at my children. Instead of “fixing” them, I try to lift myself.
HOW TO BE THE CHANGE IN ANY SITUATION
One of the times for us to be particularly aware of our ability to be the change is when our children aren’t being very co-operative. Perhaps they’re refusing to help when they’re asked to do a chore. Perhaps they’re winding their sibling up, just because they know exactly where the buttons are. Perhaps their frame of reference seems only to include themselves, as if no one else in the family is important.
When getting co-operation from my boys feels elusive, I ask myself, am I co-operating with them? I try to think of the range of the opportunities I’ve had recently to co-operate for their purposes. Did I wait until they had finished their game before asking them to set the table, rather than insisting they do it when it best suited me? Did I help Thomas to get ready for school because I could see he was feeling tired this morning? Did I adjust my plans for the day to accommodate Jake’s request to stay after school and play football with his friends? Often I notice that the times when my boys are less co-operative with me and each other are the times when I have been busy, mentally preoccupied with my own affairs and less considerate of theirs.
To give a couple of other examples: When the family is becoming bored and mopey, I’m usually feeling in need of invigoration myself so I think about what might invigorate me first – a visit to an art gallery or a brisk walk, perhaps. When my boys are becoming complainy and demanding, I notice the state of my own gratitude practice and make an effort to stop & for appreciative moments throughout the day. Making an effort to show up as my best self helps my family to do the same.
IN SUMMARY: CHANGING OUR FAMILIES, CHANGING THE WORLD
We can be quick to imply that our children aren’t good enough in some way. I know I am guilty of complaining to my husband at times that one son or the other is being particularly lazy or moody or self-centred. But complaining about our children does not help them to be their best selves and putting pressure on them to be different will not lift them up. Raising the energy of the situation and quietly showing them how it is done is far more empowering.
And, if this is true for our families, imagine the change we can effect in the world.
Whether we’re thinking about parenting or some other aspect of life, we all know that, really, the only thing we can control is ourselves. (I admit that I often forget this. But, when I remember it, I always feel kindda relieved).
It turns out that Ghandi’s words are not about grand achievements, remarkable talent or, even, magnetic charisma. It’s about who we are in each little moment because who we are seeps into every person, event and thing that is part of that moment.
Is there something you would like more of in your family – consideration, laughter or communication perhaps? How can you be these things?
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