Last week on facebook, I came across this great post from Kate Barsby, followed by a wonderful reply by Victoria Groom. They raised some really important points about the challenges of parenting from the heart, and the relationship between parents and children. Not to mention the ever-changing landscape of ‘what I believe about what my kids need to do in this exact moment’. I am sure there are plenty of 3P parents out there who can relate to what these ladies had to say, so here are both posts for you to enjoy!
The conditional love of a parent.
You know you hear about a parent’s love for their child being unconditional? Well not this one, not me, not yesterday.
I woke up after (another) shorter than I’d like night’s sleep and my husband watched as I played a rather pathetic game of, ‘I’ll behave like a grown up, when you do’, ‘I’ll be nice to you, when you’re nice to me’, ‘I’ll love you when you behave ‘right”, with my 4.5 year old son, in the kitchen, over breakfast.
The conditional love game, not the unconditional one.
To be honest, in that moment, that’s the best I had. Not proud of it. I wish I could parent better in those moments, but that was the best I had.
I have a friend and colleague, Phil Goddard, who talks about love a lot – it makes things really simple and really clear. When all there was, and all there ever is, is love, there isn’t all that much to say: we’re in it, we are it, and how to live and be suddenly doesn’t require all that much thinking about, the way forward and the way to be, magically presents itself.
In essence: the end game, and the game, of life, is love. (Check out Phil’s work, because he and it, are rather wonderful).
After my performance in the kitchen yesterday morning, I was feeling disheartened and out of control. I brought my feelings up with my husband in the car last night and what he said took me totally by surprise.
The conversation went something like this:
Me: ‘I feel like I’d know better what to do and how to react [re. dealing with our son] if I knew what the end game was?
My husband [Without missing a beat]: ‘What if the end game is love?’
Oh my. *What if the end game is love*…..?
That stunned my racing mind to silence.
What if the end game is love?
If the end game is love, then….
I realised I’d been wanting a guarantee that whatever effort I put in to my parenting was going to result in the desired result: a perfect son, a perfectly running household (yesterday morning, I honestly thought, THAT was what the end game was).
I suddenly saw that if all human experience happens in the present (even our experience of the ‘past’ and ‘future’), well then the ‘end game’, the purpose of my interactions with my son, is in every moment. And if the end game is love and it’s happening in the moment, then all I have to do each moment is love. And I am love, so there’s not actually anything different I need to do.
If the end game is love, and I am love, then I don’t need to come up with some kind of clever ‘strategy’ to ‘manage’ my son.
If the end game, if the whole purpose of my interactions with my son, is love, and I am love, well I can do that right now, in the best way I can.
And sometimes that might look like out-of-control shouting, and sometimes that might look like a hug, but if the end game is love and I am love, I’m already there and I’m already doing it (though to an outsider, who doesn’t get the ‘Love’ thang, it might look like a possible case for social services/ Samaritans/ strong gin 😉 ).
And if all of that is the case, then I can stop looking for a ‘better strategy’ and focus my energy on being in the moment – living this crazy life and being in it. Not wishing it were different or he were different or I were different.
Because that’s where all my energy goes when my thinking goes in that direction – out of the present moment and away from reality.
And we CAN do reality (we can’t do future thinking very well, that’s exhausting, my state of mind yesterday was testament to that), but we CAN DO moment to moment to moment reality, really really well – however tired we are.
I think I’m almost saying, and almost seeing, then, that love is presence.
Not always perfect, not always pretty, not always controlled, and not always what you might think of as ‘love’,… but present, and ‘in life’, and responding, and doing it’s (and my) best with the thinking I have in the moment.
And I think, what I’m realising (slowly, and again and again and again), is that I am always going to be dipping in and out and in out of the present moment, in and out and in and out of that ‘flow’ state where things feel effortless and thought-less and things just come through us (the good the bad and the ugly).
It is entirely, human nature.
I think what I’m remembering and what I’m realising is that (once again(!)), the reason I’ve been struggling of late with my thoughts about my son’s behaviour and my response to it, is that I’ve been lured away from reality by an expectation that life should be different than it is; that parenting should be easier, that my son should behave better, that I should be coping more gracefully.
Sure, all those things would be nice; those would be my preferences – and it’s cool to have preferences – but I also have to remember that as soon as preferences become conditions for me to love my son, my life, me… I’m heading down a sticky road, a road of disconnection from what’s actual, and what’s real, and away from love, and it’s answers, and that way madness and dis-ease, and dis-comfort lies.
The pain I was in yesterday wasn’t coming from what was happening in reality in the kitchen, it was coming from my thoughts about my son, my parenting, my imperfect life. Whenever I go there, away from reality, away from the answers presence, the present and love presents, I will struggle.
And what’s interesting to me – in this moment – is that, paradoxically, we (I) put those conditions on life because we’re not comfortable with accepting the discomfort of the moment, but there literally IS no discomfort when we are FULLY present (there is no anxiety, disillusion, frustration, in the centre of the present moment – those only come when we leap forwards and backwards with our thinking and lay judgement on our perception of reality).
It’s okay for life to feel uncomfortable. It’s okay to struggle and to wish you were somewhere else, had an easier son, had a better parenting technique.
It’s so so normal.
But for me, the thing that’s helpful to practice is being okay with the discomfort of an ‘imperfect life’.
Because the more I stay in it, the more I see that the imperfection is not imperfection at all, it just is – any ideas of imperfection come from me. I can choose to live in the ‘un-reality’ of the imperfections, or when I remember, head right back to the present where none of that exists. My choice. When I remember.
I’m under no illusion that I’ll likely have (many) other moments of raising my hands to the sky and wishing into existence a magic solution to this parenting malarkey.
But I hope to remember more and more, as I did this morning, that we actually already have one: the more me and my husband can channel love, can be *in* love, with our selves, our lives, our boy, then the answers, the way forward, in each moment (even the most sticky ones), magically presents itself.
Kate Barsby has totally nailed it with:
“If the end game is love, and I am love, then I don’t need to come up with some kind of clever ‘strategy’ to ‘manage’ my son.”
This week I have been in a funk that feels more than just the lack of sleep and constant weight-bearing exercise (aka frequent breastfeeding and child-carrying!) And Kate’s post managed to shine a light on my clunkiness:
– my thinking had come out of alignment with present-moment-love…
I had been starting to gradually question (so gradually that it snuck up on me) my instinct to parent with love and presence rather than rules and routine. I’ve always sought to understand my 2 year old rather than control her, peer into her own innocent reasoning rather than leap into my adult assumptions of how-things-must-be.
As she gets older (she is exactly 2.5 tomorrow and more grown up by the second!) she of course has more of her own mind, is experimenting more with life and questioning everything. It seems to me that, caught up in our adult world of adult thinking, where things must be controlled and ordered and <wince> predictable, if we try to mould them into our world, we are in danger of stymieing our children’s instinctive exploration of life, creative potential and free establishment of their own unique self-ness.
Her nursery school, her child carers and even her/my family have triggered me…. talk of naughty steps and strict rules and firm boundaries. I am lucky, they all seem to respect my approach to mothering but in my mind they are criticising, judging and tutting. And maybe they do quietly sometimes…! But either way it doesn’t matter. I would be utterly misaligned if I took any other approach than presence and love because THEN my daughter would feel it – my lack of certainty, my doubt, my fear and loss of loving personal power – and she will act out, even though she’s unlikely to know why.
I want to role model loving strength and compassionate understanding, not close control or designing my children’s world for them (from whatever ‘good place’ of reasoning that control comes from – e.g. it promotes safety or an accepted societal role of obedience to society norms). By questioning everything, especially when I am triggered, my little girl teaches me so so much. It’s like she has given me this precious opportunity to start again and reform my own beliefs and views of the world from a new perspective of love and acceptance.
And that brings me happiness, joy and peace. And isn’t that what we want for our children? Happiness, joy, peace and love?
I choose not to dictate how she journeys there (‘good’ behaviour, perfect grades, looking ‘the part’ etc) just that she is given room to be there and that we learn and have fun on the way!
Yes I often struggle to stay aligned, because most parenting comes with methods and prescriptions. I guess I am saying that I feel different and as someone who has a history of trying to conform in order to be accepted, I find that hard and still often want approval from other parents that I am ‘doing it right’!! But I am learning a HUGE lesson (one of many) just about approval alone…. When I seek it, I will question why 🙂
So, thank you Kate! You are my catalyst to a pledge to myself to stay aligned, whatever the outside pressures are to conform to other ways of parenting. I don’t know what my parenting is ‘called’ 😉 I just know it’s not about ‘us’ and ‘them’, just ‘us’ and I am starting to wonder if my children will end up teaching me far far more than I can ever ever teach them….. In fact, I think they already have!
It’s so important to express all this, I feel, yet often so tricky to find the words, especially as it is a ‘path less travelled’ in today’s western culture.
I am wondering if this ‘style’ of parenting is actually the ‘harder’ route when it comes to the contemporary values of being in control and instant gratification – after all, once we’ve trained our children with rewards and consequences, they’ll be compliant (mostly!) Job done. And arguably we need to ‘do less’ in the future….
But, it seems to me that this is akin to treating your children like they are all a bit the same, predictable and don’t have an innate wisdom of their own and that we, the adults, always know better (even, dare I say it, implying our kids can be a bit of an inconvenience?) that they need to be given a quantifiable ‘slot’ in our lives (lovingly, I don’t doubt) so that we can predict our/their lives and get on with our own lives effectively – A ‘them and us’ rather than just a gorgeous, messy, ‘us’!
Interacting with our children with love and presence in each moment however is a full time job. Never is it ‘job done’…… Each interaction is different, maybe only subtly sometimes but different all the same. It takes time, patience, energy and commitment. Scarce commodities often for sleep deprived multi-tasking parents. But doesn’t interacting with each moment as unique better mirror the human condition? – after all no 2 moments are exactly the same, just as no 2 people are, there is no set rule of behaviour for any one situation.
We are all learning as we go along, but time and time again, remembering Love and understanding (being with my 2 year old to seek understanding of her behaviour rather than trying to control it) works. Every time. Suddenly the sun will come back out for my 2 year old and often she even verbalises what was wrong, and I might never ever have been able to see it otherwise. When I forget (it’s happening less and less, but I’m often tired so sometimes it still happens, daily!) the shit hits the fan, and we’re all in tears!!
Here are some questions for our readers…
- What have you learned about parenting with love and presence?
- How has your understanding of the Three Principles impacted the way you parent your children?
Come and share your thoughts in the comments below or in the
You can contact Kate Barsby on Facebook, or by email – firstname.lastname@example.org
You can visit Victoria Groom’s website or email at Victoria@victoriagroom.com