The lessons from parenting aren’t always easy, but they will change the ways we engage with the world.
Exactly five years ago, at 9:21 a.m., I got the first glimpse at the soul who made me a mother.
The doctor put her on my belly and I looked at her in awe. When they announced excitedly “It’s a girl,” I barely registered that information. I was staring at the perfectly formed tiny human that I grew for 42 weeks. I made that—and it was perfect! I admired the button nose, the chubby cheeks, the beautiful, perfect ears in disbelief. Wow! So this is what a miracle looks like!
We get to do all of that inside our growing bellies. It requires no thinking, not (many) deliberate activities or conscious action on our part. It just happens because that’s how nature made it happen.
What I didn’t know back then was that this tiny bundle of clenched fists and layered fluff would initiate the deepest, most profound transformation, soul evolution and mind-blowing personal development for me.
Today she is 5 and we’ve been busy celebrating her latest desire to be a mermaid. I’ve baked a sugar-free cake, the lemonade dispenser is empty and I can now sit down and share with you some of the things I’ve learned these past five years.
1. Parenting a child became revolutionary the moment I realized that this is my chance to reparent myself
The way I was parented was not ideal for me. I wish I were held when I was sent away to my room. I wish I were taught to ask questions rather than memorize. I wish I were supported in making mistakes and learn from them instead of striving for perfection.
I strongly believe that my mother and father loved me deeply, the best they could. But that doesn’t mean that was good enough for me.
So, when I had a child, all the painful memories of my childhood once again resurfaced. I thought them healed or at least gone. They weren’t.
When my daughter did something similar to what I did when I was small, I had a choice to react the same way my parents reacted to me and continue the cycle, strengthening the belief that it was the right thing. When she became angry, I could send her to her room to deal with it. That would have been the easiest for me. But then I remembered how that felt. Lonely. Raging. Misunderstood. “Me against them.”
So I didn’t.
Instead, I sat there, in the middle of her anger storm and took it all in. I allowed her to cry as loud and as long as she wanted to. I encouraged her to express it all, even (and especially) when it wasn’t “proper.” While I stood there, battling my demons and desperately repeating to myself, “I am a good mother. This is not about me. This is her right to be accepted and loved unconditionally.” And guess what? Eventually, the storm passed. The anger passed. And the silence followed. And that’s when the good stuff comes. Holding her, telling her that everybody has big feelings and that it’s perfectly okay to take them out of your body, mind, and soul. The soft, deep tears at the end. Hers. And mine. Mixed.
She healed her anger.
I healed my past.
I was kind when I could have been distant.
I stood still when I could have run away.
I opened up to feel sadness and helplessness, even when it was excruciating.
Everything my children do is an opportunity for me to repeat the history or create a new pattern of behavior and thought that would affect not only me and my children but the generations to come.
Sitting in pain is hard. But it passes. It always does. And that’s when the good things start happening. If we check out for the hard stuff, we are opting out from the growth and healing that come after.
2. When it’s difficult physically, it’s the most rewarding emotionally
The first year of the baby’s life is, in my opinion, the hardest. Birthing hurts and leaves scars, both physically and emotionally. Breastfeeding can be challenging and sometimes very painful. Lack of sleep is a medieval torture method. Adjustments must be made in identity, relationships, roles and responsibilities and the person I thought I was but no longer am. It’s transformational.
But that first year when my struggle was at its highest peak, that tiny baby who entered my life had one emotional role: to love me. She wanted to be held the entire time, cuddled, adored and snuggled. She could look in my eyes for hours and sleep while holding my finger very tight. She showed me what unconditional love meant for her and helped me remember and rediscover mine. It was hard work because I never knew that I could be somebody else’s everything.
3. When it becomes easier, it only gets deeper
When my baby started sleeping longer, becoming more self-sufficient, eating by herself and doing things more independently, that’s when I felt I was given the mental space so I can deal with the next stage:
tantrums, anger and tears
My child cried for 45 minutes because her cereal wasn’t crunchy enough.
She asked me “why do you like me, mama,” “what’s my risponsibilitee” and “why did the iPad battery finish and will my battery finish as well” in a span of 20 minutes.
Yes, I was gifted more sleep, but I need that so I can come up with better answers to these questions.
4. Everything that is triggered in me by my child has more to do with me
All moms get triggered by different things. While for you, allowing your kids to roam freely during dinner and just come for a bite here and there is a perfectly fine way to conduct life, for another mother this is quite possibly borderline insanity. The difference? How we relate to these experiences based on our own history.
So when my child stands up during dinner time to go fetch a toy, I could just say, “Please sit down, we are all still eating dinner.”
That normally doesn’t happen.
Instead, many of us bring out the big guns almost immediately:
“If you stand up from the table there is no more food!”
“You’re driving me crazy! I’ve been preparing this food for hours, and all you do now is take a bite and leave!”
“Go to your room. Dinner is over!”
“Sit down right now. Otherwise, I will take all of your toys away!”
“You are disrespecting me!”
“Really? Is this something you really MUST do right now? Really?”
“I’ve been working hard so I can put this food on the table! You now sit down and eat it!”
In reality, we are mostly reacting from a place of hurt.
I was raised with a scarcity mentality. There was never enough; there might not be more tomorrow, the food was precious and everybody had to finish their plate even when it wasn’t necessary or enjoyable. I understand why my parents did it. They were subjected to this as children of parents who had to survive during not one, but two wars, lack of food, safety and love.
I’m grateful I don’t have to battle with this anymore, so I choose to let it go. When my kid is full, I respect her judgment and body. When she doesn’t like the food I cooked, I am sure to make a note of her preferences without taking it personally.
It’s never about something that my child does. It’s all how I view it from my own experience. But the unconscious, knee-jerk reaction is almost always the same one I encountered as a child. The biggest triggers I feel gravitate around food, expressing negative emotions, self-discovery, perceived danger and academic results.
5. The way I talk to my child is the way she will talk to herself and others
I discovered this as I was eavesdropping during bedtime. I put the kids to bed one evening and I stepped out. The three of them share a room—and one of them is noisier than the other two.
My oldest daughter was softly whispering, “It’s ok, I’m here with you and I love you very much. You are safe. Just close your eyes, cuddle your Mimi and think about all the happy things that happened today.”
Noisy child continued making noise. She followed, “Now I’m serious! You close your eyes! It’s time! Right now!”
Even though it was funny, I could hear myself in her words.
The other day, just before bedtime she was making a list of all the things she loves: “I love my family, I love my papa the most, I love my mama, I love my brother, I love my sister, I love my Mimi, I love myself, I love my toys, I love my bed. The end.”
We talk about self-love, self-compassion and treating ourselves and our bodies with kindness, gentleness and love. And now, she says it out loud “I love myself.” It was the proudest I’ve ever felt as a parent. What more do I want to instill in my child if not a base of self-love?
In many homes around the world, however, parents still believe in “tough love,” telling the kids they are not enough, they are not doing enough and they haven’t achieved enough—in an effort to so motivate them to do more.
And while this goal might be reached and those kids will indeed become more successful, their inner dialogue will mirror the words they heard: “you are not enough,” “you are not doing enough,” “you haven’t achieved enough.”
These are my lessons. While not all have been easy to accept or allow in my heart, they have been radically changing the way I think, behave, love and react to my children and the other people around me.