Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Problem With Parenting

Being a parent for the past six years has really forced me to grow up -- I am more loving, selfless and wiser than I ever dreamed possible, thanks to motherhood. But there's a dark side to parenting that I feel uncomfortable with. It's about strongly identifying with the parenting role to the point of squelching your child's spirit.

I've read that the problem with roles is that it alters your perception of other people. You treat them as they relate to your role and not as other human beings. Sometimes I feel like I'm really power tripping with my kids. I get carried away with the rule-setting and monitoring. I forget they are people too and deserve respect. As a child, I remember what if felt like being constantly told what to do and feeling shame for falling short of my parent's expectations again and again.

According to Tolle, here's what can happen when the parent role takes over your sense of self:
The parenting function becomes exaggerated -- preventing your child from danger becomes overprotectiveness and interferes with their need to figure the world out on their own. The overbearing continues long after your child grows up because you're so used to being that role, that you can't let go of the need to be needed by your child. And when your adult child thwarts your control or influence you start to criticize, disapprove or try to make the child feel guilty. This is all in an attempt to preserve your parenting role, which is really no longer needed! This also describes the relationship I have with my parents today. I still consult them on way too many decisions and I fret about not having their approval in many areas of my life, such as spirituality.

So, what to do? I don't think it's responsible for parents to usurp their role entirely and be their kid's friend. My job is to help, guide and protect. I just don't want to be an over-bearing and controlling mother, even though part of me feels like it's too late to change.

Give them space -- space to be, is what Tolle suggests. "I know what's best for you" is okay when they are very young, but becomes less and less so as they get older. I don't think most parents realize this. A friend of mine says his job is to prepare his children to leave the nest. Everyone pitches in to make the family work. I remember growing up that my Mom absolved my sister and I of chores because she felt it was more important to focus on schoolwork or our activities -- that if we were successful in life, we'd just pay someone else to do housework. I don't want that for my children. I can see how independence boosts their self-esteem. They feel like their contribution (even if it's small) is valued. I also try to remind myself to consult my kids on family decisions -- not everything, but things that affect them. Again, this has a huge impact on their esteem. I also feel like I'm treating them as people instead of my belongings.

I think the hardest thing for me is to let go of control -- to let them make mistakes. I don't want them to suffer. Yet suffering is essential to growth. Otherwise they'll grow up to be shallow and spoiled. It's like I need my own parent to remind me to back off. If I practice it enough, it will surely stick.

Tolle also advises parents to give their children attention. Not based on what they do, as in feedback or praise, but simply just giving them your full attention when they need it. For me, that is one of life's greatest gifts. I love you, you are important to me, nothing else matters more right now. Presence.

I'm glad that I got these ideas out of my head. I really have the potential to fuck up my kid's life by being a lousy parent. But the ironic thing is that less is more. If I just relax and be myself instead of trying to be a perfect mother, I'll be doing the best for my kids.

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