Parenting is tough… No one tells you that what is really important is in years to come. Discipline, boundaries, and limits will only cause you suffering if your child is not someone you can genuinely talk to.
When I became a mother and started playing this “raising a child” game, everyone told me that discipline is critical; that routines, rules, limits, and boundaries are the first things I need to “teach” my child and establish for him if I ever want to see him become the person who I want him to become.
Boy, were they wrong. I mean, I didn’t know that right from the start. I gave their parenting tips a try, and I noticed that I am suffering. That my little one is suffering; and that our suffering is not making my husband all that happy. Thankfully, all my education and actually being a life coach who focuses on happiness helped me climb out of these misconceptions and recognize the void I’ve surrounded ourselves with, pretty quickly.
Where Did I Go Wrong?
Unfortunately, the answer that’s right for me here is the same answer that is responsible for the suffering and misery of so many families out there. And the answer is that although we are not cookies, this is a cookie-cutter world we live in, that teaches us that there is a single right path we should all follow and that we should follow it even if (and when) it makes us miserable.
This world teaches us that if we wish to change a behavior, we must do x, y, and z never to see this behavior again. This world teaches us that there are feelings that are not allowed, feelings that should not be shared, and truths that cannot be said. From the very first day of our lives (and our parenting) “right” and “wrong” are determined for us, even when it isn’t right for us.
Parenting Tactics That Disconnect Us
The prominent parenting tactics this world follows are tactics of fear, guilt, and shame, that aim to discipline the next generation by making them feel, well, bad. Sure, I understand where this is coming from. We assume that if a person feels bad about doing something, he would willingly choose not to do it again. This might be true if the remorse comes from within. This is everything but valid when it is your parent who inflicts these feelings upon you; feelings of fear, guilt, and shame that disconnect you from your underlying, intrinsic motivation of being good to, and for, the ones you love.
Instead, those people, who are supposed to love you and care for you, guide you on how this world really works and help you THRIVE in it, are the ones who, unknowingly, cause you all this pain.
This realization is the reason for which I chose to focus on parent coaching as of then on, and help parents build strong relationships THAT WORK with their children. Instead of doing what everyone else is doing, and paying the price for it, later on in life.
How I Raise My Child to Be Someone I Could Talk To
When my little one was three months old, I put everything everyone was telling me aside and started doing what was right for us. I never looked back.
When a routine was causing us pain and suffering, it was no longer our routine. With all due respect to rules and regulations – trying to put an energetic child to sleep because “the clock says so,” is hell. And there’s no reason for me (or him) to go through this. Sleep was never a struggle. Nor is it now – almost four years later.
I Trust My Child
I trusted him and his instincts, and now he trusts his own instincts and asks to follow his own bodily cues. When he’s tried, he tells me, and we go to sleep. And guess what? It happens at 9 pm sharp; every day.
We all have a biological clock that WE CHOOSE TO FOLLOW unless something around it messes with it and turns it into a power struggle.
When he says he isn’t cold, I will never force a coat on him. Because no one likes being cold, unless (again) it’s now about a power struggle. And guess what? He always asks for a coat when he’s cold.
I Celebrate His Authenticity and Let Him Express Himself
Whatever lives in him has the right to be said. And I’m never hurt by it because hurting me is never his intention. If “hurtful” words escape his mouth, it’s because he, himself, is hurt. And it doesn’t mean that I will change reality in his favor to spare him from pain, but rather, that I’ll be there with him, with his pain, and help him cope with it by coaching him to recognize his needs and express his emotions.
No matter what he tells me, my first reaction is always “thank you for sharing that with me.” And only then, when he knows that his feelings are seen and heard, I will move on to asking “why,” “how,” or “when.”
Trust is not something you can build in the future. Trust is something that you build now. And every given moment is that now. You might not believe it’s that important, but if you consider the teen your toddler will soon become, trust is the leading quality in your relationship that you want to establish.
I Celebrate His Autonomy and Boundaries
The ones who are free to lead are those who are free to follow. This precious balance of individual people’s autonomy is the balance that builds – and ruins – relationships.
If you’re asking me – meeting your child’s need for autonomy is one of the most important things you can do.
His “no” means “no” to me, and I always ask. I don’t have any exclusive rights just because “I made him,”; he doesn’t belong to me. I have exclusive rights because he gives me exclusive rights for respecting every aspect of his being.
I Celebrate Our Connection
He knows that I am a safe place; that I am his safe place. He knows that he can count on me to listen to him, to hear him, to respect him, and to help him whenever I can. He knows (or maybe not yet, but certainly soon) that no one else can ever come between us.
How Did This Approach Shape Our Lives?
By trusting him, I taught him to trust himself, and to trust me.
By celebrating his authenticity and allowing him to express himself fully, I taught him to accept the authenticity and expression of others. I taught him not to take things personally and to always look for the spot from which he can grow.
By celebrating his autonomy and boundaries, I taught him to celebrate the autonomy and boundaries of others. In his world, “no” is a word you respect. No matter who says it.
By celebrating our connection, I taught him that nothing is ever more important than the connection, he knows that no matter what happens – I will always be there, on his side.
How Trading Instant Gratification Into Long Term Connection Shapes Our Lives
I could have chosen the faster route of fear, guilt, and shame, and taught him to obey me. I could have chosen a quicker path to control his behavior. It would have given me the instant gratification (actually – it wouldn’t have, but let’s say that it would, for the sake of argument) – but this would have cost me our connection.
Sooner or later, he would “leave” me. If not in body, then in the soul. Sooner or later, he’ll choose others to confide in, and our relationship would seize from evolving. Sooner or later, he would understand that he doesn’t trust me, and what this means to him.
When parenting with purpose, parenting is never about the “now,” but about the whole, full life we are about to live. Side by side.
How Do I Talk to My Toddler?
I talk to him just like I speak to any other adult. And I trusted him to one day understand my full meaning and intention. And he’s not there yet, at least not entirely, but he trusts himself to get there. So he asks questions with sheer curiosity, and he always wants to know what I really mean; just like I want to know what he really means.
The Only Routine We NEVER Changed
Ever since he was a tiny, tiny baby, I laid with him to sleep each night, and I always shared my thoughts and feelings with him about what happened that day, how it made me feel, how I acted and if I wished I would have done or said something else.
Nowadays, we still have this conversation every day (so much so that it is a very important part of my self-care routine). A communication of radical honesty where everything can be said, and we both know that the other one listens. We never go to bed angry, and this is a sacred moment for the both of us, a moment where all feelings are allowed, all ears and hearts are open, and everyone is wishing for an even better tomorrow.
3 Conversations I Had With My Toddler That Had a Real Impact On My Life
The first thing I ever asked him was to stop kicking me during bedtime. It was some two years ago, and I still remember how annoyed I was when he did it each evening. He’d lie there, and while falling asleep kick me, lightly, over and over again. And I told him that I love him so much and I love putting him to sleep, but those little kicks irritate me on so many levels. He opened his little eyes and looked at me, he then said, “so you don’t want me to kick you?” and he never did it again.
A few months later, I started getting frustrated with his night bottles. Every night, at 4 am, he’d ask for one, and given the fact that I was already led by the thought of him being old enough not to need them, I was ready to say goodbye to the bottle. One night I told him that making him his night bottle is really hard for me because I have trouble falling back asleep if I wake up in the middle of the night. He then said, “bottles are for babies, I won’t ask anymore (in the middle of the night).” And he didn’t.
The last few days here were tough; I couldn’t get to the bottom of things, but he was worried, tired, demotivated, irritable, and sensitive. He didn’t want to go play in the evening, didn’t want to ride his bike or meet friends. All he wanted to do was watch TV. But alas, we only allow one hour a day, at 19:00.
In the last few days, he cried and screamed to watch TV as soon as he’d wake up in the morning and as soon as we’d come back from daycare. These were long and terrible hours during which there was nothing I could do to console him, and he was, evidently, not ready to exit that emotional train.
Last night I told him how sad I am for all the fighting, how this is not the way I want to live our lives, how important his happiness is to me, and how I am willing to do everything it takes to make him happy. I told him that I would be grateful if he chose not to fight, and to see all the options that he has laid out in front of him. All these options that make our lives beautiful. He looked at me and said, “I don’t want to fight. We only watch TV at 19:00”. And he fell asleep.
And this morning was heaven again.
What Can a Mother Wish For?
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we’ll never fight again; nor do I believe he will never ask for the TV before it’s 19:00. But I do know that he hears me and that my words matter to him.
And this encourages both of us to keep talking. And this is one of the most important things a mother can wish for. We spoke about limits, boundaries, discipline, but all I want is to raise a human being who cares about other human beings, a human being who listens, a human being who speaks. Everything else will EASILY come from there.
Raising a child you can talk to is all you ever want.
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