In an imagined conversation with my go-to, tear-it-all-down-to-the-basics, peaceful parent advocate, adviser and author Naomi Aldort, I find plenty of food for thought (and homework) in her many articles and book, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves. Here are some excerpted “answers” to a few of my most pressing parenting pressures as of late…
Me: Dear Naomi, please help. We are riding intense emotional waves and just keeping our head above the sea of emotions at best. On our good days, the place is a mess (I’m a mess) and somewhere still in our pajamas, my two little boys and I have just managed to have one of our smoothest, most playful days.
Naomi Aldort: Children can only release stress and maintain emotional well-being when they feel completely safe to express themselves. The need to feel emotionally safe is therefore closely related to the need for freedom of self-expression…. Children with access to nature (a yard, trees, sand, stones, sticks…), as well as the kitchen and all other safe items and furniture inside the home, will make a lab of reality out of every space. When visitors come to my home and it isn’t tidy, I say as a matter of fact, “Oh, excuse the mess, there are three young scientists studying reality.”
Me: Yes… but, when DO we sweep up the endless sea of crumbs, crafts, marbles, cars, sticks, stones, lego, blocks, socks, and trains…?!
NA: When a child offers such help, express your gratitude and don’t expect more. Providing them safe ways to be messy, noisy, as well as in charge, leads children to contentment and healthy relationships. Life with children flows when we simply follow their lead and respect their choices, rather than wrack our brains for what we think is right for them.
Me: What about the times we need to follow my lead?
NA: A child feels powerful when she makes autonomous choices and owns her decision. However, having autonomy is very different than having control over others, which is scary for a child…. If most of the time a child is given information so she can make autonomous choices she will be able to accept situations in which she cannot do whatever she wishes: she cannot ride her tricycle in the middle of the street, break dishes, play with fire, hurt others, hurl objects in the house, or ride in the car without a seat belt.
Me: Right, no playing with fire or hitting or hurling balls in the house. What about when it’s time to eat, sleep or go out?
NA: When limitations are imposed on the child, he tends to oppose them and to harbour resentment, leading to tantrums or aggression. It can also lead to compliance, which parents often mistake for being a “good” child. The compliant child is likely to show his accumulated distress through other emotional disturbances or later in his teens or adult life with the use of drugs, aggression, eating disorders, depression and other difficulties.
Me: Why is my 5-year-old saying the opposite of what he really wants when I’m saying it’s OK around here (like watching Winnie the Pooh on weekends, or roasting marshmallows — sometimes)?
NA: If your child resists you, it’s a sign that you have exercised control in relating to her; you have been resisting her. Whatever you judge in your child is likely to be a useful guide for yourself, so use it for your own growth and your child will improve because you do; she is only mirroring your attitudes. If you see her as resisting, you must be resisting. If she is uncooperative, ask yourself how cooperative you are with her. Write down and investigate the thoughts that fuel your need to control; when you shed light on these automatic responses they gradually let you be the parent you love being.
Me: Yep, I’ve been on auto pilot, and then tried to recover as the parent I want to be. Maybe I’m not consistent enough??
NA: Parents often think that they must be consistent with their responses to their children. In attempting to be consistent they sometimes do things that hurt a child or create anger and disappointment because they fear that inconsistency will confuse her. Yet, the only consistency that matters is love. When your action is inconsistent with loving, the child is not only confused but also hurt and misguided. At that moment you are not true to your own loving self. Change the rules, not the love; love needs to be the only consistent guide to our actions.
Thank you, Naomi. All we need is love (and self-love too, because we are mirrors — and I’m running a little low). I really can give myself a break from (mine and perceived society’s) expectations and just be love with my children.