Leading By Example: Parenting The Next Generation
Dear Cynthia, Help. I’m an exhausted and busy, single mom of two young kids…. I’m doing my best to juggle my job, relationships, parenting but I feel like I’m having to do too many things, and none of them as well as I would like. The most important thing to me is my kids: their wellbeing, growth, and security. What advice would you give to young parents about the most important lessons you’ve learned in parenting?
I don’t know if I’m pulling rank here: I’m speaking now as a grandmother, not an active-duty mom. But my four grandkids have given me a second chance to learn the lessons that I missed the first time around. Or maybe it’s simply that the passage of time lets one see the forest, not just the trees.
The single most important thing is to take time to LISTEN to your children—as fellow human beings, not just as your charges or pet projects.
There’s a wise little human soul in there, ageless in heart even while young in time. Follow her lead. Listen to what she says and DOESN’T say. Don’t just manage her, but allow the things she’s interested in to open and energize your own heart. That’s the secret of eternal youth.
Second, don’t be afraid to be real with your children.
I’m not speaking so much here about being honest with your feelings (that’s generally good, but don’t forget that as a parent you have a primary responsibility to hold a safe space for your kids, and your self-expression should never overwhelm or frighten them); rather, I’m talking about being transparent about how you’re working with your own limitations. Your kids are going to pick up on how you work through your challenging days and emotions. Somewhere along the way we’ve gotten the idea that we need to shield our kids from our own humanity! Instead, model for them how to stop and take some deep breaths when you’re getting frustrated, and don’t be afraid to offer an explanation for the charge you might be carrying: “I’m sorry I’m so frazzled, Mommy is having a rough day today.”
Lastly, be sure to invite your children to experience what you truly love.
For 18 years my own mother managed, scolded, imposed manners, dragged us kids off to Sunday school, arranged lessons in necessary social graces, chaperoned parties and supervised homework. And yet, for all that gray blur of duty, the one day I truly remember from my childhood was the day she simply gathered up her beloved oil paints and marched us off to a local arboretum. As my brother and I explored the gardens, I watched her a short distance away, poised before her easel, golden sunlight streaming down her face, completely entranced in what she was doing. How I loved her in that moment! And the unspoken lesson on following your bliss has remained with me for nearly six decades. Children will pick up on the joy (or lack thereof!) with which you live out your true essential self in this lifetime and the resonance will help them discover their particular notes that they are meant to offer this great symphony of life.