Parenting is one of the greatest opportunities for healing and growth. It is also one of the most fulfilling ways to meet needs for connection, to practice forgiveness and to express unconditional love.
If you’re a parent, think about it: you have another human being right there in your life who has unconditional love for you. They want so much to feel your love, affection, and attention.
Yes, children will cry, demand, get angry, and express frustration and emotional overwhelm, but they always get through that eventually (usually quicker if you can be calm and empathic with them as they experience any of those things). Children will also always return to unconditional love towards you if you can hold that space for them, expressing understanding, kindness, and compassion with them.
Being a parent gives you a tremendous opportunity to practice forgiveness, being non-judgmental and compassionate, because nobody else in your life is going to be as forgiving and as understanding as your kids is going to be with you. Not your spouse, not your best friend, not your own parents. No one in your life even comes close, especially if you are the birth parent and have been in your child’s life as a primary caregiver since their inception.
If you are an adoptive or foster parent, you might face more challenges than a biological parent. I’m not sure that’s a given, but I still argue that nobody else in your life besides your child is going to be as forgiving and as ready to connect with you than anyone else. An adopted or foster child has still become dependent on you, not only for having physical needs met like food and shelter but for emotional and psychological needs as well.
My own opportunity
I realized very early on in my son’s life, that being a dad was my chance to work on healing my own wounds from childhood, as well as other traumas experienced in my life, such as the loss of my daughter in my 20s.
I don’t want to let this opportunity as a parent pass me by, especially right now while my son is younger (7 years old at the time of this writing). I don’t want to look back on this time with regrets.
Sure, I won’t get everything right, and I don’t expect to not have any regrets. But I would like to be able to look back and see that I was able to grow and had made some significant and meaningful changes in my life, through being a parent.
Compassion and empathy
When my son is complaining, lashing out, or expressing any kind of upset, instead of breaking down and feeling triggered myself, I take that moment to remind myself that this is that opening to experience my own growth and healing. So I practice empathizing with him, looking him in the eyes and just listening – just being there, feeling compassion and expressing to him that I understand.
It’s amazing what happens in that moment of showing compassion and empathy with my son. The upset feelings usually don’t last very long. He just needed from me to feel seen and heard. Not left all on his own to sort through painful and scary emotions. Not shamed for having them. But just acknowledged and validated.
Examples of things I might say to him are:
“Yes, this feels like a disappointment that we have to leave this amazing, fun park.”
Or: “Yes, it is frustrating to be repeatedly asked to not throw the ball in the house.”
This is why calmly explaining why, instead of threatening and punishing is best. Because you can teach the lesson you want to teach while validating, acknowledging and connecting with your child at the same time. They’re going to hear your message most clearly of all, instead of tuning you out. If there’s a better approach than that, I’m not aware of it.
Wiring for connection is inherent in all of us.
Children really are wired for connection. And parents are too. We may have distanced ourselves from that need to connect and to feel heard and understood ourselves (each of us to varying degrees), but I don’t believe it’s something that ever leaves us completely.
The wiring for connection with others is inherent in all of us. I believe it’s best for us to acknowledge this fact, and take the opportunity to connect with our kids. It’s just good for us, and it’s good for them too.
No matter how far along you are in your parenting journey, take the opportunity with your child to practice empathy, kindness, understanding and compassion. Listen to your child’s cries and complaints not as something for you to hush and silence (or to scold and reprimand), but as their desperate plea for help and connection, from which you can both grow together.
It’s up to you, the parent, to take this opportunity (or not). Don’t run from your child’s cry for love and attention, instead give it to them. Because that’s exactly what you are there for.
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