Parenting is not a Detour from your Self-growth
A woman recently said to me, “Being a parent has been such a detour from my own personal growth.”
Had she failed to see the great crucible she’d landed in as a parent? Had she put her commitment to her own development on hold? Resigned herself to wait?
Yes, I thought, parenting is demanding and some things need to be postponed - going back to school, climbing Kilimanjaro - but not the unfolding of one's true essence. Definitely not that.
In contrast, I want to share with you a story that has lodged itself in my heart:
A silver-haired woman, upon being asked what she would do differently if she could live her life over, replied, “I would have had more children. Yes, really. Being a mother has forged me - through fire, wind and powerful currents – and forced me to grow and change. Who might I have become if I had had more?”
It’s true that parenting can be an icy and fiery endeavour. It sparks our rage. It rouses our terror, delight and heartbreak. But in this parenting container, we are simmered and stirred until all that’s unnecessary evaporates off. Until our essential, sage self is all that is left.
Parenting is not a detour from your self-growth; it’s the road that takes you home to your essential self and who you were truly meant to be.
It’s a continual invitation to meet parts of yourself previously unknown to you.
It insists that you identify and claim what really matters to you.
It encourages you to find your solid grounding.
It brings all the old stories you’ve been telling yourself up for re-examination and welcomes new stories to emerge, stories that resonate more fully with who you are now.
Parenting fertilizes your unfolding.
Staying focused on your self-development, however, can be challenging. Here are some strategies that help:
Choose one thing.
It’s incredibly easy for parents to think of a hundred things that they would like to improve about their parenting. If only I could be… I need to… Though it’s important to recognize our growth edges, holding them all at once just leads to overwhelm and hopelessness. You don’t know where to start and can’t get any traction.
So, choose the one thing that would be really meaningful for you to address right now in your parenting and in your relationship with your young adult child.
What’s triggering you repeatedly?
What seems to be cutting you off from you best self and having you responding to your child in ways that you regret later?
What has your internal saboteurs are saying, "Oh brother, you did it again”?
Confirm your willingness
Early in my training, I had a coaching mentor who described his work as “healing the suffering of those who are willing.”
What?! Isn’t everyone willing to be healed? Not so much, it turns out. Here’s what I learned:
Change is part of life; we all experience it. But deeply meaningful change, the kind that reveals more of who you really are – that kind of change comes to those who are willing to let go of old habits and beliefs and willing to learn new ones.
The truth is that releasing old patterns and beliefs requires a willingness to step into the unknown and wobble for a while. No two ways about it - it’ll be uncomfortable.
There will be resistance. Your ego doesn’t want to move away from the strategies that have helped you get through life so far. It’s going to make you doubt, forget, get distracted, feel lost, worry, procrastinate, lose hope, etc. and you will have to keep going forward. So I encourage you to acknowledge what change is asking of you.
What can support you with this is remembering that this particular habit isn’t working for you anymore. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be weighing on your mind and churning in your belly right before you fall asleep.
Your ego will always tell you that you must hang onto the tried and true. Yet deep in your heart, you know it’s got to go now. Have faith in this knowing. Have faith in the new behaviour that will emerge.
What capability do you want to improve right now? For example, if you’re thinking ‘better communication with my teenager’, that’s too broad.
Identify the smaller thing.
Do you want to be getting into the habit of asking questions instead of launching into sermons? To be more able to get grounded and sink into your heart before you respond? To use a different tone of voice? Do you want to be to become skilled in noticing the right time to talk with him? To be more able to sit in silence with her?
Get clear with yourself about what exactly you want to be able to do. A specific focus closes the window for resistance, overwhelm, distraction and excuses.
There are thousands and thousands of books written about practice. What it looks like for me is a meadow of tall grass with my desired new way of being on the other side. If I walk there once (for example, if I ask my teenager a question instead of just blurting out my opinion), I set a path. If I don’t walk upon it again for a week or two, the grass will stand up again and the trace of the path will be gone.
But if I walk the path regularly, the grass will stay down. That means that when I find myself in a fired-up situation with my child, feeling emotional and unresourceful, I will be able to see the path. The grass will be laying down and it will be easier for me to step onto it. Through practice, there’s a much better chance that a query will come out of my mouth rather than my opinion. This is what practice has taught me.
Of course, you’re not going to get it right every time. That’s a given. What matters is what you do when it doesn’t go how you would have liked. I invite you to turn away from shame, frustration or powerlessness. Observe yourself with deep compassion, get interested in what didn’t work and give it a tweak for next time.
Messing up as part of the process – be kind to yourself along the way.
Register your progress
As I said, it’s so easy for parents to see what they’re doing ‘wrong’. So when you remember to practice a new move, when you actually execute what you had planned, don’t just fly by it.
Recognize what you’re accomplishing. Acknowledge the effort it takes to overcome resistance and turn off the self-critical voices. Celebrate your grit to try again.
Create a new ritual: put a pebble in a jar, hold your hand on your heart for 60 seconds, do your happy dance or light a candle. Register that you’re finding your way through this challenging stuff.
You are letting go of a well-established pattern - it’s neither bad that good, it’s just done. And as it evaporates, you are creating space for a new way of being with your child. This is one of the big gifts of parenting: the opportunity to find within yourself the best kind of parent for this particular child.
You are making room for the loving, connected, sage parent that lies within you to emerge. You are creating space for more love.
Parenting is not a detour from your self-growth; it’s your super-highway to your deepest truth.