“Trust your instincts”, she said. “You have all the wisdom you need to parent this child.” She must be talking about someone else, I thought … Nice idea but completely unattainable for this harried mother of two small children.
And it wasn’t that I didn’t know what I knew about how to raise my children. I had a deep knowing, primordial parenting instincts, a clear voice within me. I knew.
But I didn’t trust it.
You see, I had been raised to doubt and disconnect from my instincts, to do what I was told. And so, I had big misgivings about having enough wisdom for such a momentous task as raising the next generation. You have your reasons, of course.
And so, I turned to friends and “experts” for guidance, quashing my knowledge in favor of other knowledge. Knowledge that seemed more confident, more tried-and-true, more reliable. Longing for safety and certainty, I put my trust in others.
Did they get me through some tricky years? Yes, thankfully, more or less.
And there were costs.
Big costs. Like shutting down my instincts even further, relegating them to the silent back room. Costs like becoming too dependent on others to have answers for me. I missed opportunities to be real with my children. I became less and less able to access my inner knowing, let alone regard it as trustworthy.
It’s been a long road back. I’m not saying I now have 100% trust in myself – I don’t know if I ever will – but I have a much stronger sense of my own wisdom. It’s a work in progress.
Along the way, I’ve developed some clear ways of checking if I’m trusting my instincts. I thought I’d pass them along with the hope they’re helpful to you.
1. My gut is the best place for me to check. Of course, it’s not the same for everyone. Your knowing may reside in your solar plexus, your heart, or elsewhere in your body. For me, it’s in my belly and I’ve gotten to know it well. When I’m veering off what’s true for me, my abdominal muscles tighten and my breathing becomes shallower. When I’m connected to my internal radar, I have what I call an “easy belly”. My stomach is soft and moving with my breath. And I’ve come to learn that my self-trust lives in that spaciousness.
2. And then I check my thoughts. I listen for voices like, “They sound so confident. They must know more than I do”. I pause and ask myself if it’s really true (usually it’s not). And, with that reality check, I’m able to re-center and then there’s room to explore. What aspect of the suggestion attracted me in the first place? What’s the sparkly gem, the new perspective, the new move, that feels valuable to me? When I feel resonance with that little nugget, when I can hear the Yes, that’s my gut wisdom and I know I can trust it.
3. Similarly, I pay attention to my “No’s”. When I feel frustrated, disgusted, or fearful, that’s my gut instinct talking to me and I have learned to really listen. To hear the thoughts about not rocking the boat or endangering the relationship. To feel that tightness around my eyes, sinking heart and collapsing shoulders. I used to brush that kind of intuition aside; now it’s my most faithful guide. Did you know that intuition comes from the root words for “inner teacher”? Built in, always with us, ready to support our discernment of what’s ok and not ok for us.
As I said, trusting one’s intuition wasn’t encouraged in me as a child. As a parent, I’ve had to practice. It’s become easier, more natural, and I continue to practice. And as a parenting coach, I've supported others to find their way of doing it.
Of course, I’m afraid sometimes. And thank goodness for tensing abdominals, sweaty palms and racing heartbeats asking us to check for sabre-tooth tigers or threats of being exiled.
Of course, there’s self-doubt. How could my own wisdom be truer than that passed down through my mothers and grandmothers? Or the advice of researchers or spiritual directors? Could I truly know how to do this sacred job of parenting? Could what I KNOW in the core of my being be right for me and my child?
“Trust your instincts”, I say. “You have all the wisdom you need to parent this child.”
Can you trust it?
Yes. You. Can.