Wednesday, January 09, 2008

parenting heaven, parenting hell

This is parenting heaven: sweet and happy children. And parenting hell: rebellious or angry or sullen or disobedient or sad or miserable children.



Parenting hell is when we take whatever they do as an excuse to feel bad or sad or angry or frustrated or bitter or any of the number of ways we can feel when we go into our “feeling bad” mode. Different strokes for different folks. Some of us like to take feeling bad and drive ourselves to sadness; others go for anger; others go for numbing out with substances or media or overwork; others go into self-torture of the mental sort: what did I do wrong, how did I fail, I’m so bad at ….

Whatever our grooved in and conditioned path to unhappiness, one of the ways of using parenthood is to take the inevitable moments, hours, days, weeks, and so on, when our kids are neither behaving nor feeling in their tip top sunniest and sweetest moods as the input to boogie on down that groove.

So, what sort of life is this, if we can’t blame our kids’ lousy behavior for our feeling badly now and then? Not the “normal” life for sure. Not the “ordinary” life in the sense of average (though “ordinary” life, if we wake up to all these moments, is much more a miracle than we hardly ever give it credit for.). Not ordinary, but extra-ordinary would be our life if we could enjoy our children in their “worst” moments as much as we enjoy then in their “best.”

That sounds so weird doesn’t it? The little darlings/ angels/ devils are screaming their heads off, giving us the “no” tantrum to beat the band, and we are happily in love with ourselves and with them? Oh, well, let it sound and even be weird.

Think about them, our tortured darlings: they are having a bad batch and acting out the second half of, “When he/she was good, he/she was very, very good, and when he/she was bad, he/she was horrid.” When do they need our love and attention and listening, and yes, even approval, most? When they are in the funk, right? Anyone can love them when they are being “very, very good.” But if we can’t love them when they are being “horrid,” what are they going to learn about self-love?

They are going to learn to treat themselves like everyone else: if they are on the upswing, they can like and love themselves. If things go bad, they get into the grove they learned when young and hate themselves and feel even worse.

On the miraculous other hand, if somehow we can realize their misery/ rebellion/ funk/ whatever is their business, and we can settle into ourselves and being present and breathing and watching and loving them, think of that sweet lesson. When they grow up and are tempted to get down on themselves for being down, “making a mistake,” having a hard time, etc., they might remember our smile or our hug or our listening or our taking time to slow down to try to understand what’s really going on, and treat themselves that way.

And sometimes when we are in a funk, we just might remember to treat ourselves this way, too. Good learning all the way around. And so here we have our parenting heaven: practicing love without conditions, for the little darlings/devils, and for ourselves. Weird, yes. Wonderful? Yes.

Chris Elms, M.A., has a Master’s in Psychology, and coaches now and then a form of forgiveness and communication between parents and children, especially the “troubled teens” in our lives. Wednesdays here in this blog, are postings on the parenting thing (click Parenting, below, in labels, to get all so far), and answers to questions sent in could be a possibility.

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