Heartening Moments and Painful Realizations on the Path of Conscious Parenting

I mentioned, in one of my past posts, the double standard that permeates our interactions with children, and my new understanding that my children’s ‘poor’ behaviour was simply a reflection of my own.  Here are a couple of heartening moments and painful realizations from my path of conscious parenting.

I started modifying my behaviour in December, 2011.  I expected there to be a time lag between changes in my behaviour and subsequent changes in my children’s behaviour and knew that a great deal of faith in the process would be required.  One of the first bright moments came a couple of months ago, February I think, when Samara, for the first time, said, “Excuse me, I would like to interrupt” instead of barging in on a conversation.  We tend to interrupt our children’s activities often and rudely but then are horrified, angry and embarrassed when they interrupt us rudely in return (that nasty double-standard!)  Three months of quietly and politely asking my children if I could “interrupt them for a moment” is finally ‘paying off’ as they begin to treat me respectfully in return.

Typically, when our children speak to us angrily or rudely or hurtfully we volley the anger, dismissal or hurtfulness right back at them.  How dare they be angry?!  How dare they question us?   How dare they not want to please us?!  However, this anger is typically a very understandable defence against the violation of their basic rights and now gives me pause to stop and consider my own actions.

As I refrain from imposing my will on my children, I’ve also been forced to acknowledge that the ‘normalization’ I witnessed after I first began to ‘allow’ Jasmine to make her own decisions was only her mistrust of the situation. I think that, on a very fundamental level, she didn’t trust I would continue to love her if she were truly herself, if she stopped ‘trying to please’.   Adults like it when children ‘try to please’.  We confuse a child who ‘tries to please’ with a ‘good’ child because a child who ‘tries to please’ validates us.   I think it is very harmful to children in the long run; they risk losing themselves in the pleasing of others.

And so it has been with the passing of time, as Jasmine tests to see if there are boundaries to my love and as she experiments with learning to be herself, that I have begun to witness some of the damage of my past parenting.  It has been especially painful to observe Jasmine ‘transform’ from a child whom I thought was empathetic and thoughtful to a child who appears to demonstrate little to no empathy.   Lately, Jasmine has been tormenting and teasing her sister viciously and incessantly; she has also been hitting her violently and treating her friends callously.  This behaviour reminded me acutely of the violent nature of Jasmine’s jealousy towards Samara during her little sister’s first year of life and it forced me to acknowledge that Jasmine had only suppressed this violent jealousy as she desperately tried to retain my love and approval after Samara’s birth.

Horrified and worried, I turned to the web 🙂  for help with this new development and found two incredible articles which helped me to understand my child’s apparent lack of empathy.  The author of the articles discusses the damage we do when we shame children for their behaviour rather than communicating to them (without judgement) the consequences of their behaviour.  To sum them up (but I highly recommend reading the articles :)), when we shame a child for what we perceive to be unacceptable behaviour, instead of them understanding the harm they have done (and thus developing empathy), they instead focus only on themselves with feelings of shame and self-hatred.  They don’t ‘hear’ and can’t ‘see’ anything beyond, “I am bad”.  It’s a double whammy: children learn to hate themselves, plus they learn nothing of the impact of their actions on others.  I had been aware for quite some time of Jasmine’s self-hatred but, until reading these articles, had been unaware of its cause.

It has been very difficult to acknowledge that my child has little to no self-worth and painful to recognize that she is not the empathetic child I thought she was.  I had no idea that journeying down the path of conscious parenting would land me in this place.  I’m hoping, as I love Jasmine through this darkness and gently help her to understand how her actions affect those around her, that she will again feel worthy of self-love and the love of those around her.