“The best parenting is parenting that leads your children to become their own best teachers and life-guides. In essence it is the art of helping them to develop within an “internal parent” whom they can call upon for guidance, support, encouragement and wisdom for the rest of their lives.
In truth parenting can’t really be learned from a book or lecture or program (or even article). It is learned from the direct experience of parenting itself. So, too with the lives of your children. The things that make a difference in their lives that really last, are the experiences they have directly of life itself.
“Experience” is not the same as “talking about.” In fact the ancient eastern philosophies taught that talking about the truth diminishes the nature of truth itself. As if the more you struggle to define the art of parenting, the more distant you become from the experience of parenting itself. And the same is true for all the lessons that you care about with your children – help them become their own best teachers by leading them to one discovery after another of their lessons in their own life experiences.
The more they rely upon you to explain the lessons of life, or point out what something means, the less self-reliant they are and the less they learn to trust their own instincts of right and wrong. It is a truism in parenting that whatever we reward in the behavior of our children persists – both positive and negative.
The challenge of training our children to internalize our parenting lessons, requires first that we identify the specific ethical parenting goals we have in mind for our children and then continually point out to them each time they exhibit one of the qualities we desire in their everyday behavior.
The key is to “catch them doing something right” as often as possible, and continually reinforce that behavior. In this way we are reinforcing what we desire and not what we don’t desire.
I recall from my own childhood, that I was the kind of student who could count on the fact that by the end of the first day of every school year, every teacher would know my name. I couldn’t sit still. I needed to move around, and talk, and interact with others and check out the room, and see what my classmates were up to, etc. etc. etc. You can imagine how teachers regarded me. I even had a kindergarten teacher put scotch tape on my mouth in a vain effort at stopping me from talking so much.
Although I hated the scotch tape, I always enjoyed the attention. I was a classic example of negative reinforcement, and like many kids I managed in my own mind to turn it into a positive – at least she knew who I was, I wasn’t invisible like so many others.
As a parent, the best way to teach our children to be their own teachers and parents is to empower them to identify their own teachable moments of life. Teach them to trust their inner voices to recognize those moments when life is offering them valuable lessons about themselves and others.
One of the ways you can do this easily is to share your own lessons about yourself from the day. The more you are able to identify moments in your day from which you learned something about life, the more easily your children will recognize those same moments in their own lives.
Of course, don’t try to capture every teachable moment. Just allow those moments to come as they will and you will then be open to the gifts that they universe provides you with each day.
There are lessons each day, lessons each hour, and often lessons each moment if we are open to them. Teach your children the wonder of the moment, by allowing yourself to be enthralled as well. When you are open to discovering the meaning for you of every parenting moment, the meanings will be self-evident to both of you.
One of the great ironies of life is how fickle life itself can be. Often what at first appears to be positive in the end turns out not to be, and what at first appears to be negative turns out to be positive. Noticing when this happens in life (and the results of jumping to conclusions too quickly about the experiences of our lives and what they mean for us) and then pointing out that irony to our kids is another wonderful way to help them learn to suspend judgement and allow the lessons themselves to emerge in life.
Accepting all you don’t know, accepting your own insecurities about being a parent and accepting that you will never be certain is, in many ways, the beginning of true wisdom as a parent. Be bold and confident enough in who you are and the lessons you are living about life that you can admit your fallibility to your children. It is one of the most liberating of moments, when you realize your willingness to say, “I don’t know,” or “I was wrong.” These are among the greatest teachable moments in a parent’s life.
All parenting is inherently a challenge of the spirit. Confusion and lack of clarity are inevitable for us all. When in doubt, sometimes the best thing to do is nothing at all. Simply pausing to take a slow, healing breath and allow your own inner parent to give you direction and support is the best alternative. Trust the still, small voice of that inner parent/teacher – when you trust your own instincts, they inevitably guide you on the path that is true for you and your child.
Be yourself and your children will strive to do the same. When you are true to yourself, your children are given the emotional permission they need to be true to their own inner dreams as well.