We’re all on a journey in life . . . as individuals and as parents. Part of our challenge on this voyage is to navigate our own way rather than taking the path destined for someone else. Culture, our own upbringing, peers, family, religious and other institutions provide a long list of “shoulds” regarding parenting. Whether you think these methods are “right” or “wrong,” one thing is true about them all — they are others’ ideas. Finding your authentic parenting path is about discovering or selecting ideas, philosophies, practices, and ways that are true for YOU…and letting go of anything that’s not a fit (no matter who says you “should” think/do/say/be it).
Suggestions for finding YOUR authentic path
No one but you can know the path that’s right for you (that’s the “good” and “bad” news). Having worked with people on many such discernment projects over the years, here are a few things that may help you uncover your true parenting path.
- Pay attention to any doubts you have about your parenting practices. If you have twinges of guilt for choices you make, look deeper to examine why. If you repeatedly don’t do something that you’ve said you’ll do, ask yourself “why not.” If you catch yourself hesitating before taking a specific action investigate what might be fueling your reluctance.
- Notice when you feel really wonderful about yourself as a parent. Make a note of what you just did (or didn’t do). Remember how you are being in that moment and practice repeating it to see if it brings the same satisfied feelings. Consider what about your parenting leaves you with a sense of pride, appreciation, or peace.
- Look around at the parents you enjoying being with or having as part of your community. It’s likely that these people exemplify values you hold and are role models (even in their imperfection) to you as a parent. If you feel at “home” in their company they may be a mirror for you about how you strive to be as a parent. Conversely, of course, notice parents who you avoid or whose behavior leaves you cringing. Instead of judging them — as we often automatically do at first — simply use them as another mirror to see if they are showing you some part of your own parenting that’s not right for you.
- Slow down, look inward and backward. When we stay busy, it’s easy for choices to become patterns because we’re not taking time to think before acting. Find ways to add contemplation to your calendar (even 3 minutes a day helps) so you’ll be able to evaluate the path you’re making. During your quiet time, listen for that true inner voice (the nice one that doesn’t berate you) and also reflect back on your childhood to discover traditions that aren’t a fit for you to carry forward in your family.
- Let your children guide you. While I don’t believe that anyone else can find YOUR authentic path (not even your soul-mate, spouse, best friend, or child), my experience is that those who know our true selves can help us find our way. You can certainly ask your children direct questions about what seems to fit you, though they will often clue you in more indirectly. Perhaps they’re really resistant to you or their energy is frenetic — these could be signs that you’re “off” in your parenting. Maybe you sense you’re on your “right” path because they’re so in the groove in their own lives.
- Find whatever brings you feelings of greater freedom. When we’re living by someone else’s agenda, chances are we’re going to feel bound up, hemmed in, or otherwise restricted (like whenever you wear clothes that you’ve outgrown). If your parenting practices leave you chaffing, they no longer fit. If you feel expansive and free in your relationship with your children, you’re parenting is just your size.
On a final note, I suggest that you do such evaluations and excavations on a relatively routine basis (yearly, during any “crisis,” or at other significant times such as any transitions in the family). While I don’t think that our authentic path meanders, it sometimes takes a bit of trial to make certain we’re centered on the path and not merely walking somewhere in its vicinity.
“We need to find the courage to say NO to the things and people that are not serving us if we want to rediscover ourselves and live our lives with authenticity.”~ Barbara de Angelis