The Parenting U-Turn is Inner Work
Interviewing parents while driving from Vermont to California reminds me that loving children is never the problem.
Every parent I meet loves their child/ren hugely and devotedly.
But, inevitably, for all of us, stuff can get in the way. It's that seemingly unresolvable, murky history living beneath the surface of our lives - stuff that has nothing to do with our children.
Kids are the shiny, squeaky person drawing our attention away from the noise inside. They are lovely scapegoats.
"I get along great with my kids," one father said, looking at his 15-year-old son. "I'm cool with just about everything he does as long as he shows me respect."
Parenting books tend to override the feeling part of being a parent by asking parents to follow scripts. We try, and we fail because we're feeling beings, not robots. If nothing else, parenting is about learning how to deal with intense emotion.
This Dad might say and do all the right things as a parent until he feels disrespected. Then something happens inside him. By making disrespect a non-negotiable, he tells himself and his family, a part of him is closed off.
When we parent from reactivity, we're cut off from our inner world. Instead of gaining space through self-awareness, this Dad focuses his attention on his kid's behavior.
This need for respect is about my kids, he tells himself. They need to act a certain way with me, and all will be good between us.
By making a U-turn, we move away from parenting from reactivity.
We have a different kind of inner conversation.
Why is this so important to me?
Am I rigid?
Do my kid's respect me?
Do I treat my kids with respect?
Have I felt this before in my life?
What's really going on here?
Their 16-year-old daughter walks out of the RV in her bathing suit. It's cold outside. The Dad looks away. Without a word of acknowledgment, she walks to the hot tub.
Looking at her son, the mom says, "Oh, he's not the problem. It's our daughter. She's does everything she can to show us she's the boss."
"And she's going to lose," Dad says.
"This one," Mom says, pointing to her son, "will live with us forever."
"With my wife and kids," the son says.
There's work here, and it's good work if the Dad chooses to look inward. Absolutes are cement walls that need to be torn down. Demanding respect is a wall this family calcifies around.
Thank goodness for the daughter, I think. She's their bugler. She's going to do her best to bring balance to the family.