Having children tells you a lot about yourself. Here are a few things I learned and took onboard, not just to become a better parent, but a better me.
1 – They copy everything you do
A child’s job in the early years is to figure out how to be a basic human. And seeing as they can’t read a book on the subject, the way they do this is to copy the behaviour of the closest one to them. Good behaviour or bad – unfortunately, toddlers don’t know the difference.
It’s great when they copy you vacuuming the house, setting the table or washing up. However, if you’re the kind of person who gets hot and bothered waiting in a queue, checks your phone every 5 minutes, likes to throw in the odd profanity or leaves dirty laundry on the bedroom floor… guess what?
They will repeat what you say, what you do, and they will mimic how you react.
Realising that my child was mimicking my actions made my own self-awareness a priority. Was I the calm, confident, responsible (and tidy) person I thought I was?
Suddenly I saw the importance of self-assessment, and seeing where improvements could be made. Conclusion: having a child is more effective than any self-development programme or book on the planet.
2 – Children are born with their own personality
A child is created from the DNA of the parents. So how is it that they can turn out so different from either of them? We are born free from logic, reason or inhibitory processes. But we are born with personality traits that come from, well, who knows where.
At first it was a shock that my child was not a ‘mini-me’. I mean, wasn’t that the point of having them? But then I realised what a wonderful thing it is to be a unique human, with a unique personality. I could celebrate my uniqueness, and the wonderful uniqueness of my child. I shifted my mindset from a loss to a gain.
3 – ‘Should-ing’ at your child makes you bitter
Projecting your desires onto your children is a bad habit that starts early on.
You start out thinking they should be more outdoorsy, should be less reserved or should have better taste in toys. Then before you know it, it’s “you shouldn’t be an artist, you should be a doctor” (or vice versa!).
Success or accomplishment are very arbitrary concepts. What you think your kid’s success “should” be is very personal and won’t necessarily mean success for them. They have their own personality, remember?
As a new parent, we do want what is best for them but by wanting it too much we don’t realise our biases and hurtful actions.
Don’t assume that what you would have wanted in life is what your child wants. I get it, we have lived and learned and wished we had done X, Y or Z. But every human has their own path through life, including your daughter or son.
I realised that controlling the outcomes of another person’s life is not possible, and that if I carried on as if it was, there was only one certainty… that I would end up resentful, frustrated and bitter.
Letting go of expectations made me a much happier person. Which I’m sure my kids appreciate.
4 – Your fears are not their fears
As a child, I experienced rejection by other kids and because of this I felt lonely and disappointed.
So when my 3 year-old asked to join a group of older children that he had never met before, my heart started to pound and my stomach was churning.
I feared he would be rejected, not accepted, and I tried to dissuade him from going. But I realised that I was projecting my fears and I let him go, albeit with a heavy heart.
As it turned out, he is really good at mingling with new people and it went really well. He was thrilled, and I was wrong.
Before the age of seven, the mind is extremely malleable. Many of our beliefs are formed in early years from what we see, hear and experience. This includes fears. Think about what you are fearful of. This is why it is so important as parents that we become more mindful of how we show up for our children in the early years.
Imagine if I had stopped him. Even on a basic level, I would have prevented him from having an enjoyable interaction with other children, just because of an experience that I had, which was nothing to do with him.
This episode made me more aware of how fears can hold you back in life. As a consequence, I’m a bit braver than I used to be.
5 – Self-flagellation gets you nowhere
Parenting is probably the toughest thing you’ll ever do, so why are we all being such perfectionists about the whole thing?
Imagine you were asked to fly a plane having had zero experience of flying planes. You wouldn’t know where to put the ignition key, but would you beat yourself up over it?
With parenting, not only is there a huge learning curve, there’s simply too many new things to take on board at once. So, balls will inevitably be dropped.
The thing I learned was that comparing myself with the ideal parent who doesn’t exist is a waste of time. Because they don’t exist. Better to compare myself to the person I was a week ago, or yesterday.
Self compassion is the key. Feeling guilty for what you did or didn’t do takes up a lot of mental energy, which, as a parent, you cannot afford to waste. Remember, whatever happened in the past is gone, but you can change the present and the future. You can show your child that everybody is able to change for the better and this is also a beautiful life’s lesson.