On my journey as a parent, I frequently have the same message handed to me over and over again, and still it takes me quite some time to hear it, let alone come to be in a place where I can put it into action. What is that message?
all you need is love
I am going to describe a situation to you, and I feel very confident that every parent will have worked their way through this sequence repeatedly.
- The first thing that happens is something you’re not aware of initially – your child develops a ‘problem’ of some description. Maybe they get more short-tempered, or more clingy, or develop some physical issue such as ‘growing pains’, bedwetting or headaches.
- The second thing that happens is that you notice it. You find yourself snapping ‘What is going on? You’re like this all the time at the moment?’ as you have, in the heat of the moment, twigged that this isn’t the first display of uncharacteristic nerves or bad dreams.
- Thirdly, you start to worry about it, asking yourself what is at the root of the problem. Wondering irritably why they can’t just sort themselves out, and saying things like ‘it’s one thing after another’.
- After that phase, maybe feeling a little lost, you realise this is something that needs some attention from you, and you start to research the issue. Maybe you turn to the internet, or a trusted book, or maybe you just talk it through with friends or journal about it.
- As you start to find potential ‘answers’, you put them into action, perhaps feeling a little more confident and less lost. Maybe you even find the problem dissipates.
- If the problem does dissipate, there may be plenty of times (or nearly all in my experience), when you find the situation isn’t fully resolved and has, in fact, just been buried just under the surface and has burst forth once again when you let your guard down.
- The seventh stage is often a return to the third or fourth stage and many parents (myself included) find themselves stuck in this cycle for quite some time before the eighth stage is reached:
- You realise that there really is nothing to be done but love and hold your child.
The eight stage is clearly the most important one. It represents a surrendering to the situation – an act that is aspired to by many wisdom traditions. Christians would call it ‘letting go and letting God’. Buddhists talk about surrender and acceptance.
Surrender in this situation is not the same thing as ‘giving up’. It is about faith and trust in a process that we cannot understand, and a return to the most vital things in life – love and compassion.
Why it works in parenting is this: I would venture to suggest that nearly all childhood ‘problems’ are based in some way on fear or anxiety. Mostly that fear or anxiety is unnameable for the child, and is subconscious and also insidious.
Indeed, our anxiety that leads us to our frantic passage through the cycle that starts at stage three above, may well be triggered by our child’s anxiety. In turn, our own anxiety feeds our child’s.
When a child is fearful for whatever reason, the last thing she needs to feel is that her parents are fearful themselves. A fearful child needs to know that her foundation is a solid rock, not crumbling unstable ground.
But there is one very well-known remedy for anxiety and fear, and that is love. Profound, caring, authentic love. As long as your child feels held and loved, he will more than likely be able to address his fears himself – fears that could have led to a spate of bad dreams, or that he may have buried only for them to manifest as digestive problems and stomach ache.
It is very natural for children to grow through cycles of trust and fear. This is part of their movement towards independence. Trusting in that process as parents is vital so that you can give your child what they need in order to emerge from the other side of anxiety – that stable, reliable rock of love that holds them securely.
How do you show them this when you hopefully spend much of your time cuddling your child and telling them you love them already? I think there’s not much more to it than a shift in your consciousness, in your awareness of the true root of the situation and a movement away from your own anxiety to a feeling of surrender and trust.
Obviously augmenting this change in your energy with some special time together can only help the process. I would suggest extra little pockets of time snuggled up with your child, maybe in silence (not enforced! Just quiet space into which your child may feel safe enough to place his or her fears), maybe even doing something together that has an element of meditation – a jigsaw puzzle, a craft, a walk in nature.
(What’s more, fixing your children’s ‘problems’ with love teaches them the same process themselves – what an opportunity we have to change the world in future generations! But that’s a topic for a whole other blog post ;))
Time and time again I have hurried through the cycle I describe above, often many times over one situation, before I have been ready to hear the message that love is probably the answer, and I have been able to slow myself and reach that calm space of surrender and trust.
I know I hear it sooner and sooner as the years pass, and sometimes I feel sad that it is my older children who are teaching me lessons that will mostly benefit my younger children, but that is the nature of parenting. If you choose to make it so, it really is a spiritual path, and by spiritual I mean a path of learning the truth, the true nature of our lives and how they weave together, and the nature of the loom on which they are woven.
And so I let go of the feelings of regret about getting it wrong, and move forward into trust in the process, and, again, into love, but this time for myself as someone who is doing her best to learn and improve with every day, every hour, every minute that passes. And I lovingly urge you to do the same.