“It is my responsibility to make sure that my son cleans his teeth every day,”
I used to believe this very firmly. So do many parents I know.
It seems like a reasonable belief until you have a child (or two!) that refuses to brush their teeth despite repeated requests. No amount of explanation as to why this is an important thing to do would change his mind. In these circumstances this belief can generate a lot of conflict, anxiety and stress – and it did.
I know that I could have held tight to my belief in daily tooth brushing but I was very, very tired of all the conflict and worry. I did not just give up on the issue or decide that it was all too hard. Neither did I did I give in to my child and then wallow in resentment and blame. Instead, I wanted an effective solution to an issue that had become a chronic problem in my relationship with my children. In order to find that solution I was willing to examine and question every aspect of this issue. In my experience, pulling something apart can be a powerful step in finding a way to move forward.
What does responsibility really mean?
I started with looking at the whole concept of parental responsibility. Beliefs about responsibility loomed large in my thinking about parenthood, as they do for most parents. Sure, we have a legal responsibility to ensure that our children are not at risk of significant harm. We must be willing to arrange necessary medical care. But my beliefs were much broader than any legal responsibilities. I am talking about my own piece of the general community vibe. My beliefs about responsibility penetrated into every aspect of my role as a parent. It felt as if this responsibility to ensure tooth brushing was a non-negotiable part of a contract that I had somehow unwittingly signed as soon as my first child was born. It weighed heavily on me.
Of all the issues that come up for parents one of the most difficult and confusing is the one of when to say “Yes” and when to say “No.” And yet it’s the issue that comes up most often. No wonder so many parents are stressed.
The reason it comes up so often is that children have wants – and lots of them. They want to explore their world, to stay at the park, to have ice cream, to watch that movie on TV and for you to buy them the latest toy or game. It can go on and on. Working out what to say in response to all that wanting can be difficult. It is an ongoing challenge for me to speak these simple words with clarity, honesty and integrity. I am still experimenting and learning every day and I want to share what I have discovered so far.
All this wanting only becomes a problem if a child does not get what they want. Saying “Yes” to my child is wonderful if it is done with honesty and integrity. That means that the thinking behind my “Yes” is important to me. I don’t want to play at saying Yes” when I secretly feel an inner “No”. I call this “giving in.” I might do it in order to appear nice or to get my child to go away or because I have been worn down into a state of submission. “Giving in” does not feel good. This is because it is dishonest. I can tell if I have been dishonest because I end up feeling resentful and blaming my child for being “demanding”, or “making me” do something. If I persist with this habit it will crush my spirit and confuse and distress my child.
On the other hand, helping my child with an honest “Yes” brings me great joy. I don’t believe that giving my children what they want will bring them lasting happiness, but it feels good. I am happy for my children to experience abundance in their lives and also to experience the natural consequences of their choices. I am available to help them in their learning process as they work out how they want to live their lives. (more…)