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Everyone is thriving, healthy, but I have lain in bed the past few nights tossing with a yearning to hold my little girls closer and wipe away all the bad. My girls best friends are moving away. And while yes, that may not sound like major news, in our house, it has rocked my little girls world and I'm suddenly incredibly aware that this is only the beginning. The truth is they are getting older and stepping into real life, and I'm about to see how all of those spur-of-the-moment and super-mindfully-made parenting choices until now are going to play out in the long haul. It can be confusing; we want the best for our kids but know it's important to let them experience the hard times, all the while wanting to pour sugar and zoo trips and rainbow sprinkles all over the messes.
No one wants to mess up.
Hi T: I just want to let you know that we are moving to another state. I know this is going to be hard on your girls. Let’s talk; I have ideas of how to deliver the news.
This text was major. The "we" moving were both of my girls' BFFs (friendship bracelet and all). As my husband and I sat them down, we watched how differently our 5- and 7-year-old daughters took the news. My older daughter sat quiet, straight up with a blank gaze, internalizing the news. I could feel her ache. She let out a single quiet sob while my youngest spilled her anguish all over, "BAHHHHH MAMA! I won’t be able to go x, y, z anymore. I’ll never do a, b, or c with her again." We have two very different children on our hands, and they both need something different. This is a moment no parent wants to muck up. Is there a way to parent kids in these moments in one conscious way?
I held my youngest and told her, "I hear you…Yes, that is true. And that is true. Yes. We won't be able to do those things anymore. I understand, and it is OK to feel sad. I am here. Do you feel me? I am here." I wanted to let her express herself. I wanted to let her be heard, validate her feelings, and know I was listening. But then I felt failure creeping in. She's 5! Was I supposed to be giving her the positives and points to alleviate the sadness right now (i.e., "We can make trips! We can FaceTime! DO YOU WANT ICE CREAM?")? Or was I supposed to let her feel this pain and talk it out?
The past few nights, this is what’s kept me awake. Deep down, I realize that no one can take away their ache. That ache has to be balled up, knotted, stretched out, and freed, all on its own time. That’s how we foster resilience. But my urge to cover this up, to take away the feelings with, let’s say, ice cream, play time, or any other distraction, because I can’t handle feeling their pain, must be the way. Or am I doing this wrong? Are they too young for a small dose of reality? Should I do something different?
Meeting in the middle.
I know how hard parts of their lives are going to be—the disappointments, the unforeseen hurts, the departures. I worry about their little hearts being broken by their first loves and letdowns from trusting people whom they shouldn’t trust. But, what I struggle with is not how I can help them; it’s how I must make sure they don't drown in my feelings about their feelings.
I don't want to project my emotions, dilute the intensity of their experiences, or take all of their pain away. I want them to feel my love, NOT my ache. I want them to stand strong in themselves with my love and their pain at once until they find the perfect time to move away from it, nothing more. We need to meet somewhere in the middle. And just be there.
How they feel about and believe in themselves is all that matters. It’s mind, body, and spirit. Many times, I think we are consumed with mindfully monitoring processed sugar, the screens, our own "be present but don't helicopter" behavior, but what I try to take special care of is another kind of health, my children’s emotional bodies, and especially, how my own interacts with theirs.
Shoulds, should nots, do's, and don'ts.
Modern parenting is filled with do this, don’t do that, make sure you do this but only a little of that, and other diatribes of how we’re totally screwing kids up. All this noise about how to BEST do things is just smoke and mirrors when the real questions should be: Am I connecting with them? Am I hearing them? Am I allowing them to be with their experiences?
I do a lot of things I’m "supposed" to do AND a lot of things I’m "not supposed" to do, but I’m aware. Could I tell them we can buy a toy or use a treat to "take away the pain" and distract them out of feeling? Sure, of course! It’s pretty much a knee-jerk. But the greatest gift I can give to them when the ache arises is presence. When it’s go time, really go time, I hold space; I listen; I back away; and I give love, so that love is all they will feel when they remember the time their best friends moved away.