When I saw this little cartoon I was stopped in my tracks. How often we approach life with this idea that there is something wrong with us or with the world around us, something that needs to be fixed! And how often this approach creeps into our parenting as well - focusing on problems, misbehaviors and shortcomings instead of strengths, successes and opportunities.
Yet, how seldom this approach actually works to bring about the results we hope for. Yes, we want to improve, to be better than we are, to be happier. We want our children to be happy too; to grow and mature and to be prepared for life. Our intentions are good, but where is our focus really in all of this?
Oftentimes we focus on all the ways we’re falling short and, by extension, all the skills and qualities our children have yet to master as well. As parents it can be challenging to stay present, to be optimistic. It’s easy to be overcome with a heavy sense of responsibility. How will they turn out? Who will they become? How are my actions affecting all of this? Am I doing the right things?
But in the midst of all this worry we miss the chance to get to know our children for who they are. We can miss the opportunity to appreciate them, their strengths and their unique way of being in this world.
In a conversation with a mother last week, she was anxiously relating a recurring habit her child exhibits and her ongoing concern over how best to respond. The mother was exasperated that nothing she did seemed to help the situation or move things in the right direction. Either she said nothing and the habit continued, or she said something, the child resisted or got defensive, and the habit still continued. Sound familiar?
So we took a moment to imagine the “worst case scenario.” What if that habit never changed? What if that’s just who this child is in this lifetime and there’s nothing that she could do as a parent to really change that? What if that habit is just a lesson her child will need to learn in their own time, in their own way?
Immediately her face softened, her shoulders relaxed and she realized two things. One, how much responsibility she had been taking upon herself for her child’s behavior and two, how much her child actually had made a lot of progress in changing this behavior and would likely soon grow out of it.
What shifted? She let go of the idea that something was wrong, with her or with her child. She was able to zoom out and see the big picture for a moment, to see her child as more than just this one behavior. Yes, it is important to keep working on this habit but maybe in some different ways - through example, through stories and most of all with patience and empathy.
So, what if you could let go of the idea that something is wrong with you, as a parent? What if you could let go of the idea that something is wrong with your child? What might shift for you?
The first step toward change and growth is deep, unconditional acceptance of what is. Acceptance does not mean ignoring the problem or condoning bad behavior. If anything, when we fully acknowledge the problem or behavior without resistance or judgment we create space for solutions, for new perspectives, for authentic change to unfold.
Our job isn’t to fix or to change what seems wrong - we can let those ideas go. Our real job is to step back and love and accept the person or situation in front of us, to trust what is unfolding and create space for lessons to be learned. It’s in this space of love and acceptance that each of us is able to truly change and grow and realize our highest potential.