My father-in-law asked me once, “How do you and Brad have such a good marriage, when you are so young? We were just busy trying to survive at your age.” Immediately I said “We stay awake.” Puzzled, he just stared at me. I explained that early on, I had gone for a year of therapy, to try to disentangle my visceral reactions to stress, to gain more coping skills, to consciously control my anger, to make a better marriage. Brad and I spent a lot of time having husband and wife “meetings”, in which we discussed relationship issues, budgeting, future plans, etc. We became “awake” in our marriage, and made a conscious decision to never fall into that sleepwalking stage we see many couples fall into, where they subconsciously act and react, instead of staying awake, paying attention, cherishing each other, and calling each other on to improving our selves. And we prayed – a LOT. We prayed for our marriage, our selves, and as each child was born, for that child.
Parenting should be like that. Nowadays, some people either practice helicopter parenting, where they self-consciously attend to every decision for their child – and as a result, create children who are narcissistic extensions of themselves and their egos; or absentee parenting, where they kind of float along watching other people “raise” their children, under the premise that children just “find their own way” – which creates children who grow up without direction, focus, or purpose.
Awake parenting is neither of these approaches, it is a dance. You learn by experience when to fall back, and when to step in. When to guide a child through choices, or when to let them make mistakes and face natural consequences. When to discipline and when to let life discipline.
How do you figure this out? Take time, add self-education of child development through reading, subtract ignorance and selfishness, multiply by the offered wisdom of parents whose children grew up to be confident and personally successful – and then EXHALE. A lot. Always remember to give yourself a break – a time-out! – by self-care, such as walking, yoga, or other relaxing activities. Forgive yourself when you screw up, but then make mental notes about what did – and didn’t! – work with each child.
Don’t Blanket-Parent, which is to use the same affection, discipline, instruction and guidance style with every child under your care. Attend to your other relationships: your marriage, your friendships, your work buddies; when you can. It is important that you not pour every ounce of energy and attention into your children – they WILL suffocate. And then will resent you later.
Children are not pods that just pop off our trees and then bury themselves, to create genetically identical shoots that then just develop into willows that look exactly like us. They are unique, individual created beings who have their own minds, souls and life paths. Try not to throw boulders onto those paths by sleepwalking through your parenting.