“The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.” – William Ross Wallace
During my first pregnancy, I loved my baby with a passion that electrified every cell of my body. I was amazed, humbled, and awed to be The Most Important Thing: Mama. I was now responsible for a new conscious entity that would impact the world in some way, big or small. This child was going to download my behaviors and habits into its brain, and it was going to be influenced by the circumstances that I chose for it, and then go out into the world and do things. I needed to make sure that I held myself to the highest standards. I needed to be mindful and loving to ensure that there would be another mindful and loving human on the planet.
At 32, I’d had enough life experience to know that dysfunctional behavior doesn’t appear out of nowhere. I had known people with varying degrees of childhood trauma who had struggled in adulthood. I had also done some reflecting on my own childhood – on all that went right and all that went wrong – and understood that I was an Empowered Witness to my past, not a victim of it. I was able to be the adult who could parent the childish fragments that arose from time to time. I did not identify with the bruised child anymore. I was no longer going to act out from old wounds. Instead, I was going to forgive the unconscious behaviors of my primary caregivers and appreciate their strengths. Various healing tools helped me transform into a wise, clear, compassionate adult who was primed and ready to guide and respect a new human life.
One of my love languages is Words of Affirmation. Instead of constantly thinking of ways I need to shape and mold my child, I think of ways to praise and uplift her. Example statements include:
“I love hearing all of your words.”
“Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.”
“You are so talented, and it makes my heart burst with joy.”
“You are an important part of this family and the world.”
“You have great ideas.”
I believe that most new parents have the best intentions for their children. By now, hopefully most parents are against corporeal punishment. We would like to think that most parents don’t highlight their kids’ insecurities as a sadistic way to punish them. New parents often reflect on the blatantly harmful things that their parents did to them, and they vow not to engage in that toxic behavior. But what about the less obvious stuff? What about questionable words and behaviors that are ubiquitous in our culture, in entertainment? All too often, we see parents on TV taking sarcastic swipes at their children, and we have long accepted that type of scenario as ‘comedy’. Sometimes, at the store, we see haggard moms running on fumes, snapping at their kids as some twisted form of relief. I personally had to heal a trauma around feeling unloved and abandoned by a caregiver who didn’t know how to properly manage frustration. This caregiver threatened to leave me at the park when I was four, and I really believed that they didn’t love me. I had recurring nightmares about being left at the mall and elsewhere. One seemingly harmless exaggeration left a lasting impact on me. Although that caregiver demonstrated their love to me in some ways thereafter, the damage had been done. I felt that at any moment, the love could disappear and I would be left to die.
We have become conditioned to empathize with tired, overworked parents – and we give them a pass without understanding the long-term consequences for the kids. I think we need to talk about this.
Yes, parenting is hard. But kids never asked to be born. They are innocent and vulnerable. Their need for love is greater than your need for comedic relief or venting. A brand new person does not understand sarcasm. She registers her mom’s words as hostility, and she feels the pain of separation. A brand new person does not understand the concept of not taking daddy’s frustration personally. She thinks that daddy doesn’t love her. Kids read the writing on the wall. They don’t try to decipher hidden codes. Their bodies are their main translators for feelings, and their bodies get overwhelmed by negative feelings. Sadly, parents are unaware of the vicious cycle they have started, and they lash out at their overwhelmed kids. We really need to understand that the toddler who is having a meltdown truly doesn’t know what else to do. We need to remember that we know better, and we need to lovingly demonstrate how a human can manage their emotions. Toddlers are not damaged people who need to be whipped into shape. They are innocently learning more about how and when their needs can be met. We don’t need to shame them for experiencing the new and scary emotion of frustration. We need to acknowledge that frustration isn’t a fun emotion, and that it is ok to experience it in a way that does not harm others. A compassionate parent can get a drum and say, “Here, sometimes banging a drum helps our bodies say byebye to that icky feeling!” There are myriad ways of being present for a toddler that can be found in several great resources. The most important thing to remember is this: Be the human that you want to see more of on the planet. Less barking, more wagging!
When kids download kind and sensible words and behaviors into their brains, they turn into grownups who are kind and sensible in all sorts of challenging circumstances. When kids are faced with jarring knee-jerk reactions from caregivers with anger management or control issues, they end up ill-equipped to handle the different personalities and disappointments that show up in their path.
Let us do better for our kids by demonstrating what it looks like to be the poised adult who steers her own ship. When we encounter unhelpful people over the counter or over the phone, we don’t let them take that steering wheel. And, when we snap on rare occasion, we can have a heartfelt conversation with our kids about how we could have done better. If we show our kids that we can correct and forgive ourselves, then surely, they will grow up to be conscientious people who do the same. They will not be like the countless people who feel that it is too late or too difficult to correct and forgive themselves. They will not be like all the people who sabotage their relationships and jobs due to deeply entrenched shame, and a desperate quest for love from everyone but themselves.
We have so much power to upgrade humanity to the next level.
Raise them with kindness. Our future depends on it.