Understanding Parenting Behavior
The other day I was scrolling through Facebook, and I saw a conversation in a Moms' chat group that caught my attention. Without going into every comment and post, I want to share my impressions and learnings with my intention being to deepen people's level of compassion and empathy towards parents who are trying their best to raise good humans. Now, I am not talking about delinquent parents doing crack on the street or ones who are on the abusive end of the parenting paradigm...that's another story. I am talking about responsible parents, who show up everyday and are there with their kids to the best of their abilities being responsible humans paying the bills, taking them to school, and on and on. I am talking to someone who might read a blog to get ideas and inspirations for learning and evolution. I am talking to you.
So first off, in case this is your first time visiting my blog, I am a certified non-violent parent educator. What does that mean? Non-violent parenting is parenting in a way that does no harm to the child, including doing no harm to their emotional and spiritual well-being. It goes above and beyond not spanking or hitting a child. In Non-Violent Parenting Philosophy, there's no time outs, naughty chairs, or bribery and/or threats to get a child to behave. We do not manipulate the child into a specific way of being by using punishments and rewards but rather, we help them to learn to behave by finding strategies for calming their nervous system, meeting their needs, and developing intrinsic motivation to behave in a way that is in alignment with love. This type of parenting is not for the faint of heart or those with little time to sit down and peacefully negotiate during hostile situations. It requires effort, dedication, and self-discipline.
I went through about a year-long training program and I have studied various parenting philosophies on how to communicate with love, kindness, connection, and affection. I have read hundreds of books, articles, and listened to a long list of podcasts and online training course on the subject of parenting in a way that helps a child develop one's full potential. And here's the most important takeaways:
Even with all of the information available to me on attachment theory and compassionate ways to raise a child, I still struggle to live up to those lofty ideals of perfect parenting and some days, I don't do any of it.
For me, my lack of ability to perform has nothing to do with me lacking information and rather, everything to do with the reality that often as the primary 24/7 caretaker of three children, some days I can't implement the strategies I know. From an intellectual viewpoint I could easily tell you all of the things I should do to raise resilient, independent, caring and loving humans and there is a long list of expectations and philosophies. But the truth is, when I am feeling primal in my need for survival and safety, I cannot access those logical and rational steps. I am sharing this truth because it is a universal truth for all people. We are wired for survival. When we are feeling threatened, starving, and/or sleep deprived, it is almost impossible to stay centered in our loving and affectionate whole self. But it is worth trying.
So, here's what got me feeling a little triggered the other day, and hence, inspired to blog about it.
In a local Facebook group, a mom posted about how she was standing in line at Michael's and she witnessed another mom patiently sitting and coaching her child while the child was screaming and putting on a big show of huge emotions. The mom's takeaway from witnessing the experience was that she was inspired to be more patient and loving with her kids when they are having a meltdown on isle 6 or 7 or wherever they decide to throw their body on the floor and feel all the feels of being a alive. That should have been enough said. It sounded to me like it was a win win situation for both Mommas at the store.
So, with a sweet little story from one mom sharing what she gleaned, lots of people jumped on the bandwagon comment stream. Some applauded the mother while others took it as an opportunity to point out all of her flaws in how she should have handled the situation better and hence, been a more perfect parent.
I felt deeply saddened as I read through from comment to comment from all of the people sitting in the cheap seats not even in the arena but hanging out possibly in the carpool lane with the air conditioning blowing and their cell phone buzzing with fast and furious thumbs to get in their two cents for someone they didn't even know.
While I am all for the sharing of information and education, with self-actualization being my daily motivation, I also know that parenting is hard. I remember in my early parenting days while I was going through that parent education course, I would soak up all of the material, determined to implement every morsel of magic when I got back home, only to end up getting back home and then, after a long sleepless night and longer day of parenting, I would eventually lose my temper, and resort to yelling to get some peace and quiet. I know that's a paradox. But it worked. I got them to be quiet so I could have a moment of peace. And, then, after that moment of deadpan silence, shame would engulf me and I would point out all of the ways in which I was not living up to those lofty high ideals of parenting perfection that I was paying for and subscribing to.
It was excruciatingly hard for me to live with myself with the constant self-inflicted barrage of judgment and shame for not living up to the course I was taking. So, I gave up trying to be perfect and instead acknowledged all of the ways I was a present parent. As in, I am here, showing up to work everyday doing the best I can. I am not on the corner smoking crack or neglecting to feed my kids...in fact, they are all thriving so, I must be doing something right. (When I hear a Mom lamenting about how they forgot to text someone back or something else really small, I like to remind them of all of the things they are already doing well rather than focus on the one thing they forgot).
From a psychological perspective and according to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, all behavior is an attempt to meet a need. He put needs into five categories. The most basic of all human needs has to do with what our body needs to survive, classified as physiological needs. For example we need air, food, water, shelter, clothing, and sleep. If you have babies in the house then, more than likely, you are not getting your basic need for sleep met each day and possibly not taking in the right nutrients and fluids to keep your body at it's best.
Moving up the triangle, we have safety needs, then a need to be loved and a sense of belonging, a need for esteem, and at the tippy top of that triangle is self-actualization. According to Maslow's theory, needs lower down in the hierarchy must be satisfied before individuals can attend to needs higher up.
Here's my point: if you have time to focus on the top tier of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, with a focus on self-actualization, that is because you are an incredibly privileged human being who has all of their other needs for rest, food, shelter, stability, etc. Most days, I am also an incredibly privileged human being with the resources necessary to parent with connection, love, and empathy.
SOAP BOX MOMENT AND UNSOLICITED ADVICE...BUT IT'S MY BLOG SO HERE YOU GO:
When you see a parent having a tough time to communicate or connect with their child, don't judge them. Rather, first, take responsibility for your own internal reactions and feelings before getting up in someone else's business. And, then, if you can, offer them a hand, not a lecture. They might need sleep, food, a glass of water or someone to love them. When you see someone in the grocery store patiently waiting for their child to calm down, acknowledge them, stay calm yourself and carry on.
I am all for sharing ideas, inspirations, and education when there is an opportunity to do so. But the first thing one should do is, if the opportunity presents itself and there is an opening to connect with another parent, step in to meet the parent's needs for safety and survival before offering advice. And, if they aren't harming their child and simply trying to help them with their big feelings, it's really not a good time to say anything. Just because you think you know better that doesn't mean you actually do.
If a parent is struggling to stay alive then any lofty ideals on self-actualization and achieving one's full potential are more than likely not going to land well.
"Stop the ship from sinking before considering a paint job."
We really can't know what's happening for another human being when we are scrolling through the comment section on a Facebook feed or in the aisle at the grocery store, but if we are really working towards that top tier of human behavior of self-actualization then, we can try to give each other a little more slack and a lot more love.
So, here's my second soapbox moment: If you subscribe to the Non-Violent Parenting Philosophy and another parent has a different philosophy than you, don't go getting all zealously religious on them. Rather, treat mothers (parents) who are trying and doing their best to survive with the same sense of love, belonging acceptance, and affection as you are managing to treat your own kids. We are all still growing up.
And, if you are the parent that is in the lower area of the triangle put on that oxygen mask because your kids don't NEED a perfect parent. They need one that's breathing and present.
Sending you big love, connection, and healing vibes!!
P.S. Here's a few of my favorite parenting books in case you are looking to parent at the top level of the triangle.