I made a pledge to myself a year ago.
I will live my life in ways I’m happy for my kids to copy.
My kids are adopted. They had a tough start and we were advised that they would experience all kinds of deficits in terms of their development. Many believe these deficits are permanent.
I refused to believe that. I refused to condemn my children to a limited future. I was certain that with enough care, love, and attention, they could thrive just like any children. As far as I saw it, all I had to do was give them that care, love, and attention and provide them with the opportunities they needed to develop.
Hmm. “All I had to do…”
Although it’s generally accepted that parenting is difficult, it’s also generally accepted that providing love and attention is not. So when I struggled to deliver on those things, I fell into the longest and deepest depression I had experienced in my life. I doubted myself as a worthwhile human being and felt that my young adult view of myself must have been correct. I was rubbish.
Although I never regretted adopting my children, my identity crumbled and I lost all faith in my ability to be who they needed me to be. I could barely be bothered to haul myself out of bed, let alone muster the energy and commitment required to be a nurturing ‘therapeutic parent’.
Day after day I let them down and felt worse. Fortunately, because I started my journey of personal development before the kids arrived, I eventually found my way back to the path and started taking tiny steps out of the darkness. I figured the best thing to do would be to start with myself – my mindset, resilience, and habits. That way, I’d eventually be able to work on my parenting. Happily, it worked and things gradually began to change. I had more energy, more patience and was a more compassionate and attentive parent and I started to see results.
My son and I started to connect – when he first arrived, he wouldn’t come near me. My daughter began to use her voice and assert herself, she started asking questions and getting curious and she began making more decisions for herself. She even started moaning a little! This is a good sign in the world of adoptive parenting – it suggests the child is feeling safe.
Thrilled with the results, I ploughed more effort into my learning. I started working on courses to help others change habits that were holding them back or causing them stress. I started my podcast which has now reached a couple of thousand downloads and before I knew it, the whole thing became about…
Me! Me! Me!
My son loves a cartoon called Blaze, from which he has learned a catchphrase. “I want <insert desired object> for me! Me! Me!”
Rather comically, this mantra has sounded repeatedly in my head over the last couple of days as I realised how selfish my efforts have become. Although this selfishness has been evident before (and I’ve written about it before), it’s clearly a lesson I am still learning. My habits repeatedly lead me back to ego-centric goals and self-centred measures of success.
Yes, I want to offer my children the best chance at creating a future defined by their actions, not their past, but the truth is, it’s been about me all along. I want to be the parent who helps them. Me! Me! Me!
The trouble with this approach is that, ultimately, it’s counterproductive. It leads me to feel resentful and irritated when my kids do things that don’t reflect well on the magnitude of my efforts. It leads me to disengage when my feelings are hurt and to lose interest and motivation when things don’t go as I hoped.
As I contemplated this over the last couple of days, my instinct was to dig deeper into myself and examine my habits. After all, that’s how I’ve made every other improvement so far. Habit examination is also how I make my living. But that sort of examination may be precisely what leads me back to this selfish place.
If I’m to become the kind of parent who can help children build confidence and develop curiosity and feel seen and loved no matter what, I have to shift from an inward, egocentric focus to an outward altruistic focus. (Although, that reminds me of the Friends episode where Phoebe tried to find a genuinely selfless act but that’s for another post!)
Perhaps the answer isn’t to examine my habits but “simply” (there’s that word again!) to work on making it a habit to put my children’s needs before my moods, my goals, my work, my projects, my chores and the multitude of other things I hide behind when the world of parenting becomes too much for me.
Starting today, I have a new pledge.
Every day I seek to better understand the needs of my children so I can meet those needs in ways that genuinely help them thrive.