It isn’t always pretty and we do not always bring our best-selves to every situation. As a parent once wisely told me, “Parenting is in real time!” How true! We can read all the books and blogs, be an active participant in parenting groups, but when the rubber hits the road we are often times left to reacting to situations rather than responding to them.
It did not take me long on my path of motherhood to realize that our children teach us more about ourselves than we can ever hope to teach them. Children hold the mirror up to us, at our best and at our worst, and do not allow for falseness.
As a parent we can often times feel subject to a relentless stream of judgement; judgement from our friends, neighbors, children’s teachers, family, in-laws, media, or even strangers that give us unfavorably looks in the store when our child is puddling into a tantrum. This feeling of being assessed can result in a relentless stream of self-assessment. “Am I doing this right?” “Am I totally messing up my child?” “Gosh, I hope my daughter doesn’t tell Grandma about this!” And the list goes on and on.
With this abundance of judgement also comes an overwhelming source of information on parenting! All of this well-meaning advice can often times lead us to feel like we do not know what we are doing and have no idea to figure it all out.
One effective antidote to all of this is to know ourselves. And in order to know ourselves we must allow ourselves the time and attention to know who we are, who we want to be (not only as parents, but as friends, partners, co-workers as well!), and develop relationships that help us on this journey.
Waldorf education, at its core, requires the caregiver to regularly give time and energy to inner work. If a child learns through imitation than what do we, the caregiver/parent, need to work on in order to be willing of this imitation?
Inner work is ongoing in its very nature. It is never “done”, but constantly evolving. However it is essential to the process of being able to live a life that is authentic to who we are! We can say all the “right” words, buy the “right” toys and food, read the “right” books, but if we do not feel this within our souls than it is all quite ineffective in our work with children, who are innately able to sense inauthenticity. In other words, inner work allows us to be the very best at being our own unique self, for after all, “You can’t whistle with another man’s mouth.”
So how do we do this? We have to start with ourselves. We have to allow time to work and reflect and we have to allow ourselves huge doses of grace when we feel like we really messed up. One night a friend of mine called me and told me that she really lost it with her daughter. She felt awful and I did my best to reassure her that she was a wonderful mom and her daughter is lucky to have her as a parent. We talked about the importance of striving versus perfection. We came up with a plan for her to make retribution for her outburst. For children learn nothing from perfection, but there is a lot to learn from sincere acts of retribution. This is something that sits with me from my LifeWays training with Rahima Baldwin Dancy and it has become somewhat of a mantra for me.
In his book Connecting with Young Children: Educating the Will, Stephen Spitalny states, “our attempting to better ourselves has significant impact on the child. Our striving for self-development is worth imitating. So then the very striving of the adult to develop fuller awareness and new capacities for response penetrates deeply into the developing child and can bear fruit much later in life.”
In the hope of encouraging you on your path of inner work, here is a link to an entry from one of my favorite blogs. Scroll down to the last one…it speaks to guilt and it’s hindrance on progress. We have all been in situations with our children that we feel badly about, but work to do away with the guilt from these experiences. As Stephen Spitalny wisely points out, “Guilt toward the past in some ways inhibits taking up new ideas and changing the very habits one wants to change.”