Things I Learned At The Feet Of My Children
When I was in my forties I decided that I wanted to learn how to play the piano. When I expressed this desire to my daughter’s piano teacher, she offered to instruct me. I knew that once I started lessons, there would be no quitting. I had to set an example for my child. As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. I loved my piano lessons, and looked forward, with excitement, to my weekly lesson. But even so, there were times when I struggled. When this happened, there was only one person I could turn to. My daughter. During these times I never felt any less of a parent because I didn’t know how to do something. Instead, something wonderful happened. We started to talk about other things, and our relationship grew.
LET THEM TEACH YOU: As a parent, we want out children to have more opportunities than we did. That being the case, it’s helpful to recognize that they may know more about some things than we do. So let them teach you. I have found that by asking my children about the things I don’t know, it brings us closer. I have learned a lot about history, politics, movies, computers, writing, as well as how to improve my piano techniques, from my children. By allowing them to teach you, you are not only showing them you value their knowledge, but what they teach you is reinforced in them as well.
WE DON’T HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS: As a parent, we may feel we need to have all the answers. We’ve lived longer after all, and have all this life experience, so we should be the ones to impart knowledge to our children. This is the way we were brought up, and so this must be the right way of doing things. Perhaps we feel that having all the answers makes our children feel secure. But what if you don’t know the answer to something. Should you fake it in order to save face? What kind of lesson does this send to our child? Being able to admit you don’t know everything will certainly take the pressure off you. And it would show them your humanity. It could also be an opportunity to ask for their thoughts, or to show your child, by example, how/where to find the answers. In this way you can show them you are doing the best you can with what you’ve got.
DON’T BE AFRAID APOLOGIZE: No-one is perfect. There have been times when I’ve been in pain, or just had a bad day, and taken it out on my children. While it’s never ideal to take out your frustrations on anyone, it does happen from time to time. When I realize my mistake, I am not afraid to apologize. After all, children have feelings too and don’t deserve to be yelled at because you’re having a bad day. Children are very forgiving. By learning to apologize to your child, you are showing them that you respect them and care about their feelings. This, in turn, teaches them forgiveness, and compassion for others, as well as how to apologize when they make a mistake.
SHARE YOUR FEARS: We’re all afraid sometimes. It is part of the human experience, and not something we should shy away from. By being able to admit to your child that you feel afraid sometimes, you are showing them that fear is nothing to be ashamed of. Then you can take the lesson to the next step by showing them how to work through their fears. I grew up believing that if I felt afraid of something, it was a message for to me not to do something. Consequently I missed out on a lot. It wasn’t till I became an adult that I learned that sometimes you have to do things you are afraid of. Being afraid, or anxious can simply mean that something is important to you, that the outcome matters. It is during these times that we have to learn to work through these fears even though it makes us feel uncomfortable.
TALK IT OUT: Sometimes parents and children need to have a difficult conversation. It may be about sex, drugs, relationships, or career. I realize depending on the situation, it may be necessary for the parent to have the final say. Especially if something is dangerous, or life-threatening. But there are plenty of non-threatening situations where the best course of action is for both sides to sit down and talk without fear of being judged. Whether or not, in your opinion, you feel your child is making the wrong choice, it is up to you to recognize that they have to find their own path, and to support their choice even if you don’t like it.
BE VULNERABLE: No-one likes to admit the actions or words of our child can be hurtful. When this happens we might make excuses, or simply suck up our pain. We may lash out in other ways, or try to manipulate our child to our way of thinking through guilt. This course of action only leads to a mountain of misunderstanding. As a mother whose children are growing and changing, and moving out of the house, we are indeed vulnerable. We worry that they don’t need us anymore. They may have a significant other, a job, a life that takes up a lot of their time. While we understand that things must change, we may also feel excluded from their life. When we are feeling hurt, I think it’s always wise to be truthful about how we are feeling. In order to do this, it is necessary to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. While vulnerability may seem like a weakness, I believe it takes courage to talk about our pain. But it must be done in a non-judgemental, guilt-free manner, using “I” words. “I feel this…” or “I am hurt by…” By telling the truth you are treating your child like the adult they are, and allowing them to see that you have feelings, that you love them and want to be a part of their lives.
Being a parent is one of the most important things you will ever do. But you can’t do it alone. Of course there are books that can help you. And there may/or may not, be a significant other in the picture. There are friends, teachers, and grandparents who are also happy to be of service. But let’s not forget that your children can also teach you a lot if you are willing, and open, to what they have to show you. It worked for me.