After a talk I gave, adults and children were milling around a delicious looking buffet but it was tense because some dishes were finishing before everyone had a chance to take.
The adults were trying to look casual about getting in there before the food was all gone – the elbowing was being done in a genteel manner – but the tension was there as we all craned our necks to assess the state of the dwindling amounts.
The children, of course, were just honest. They demanded their food and if something was finished before they got there they wailed loudly – which didn’t help the tension. The adults were all very busy making sure their kids received food before they dished for themselves. I mean, having a hungry disappointed child on your hands is even worse than not getting the food you wanted, right? There are levels of pain.
A man behind me in line said to me with a smile, “I suppose you would say we shouldn’t put the children first.”
Wow. Is that what you heard from my talk?
It wasn’t the time to answer then – what with children dragging on my hands whining about food – but it stayed with me.
No, that’s not what I would say. Remembering that you are also a person isn’t about putting yourself first and overlooking your kid’s needs. It’s not about being selfish in the closed-hearted sense where you cut others off. On the contrary; remembering that you, as a parent, are also a person in your own right, is an invitation to open your heart WIDE – and to include yourself in it.
What is life without yourself in it?
Parenting ISN’T an us-or-them situation where you have to overlook yourself in order to cater to their needs, or you ignore them in order to cater to yours. The real situation is that parenting is a training ground for you to find your truest self through caring for your children. And you do this by letting your kids needs show YOU to yourself. Let’s be honest, when your kids are pushing you, don’t you sometimes get to see parts of yourself you’d MUCH rather not know about? And at other times, when you respond to them, don’t you see parts of yourself that amaze and please you?
So, what I AM saying is, be honest with yourself and deal with what comes up for you when you DO have to put the children first in a scenario like that buffet. I mean come on, I wanted to shove everyone out of the way and just take myself a nice big plate full of the food that looked best to me. Like the kids around me, I also wanted to wail and scream that it wasn’t going that way. I didn’t want to have to give away my food to the children – who, by the way, still had the gall to complain it wasn’t what they wanted (hello mirror?).
I was hungry and it looked like I wasn’t going to get much food at all – never mind the stuff I really wanted. My inner child worries and fears were all astir, “What about me? Am I unimportant? What will happen to me if I’m not important enough to get my needs met? Will I DIE?! Waaaaah!”
Yes seriously. It may sound dramatic but that’s what our child fears sound like – if they are given honest voice. We don’t often hear them so clearly though, unless we sit down quietly and ask ourselves “What’s up?” Generally when they’re going on like that what we experience is a feeling of discomfort, anxiety and urgency to do something to ‘fix’ the situation.
The harsh reality is that children who are not looked after well enough are in danger of dying. Which is why, if the child aspect of us is threatened in some way it immediately worries it will die. That’s when we get anxious and irrationally act out – like shouting at our kids for not listening to us. (The deal is that when they don’t listen we feel unimportant, for example, and the child part of us is scared that means we will die – so we panic and shout).
What’s the answer? Love. Luuuurve yourself…
Parent, deal – really deal – with what you feel in response to caring for your children. That means to applaud yourself for the stuff you did well and hear and love those parts of yourself you maybe think aren’t so ‘nice’. See them, acknowledge them and accept them as part of you. Heal them with your love and attention – like you would any small frightened child. (That way you are less likely to snap at your child when he expresses his fear and disappointment.)
It feels good to be loved and reassured when you are scared.