Photo by stevendepolo
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to go back in time and parent your younger self?
The thought might make you shudder, but if you’re feeling brave, try to imagine it—parenting your three-, 10-, or 16-year-old self. How much compassion would you feel? How much annoyance would work its way under that compassion? How much more—or less—would you worry about the impact childhood events would have on your future? Would you try to protect yourself, or offer more freedom, more opportunities to learn from mistakes?
I had never considered what it might be like to parent myself until Preston Yancy invited me to participate in his blog series “Conversations with Ourselves.” For this series, Preston has asked bloggers to address their past selves through their present (or vice versa), particularly around matters of faith. He wasn’t asking us to parent ourselves, but as a parent, I couldn’t help but fall into that role when I sat down with my 18-year-old self (the time in my life I chose to address in my post, which will be published on Preston’s blog this Thursday).
As I imagined parenting the 18-year-old version of me, living away from home for the first time, some interesting mental and emotional shifts took place. The most significant feeling washing over me was a surprising love for myself. It was a deeper, more spontaneous and compassionate love than anything I typically feel for myself now, as an adult. Most days, what I feel for myself falls somewhere in the annoyance category. I shake my head, roll my eyes, and sigh with relief when things manage to fall into place and work out. When I mess up, losing my patience with my kids or forgetting to follow through on something I said I’d do, my response contains far more admonition than grace.
But as a parent looking down on my child-self, what I felt was love, grace, compassion, and an unquestioning desire for good. Just putting some distance between my selves (if that makes sense) helped me see MYSELF in a new way. (I’m still waiting to see how or if this paradigm shift impacts my day-to-day love for myself.)
The other thing that has shifted through this writing exercise is my view of my real-life role as a parent to my daughters. First of all, my understanding of my daughters broadened. I’m suddenly able to see the long view—their unique characters as people who will one day be adults—rather than seeing only what’s in front of me: a 12-year-old who can’t keep her room clean to save her life, or a 14-year-old who pushes back on every answer I give her.
And as I saw this image of the longer view, I felt my tenacious, Mama Bear-grip loosen just a bit. A sense of peace and clarity about who my daughters are, what they need most from me, and who they will become, settled over me. Suddenly, I felt more capable of being the type of parent I know my growing kids need me to be—the type described in this recent New York Times article, “Raising Successful Children:”
When we do things for our children out of our own needs rather than theirs, it forces them to circumvent the most critical task of childhood: to develop a robust sense of self. …children thrive best in an environment that is reliable, available, consistent and noninterfering.
Even though I longed to intervene as I imagined parenting my 18-year-old self, I’m also able to take step back and see the teenager I was, as well as the adult I was becoming. I’m able to better understand the learning process, my resiliency, and how the available, consistent love of my own parents shored me up along the way.
As my kids continue to grow and prepare to start a new school year, my parenting prayer is for more love, grace and compassion—and less interference. And I’ll work to extend to myself the same.