Lessons learned while parenting myself

by Kristin on August 7, 2012

in Love, family & community

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.

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  • http://www.carisadel.com Caris Adel

    “There is no parent more vulnerable to the excesses of overparenting than an unhappy parent.”

    Yuppers. That’s how my mom was. So now I spend a lot of time reading about personalities and gifts and learning styles and understanding how each of my kids operate so I can help guide them into who they are. My oldest, who is *exactly* like me, gets a lot of alone time because she needs it. I also let her know all of the stuff I could never do that I’m letting her do b/c I know it’s important, so she knows how good she has it, haha.

    “children thrive best in an environment that is reliable, available, consistent and noninterfering.” This is how I am…probably partly b/c my mom was such an overparenter and I just needed space to breathe. But also b/c I can’t be hyper vigilant for 5 kids. It’s too much time and energy. So I supervise a lot, and don’t actually do a lot of stuff with them. I probably should do more, and I’ll play a game with them or talk with them and stuff. But one of my kids started cooking when he was 5. He’s 6 now and almost every day for lunch he will fry up 2 eggs for each kid. Do you know how freeing that is for me? That is me not interfering, haha. But I knew his personality and knew he could handle it. My other 5 year old? She will not be ready to flip eggs for a couple of years.

    There have been a couple of articles like that lately, telling people that it’s good for kids to figure stuff out for themselves. All of my kids are still fairly young, but so far, I agree. They seem to be quite able and independent, doing much more than I was allowed to do at their ages, which I think is awesome.

  • Pingback: More past life conversations | Leadingchurch.com

  • http://alyssabjoy12713.blogspot.com/ Alyssa

    Kristin—
    Wow. I just finished reading two of your guest posts over at Preston’s blog, and I am SO relieved to have found a kindred spirit. As wacky as that sounds. The Conversations with Ourselves piece especially was exactly what I need to hear. I struggle with that too–especially lately, accepting that I AM ‘in’, that I don’t need to accept Jesus over and over again, that I’ve had his love since I was born, and then in the other piece talking about church and community and Vernon’s chair. It was exactly what I needed to hear on this rainy morning. So thank you, and I can’t wait to get to ‘know’ you better ;) Thanks so much!
    Alyssa

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  • Joi

    When you are transparent, Kristin, like you always are in your blog, and like you were so eloquently in the Conversations with Ourselves post, you provide your readers with the most valuable open forum for working through so many issues we struggle with. And it occurred to me that this parental transparency, this stepping down and sharing your own growing pains, is exactly what our children need in order to feel the freedom to share their darkest or most troubling questions with their parents. How different my life would have been if I had felt I could talk freely to my mom without fear of her disappointment in my revelation of questions and fears.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T.

    Caris, finding that line between “happy” and “selfish” can be really tricky for moms! I have to remind myself almost every day that my kids benefit, too, when I look out for me. Regarding seeing your kids as individuals, and treating them accordingly, I think that’s so important! The whole “Love Languages” concept has helped me learn that I shouldn’t try to treat each of my kids exactly the same. Thanks for sharing some of your parenting experiences!

    Alyssa, thank you so much for reading the posts and letting me know that they resonated! That’s really encouraging (and kindred spirits aren’t wacky, at all!). :) I’m looking forward to getting to know you more, too!

    Joi, it’s so interesting for me to gradually learn—mostly through blogging—that in most cases we are not at all alone when it comes to the things we worry and wonder about (and feel so alone in). I wonder if there’s a way for us to learn that at a younger age, and to open up more, or if that’s just the sort of thing we have to figure out the more slow and painful way. (I have been thinking, though, that it might be good to share that Conversations post with my kids…)