As a parent and a clinician, I am aware that there are many moments when we don’t feel that we are our best self. When we are impatient with our kids at 7am while getting them ready for school, when we are exhausted at the end of the day and cannot wait for them to go to bed…In these moments, we often are sad and frustrated at ourselves for showing a “dark” side we did not know we have.
In my personal and professional life, I discovered that despite these moments (which we all have) parenting can be a journey towards self-growth. Here is why:
- Our children constantly show us in which areas we need to grow: why does a certain behavior from our child bother us so much? Why does the same behavior is not as bothersome for another parent? Most times, there is something in that behavior triggering difficult thoughts and emotions in us. If we analyze these thoughts and emotions, we realize that they are not caused by our child, but they have their roots in previous experiences we had. This explains why for one parent it is easy to deal with their child’s angry outburst, but they cannot cope with their child’ s sadness, while for another parent it could be the opposite. In my research on attachment, I observed how the experiences people have with their caregivers have a powerful influence on the way they react while parenting their children. Sometimes we are aware of this influence, but other times we are not. If we try to change our reactions to our children’s difficult behaviors, and we try to understand what is really behind our reactions, we take a step towards developing greater self-awareness. Children are one of the ways we can learn to recognize our blind spots.
- Raising children is a continuous effort to accept that others are different from us. From the time they are babies to when they become adults, children show us that they often are not what we expect and that they will not make the same choices we would make. In the effort of being sensitive parents, we come to terms with the fact that our children are not a smaller copy of us, but they are new different human beings. This at times can be difficult to accept for a parent. In learning to overcome whatever disappointment we may have and to embrace who our child really is, we also learn to fully accept others.
- Children offer us the chance to accept ourselves. Just like we learn that our kids may have bad days, and make poor choices, but this does not mean they stop deserving our love and understanding, the same applies to us. The effort we make in giving unconditional love to our children can also teach us to unconditionally accept and value ourselves.
- Children remind us to “stop and smell the roses”. Children are living proof of the passing of time. Seeing them growing helps us focus on what is really important, which values we want to transmit and how we express these values in our everyday life.
Serena Messina, PhD
Austin Child Guidance Center