We are currently in the throes of the High Holidays, the time of year noted for self-introspection and a return to self and Gd. In doing my own preparations for the holidays, I was struck by the challenge of forgiving myself for the things I wished I had not done, and the things I wish I had, so that I could move forward in meaningfully changing my actions. I am not alone.
As a coach, I encounter people plagued by feelings of guilt and ineptitude in many aspects of their life. They are stuck in the feelings of inadequacy, hopelessness and even despair when it comes to making changes in their life. “How can I do it?” they wonder. “It isn’t going to work out. I’m not going to be able to make it stick. I’m just going to do the same thing again. I won’t have the courage to make the next move.”
There is no bigger space that induces that kind of guilt and hopelessness than parenting. The stakes are so high. We love them so deeply. And so, we are quick to point out our failures as parents. We don’t give them enough opportunities. We yell at them when we shouldn’t have. We are too strict. We aren't strict enough. It's our fault they are struggling. We don't play with them enough. We don't prioritize them enough.
The problem with viewing ourselves this way, is that when we try to grow out of our stuck place, we are unmotivated because our point of view of ourselves is so dreary. Coming from a space of failure and disappointment in ourselves, we don’t have the energy or positive perspective that allows us to address each challenge with renewed optimism. Instead, we keep trying the same strategy that led us to the space of frustration and failure, or lacks the generative creativity that allows us to climb out of that space.
The key to creating new perspectives start with making an honest assessment of ourselves. Honesty here does not mean focusing exclusively on the negative things. Rather, honesty means acknowledging those things we want to change while also having an awareness of what makes us great.
As parents, we understand that seeing each of our children as unique, fundamentally capable and talented gives them a window into seeing themselves that way. Yet, we have a difficult time acknowledging and appreciating that we also are uniquely capable and talented (even in the spaces that are hard for us) — and we need to view ourselves that way too. The ironic result of this resistance is that we actually compromise our ability to see the greatness in our kids. Sure, we will be able to tick off their talents. But, we will also find ourselves pointing out their failures and focusing on their challenges. We will tend to notice more frequently what is wrong, instead of what is right. And, before you know it, and despite our resolution to not do it again, we find ourselves right back in the pattern that yields the behavior that we wanted to avoid — both on our part and on theirs.
So, to start getting back in touch with what makes us great, and the assets that Gd gave us, we can write them down. Make a list, or, if you are artistic, draw a picture of the gifts, talents, and character traits with which Gd endowed you. Don’t try to do it in one sitting. Rather, take some time to create it. Then, envision for yourself what using those positive traits would bring to your parenting.
We also could start being nicer and stop judging ourselves. Instead of looking at our parenting foibles as things we shouldn’t be doing (“I shouldn't be yelling. I’m such a hurtful/terrible/failure of a parent.”), view them dispassionately and as only a symptom of our current state of being. (“I notice that I’m yelling a lot.”) Then, ask whether we want to be in that place anymore. (“I don’t.”) If not, then we can make a different choice. (“I’m going to take note of when I feel like yelling and go write what's bothering me in my journal instead of yelling it at my kids.”) We can continuously go through this process as we re-evaluate, make adjustments, grow and re-assess. While the distinction is subtle, the process allows an avenue out of being stuck in the mindset that prevents change.
Further, we can accept ourselves as the imperfect, human parents that we are. We are not here to be perfect. We are here to work toward perfection. Ours is a journey. And, when we accept ourselves as imperfect, we are able to see our children similarly, with compassion and understanding and love.
It all begins with loving ourselves.
-- Originally published in Kol Habirah September 28, 2017 --