Communicating with my own children is probably one of the most trying tests of my skills and education. I have even taken several college classes on child development to better understand what’s going on in those little minds, and yet still… I constantly hit walls. There are so many approaches to parenting and discipline out there, and I’m sure every one of us as we become a parent read all the articles, books, and have these grand ideas of what type of parent we will be, how we will teach our children to behave, and so much more. Then our child arrives…
And they are their own person with thoughts, feelings, opinions, and personality. Yes, we have influence – but they are not an unformed ball of clay for us to mold as we see fit into the perfect child and future perfect adult based on our own ideas. Just as we feel we are our own person with needs, wants, and unique traits – so is every child, from the day they are born.
This became so much more obvious to me with my second child. I raise my children the same, and took the same approach to their infancy. Things like pacifiers (we don’t use them), feeding on demand (not scheduled), bedtime routine, development activities by age, and more. After all – two boys, 19 months apart meant I could take advantage of what I figured out with the first one to make it easier with the second one, right?
No. No no NO. I was so wrong. My children have very much the same experiences at home and yet they are so different. The best example I can think of is their sleeping habits. My oldest sleeps like a champ – I put him to bed, he falls asleep on his own and sleeps all night. I did everything the same, and then everything different, and everything in between – my youngest does not sleep. He struggles to fall asleep, stay asleep, and never sleeps alone for more than three hours. I was so frustrated – did my success with my first child mean nothing? I was trying every sleep approach out there to no avail.
My college education and passion in life and career is about communication and making sure messages are understood, so in the middle of a sleep deprived night I fell back on the question I ask every time I edit a paper, a slide show, proposal – what is the root message? What am I supposed to walk away knowing or thinking? So I asked myself – what is the root message my difficult is trying to tell me? And it clicked. He was trying to tell me his needs are different than his brother’s. He was demonstrating his number one need – connection and comfort in order to sleep. All this understanding fell into place for me suddenly – my children came into this world as unique individuals with different personalities, needs, and desires. While I of course want to be fair and equal, I cannot parent them the same because they are no the same.
So I started asking myself what is my child telling me in this situation? What does he need/feel/think that is driving the behavior? Then I would compare and contrast my children – without determining one was better than the other, or had more desirable behavior than the other. Just as a mechanism for understanding them, and to help me choose how to respond based on the individual child, not some ideal parenting ideology.
This is apparently in line with conscious parenting – a title for something I was instinctively trying to do. To parent the child as they are, meeting them where they are, and having no judgment or labeling of “good” and “bad.” To be conscious of the big goal – a relationship with the child – means being open to the messages they’re communicating, even if we don’t like how they decide to communicate it. We can help them learn better communication strategies, but we can’t determine their message for them. We wouldn’t want someone deciding our messages after all – our messages are about our feelings, opinions, and thoughts… the things that make us who we are. If someone tries to control that, we get upset. Guess what – so do our kids!
So I practice conscious parenting in order to best communicate with my children and build a bond. I honor who they are, and their unique needs. I try and recognize the message behind the behavior, to better understand them and then help them express themselves more effectively (at these toddler ages – with words instead of tantrums or throwing things). I find it simple because it comes back to a core question about communication – what is the message we want the audience to walk away with? Is it information, a call to action, a change of thinking? I spend a good part of my work helping others communicate their messages – bringing those skills home to be a better mom is a natural extension of my passion.