I remember when we first starting parenting from a place of gentleness.
A place that taught us how to not use our hands to get our point across. A place that teaches us to breathe and listen and connect first. A place that models patience and kindness so he’ll know how to use it too. A place that showed us how to trust.
It was hard. Just as hard as I know it now is for you.
On one side we had the voices in our own head screaming, yelling out years of conditioning, of fears, that love is not enough, that kids need discipline, they need someone to control them, they sure as hell don’t need a friend. The voice within that was afraid. Afraid of screwing this up. Of “creating a monster”. We had our triggers and our angry to peel back and heal. And lord knows, we never got a fucking break.
On the other side we had well-intentioned families or neighbors or strangers, and their voices. Voices full of doubt. Or voices held behind the sideways glances of condemnation when he was having a meltdown and we weren’t coming down on him. Voices that actually told us our son would be a “detriment to society” and then got angry and offended because we didn’t respect their opinion on that matter. Voices that told us “we turned out alright”, we “survived”. Voices that rolled their eyes when we explained we want our child to do more than “survive” his upbringing.
Voices that were offended, voices that thought we were judging them, voices that told us he was turning into a brat. Voices that yelled at him when we didn’t. Voices that made us all cry a time or three.
But we also had glimpses. We had glimpses of support from another mama in the grocery store. Glimpses of support from family and friends who really wanted to believe the crazy-ass vision we had that this whole “respecting him as a person” thing could work. Glimpses from other parents who had gone before us.
And that’s why I’m writing this to you today.
Zeb turns 14 tomorrow.
For almost 7 years we’ve been following our hearts, and doing the very deep, very hard work of parenting him with patience, trust, compassion, and kindness.
It has not been easy. And there were times we wondered.
Times when he tried to climb the walls of a restaurant, and we struggled to find the right way to handle amidst the criticism. Phases that can really only be called “obnoxious phases”, where he tested out his autonomy in ways that weren’t much fun for any of us. Times when he made bad decisions and we allowed him to, not with “tough love”, but with patience and lots of gentle conversations as we guided him through the consequences. Moments when we watched him struggle and deny any guidance at all. Moments that made us cringe and wonder if we were doing the right thing.
“This too shall pass” became my mantra.
“This is not his life sentence” became my reminder.
“This is not about impressing others” became my own personal practice.
And even when I was sure I was wrong, I was right.
At 14, he’s neither a “detriment to society”, nor a “spoiled brat”.
In fact, this past week, as he’s been visiting family and friends out of town, we’ve been privileged to read the thoughts and impressions of those he’s with. We’ve been honored to see him through the voices of others for a change.
To hear his cousin remark how smart he is and how happy she is that he has a mind of his own, and how much she loves being friends with him…
To hear how he’s opening doors for others and helping with the dishes…
To hear how much he makes everyone laugh…
To hear my own mama say that the rest of the questioning and ridicule we’ve received was all wrong, that we are all lucky to know this amazing young man…
To hear that others can see in him what we’ve seen all along…
And this is what I want to share with you.
There are, what I like to call, “the messy years”. Years when it very much does look like you’re creating a monster. Years you’re not sure will pass.
Years when you sure as hell don’t think you’ll ever hear words like I’ve heard above.
There will be times when your kid will scream at you and you’ll wonder just how patient is patient enough. Times when someone doesn’t see the 14 conversations you will be having with one another over the next week about this situation and the way you’ll come together with love and apologies and deep heart lessons for both of you, and instead they’ll only see that you are to blame for “the problem with kids“; you know, the ones who get neither love nor appreciation and truly do act terrible because of it.
There will be doubts. Moments when you want to go back to yelling or spanking or shaming because “at least it got shit done”, and it sure as hell wasn’t so tiring.
And there will be mistakes. Bad choices of your own when you look like a terrible example of conscious parenting, or a terrible example for any kind of parenting for that matter. Moments you’ll handle poorly enough to embarrass yourself. Moments you’ll wish you could do over for years.
It’s going to be hard.
Really fucking hard.
You will – at least once, I guarantee it – change your mind, throw in the towel, and be absolutely assured that this hippie-dippy shit only works for some kids. That love and respect and kindness isn’t actually universal. And that if it is, you just don’t have what it takes to make it work.
You will get to that place, trust me.
And in that moment I hope you’ll remember to have these words tucked away in your heart, and to come back to them to remind yourself what I’m saying here.
It. Will. Pass. The doubts, the fear, the messy years. It’s not their life sentence. Love and patience and kindness is universal (although how your kid needs it to look isn’t). And one day, standing before you will be this incredible person (who still challenges the bullshit out of you), with a grin on his or her face, and a big wonderful heart, who learned to share it with others because you shared yours first.
You will not have “created” this amazing person who opens doors and speaks up for the little guy and has intelligent conversations…but you will know you nurtured them to their fullest potential without getting your own triggers and inner fears in their way.
Again, let me repeat, there will be times where it is impossible.
I’m not saying it will “seem” impossible. By all means, you’ll know it IS impossible.
And in those times you get to make a choice.
A choice for your values or immediate results.
A choice over who is going to win: the voice of fear or the voice of Love.
This is parenting for the long-term. For the big picture. So remind yourself, through all these messy years when there are boogers dragged across the walls, and screaming matches over LEGO, and the first time they ever steal something, and words you wish you’d never taught them, and everyone is so kind as to point out their perfectly manicured children who never talk back or make mistakes because they’d get their ass whooped if they did…
Remind yourself that real, mindful, conscious, organic, peaceful, respectful parenting doesn’t look good in the beginning, in the same way a freaking souffle doesn’t look like a souffle until it comes out of the oven. (And if you keep poking and prodding it’s not gonna come out looking like a souffle at all.)
This kind of parenting doesn’t come with instant gratification like spanking and threatening and shaming does.
Instead it comes with real gratification, the kind that comes when one day they are taller than you and out there making their impact on the world with the kind of tools you modeled for them.
So this is my love letter to you, as much as it is to my younger self.
This is my reminder that your kids chose you as much as you chose your kids.
This is my reminder that the only things that really trigger us is our moments without love and trust.
This is my reminder that whether you pushed an 8 lb baby out of your vagina or simply caught one with your hands or your heart, both prove that you ARE in fact cut out for this, that you DO in fact have enough love to give, and that you WILL in fact find out how incredibly amazing of a parent you are – not when the world finally sees it, but when you finally do.