To take good care of others we first need to take care of ourselves, and the same rules apply when it comes to self-compassion. Our ability to treat ourselves like we would a friend, pay attention to our needs and remember that we can ask for help is the type of role modeling our kids require. If we want our kids to treat themselves well, they need to know what it looks like.
Our children can frustrate and confuse us, especially if they see the world differently or act differently from their siblings. Children are unpredictable because human behavior is a complex mix of genetics, culture, values, attitudes and experiences (just to name a few things). Instead of fighting against inherent humanity, we can get curious about why our kids are acting or speaking in a certain way. Ask open-ended questions to better understand or support them when they are struggling. Our ability to remain curious eases tension and allows for a calmer and more compassionate way of engaging.
Lately your kids have been getting quieter at the dinner table, or maybe conversations on the way home from games have felt stilted or even defensive. It’s disheartening when our usual ways of connecting with our kids begins to fade, but it’s also an opportunity to update our expectations and become creative in how we connect. We can ask them to teach us how to play their video game, ask questions about their favorite song or artist, or ask them to chart out the Marvel Universe from best to worst. If we want to share some of our own thoughts, we can leave Post-its on their door, notes on their bed, or text or Snapchat memes or articles we think they’d enjoy. Instead of trying to disconnect from us completely, our kids may just be doing what they are supposed to do — growing up and finding new interests. It’s our job to stay attentive and creatively meet them where they are.
As our kids grow, they come home with even more emotions, challenges and difficult decisions. Even if we are attentive and loving, there is no way for us to have all the answers — nor should we. Our children are learning to navigate their own lives and our best move is to practice listening, understanding and trusting. Our ability to listen empathetically and nonjudgmentally offers them a safe place where they can process through what’s difficult and eventually find their way through. If we are unsure about what they need, we can always ask, “Would you like advice or do you just want me to listen?” While they may occasionally want your feedback, a lot of the time they are simply seeking love, hugs and reassurance.
As soon as we buy our kids the right clothes, they grow out of them. As soon as we identify and understand certain behavior or emotions, they change. Kids are supposed to grow and change, and as we learned from the pandemic, our ability to adapt and stay open to what comes next is a skill set we are required to develop. I thought my ability to shift and adapt was good, but having my oldest daughter leave for college this year was a new kind of grief. Yet watching her navigate life outside our home has been interesting and rewarding, a reminder that there is so much more to come for both of us. Staying open to what comes next, instead of doubling down on what was, is a freedom filled with surprises — and it keeps us from missing right now, which is the only place we can ever be.
Cathy Cassani Adams is an author, parent coach and co-host of Zen Parenting Radio. Her new book, Zen Parenting: Caring for Ourselves and Our Children in an Unpredictable World, is out Feb. 1.
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