Believe it or not, when I was considering becoming a parent I didn't give a second thought to the type of "parenting style" I'd choose. What I wanted to do was raise kids who knew they were loved unconditionally, loved others as themselves, and created connections in this sometimes disconnected world. Some people may call this idealistic, but I learned it's actually called "enlightened parenting." I guess you could call me soft or unrealistic, and that's just fine ,because I'm an enlightened parenting mom and, honestly, you should be, too.
When I was a kid I remember wanting nothing more than to be understood, trusted, and respected. These are some of my earliest memories. In fact, I vividly remember the all-too-familiar thought, "Why don't they understand me?" I clung to every iota of connectedness I got because my need for acceptance was so intense. Enlightened parenting takes children's inherent drive for parental connection and holds it at the center of the relationship. This connection, or relationship-based, foundation of our interactions, doesn't make my children meek, weak, or entitled. It actually makes them more accountable for their actions and decisions, almost without me even trying. Natural Awakenings Mag sums it up perfectly, saying:
“We lose sight that we’re not raising children, we’re raising adults,” says Malibu, California marriage, family, and child therapist Susan Stiffelman, author of Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids. “Empower them to cope with ups and downs. Help them know and trust themselves by not legislating their opinions and by allowing them to experiment.”
Which, in a nutshell, encapsulates all the following reasons that I'm not only not sorry, but proud as hell to be an enlightened parenting mother.
Because I Want My Kids To Trust Themselves
I don't want my kids to need me for everything for their entire lives. People come into my office all the time with a great deal of suffering for some variation of lack of self-trust. The content of their stories is different, but often the suffering boils down to being unable to trust themselves to function well in adult life.
Perhaps most importantly, I want my children to make mistakes now so they know that the world will not end if and when they make mistakes as an adult. I want them to trust their ability to clean up after themselves. That is true for toys now, or poor decisions later.
Because Connection Is My Jam
I love connection. I love connecting to myself, forging connection with other people, and helping people connect to themselves and others. If you ask me, dear reader, connection is the reason we exist. Connection is the purpose of life.
An enlightened parent places connection at the epicenter of not only the family household but the values and worldview we teach our children.
Because I Want My Children To Be Self-Confident
As an enlightened parent I don't just let my kids make mistakes alone. We process what happened together. I help my children make sense of their emotions, their thought process, and their behaviors associated with the mistake. There is a balance of unconditional love, real parent-child connection, and allowing my children to fix their own mistakes fosters self-confidence.
I'll be honest with you, though: it's not as easy as it seems. Each time my conditioning tells me to say, "Why did you do that? Do it this way!" I have to notice what I'm doing, stop it, and interrupt the cycle with something along the lines of: "Did that turn out the way you expected it to? What could you have done differently to change the outcome? What can you do next time?" This may take an extra 10 minutes of discussion in the present, but teaching my child how to think critically, thus giving them confidence to try new things, reflect on the outcomes, and change future behavior? Totally worth the extra effort.
Because Relationship Repair Works
Even as parents we get to make mistakes. Shocking, right? The thing is, when we have a solid connection with our kids they want to forgive us. They want to repair the relationship so they know they can trust and rely on us. They want to move on.
What I've noticed, dear reader, is that when I get down to their level and admit my mistakes, tell them about my feelings, and let them know I love them even when I yell or do some other parenting thing that of course I never, ever do — when I tell them I'm sorry — that actually makes them respect me more, not less.
Because Emotional Intelligence
Anna Partridge, educator and parent, says that emotional intelligence is totally teachable. Though schools do some of the heavy lifting in terms of teaching kids emotional intelligence, parents are still the primary source for this vital skill.
Partridge lists the following things as concrete ways to help children learn emotional intelligence: help them label their emotions, be (age-appropriately) honest about your own emotions, label the overall mood of the house, and label the vibe you get when you go other places.
Because Everyone Deserves Dignity & Respect
I teach my children what Shelly Lefkoe, author of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Guide to Effective Parenting, describes as the way everyone should be treated, not just their parents: we treat all people with dignity and respect because that is what good people do.
I impart to my children that it doesn't matter if you disagree with someone, you are still a kind and respectful person. Showing that respect is each of our responsibilities as citizens of the world. That's true no matter who is in the White House.
Because I Value Process Over Perfection
As a therapist I've learned that I can tell someone what I think is right to do and they might do it. But even if they get the outcome they're seeking, they'll continue to think they need me to make good decisions. Instead, what I want to do — even though it takes a little longer — is help people learn the emotion regulation and decision-making skills that will help them figure out their own best decisions.
The same goes for parenting. Sure, I want my kids to be great adults, but if I design and construct them into my image of a great adult, they won't know how to maintain it without me. However, if I teach them the process of listening to their guts, feelings, and brains, it doesn't matter what the individual circumstances of a given situation are: they will have the tools to figure it out in line with their image of themselves as a self-confident, respectful, emotionally intelligent, and compassionate human being.
It's more valuable to our growth as humans to fail the first time and learn something than it is to succeed the first time and learn nothing. Thus, I am — and will continue to be — proud as hell to be a process-focused, enlightened parenting mom.