Parenting As Personal Development

I have been asked to talk about how actively working on our own personal development allows us in turn to become better parents, and this is something I have definitely found to be true. Children really are the greatest teachers. They challenge us in many ways providing us with opportunities to grow.

Firstly they give us love and joy and this experience of unconditional love is a great gift. They require us to build our capacity to love. They pull us out of our own agenda into the present to enjoy the moment. Love for our children allows us to more easily handle the difficulties and love provides an easy motivation for us to want to be good parents.

Role Modeling

Sometimes the learning is direct because children tell it to us straight. Sometimes it is more indirect: we notice a behavior in our child that we don’t like but recognize it in ourselves. We may feel it is valid to react to anger, stress or tiredness, but when we hear our children doing it, it pulls us up. After all we want to be good role models but that doesn’t mean it is easy.

In challenging situations we do tend to revert to old habits of relating or thinking or behaving. If there is a behavior that bothers you, rather than tackle the behaviour take a step back and examine your own behaviour. Why does this upset me? How do I model that behavior? Becoming more conscious of our behaviour is the start to personal development. Then rather than acting unconsciously in response to a feeling or a situation, somehow we need try to break the habit of relating in the same old way.

Parents Groups

I would like to say how helpful I have found the School’s Parents Program. We have one hour per week devoted to this. It helps us to reflect on our parenting, to consider our role as models for the children and to help each other to continue to learn and grow as people. It also provides an opportunity to stop, reflect and become more conscious of what we are doing and then work out what to work on in ourselves and in our children.

Yoga

Lastly, I would like to say that I have got a great deal from the study of Yoga that has helped me in my personal development and parenting. Initially I was attracted to the physical aspect, to the stretching and strengthening, developing an awareness of the tension in the body and learning to let go. Then I developed an awareness of breath and how it can positively and negatively affect us. After that. I became more aware of the busyness of my mind and I learned to settle and quieten my mind. This not easy. It is a real challenge to still the mind. It is a challenge to be consistent and it only works if you actually do it. However, it helps to reset the clock, to start fresh or top up the emotional bank account. Finally, I have found that Yoga encourages reflection and promotes an awareness of underlying thoughts and emotions which is very helpful in both personal development and in parenting.

Challenges

So overall, I have found many, many challenges in being a parent and these have motivated my personal development. The constancy of parenting can be a real drain with low energy, sleep deprivation, constantly giving, loss of freedom and no time for self-recreation. Perhaps we can be too enmeshed within the family. If we are in a rural area and parenting in isolation with no extended family, traveling around and not being part of a supportive community, it can be difficult to achieve a balance.

Another challenge is wanting to have it all but not being able to do both parenting and a career well. A career is challenging, rewarding, intellectually stimulating and gives us kudos in the community. This can create a resistance to take on the mundane roles associated with parenting. For example, this created a feeling in me that I didn’t want to feel like a servant in my own home by constantly driving children in and out of town.

It can be an emotional rollercoaster with your child if you get too involved in their ups and downs. I would react to their situations with emotion and then chew it over, and over and over. It was important to try to let go. Lastly, as they get older they may make choices that challenge our own values or ideals and that can really challenge you to let them make their own decisions.

Personal Development

On the other hand, my personal development has helped me handle the challenges of being a parent. Some of the key attitudinal changes I have made include: realising how temporary each stage of childhood is, appreciation of the relativity of the situation, when possible making changes to the situation, letting go of the agenda, being in the present and making peace with the role of being a parent and what it requires of me. Improved communication skills such as listening, content, tone, timing and motivation have also been valuable. However, the most helpful thing has been the shift in thinking or attitudes and appreciating and understanding qualities such as gratitude, contentment, acceptance, detachment, equanimity, mindfulness and also the gift of service.

About the Author

Lisa Notley

Lisa Notley is a School parent and Parent Group Leader. Lisa is an Occupational Therapist by training and has recently been part of the interdisciplinary team who have piloted the Healthy Living Program aimed at helping people with chronic disease make changes to habits, lifestyle and attitudes for long-tern health gains. Lisa is married to Dr David Doolan and they have four children spread in ages from Year 2 to Year 12.

This article was published in SOTE News for Term 1, 2011. (Published on web site: May 2011).