Exploring a Leadership Development approach to Parenting:
I have always been fascinated by business, and especially by how people function in a business. The impact of the individual/collective on the success or failure of a business, as well as the impact of business on individuals is layered and intriguing. Luckily, there is so much information on leadership and business development - so many conferences, courses, workshops, books, theories and methodologies, that there is no need to identify a new angle on how to lead. But still, more and more books are written and more courses and conferences are launched on the subject of leadership, culture development and business growth every year.
Yes, I understand that there are many people fulfilling leadership roles in the world but there are many many more who fulfill parenting roles, and being a parent is possibly more complex and bewildering. Despite this, there is a fraction of the models, methodologies or material available. I have found, however, that there are an infinite number of opinions that people have about how I should be parenting and I feel that now may be a good time for people to share their models of parenting, based on their own personal experiences, so that other intrepid explorers have a bit of a road map. I’ll start.
One of the business related leadership development theories that I know is or has been used in countless organisations is that of ‘The Leadership Pipeline’, a book written by Ram Charan and Stephen Drotter. This is what made me think about the need for a model, to help me develop my own sorely needed parenting skills. It seems to be so much easier to define and demonstrate ‘Good Leadership’ in action, but infinitely more difficult to define what it is to be a “Good Parent”.
There are countless definitions of ‘skills of a good leader’. However, when I google ‘skills of a good parent’ most of the stuff has the potential to send me into the zone that is so hard to return from - the “I do not fit the criteria for this job” zone - and immediately makes me feel judged and exposed for my incompetence. Some of the statements I came across in my first search:
“Be a role model for them.” I am a role model for them, I have a glass of wine pretty much every night. I laugh a lot and cry a lot and can throw a reasonably good tantrum. What am I meant to be role modelling?
“Don’t do things for them that they can do for themselves.” Like what? What age group is this?
“Don’t shout at your children.” Well, this is easy if they did the things for themselves that they can do for themselves.
“You know you are a good mom when your child smiles 90% of the time” Well clearly I am crap. Has the author of that piece had a teenager?
“When your children share with other children” Seriously? Of course they share… if they are forced to. That’s why they don’t smile 90% of the time.
Some of the guidance may be right for a toddler - if that toddler is in the middle of the somehow defined ‘normal’ spectrum, but what if it isn’t? Does that make you ‘not a good parent’ when the child doesn’t smile or share or say please and thank you or maybe doesn’t talk at all?
What may be good parenting of a toddler is not necessarily good parenting of a teen. Actually, that is a bad example, they may be similar for a toddler and a teen, but what is good parenting for a 4-year-old would be different to a 12-year-old child and would be really bad for a 19-year-old suffering - with anxiety - or a 14 year old child gifted in the arts or another 14 year old who is doing okay but hasn’t yet found their superpower.
My point is: given that our children go through a number of ‘milestones’ and stages in their own personal growth trajectory, it seems that each child and each stage requires a completely different mindset and skillset, not to mention fortitude, a method of recharging resources and an endless supply of big girl panties (which is my sister's idea of the equivalent of big balls)!
Just as I thought I had got the hang of one stage of one child's development, I realised that what had just started working didn’t work anymore. My child had moved on suddenly (overnight) and what was before me required me to rethink everything.
The deeper I got into the parenting process the more I longed for a coach, or a model, something like the Leadership Pipeline (but for parents) that I could use as a guide; something that would apply to the stages of parenting in the way that the Leadership Pipeline applies to leadership, to help navigate what I need to be and do with what tools in order to do my job of parenting, mentoring and equipping the next generation successfully and sustainably.
For me, parenting has felt like I would imagine finding myself blindfolded on a 1000km hike along a cliff edge when I expected a short walk in the park would feel, hence the need for some navigation tools.
The Leadership Pipeline
Drotter’s book, which most human resource practitioners will have read, speaks about 6 “passages” that a person goes through when moving from one level to another in an organisation as they ‘climb the corporate ladder’, so to speak. It talks about the importance of learning new skills and letting go of other skills at each transition point. It also talks about the importance of being supported in the transition, in order to be successful in the new role. Actually, it is an excellent book that is useful as a source for business and life coaching.
I thought this would be a good model to explore and have tried to translate this theory to parenting, to help me adapt my skills to the requirements of the job. In essence, is there a ‘career path’ for this ‘for life’ role we take on?
The ‘Parenting Pipeline’
The maternal instinct kicks in (or not) and we decide that we want children (or don’t). Before the baby is born, we would be at the ‘Manage Self’ level of a parenting career, possibly even with a ‘coworker’. Before pregnancy, we take it for granted that we can eat or drink anything, go anywhere or nowhere at all, and do what we like within, or at least close to, the bounds of social acceptability. Although we have worries, often lots of them, we still have choices that should take others into consideration, but essentially choices that are mostly about ourselves. Me.
Other people’s existence and well-being, generally, are not our responsibility. If we are codependent, we may think they are, but they are not. We can still attain a state of being called ‘peace of mind’. This however disappears - forever - when we fall pregnant.
From then onwards, everything we do and think directly affects another Living Thing that is totally and utterly dependent on us. It kicks and wriggles in its mobile (and heavy) container while we attempt not to eat a second packet of Zoo biscuits or rush off to find a loo in the middle of a food shop or a business meeting. We may ponder how strong it is, and how active it is. We worry if we haven’t felt it kick for a while.
If we are working, we have to deal with bosses who don’t understand. Even if they have been pregnant, they may have sailed through it without feeling sick so they are even less understanding. I was one of those bosses who told a team member that she was “pregnant, not sick - so pull it together” while she tried to appear professional, in control and worthy of the position she held. Luckily for others, in my second pregnancy, I had to move to an office next to the bathroom because of constant nausea, so I was forced to be more understanding.
We have weird dreams that probably should be left un-interpreted. We read the right books and may go to the right antenatal classes. For pregnant mothers, there is a lot of reading material and guidance on what to expect and how to look after oneself. We learn to breathe under stress (this is one skill to hold on to for the next 40 years: remembering to breathe is, in essence, life giving). It seems to be the one phase that we can actually prepare for, at least physically, in the transition we are going to go through. This is good.
Passage 1: Becoming You and a baby
The whole world changes when this Living Thing comes out, either the way it was meant to, or not. While your self-image is either good or not so good before or during pregnancy, it most definitely isn’t that post pregnancy. The baby has come out but not many people would believe you at first glance. This is a lot to deal with in itself!
On top of this, what felt like a robust, strong and forceful personality inside comes out as this helpless, tiny little … helpless, tiny little Living Thing.
I thought I had a handle of caring for my baby when I was still in hospital but back at home, even with Mom and sisters alongside me, I was terrified I was going to kill it with my lack of competence before it had been in the open air for a day. I didn’t lay it down quite at the right angle, it was overdressed or underdressed or difficult to dress without feeling like I may pull an arm off at any moment. The feeding, bathing, changing, (no) sleeping thing, mixed in with the Day 3 depression they warn you about, gave me the first inkling that this was not going to be a walk in the park and that there may be a little more to it than I had assumed or had read in a book, yet I was lucky because I did not fall into the dreaded and dreadful postnatal depression that so many women do, although I did catch a glimpse of what it may be like. There is just no telling what is going to happen.
If we are lucky, we bond with our child immediately, but not everyone does or is quite sure that they have, which in itself can be a private shame. We are told we will ‘just know’ but sometimes it is difficult to know through the contrasting fog of sleeplessness and alarm. While there are a few/many moments of pure bliss - when you feel at one with the world and this child - this feeling is interspersed with many moments of sheer terror or awe that this little thing can scream so loudly for so long and so often! Some of us cope and some of us don’t, and most often it’s a combination of, or seesaw between, both. Our paths are all unique.
Once you have had the baby, you look back at your relatively self indulgent life and realise that there may be competencies (skills, attitudes and behaviours, in corporate speak) that you need to gain and some you need to lose in order to make it through this transition more effectively.
The thing is, there doesn’t really seem to be a norm, although many books emphatically tell you otherwise. Anything can make you feel like you are a great or a shit parent, and the only thing I found vaguely useful was having other parents around. Except the ones who had it all worked out. How anyone can be so certain of anything in this role, I have yet to discover, and I am 21 years into the journey. Anyone who was certain about something, such as those who said ‘you have to do sleep therapy’ or ‘no, it is completely wrong’, sent me into a spin. I preferred the people who said, “shit, I have no idea - give it a try”. I remember my sister saying to me that her daughter only slept through at 18 months. The idea was devastating: I would never survive 18 months, never! Neither of mine slept through before the age of 5. So that is 5 years’ x 2 children = 10 years! I did survive.
In hindsight (I was too tired to think about it at the time) some of the competencies that would have been useful included:
The ability to be selfish (you have to look after yourself to have the capacity to look after someone else - think of the airline example of putting your own oxygen mask on first before you can help others). Maybe ‘self-care’ sounds better because it doesn’t have the same bitter connotations, but I mean ‘selfish’ all the same. We have children for our own sakes, not theirs (although most of us are thinking about cute little babies, not teenagers, at the time of making the decision) so perhaps we should hang onto a little bit of that self interest for the purposes of our own growth and development as well.
The ability to surrender to another’s needs at the same time as being selfish.
Acceptance comes at the end of the grief cycle, which include denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and then yes, acceptance (ref: Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s Grief Cycle).
Acceptance of the fact that you have lost your peace of mind. It’s gone. For good.
Being able to come to terms with the fog of not enough sleep and learning to sleep when you can.
Ability to ask for help – be more demanding of it.
Ability to stop what you are doing with little or no warning.
Ability to listen to your intuition over the plethora of advice from others. Hear the advice and choose your own path or follow someone else’s lead that feels right.
Retaining a healthy self-identity and ignoring what feels like criticism, particularly self-criticism.
Ability to observe, to stand back and know that you will get through it.
Partners are in it, too. Gender can’t be a distinguishing factor anymore.
Competencies that may be less useful:
Total self-sufficiency – we all need help.
Reliance on others’ opinions or advice against your own instinct.
Critical judgement of others. It may make you feel better now but remember that this is just passage one, there is a long way to go and success in passage one does not guarantee success at the next level.
Once we have done the ‘baby thing’ and got the hang of it, or at least made our way through it, the little thing has become a toddler and a whole new world opens up.
Passage 2: Becoming You and A Toddler
There is no real mark that defines the shift. You are not promoted or moved into a new job with a new office, not even a bigger desk in an open plan. No one congratulates you or acknowledges your achievement. You don’t even pass ‘Begin’. Zip.
There is also nothing that says “ok, time to shift gear”. We just find ourselves having to move the detergents from the bottom cupboard under the sink to the top cupboard far away from the sink so that they are a pain to get to. We buy plug covers for the plugs, and move anything breakable. We buy potties that the dogs (or toddlers) start to drink (or eat) from, so speed becomes a necessity. Anything precious goes and we start buying covers for couches. I found that Barney and Teletubbies became my best friends. I found nasty sugar- and gluten-filled foods that I knew should never be made available to desperate mothers, and I bought them anyway. I knew I should hold out and make the kids eat the good stuff, but I didn’t. Yes, I have already acknowledged that I should have. By this point, ‘peace of mind’ wasn’t even a goal, just a moment of ‘peace’ would have been nice, but that too had gone.
Anyone who has a toddler has had the experience of them trying to look between your thighs as you sit on the loo to see what you are doing. Nowhere is sacred. We learn to interpret grunts, screams and tantrums to mean ‘please can I have a biscuit?’ or “I am really tired and would like to go to sleep now but I am finding it very difficult to let go.”
What worked wonders for one child has absolutely no impact on another which can make us feel like we are failing, and what is even worse, is that it is hard not to interpret the ‘little shit’s’ behaviour as deliberate. There were so many times I caught myself feeling like this toddler before me was my equal, it was capable of doing these heinous things deliberately to test me. It had thought out the best way to drive me around the bend and it was succeeding in this mind madness game that only it knew the rules to. But I was ‘the adult’, so the books told me, and I had to be fair but firm and loving, despite the ‘call to war’ that I felt was taking place.
Competencies that may be useful in this period:
Patience and counting to 10: deep breaths.
Ability to stop and check the rationality of our thought processes on a regular basis. Self observation becomes the vital activity between thought and action.
Ultra-vigilance; a puddle can be turned into the enemy, as can a box of detergent or the dog's water bucket or a discarded toothpick or just a pebble.
The ability to function without full control of any situation.
Flexibility; physical and mental.
The grace to know when we actually can’t cope and to phone a friend.
Competencies less useful:
Any illusion of control we may still have.
The illusion of perfection; having a perfect home, perfect marriage and perfect children just isn’t a viable goal.
The illusion that one can still have the energy, let alone be a sex goddess, at this particular point in life.
I have to say, if I had it over again, there are a couple of things I would change my approach towards (such as TV and junk food), but at the time they were my life support system, without them, my children, or I, may not have survived: we will never know.
Passage 3: Becoming You and Little people
My proper introduction to ‘Mother of a Little Person’ came when I arrived home from work, tired and grumpy, and I saw that the picnic mat was set up on my bedroom floor with my daughter on it. Here we go – an imaginary picnic – hold me back! So we sat and drank our imaginary tea and we chatted about the day and as the conversation lulled, I picked up an imaginary piece of chocolate cake: “yum, just what I feel like after a busy day, what a yummy piece of chocolate cake”. I saw her looking at me quizzically. “What are you doing?” she asked. “I am enjoying this chocolate cake,” I replied, with an indulgent smile. She looked at me with disdain and said “There is no chocolate cake, Mommy.” Okay, why did I feel like a very small person? And in my head I was saying “and why do you get to decide all the rules for the game?” in the tone of a very small person.
It may be at this point that I realised that to them, I was not actually a person, I was a Mom, which is not the same thing as a person. They have learnt to articulate their needs but they have no concept that you may have any needs, let alone, that your needs should be considered. They decide when it is time to picnic in the bedroom, with no chocolate cake, or that you are a donkey or tiger on who’s back they can ride, the minute you get home from work or have to make supper. They believe that just before bedtime is a great time to bake, the middle of the night is a great time to snack or early morning is play time. You don’t have needs.
While you can start to reason with these now human beings, it is also the time that their fears may start to emerge: of the dark, of being alone in a room, of school, of not going to school, of anything, of nothing. The world, which can be a great adventure for one child, can seem very unsafe to another, and it is so hard to appreciate that what we may think is nothing to worry about can be crippling for a small person. It takes some doing to respond to their fear rather than from our sense that there is nothing to worry about.
In my experience, this was also the period of real or imaginary stomach aches, insomnia and bad dreams and their real fear of something bad happening to me. It was also the time that I realized, to my relief, that they are both gifted with a wonderful sense of humour, a true love of animals and compassion for other beings. I think that may be where their common personality traits end.
I think our first memories as humans are from this stage. The earliest age at which people can remember incidents is 3, but most are from around 5. Memories can be such uppers or downers and mine differ so much from my children’s. My daughter, for example, has etched in her memory the time she came through in the middle of the night and I lost my temper and sent her back to her own bed. I cannot remember what I said but she can and does. My memory, on the other hand, is of the gazillion nights I got up, often several times a night, and climbed into bed with her, or let her climb in with me. Her memory is of one night, mine is of the other 365 x 5. My son remembers a day when I was “hours and hours” late fetching him from school and how dreadful it was. Nope, not in my memory bank. Whether either of these experiences have a lasting impact on their outlook on life, I don’t know. Did she learn to get herself back to sleep or did she suffer quietly to avoid my wrath? Did either incident scar them for life or help them discover life in some way? Buggered if I know. It happened. It's done!
Then there is school! A thing I hated passionately for my time there, I now have to go through twice more. I have one child who loved school for the major part of the junior years and was good at it. My other child, however, was more like me and hated it from the get go. “What is the point? Why do I have to do any of this? Why can’t we have a longer weekend?” Just passing was rewarded in the latter case, as his brightness will not be rewarded in the school system, although bright he is, with an incredible sensitivity to accompany his brightness.
I have been no better at school work or projects, second and third time round. I make out like it's because I want them to achieve based on their own merit, but really, it's because I don’t understand much of it and still don’t care for school work. I do, however, find myself reliving the anxiety of it all over again. Peer pressure sucks, school schedules suck, deadlines suck and exams suck.
Some useful competencies:
Double the patience.
Ability to adapt or not get hooked. The friend they loved yesterday, they may hate today, but will probably love again in a week or year or two.
The ability to interpret non-direct signals or signs may start before the teens.
A very different kind of vigilance: the danger may lie within the quiet, rather than what appears more obviously on the surface.
The flexibility to adjust your boundaries.
A working knowledge of what is being learnt in school if you really want to help.
Become more observant as well: stand back, watch them and watch yourself with them, without judgement.
Competencies that are less useful:
Surety that you know what is best for them.
The drive or desire to protect them from any hurt.
Consistency vs. inconsistency This is a tricky one that I know many people will disagree with – I aimed for consistency - “treat each child the same” and “stick to your ‘no’” - but I am not convinced consistency is ‘it’. The world is not consistent and each child does not have the same needs.
Let go of the idea that your children always tell the truth, around about now.
Well you can remove the plug and pool covers and put the detergent back under the sink where it belongs. That’s nice! Not really a skill, but definitely worth celebrating.
The dreaded passage 4: Becoming You and Teenagers
Most good parenting advice firmly tells you that you are not your child’s friend, you are their parent, but sometimes this warning is hard to adhere to. Being friendly with them also means you grow to see and appreciate the qualities and traits that emerge as they grow. It's fascinating and even entertaining, and every now and again, they can be great fun to be with. To begin with, I honestly believed that this ‘teenage thing’ was all a bit over-dramatised. I thought it wasn’t going to be so bad and I actually know people who had made it through their children’s teenage years and said it wasn’t so bad. They are still my friends but I have had to dig deep and breathe even more deeply when they told me how wonderful everything was and that their teenagers have been ‘no problem’. It feels like they are passing by in a boat while I shift between crawl, breaststroke and doggy paddle to keep my head above the water.
It is clear that I am not one of those parents who managed to stay on the lilo with a G&T in the one hand and a good book in the other in this phase. No, I think I downed all the gin at the first sign of trouble and still have the hangover. This probably had as much to do with the hormonal changes that come with puberty as it did with the hormonal changes that come with menopause. I was an equal hormonal match for my teens. We are also all naturally sensitive beings and let us all have a bad day…
Well, passage 4 is an actual minefield and I think it is particularly problematic that it is sometimes preceded by a period of calm. I was taken off guard and did not have time to prepare for the storm. Yes, I am sure you can get through with no storms, no leaks and not stepping on an actual mine, but seriously, what are the chances? Up until this point, I had secretly considered myself to be a ‘Good Mom’. I am so very in love with my children and they are with me in the centre of my world. They did not just fit into my life and live by my rules as I had intended they would. No, they dramatically changed my life and I no longer heed people who tell me that they shouldn’t. They have. It is a bit like an extreme sport though, and even if you are a great paddler, you can fall out of the raft as you hit the next rapid. At this point, I removed the word ‘good’ from my unwritten business card.
I have a friend whose children are older than mine who would knowingly tell me “little children, little problems, big children, big problems”. I am not sure whether the problems are bigger or just very different, I just think my skill set didn’t change quickly enough. I didn’t realise that I was going to have to develop new skills at all. Wow, I was so not equipped, as I honestly thought I had ‘got this’. I sometimes think that it has been harder dealing with my own growing pains through this period than with my teens!
At what point does it change from us having to organise all their playdates to them organising evening ‘get togethers’ which end at 8, then 9 then 10 then 11 etc (unless they were at our house in which case they didn’t seem to end). ‘Organising’ is relative as there always seems to be confusion as to who needs to be where, when and who is fetching and/or dropping. I think it is the not knowing which way it is going to blow that I found the hardest.
Before they hit their teens, my children had a pathological hatred for alcohol, I thought. However, it is safe to say, they recovered from that. So now the challenge becomes navigating how I move from a very firm standpoint of “ABSOLUTELY NO ALCOHOL BEFORE YOU TURN 18” to, “if you are going to drink, have a drink with me so you know how it will affect you”, to coming to terms with the fact that my sense of being in control was an illusion. It feels like a very fine line between being irresponsible and not being in denial. I have a person living with me that I am responsible for AND who is now also (ir)responsible for themselves. How do we make that transition with less trauma for both of us? Fuck, it is hard.
How do you deal with the fact that your child is not invited to parties because they don’t drink or is the one who has the reputation for being the supplier? And how do you deal with finding out that they have the reputation for being the supplier because they are the supplier? I have seen more innocent girls than mine skipping into a bottle shop. It would be easier to stay in denial because then you are certain your child is part of the 1% or 5% or 50% who remains pure and that you have done a great job raising them. While some people can be happy in their certainty, I personally have no idea what certainty feels like. In truth, it is hard to work out if I was more worried about knowing that my child was consuming alcohol or dealing with the fear of judgement from parents who may have (or believed they had) managed to circumnavigate this obstacle, or at least still thought they had.
Then, the memories of my own adolescence start coming back to me, such as my best friend losing her virginity at 14. When looking at my own 14 year old, my word but that is young. Please no. How do we get them to realise that there is plenty of time? I was out partying and having the odd cigarette at 16 (or maybe 15) … did my parents know? Of course they did, but I thought I was ‘cleverer’ than them and that I had them well and truly fooled, only to find out 20 years later that they were fully aware of those sneaky little puffs I had in my bedroom late at night. Of course they were, how can you miss that smell?
I put them through this same shit and we survived. Now, they have the joy of watching me go through it. Perhaps we too will survive, but being in it, it is very hard to tell.
Add to this the school scene, the future career scene, the sports scene, the gender and identity fluidity and experimentation along with the wild hormone swings that come with it all, aswell the the bouts of anxiety or depression (mine and theirs) that feel endless. The trouble is that when it is calm, we cannot fully recall the turmoil, and when we are in the turmoil, it is hard to believe that it will ever be anything else.
This too shall pass.
Competencies to gain:
Negotiation skills: boundaries now have to be co-created if they are going to work. As parents, we have to learn to share responsibility with a ‘nearly adult’ lightweight with potentially very little experience or evidence of holding responsibility. Difficult.
Ability to reconcile yourself to the fact that your child does lie to you.
Adult conversation with awareness of ‘near but not quite’ adult status.
The art of self-love and positive reinforcement.
Make sure you have an older sister or friends who care to share your pain with.
Competencies to let go of:
The bliss of denial
The illusion of control
Patience: it's unfair really because you have had to work so hard at developing this skill but if they are ever to get out of the narcissistic phase, patience may not be the answer.
Interestingly, some of the vigilance. If we are too vigilant, we can delay them from developing these skills for themselves.
Funnily enough, flexibility. For example, on the Mom’s taxi front, some planning and consideration has to come into it now.
Passage 5: Becoming You with Young Adults
In my experience, the first indications of this turning point were unexpected gems of offers to help or to do something without necessarily wanting a reward. Initially, I spent quite a lot of time looking for the catch and being skeptical, but it was real. The desire to help with supper, an offer to hang up washing or just noticing that stuff needs to be done and there aren’t a lot of people around to do it… progress!
So things like “I’ll walk the dogs tonight Mom”. Hmmm, what is going on here? Very fishy. Previously, I would often have to ask and ignore the moans and groans and eye rolling and would have to ask again and again at 10 minute intervals until it grudgingly happened. Sometimes, I would get tired of asking. I would get up in a huff with an “okay, well don’t bother then” because then I could make them feel bad and that gave me a little bit of joy. However, there is no evidence that it ever really worked.
“I’ll clear the table tonight.” What? That of course is a silent ‘what’ because any show of surprise could scare off this new behaviour. That is the confusing part, they behave as if they have always done these things willingly and without being asked and are offended by a surprised reaction. One minute, it seems, we have an irrational adolescent on our hands and the next there is a helpful adult in the house. The helpful adult comes and goes to begin with but it is such a delightful and seemingly natural transition that it is worth waiting for.
It is, however, not all plain sailing as they learn to drive and live like they are invincible, immortal beings. They can also drink legitimately and we have less than no control other than praying that they have been taught well, or at least, have learnt from our mistakes. There is also still the sex thing. I feel like they are just out of nappies, I can’t deal with the next set yet!
Awareness: the response if the person is in adolescent mode may need to be different to that of a young adult if you want more of the adult type behaviour.
Acknowledgement: there just may be a human being in there.
Ability to shift between parenting conversations and adult conversations at a moment’s notice.
Defining adulting boundaries.
Ability to entertain the idea of ‘me first’.
Possibly using continued financial dependence as a useful tool for tying up any loose. ends.
Less useful competencies:
Any sense of ownership or control of what they do or desire to hang onto them.
You may not need your armour plating and defence mechanisms anymore but beware of stray bullets.
Passage 6: Becoming You with the People You Raised
I don’t really have any experience of having adult children - you know - in their 30s, 40s or 50s, apart from the fact that I am one. The thing that stands out the most here is my realization that my parents are actually normal people who have lives of their own. I am not the centre of their world. It is quite humbling to work out just how much mine have done for me and how much I may have put them through with this whole growing up thing. I may be completely wrong but I am quite sure my kids are much more appreciative of me than I was of my parents at their age, but maybe I have forgotten the good parts of the young me. I just remember the wicked parts and if my parents ever doubted or disapproved of something I did I would put it back on them by saying, “I am a product of your upbringing”. Now that's just mean.
At some point, it is such a gift to realise my life really is my own to create and that it is a choice to be a product of an upbringing, ‘good’ or ‘bad’. I hope to hell my children realise this earlier than I did.
I can remember the first time it dawned on me that, at around 40 something, that I still had moments of being my parents’ child. This revelation came the time I phoned my mom and spent half an hour crying and telling her how tough my life was and that I couldn’t cope. I put down the phone and reflected on how I would feel if my middle aged children still brought their burdens to me without a thought of whether it was convenient or okay for them to do so. I have apologised to my parents on several occasions, however their response has always been, “that's what we’re here for”.
At some point, we realise that there has been another turning point and our children start parenting us. In a recent exchange with my father I heard myself saying, “Dad, do you really think you should still be doing that?” He heard me too and the look he gave me was filled with the words that he did not utter, but left me with no doubt that I had just crossed a line and I needed to put a little more thought into this passage.
Refining Boundaries. I would think that one would need to be clear about what one is willing to help with and what is their own shit to deal with.
Respect for the adult and friend your ‘child’ has become.
Ability to listen to an adult as an adult.
The strength to allow them to develop their self parenting skills.
Less useful competencies:
Ability to sort out their problems for them.
Being able to hold onto your unsolicited advice.
How cool would it be if there was a model to work with, with a clear set of competencies attached? Sadly, there is not. A 10 year old can be going through adolescence and an 18 year old can be behaving like a toddler. Even in the 50+ bracket, I have the capacity to behave like a toddler. Challenges with mental health play a part in many of our and our children’s lives. Many of us have more than one child and/or stepchildren. If you have more than one child, you cannot necessarily use the same skill set for all of them! My experience won’t be the same as anyone else’s and we each have our own ‘stuff’ to deal with. On reflection, it may not be possible to create a neat theory, as the parenting pipeline bears more resemblance to this:
The Parenting Pipeline in Practice
However, the more I reflect on the passages and why I act or react the way I do, the more I understand my impact as a parent. I accept that I live with my own specific mixture of confidence and insecurity, competence and fallibility, which makes me feel more comfortable to hold the space as a parent for my children. Each of our parenting experiences are unique and I know that my perspective is that of a mother, but I believe that this conversation is relevant to all parents. I also believe that the more we open ourselves to learning, the more we can gain in understanding the shared fears, challenges, dreams and joys of parenthood and the stronger we become, as individuals and parents.