There is the story of a little girl who went on a camping, back-packing trip with her brother and parents. While hiking, her mother broke her leg. In the long chaos of getting to the hospital many hours and a long boat trip away, the little nine-year old became the major caretaker of the family when her father and brother became seasick. She carried on, taking care of everyone. Her mother finally got to a rural hospital where her leg could be casted. The next morning at breakfast, this same little girl who had acted so responsibly the day before started acting “like a two-year old”, whining and complaining—in a snit. A parent might react to this with impatience and misunderstanding and punish the child, but in this case mother recognized that her daughter was needing to re-equilibrate to her nine-year old position in the family and to vent her feelings. Within a few minutes, the child was back to her child self.
Parenting is the hardest job in the world. We worry and fret when our children act in ways that don’t conform to our expectations. These expectations often cloud our experience of our children so that we don’t really see then for the unique individuals they are. Harville Hendrix and Helen Hunt, in their book, Giving the Love That Heals, address the issues of unconscious vs. conscious parenting. In unconscious parenting, the parent has difficulty empathisizing with the child and seeing the situation from the child’s perspective. There is no allowance for how the child feels. The parent, although perhaps well-intentioned, sees the child only from his or her own perspective. Such a parent may also “take it personally” when a child acts out.
The challenge of healthy, conscious parenting requires understanding the developmental stages of the child, as well as working on empathically listening to the feelings and needs of each child. Not easy: parenting is the hardest job in the world. Parents need to be gentle and kind to themselves in the process of giving kind guidance and gentle discipline to their children,