Motherhood is a chaotic journey of ebbs and flows. Nothing in the literature prepares us for the emotional upheavals, nor warns us of the long toil after the honeymoon phase of babyhood. I remember that short and sweet phase where I spend long hours gazing at the angelic faces before me and spinning dreams of a blissful future ahead.
And then reality struck. The trusting diaper-clad bunnies morphed into complaining, demanding and ungrateful creatures. I transformed into a unique combination of personal chauffeur and emotional punching bag. And the relationship went from one of complete adoration into one of nagging, disciplining and constant vigilance. And yet I hung on to the dreams of yesteryears and begrudged the challenges of reality.
In essence, parenting is a paradoxical interplay of the fantasy of what could be and the starkness of what is. And what is, is a lonely struggle against the outside forces of the 21st century that are stacked against us. No wonder, studies show that happiness goes down shortly after having children.
There is good news though. Children imbue our lives with meaning and purpose. And given that we are a meaning-making species, we can find much happiness in life by building a relationship of friendship and trust. Here then are five scientifically proven ways to smooth out the bumpy ride and learn to befriend our children again.
Get clarity of purpose
Parenting is often done without much thought and yet with great expectations. We drift along in the relationship, often investing much time and energy in things that are trivial and unimportant in the long-run, but expect our children to be kind, caring, hard-working, respectful and perfect in some insatiable and undefined way. In essence, it is a twisted view of locus of control. Instead, we need to get clear on our role in the relationship and expand it from being a harbinger of rules to one of a mentor, an inspiration and a source of support through their life’s journey. Thinking about how we want to be remembered by them after we are gone not only allows us to bring our whole selves to the relationship, it also helps simplify our focus and manage the minor hassles of everyday.
Become your own leader
I have been guilty (far) more than once of unloading my own mental garbage onto my children through behaviors that were totally unwarranted. And I know that most of you would know what I mean! It is true that when our own mental quarters are in chaos, we are no longer in a position to manage, much less lead our children in their lives. Sometimes the mental chaos is temporary – our capacities for handling a challenge have been tested. But other times, it can be an ongoing process of repeating thoughts that create noise in our minds and deprive us of the clarity and perspective it takes to step into the worlds of others. Developing the ability to monitor and modify our own emotions is essential to standing on firm ground. And it is from that place of equanimity that we can lead others.
Learn to listen
Empathy begins with listening. And I know how hard that can be when your child is taking their time complaining about something really minor and you have only a few moments to sort their problem before rushing off to a zillion other more important things. I remember I would rush to provide quick and easy solutions and get irritated when they would fall on deaf ears. And then I learnt that it was not my answers that my child was looking for. They had their own – except that in their emotional state, they had lost access to them. All they needed from me was someone who listened, who understood, who was attuned with their worlds and who could provide the non-judgmental space that allowed them to make sense of their own lives. For it is from this space that courage emerges and confidence grows.
Instill hope and inspiration
Every interaction we have with our children is an opportunity to build them up, make them resilient and inspire them towards a positive future. In fact, it is more than an opportunity – it is a responsibility. The foundations that we lay through our interactions will continue to affect their decisions even when they become the captains of their own lives. It is important that we use our words carefully. That we remind them of their unique strengths and circumstances, of the power of effort, of the eternal possibilities that are for the creative and the courageous. I like to think of our role as that of an inspirational leader. Having our own role models and knowing our own strengths will allow us to refine our role over time and eventually grow into it in the most authentic way.
Use humor everyday
And finally, fun and laughter. When I began my research on laughter, I thought of it as a futile pursuit, not worthy of serious thought. However, I soon realized that it was no laughing matter! Laughter is what brings two minds together through shared imagination. Laughter is when we transcend the bounds of reality and connect through positivity resonance. And laughter is key to buffering against stress and building the resources that allow us to handle the challenges of life. When we laugh with our children, we not only connect with them in mirth and come together as one, we also teach them an essential skill for life. We show them, albeit subtly, that most things that take up monumental space in our minds are a passing phase and largely insignificant in the greater flow of life.
Motherhood is often not embraced for what it is. It has been called a thankless job, a never-ending story, a toil that never ends. It bears the mantle of sacrificial lamb and epitomizes a weak resolve. In reality though, it is the most courageous role we will ever play and nurture the most critical relationship our child will ever form. Our role is not one that dreams a future in solitude and silence (as I once did), but one that inspires them to define their own, based on their deeply held values and authentic passions. Our role is not to see them in our own reflection but to honor differences and nurture bonds such that the relationship we craft is one of trust and compassion. For that is what true friendship is all about.