Many of the emotional troubles which plague people in later life have their roots in childhood. Many parents do not realize how vital it is that our children be treated gently and respectfully from the moment they are born. Many parents believe that their children are little blank canvases, like lumps of clay that they must mold into productive human beings. But this is not the case.
Your children are already productive human beings from the moment they are born. It's not your job to mold or make them into anything. Your only job is to support them and keep them safe while they are exploring and deciding who and what they want to be.
As we have talked about on many previous pages on this website and on our blog, our expectations are what cause us pain and suffering. Parents have many unrealistic expectations where children are concerned, passed down to them from their parents, friends, relatives, spiritual leaders and yes, even childrearing "experts." As we always do with The Work, we should apply the Four Questions to every expectation we have about childrearing. Before we subject our children to a particular parenting strategy, we should ask ourselves, "Is it true? Can you absolutely know that it's true?"
For example, "Babies should not be picked up all the time when they cry because they will become spoiled." Is it true? Can you absolutely know that it's true?
What proof do you have that this is true? Isn't it more likely that you've heard this from someone else and it just sounds like a plausible idea? Research in the area of childrearing has proved this to be untrue. Nevertheless, you may be unwilling to give up the idea.
What is your definition of "spoiled?" You probably mean a child that whines and cries all the time and can't be consoled. A child that wants his own way all the time.
Research has shown that a child who is picked up when he cries actually cries less than children who are left to console themselves. They learn that they are a person who is valued and whose needs are taken seriously and they usually learn to self-sooth when they are emotionally mature enough to do so. Expecting a child to self-sooth at such a young age is an unrealistic expectation. If you expect that, you will always be disappointed because babies aren't wired for self-soothing. Not at such a young age.
Evolution has made sure that parents will pick up babies by making the baby's cry irritating enough that you will want to stop it at any cost. If you ignore the initial cries, the cries escalate until you get more and more angry with the crying infant and then act out of that anger rather in the best interest of the child. Both you and the child are better off if you pick them up right away.
But let's take a specific incident. Remember a time when your child was crying in their bed. You wanted to go and pick them up, but you have been told not to, that you'll be spoiling your baby. But you feel like a bad parent for making them cry alone, and you'll feel like a bad parent if you pick them up because of all the thoughts you hear replaying in your head from other people. No matter what you do, you feel like a bad parent.
Let's test the thought "I am a bad parent for picking up my child." Is it true? Can you absolutely know that it's true?
How do you react when you think the thought? What do you feel? Shame, blame, confusion, sadness, frustration? Pretty stressful, no? Now, who would you be without that thought? If that thought was not available for you to think, how would you feel when you child cries? What would you do?
Without the thought that you are a bad parent, you would probably do what your heart told you to do, which is pick up your child. Can you think of one good reason to keep that thought? One stress-free, pain-free reason? I can't. The only reason I can think of is to please somebody else, probably somebody who's not even there in the room with you. Why does it matter what they think? This is about you and your child, nobody else.
"Well, if I do pick up my child, then I'll hear complaints from my spouse, mother, friend, etc." Well, then let's fill in a Judge Your Neighbor Worksheet on that, and apply the Four Questions to it. You can question and drop those thoughts just as easily as any other ones.
So if you drop that thought, "I am a bad parent if I pick up my child," and if you pick up your child, what do you feel in that moment? Do you experience a feeling of relief? Then that's how you know you did the right thing. Our emotions are our internal guidance system. They always let us know if we're going the right or wrong way. Right or wrong for us, that is. Our decisions apply to us and no one else.
The work is designed to help us drop stressful or painful thoughts so that we can experience happiness and peace. Use the Judge Your Neighbor Worksheet, and the Four Questions and Turnarounds to help you figure out which thoughts are untrue and are causing you stress. Only untrue thoughts cause you stress.
Our children have emotions. They have the need to express these emotions. This expression is good. Crying is not a bad thing, but your child needs to know you are there for them while they are crying. They need to not feel abandoned by you. They don't want to cry alone.
No expression of a child's emotions is ever a bad thing. Not even anger, sadness, or tantrums. They are learning to express themselves and don't yet have the words or understand the concepts to express themselves any other way. If they feel chastised for trying to express themselves, what recourse do they have? This will only cause worse problems for them later on if these emotions are repressed. Everyone needs to feel heard and validated.
I highly recommend the work of Dr. Aletha Solter of the Aware Parenting Institute. Her books will never steer you wrong.
I suggest you apply the Four Questions and Turnarounds to all your parenting beliefs.
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