Peaceful parenting looks at children as growing human beings, fully worthy of respect. People have a great inborn sense of justice. Even young children want to feel respected, useful, valued and empowered. Very young children have precious little control over their lives. Eating, sleeping and potty training are almost all they control. It’s no surprise then that these are the very areas parents often have the most trouble. Tantrums in public places are also a great way to get attention.
If these are areas of struggle for you, view it as a blessing. Your child is trying to communicate with you by the only means they have. They are letting us know, something is off. Maybe we are not providing a good role for them to follow, maybe they need more predictability in their schedule, maybe they are overwhelmed, they may feel contradictory demands on them, or it could be that they are getting stressed by the very way we are trying to teach better behavior. It is relatively easy to figure these things out. The hard part is finding and implementing the solutions.
￼What I realized on this journey towards peaceful parenting was that my children were already everything I wanted them to be. They are little bundles of joy and love. They love themselves completely, they don’t judge their bodies or mine. They want to get along with others and they are amazingly adapt at expressing their emotions. I am the one with the hang ups and the inability to understand what they were telling me. I am the one causing the “problem behavior”. The issues with food, the screaming bedtimes indicated the areas I needed to work on, not them.
The battles for control we were having did not come from my children, they came from me. The issue at thebottom was my need to control them in the first place. They do not belong to me any more than I belong to my own mother. There is no magical point at which we finally get to be our own person. We our born ourselves. We simply invite these children in to share our lives and homes. We are blessed and honored when they do. When they arrive, they are so small and helpless. Their initial need for protection is easy to mistake for a need to be controlled.
￼It’s true, without support and guidance babies and children would not survive long. At the same time, we can learn to see them as something like highly intelligent beings from another universe, one in which every law is different than our own. They need us to provide them with enough food and protection to learn their new bodiesand their way around. As newcomers they also need to learn the local customs. At first they don’t understand the language so all they can do is mimic our actions. Once they begin to grasp language, they still have a long way to go before they will understand all the subtlety and nuance of talking about emotion. Often we have trouble getting ideas through to them, simply because we overestimate their understanding of language. For many years children will learn best when we give them a worthy example to imitate. Steiner’s advise on teaching through imaginative stories is also helpful for this reason.
If children arrive lacking empathy and a full understanding of our language, then rules and lectures may meansomething totally different for them. If their primary method for learning is mimicking, then what am I teaching my children? It isn’t about finding the right rules, structure or parenting method. Instead the true role of parenting is to model the sort of person I want my children to be. This is the essence of peaceful parenting for me.
I have to become the person I want my children to be. I must be worthy of their imitation.
￼It’s much easier to punish our children for the behavior we don’t like in ourselves. How many times have we screamed at our children to stop screaming? Perhaps this is the journey, not to create the ideal person in our child, but to become our own ideal. Looked at it this way I realized it is, in fact, my children who are teaching me. Everyday they hold up a nonjudgmental mirror for me. It’s a gift. I can either thank them or punish them for it. As they grow, their family, piers and children will hold up similar mirrors for them and they can choose for themselves.
Now I accept that I’ll continue to make mistakes and when I do, they will be quick to follow suit. I know they will make allowances for me as I try, fail and try again. They will not put me in time-out when I’ve had an overwhelming day and act out. They will forgive and love me all the same. I have so much to learn from my children.
￼Sure there are practical lessons we must teach them. Help we can offer to keep them healthy. Skills we canshare. It’s important to also remember the many lessons they offer us and the ways they can help us to unlearn our old outdated patterns. Admitting my first attempt was not working is not a failure and it will not hurt the children for me to change course. In fact it’s a better model of the sort of person I want to be, one who is not afraid to make mistakes, learn from them and do better.
I ask myself all the time: If I could not scold, shame, scare or discipline my children, how would I need to act or structure our days in order to get them to cooperate?
￼The Waldorf style of parenting and education is the perfect answer for me. It is totally in line with peacefulparenting, but with an even deeper understanding of the developing human before us. There is so much wisdom in setting a worthy example, meditation on and observation of ourselves and surroundings, daily and yearly rhythm, giving children and ourselves meaningful work, and weaving it all together with the deep human need for beauty and gratitude. It satisfies a deep longing in my soul.