I can hear your eye roll.
It seems that there are as many parenting styles – systems, beliefs, methods, strategies – as there are people in this world. And every parent swears by their chosen style, often to the point that they can’t understand why other parents would choose to do anything different.
But the truth is, every parent needs to find a style of parenting that feels right to them – that feels…authentic.
So what is authentic parenting?
Authentic parenting is not a term coined by psychologists. Nor is it even a mainstream style of parenting. Instead, it is an idea I came up with after being frustrated with the trendy parenting styles of our times. They all seem to ignore one major factor of the parenting relationship: you are a human.
Recently, my social media feed has been full of posts about gentle, positive, responsive, and respectful parenting. I’ve found the language provided in some posts to be helpful when engaging in a difficult conversation with my 9-year-old. Most times, though, the posts leave me feeling down about my parenting.
These other parenting strategies seem to expect that as your child is having a massive tantrum, that you, as a human, will be able to remain calm, and gently talk them through their emotions. Or, when you’re rushing to get out the door for an important meeting and your child just won’t put on her shoes, that you will be able to calmly sit with them to talk through what is standing in the way of their following through.
I’ve got news for you: parenting doesn’t work that way.
Parenting is repeating yourself four-thousand times before your child listens. It’s deep breathing your way through a child’s meltdown, attempting to avoid lashing out at your kid out of frustration. Parenting can be like trying to nail jello to a tree.
Rather than try to mask our frustration and transform ourselves into a Zen-like yogi not phased by anything, authentic parenting is about being real. It is showing your full range of emotions and allowing your child to see you process them. It’s a combination of gentle and respectful parenting with conscious parenting – parenting that calls us to be mindful and present.
We can be mindful and present in our parenting, but also have a mommy meltdown.
The two parts of authentic parenting
Authentic parenting has two parts: authentic parents and authentic children.
Being an authentic parent is about being who you are at your core. I promise you, you are not the raging, exhausted and irritated by everyone and everything mother that you’ve been as of late. I doubt that when you first started your parenting journey, that you dreamed of being the mother who screams, bribes, manipulates, does absolutely anything to get your child to listen to you.
Being authentic means that you’ve done the inner work to discover what that means to you. It means taking time to analyze your “programming” – the messages you received as a child that dictate your actions today – and deciding what stays and what you want to get rid of. Being an authentic parent means that you show up in a way that feels true and real to you.
When our children are infants, we, as parents, spend our waking moments learning our child. We listen closely to decipher their cries. Is it hunger? Are they tired? Need to change position? When we discover something that causes that sweet baby giggle, we repeat it over and over again just to see that gummy smile and hear that sweet sound of baby laughter.
We wouldn’t do a thing to change that precious little baby. And yet, when our children become toddlers and school-aged, we start to impose our ideas onto them. We buy them the clothes that we want them to wear and enroll them in the sports we want them to play. We have an idea of who we want our children to be, and we parent in a way that influences who our child becomes.
Authentic parenting is about recognizing who our children are at their core and encouraging that growth – even when who they are does not align with the ideas we have in our heads. It is about creating a safe space at home for our children to be their true selves – to be their quirky, weird, silly, carefree, natural self, without the fear of judgement.
Home is where our children should be able to experiment with who they are and discover their inner knowing. We must always be their safe space, and that means giving them the room to explore and develop into who they are meant to be – not who we want them to be.
Tough Days Ahead
But being authentic also means that you will have hard days. You will have days when you just aren’t feeling being a parent, and yet must continue to show up. You may be grumpy, irritable, preoccupied with a project at work, or just exhausted. These are the days when it feels impossible to parent, and usually the days when our children are the most difficult. We will struggle to remain in control of our emotions, and we will snap. It happens.
It is important for our children to experience us during these days. We are not ruining our children. In fact, I believe that by allowing our children to see that we are having a tough time, we are helping them to understand what being a human is all about. Our children need to see us grapple with challenging emotions, the fallout from emotion overload, and how to pick ourselves back up.
Even when we aren’t being gentle or positive, we are being real.
At the end of the day, authentic parenting is about connection. It helps you to connect with your child in a way that is true to your unconditioned inner self while respecting their unconditioned inner self. It is about understanding yourself, your triggers, and your inner knowing so that when real life shows up, you are better equipped to manage your own emotions while demonstrating for your children what being a human is all about.
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