On Motherhood…

‘Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you,
They belong not to you.’
Kahlil Gibran (from The Prophet.)

Monday was my mother’s 80th birthday. So, this week seems to me like a very apt time to celebrate her life so far (she’s a very fit, capable and youthful octagenarian) and to honour the process of motherhood by writing something about it.

Reflecting on my childhood, my role as a parent to my 2 sons,  and both the coaching and group work I do, I have been struck by how similar ‘mothering’ is to ‘facilitation’ for me.  My mother’s approach to motherhood in my early years was quite liberal for the time, and in many ways I have followed and built on this.  I’m not a disciplinarian and concur with Alfie Kohn   on the futility of punishment and reward schemes. I much prefer to talk things through, value opinions and find common preferences. Even when my sons were very young, my intention  was usually to ask them what they thought about things that were going on in their lives and what they’d like to see happen.

Actually, I was fascinated by them and their development, so found being their mother quite an adventure and definitely an interesting learning experience, as well as very challenging at times too. Acting from my ‘ultra-curious scientist’, I researched child development, education theory, child health, parenting styles etc enthusiastically. And acting from a more nurturing dimension, I sought to connect with them emotionally and spiritually and to provide plenty of the reassurances that all was well that I believe I also enjoyed as a child.

Sadly, I didn’t always succeed in these endeavours and my patience, in particular, often has not lived up to the example set by my mother.  As for many parents, childhood conditioning, stress and plain fatigue often got in the way of achieving the type of family life I aspired to.  My offspring are now past childhood and, having grieved the loss of this unique part of my life as a mother of children, I’m beginning to acknowledge the opportunity that still exists for me to continue enjoying  ‘ motherhood’ through ‘facilitation.’

I mentioned the similarities I’ve been noticing between these 2 and here’s what I’ve come to realise, so far, are some of the skills that for me can be applied to both:

•    allowing exploration and mishaps and being there to hold a safe space
•    nurturing talents and innate gifts where I become aware of them
•    modelling useful skills, practical and personal, as far as I’m currently able
•    asking questions to encourage reflection and also in order to learn from them
•    asking for opinions, wishes, preferences, aspirations, insights and inspiration.
•    being respectful of  human rights and birthrights
•    using my intuition and insight, where I’m able, in providing guidance appropriate to the situation
•    watching my assumptions around prior understanding, intelligence and life experience
•    watching my expectations and letting go of them.
•    being ‘real’, open and honest.
•    allowing my vulnerability, allowing myself to be guided, to be humble and to value ‘not knowing’.
•    remembering there’s plenty of time: time to play, to experiment, to make mistakes, to chill, to heal, to take time out, to be spontaneous.
•    requesting agreement, assistance, sharing of responsibility for plans made together. Owning responsibility where I decide the plan.
•    responding to the needs of the individual and asking for them to be made explicit.
•    meeting others where they are and offering guidance and leadership where appropriate.
•    educating and developing myself on the journey. Attending to my personal and spiritual growth as a priority.

As parents and/or facilitators in a transforming world, what do you think is important? Where do your priorities lie and what skills do you deem to be essential?

Thanks for triggering the reflections… and Happy Birthday, Mum!

6 Responses to On Motherhood…

  1. Liz Layton November 30, 2012 at 9:09 am #

    Happy Birthday to your Mum!

    Thank you for sharing these wonderful reflections. Parenting isn’t easy for sure,no one gives you a handbook with all the answers and how well you develop as a parent and as a person depends on many factors, not least your own child-hood experiences.

    I think for me my first child has been the most eye opening. She didn’t have the best of starts (I was married to an abusive man) she presented us that is, me, my husband (her step-dad) sister and wider family with many many challenges. She is 16 now and it’s just a few months before she goes off to college. For us parenting has been an ever ongoing learning process, there have been many different approaches and many times we’ve taken advice from those who ‘know better’ and it was the wrong advice or at least didn’t work for us.

    This is what we know works, and it’s often the ‘long-way round’ – compassion. That’s pretty much it. And trust your own intuition. But in that is a real connection, patience, tolerance, ability to truly listen, No matter how upset you are, no matter how horribly hurt you feel, or when they refuse to listen. Reward and punishment does not work.Or if it does, it’s only short term and the change is superficial.

    The hard work is in the trusting that this way of parenting works, being patient and trusting. The hard work is in knowing that they will still fall down despite your best efforts, but that in compassion the child is never spurned or ridiculed for their mistakes. The hard work is that sometimes as a parent you don’t always get it right and you act in a way completely opposite to how you want to deal with that situation. Worldly worries, stress etc can do that to you. But I’ve learned to forgive myself because this is pretty much a universal experience and actually contrary to popular belief, allowing your child to see that sometimes you are wrong and that it’s o.k. to make mistakes and work through them is a positive experience. With the best will in the world we are not infallible.

    My second child has been more fortunate in having a much more settled upbringing and the benefit of experienced parenting and it really does show. But saying that, my eldest also benefits from how we parent now, it’s never too late. And she’ll need a good deal more of our love and guidance yet. At the moment she is kicking against us again, asserting her individuality, getting ready to fly the nest. This as a Mum has been the hardest task of all, learning to let go. Which is why your Gibran quote is so pertinent!

    On a wider scale I truly believe in inclusiveness, restorative justice, compassion. Empathy is key. Learning to listen is a skill, it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. And although challenging, non-violent communication.

    Sure fear and retribution may make a person comply, but doing something out of survival rather than a free and informed choice is completely different. We tell our children not to be violent, yet we shout at them,punish them and even smack them. We promote war, allow tanks in schools. Allow quite unnecessarily, poverty in our streets – the worst form of violence according to Gandhi. No wonder they have no respect, children are very good at spotting hypocrites.

    What’s the message children are receiving at the moment? I don’t think it’s a good or healthy one. The world we wish to create will be modelled on ourselves, our attitudes and how we pass them on to our young. Surely, what we would like to see are children who turn into adults full of confidence, compassion, enquiring minds, able to think outside the box, and who understand how to show empathy to those around them including our environment and all life. Respect isn’t fear, respect is understanding that you know who you are and where you fit into this world, a part of it, not separate or outside it.

  2. Claire Harrison December 3, 2012 at 12:17 pm #

    Thanks for the reflection on motherhood from both Sally and Liz (in recent comment). I haven’t had direct experience parenting children, but was reminded of my recent five week experience acting as live-in carer for my 87 year old mother.

    A neat, interesting twist on motherhood which seemed to call on many of the facilitation skills explored in the article.

    I was challenged to meet her where she was (while tempted to feel impatient that she couldn’t operate as “efficiently” as before).

    I was reluctant to allow her mishaps (doing my best to prevent any fall, bruise, knock, slip and noticing how uptight my own body became with this regime)

    I enjoyed being there to hold a safe space (especially when I tucked her up in bed, kissed her goodnight and said I’d see her in the morning)

    I valued having the opportunity to ask questions to encourage reflection (particularly checking how she was feeling as the move to a residential home drew nearer)

    I did my best to meet her where she was (particularly noticed how tempted I was to want her physical ability and mental agility to be “better”)

    I asked for her preferences (and found she wanted to hand over many decisions to me which made the experience easier and left me wondering whether my routine was truly supportive)

    I watched my assumptions (specially around how I’d experienced her for most of my life…could I allow her to be different?)

    I experienced the tender challenge of letting go (she looked after me, I’ve looked after her…time now to release control and hand over to another set of carers)

    Mothering children, mothering mothers. Wheels they keep on turning…

  3. Sally December 7, 2012 at 11:45 am #

    Hi Liz – Interesting how these parenting patterns get transmitted from one generation to another and how varied the experiences and responses of siblings. And I’d like to add a resounding YES to compassion, intuition, connection and all of those wonderful qualities you describe. Trut and forgiveness seem crucial to me too and as you say, for oneself first. it can be a real challenge, I think to encourage these values when the messages children receive from the world around them are often contrary to that. I suspect that when that happens, though, a child who knows to trust their intuition is likely to at least question what they see, hear, feel from others when it doesn’t feel in alignment with who they believe themselves to be.

  4. Sally December 7, 2012 at 11:53 am #

    Hi Claire – It never ceases to amaze me the ways in which cycles of all shapes and sizes show up in my life. Your example of that great turning from ‘cared for’ to ‘carer’ sounds like a very tricky one to navigate and I appreciate your courage and vulnerability in sharing how you’ve been approaching it. You used the phrase ‘tender challenge’ (love that!) and that about sums it up for me.

  5. Jamie December 18, 2012 at 10:03 pm #

    Hi Sally,
    As always, your blog is very thoughtful. The part about a safe space…

    As you can see in the news, we have some sad things going on here in the US. The Newtown CT is about 1,200 miles from where I live, but just today I see this in the local news… a school a half mile form my house. One of my daughters plays soccer across the street from school this 3 times a week. http://templeterrace.patch.com/articles/bullets-found-on-greco-bus

    We are basically awash in weapons and 50% of the citizens are putting some kind of “right” above common sense.

    It is a BIG issue here now, and think finally some kind of sane discussion has to take place. Either that, or this country implodes on itself. I hope you can post something that could help people have a real open discussion.
    Peace and Merry Christmas,
    Jamie

  6. Sally December 19, 2012 at 3:51 pm #

    Hi Jamie,

    I wonder what it would take to create a safe space for the sane discussion you describe, for all those taking part to feel heard and respected.

    I sense a quite profound conflict of demands in this issue. Also a lot of fear. As a parent, one of my greatest fears would be losing my children… and I can do my best to protect, support and educate them, but ultimately I’m not in control. I can also imagine that someone who has lived in a country with the right to bear arms and who has maybe grown up with that right as a given, would be very fearful of having that right taken away, for fear of being killed themselves – again fear of lack of control.

    Underneath the shared fear, I imagine the needs for autonomy, trust, safety (and maybe others…) and that these needs too are shared.

    I sincerely hope that US citizens will find a way to touch the source of this dilemma – the unmet human needs – and find a peaceful way to its resolution..

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