My daughter turned 18 last March. This fall she headed off to college and has embarked on her own life adventure. As I look back, I realize… I didn’t raise a child; we raised ourselves together.
These past 18 years have been a learning journey on which we have traveled side by side. Very early on, I discovered that when I tried to focus on her and guiding her behavior, I failed miserably. But when I focused on fixing my own behavior, my daughter did just fine. It took me awhile, but I gradually learned that when my toddler was misbehaving, I had to look at myself and figure out what my own issue was and resolve it.
My grandmother often told the story of when she was a young mother and had a really awful day: the baby was fussy, the six-year-old was cranky, everyone was miserable. So she took the baby and gave him a nice, warm bath. That didn’t help. So she gave the six-year-old a warm bath. That didn’t help either. So she took a warm bath. Then everyone was happy.
That story stayed with me as a parent and I’m so grateful to Gramma for her wisdom. I discovered that the real work of parenting is not so much raising the kids, but tackling my own issues head on. Invariably, whenever I was embroiled with some internal conflict, I saw it play out in my youngster’s behavior. And when I put the inner effort into resolving that conflict, my child’s behavior miraculously improved. Talk about incentive! Phew! Getting a double dose of success for the effort was an amazing motivator. And it’s a good thing too, because I had a lot of internal housekeeping to do—clearing out old anger, healing old pain, letting go of old beliefs that had outworn their usefulness.
It’s hard work, becoming conscious. But the rewards are tremendous. Not just for me, but for my child as well. All the work I do on myself is work she doesn’t have to deal with. She starts life that much further along the path.
And then you get these amazing, unexpected treasures. Like when she turns around and encourages me! Sometimes I think she’s the one who raised me. She has definitely been my most effective teacher. And I’m grateful for every moment of it.