Why parenting should be – Me first!

What if good parenting was not about children?

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Overwhelmed, is probably how I would describe most of the parents I know.

We say it takes a village, and it does, but for some reason, very often, the village is highly depopulated.

As a result for parents, lack of sleep, lack of time – a great combination to create slaves of ourselves. Kids are pretty good dictators, but I don’t blame them, they don’t do anything but be children. We are our own tormentors, we are the consenting victims. Why? Because most of the time our actions are led by fear. The fear of not giving enough, not doing enough.

We all want to offer our children the best, but what is the best? Being with them the most, giving them the opportunity to learn as many disciplines as possible?

The best might not be what we think it is. What if the best wouldn’t have anything to do with our children, but with our own selves.

Self-reflection is the first key

I have dedicated the last two years of my life collecting information to make a film about children’s brain development, BRAINIOUS, for a better understanding of how to shape a healthy young brain. What I learned from this project changed me deeply.

The trigger was a sentence from Dr. Dan Siegel’s book The Neurobiology of We: How Relationships, the Mind, and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are.

Dan Siegel explains that The best predictor of how a child turns out, is not what happened to a parent, but how the parent made sense of what happened to him/her. So whatever your past is, if you don’t reevaluate it in your present, you might miss something crucial for your children.

When I met Dan Siegel a few months later he told me the best advice he can give to any parent is “Start by self-understanding”.

Accordingly, I started to think about what had imprinted my own brain as a child. I became a master at observing my own programming in my parenting and how I was reproducing the unconscious patterns that I have been raised with. Obviously, not necessarily only the most constructive ones… From that point my parenting started to change, I feel, for the best.

For example, I realized that praising the talents of my children was detrimental to their abilities to react to errors, so I changed my habits. I don’t say: “Wow, you are so good at that” anymore, but now say, “Wow you made so much progress”. And I can tell you, positive outcomes are visible after only a few short months, rewiring is in progress! Luckily for imperfect parents, the child’s brain is very elastic.

The importance of your internal state.

I learned that our brains resonate with one another, thus as parents, no matter how long we spend with our children, whatever we do with them, above all, what really counts is the way we feel, because they can feel it too and make associations in their young brains. Let’s say you take the time to put them to bed every night, reading stories and even staying with them until they fall asleep. If inside you are stressed, concerned about your work or anything else, you can be sure that your child’s brain will encode bedtime with stress. Not, of course, if it only happens once in a while.

Hence, it is not an option to be in a constant survival mode, for our children’s sake. I am not suggesting parents should be selfish, I am suggesting it’s exactly like being in the airplane, put your oxygen mask on first and then take care of the passenger next to you.

If we parent in survival mode we will have survivor kids. In other words, traumatized children, just because we haven’t been wise enough as parents to take our own stresses seriously and recognize how it affects our children.

I remember Michelle Kinder, CEO of a very inspiring school in Dallas “Momentous Insitute” telling me “You can only give what you have” referring the way her staff was trained to take a good care of themselves first. The teachers I met there are grown ups you are happy to have around because you feel safe with them. You can feel they are solid, connected to their core. You can even see it in their posture. They are open, open to give and to receive.

Modeling is the best way to teach

I have been raised with the sentence “Don’t do what I do, Do what I say”. And as my parents could tell you, it doesn’t work. Children do what their parents do, not what they say. “The child’s brain is an imitation machine, never lose your temper”, Marco Iacoboni, a neuroscientist expert in mirror neurons, once told me. Imitation is crucial for children, we have to extremely be aware of it. Children create circuits in their brains from witnessing behaviors.

If we use this ability to imitate in a clever way it can be very powerful. Susan Kaiser Greenland, an expert of mindfulness for children, explained to me that the most efficient way to implement mindfulness in classrooms wasn’t to host a class for kids but to train the staff… No need to teach, just show, just be and the children will learn.

A few years ago I told my son a famous quote from Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in the world”.

He answered I don’t understand, Mom. I did my best to explain it to him, but I could see he didn’t get the point.

A few days ago he told me he has decided to stop needling his sister in order to make her change her behavior and as a result, he got more peace. Also, he suggested to his friend, whose mother has a pretty strong No Brain, to say Yes to everything she was asking, and intended to convince him that this way his mother might be more willing to say yes more.

I was pretty happy and proud to witness this shift in this 7 years old boy, but the reality is, that what I was witnessing was actually the shift happening in the 39-year-old me. Even if, intellectually, I took this great Indian’s wisdom as a true fact for years, I wasn’t applying it until recently.

If we look it from another point of view, we can consider our children as our best teachers. What we see in them, what bothers us in them, are often things that are still not aligned in us. If we take it as a game of improvement, parenting could be less stressful, so long as you are indulgent with yourself of course.

Why wandering is not a waste of time.

Taking time to wander as a parent is important. I don’t mean go to the spa, I mean really doing nothing. When you are absolutely idle, your brain turns to what neuroscience calls Default Mode. In that state, contrary to a common belief, the brain is highly active, much more than if you were solving a math problem.

Default mode happens when you are completely disengaged, just you and you. It’s in this state that you can really think about who you are, and what you want to be.

It’s the opportunity to think about your values, some ethical questions, and above all to find and follow your dharma, what really makes you happy and fulfilled.

If we want our children to thrive, we have to thrive first!

Now you have plenty of good rational and scientifically proved reasons to prioritize your own growth and well-being, no more excuses! Try the Me First parenting style.

You can watch BRAINIOUS online here

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