We’ve celebrated mothers. We’ve celebrated fathers. And parents deserve the honors–believe me, I know how challenging a job it can be (in my case, times four!).
Yet the parent we often need the most isn’t “out there.” Rather, it’s the parent within ourselves–the one that’s been with us through every bump, bruise, and victory. This is the “inner parent” who tells us to keep on when we feel like giving up. The one who, when we’re tempted to binge Netflix until 3 a.m. or stock up on (yet more) junk food, steps in to tell us to do the right thing.
Sometimes we listen. Sometimes we don’t. But I’m here to tell you that your inner parent deserves some respect. And it, like a car or a body, sometimes requires an occasional tune-up, too!
Where to begin? Research in social science has shown that the most effective parenting style–one that tends to produce happier, more well-adjusted and purpose-driven children–combines high expectations with equally high responsiveness, support, and nurturing. So what does this look like from a self-parenting perspective?
Here are four tips to help your inner parent bring out the best in you:
1) Establish (Reasonable and Kind) Rules and Expectations for Yourself.
Studies suggest that high parental expectations can be healthy–as long as they are reasonable and are kept in balance with the other elements. After all, if it weren’t for a measure of expectations, how could we strive or define our purpose in the world? We couldn’t.
Start by taking a look at areas in your life that can use more direction. Are you lacking in sleep or proper exercise? Are you trying to juggle too many things without taking care of yourself? Time for some parental intervention! You can make specific rules, such as, I will work in more steps each day by avoiding the elevator, or Lights out at 11 p.m. on weekdays, no exceptions! Or you can think more broadly–for instance, deciding to eat more mindfully or to add yoga to your fitness routine.
On the other side of the coin, ask yourself whether you are doing less–or aiming for less–than you know you can take on. Doing so can leave you feeling “less than,” which can perpetuate into more self-defeating thinking and behavior. Address any negative self-talk and get to the root of where it’s coming from. Practice turning negatives into positives: I can… I believe… I am worthy. Because you will, and you are! And it’s up to you to see it all through.
2) LISTEN to Your Inner Voice.
Good parents are good listeners. If, for instance, a child is feeling anxious, stressed, or overtaxed, a good parent doesn’t just say, “Oh, well, get over it.” The parent will encourage the child to explore where these feelings are coming from. Is there a “culprit” causing all the anxiety? Being responsive means tuning in to the inner parts of ourselves that often get drowned out by everything and everyone else.
Take time for a “state of the union” scan of all the major areas of your life: your relationships, your job, and your general sense of being. Which areas feel good? Which need attention? If you allow yourself to stew in misery over anything, you are not listening to your own truth. If you go to a job every day and come home feeling unfulfilled, again–you are not listening to or honoring yourself.
This week, pay attention to those places that feel “off,” and take steps towards righting those imbalances. Get support where you need it… solicit communication where it’s warranted… really HEAR the messages that your mind, heart, and spirit are telling you. They are your wisest advisors of all.
3) Make Time to Simply BE.
There’s a reason for recess. And playdates. And parks with swings and sand pits. PLAY is not only important to all children from an entertainment perspective; it’s also essential for inner growth. According to biological anthropologist Dr. Gwen DeWar, “Play and exploration lead to neurogenesis – the birth of new brain cells – in the part of the hippocampus that plays a key role in learning and memory.”
Through play, we discover, unimpeded. Play lets us connect with our own rhythms and be in the moment–away from the pressures we often feel to produce or be “on” for the world. And that can do wonders for every other part of our lives!
Similarly beneficial is the practice of “non-time”–which is play’s less interactive cousin. To illustrate: Some of Albert Einstein’s best ideas came to him while bobbing silently in his sailboat. Steve Jobs came upon some of his most revolutionary breakthroughs while mindlessly daydreaming. The lesson? The luxury of boredom is far from a waste of time. Instead, it opens us to a TASTE of time!
Don’t believe me? Try scheduling “play” or “non-time” into your busy week. You never know what magic it might bring!
4) Embrace Change and Cultivate a Growth Mindset.
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus remarked on how the only constant in our lives is change. This is something every parent can verify–since, over the years, we’ve witnessed our children morphing into many a creature (some more charming than others!). That said, as a self-professed change junkie, I’ve welcomed them all. Trying to fight change is a recipe for a stodgy, stifled life. So why not face it, embrace it, and make it work for you? Change–whether good or challenging–always holds a blessing!
And it almost always involves mistakes. Trust me, I faced major fear–and more than a few slip-ups–on my journey from being a speaking-shy girl to teaching and lecturing internationally. Sure, there were growing pains… but from that space, I welcomed them!
Because those less-than-lustrous deliveries helped me become more skillful, confident, and eloquent (on my best days!).
Kabbalah teaches that the only way to fulfillment and growth is through unwavering effort. There are no shortcuts to wisdom, no back-alley gate to mastery. The only way to become who we want to be is to allow ourselves to experience things, make mistakes, and try again until we get it right.
When asked about his less-than-successful experiments, Thomas Edison replied, “I have not failed; I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” I encourage you to not only accept your mistakes, but to be grateful for the growth they bring!
Finally, in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Love and Belonging are fundamental to reaching self-actualization. As you embark on your self-parenting adventure, know that it’s never too late (or too soon!) to foster your sense of self-love. Because when you’re parenting yourself, you can be the “dream parent” you always wanted. YOU get to decide.
So start now… from right where you are. Make some great decisions today! As the wise Kabbalist Hillel the Elder once said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?”