Are we raising the kind of people we’d like to know?
I was recently gifted a book by a dear friend. Maybe she could tell I was struggling to maintain my sanity with the frequent tantrums and petulant demands of my two-and-a-half-year-old son, Jude, or maybe she wanted to pass on the wisdom she had inherited from its well-loved pages. I’m not sure, but I’m forever grateful I discovered Calm Parents, Happy Kids by Dr Laura Markham.
The book opens with a story of a father who is teaching his son to push a lawn mower. As they approach the end of the lawn and are about to turn, his wife calls out to ask a question. Meanwhile, the son pushes the mower straight through the father’s beloved flowerbed, leaving a two-foot-wide path. When the father saw what had happened, he lost it. His voice climbed to a semi-rage before his wife rushed to his side, placed a hand on his shoulder and said: “Please remember… we’re raising children, not flowers.”
Those words have remained tattooed to my brain ever since and have reminded me of the many times I’ve lost my cool with my son because he has taken the yoghurt out of the fridge and spread it across the kitchen floor, or pulled every piece of clothing out of his chest of drawers just after I’ve washed, dried, folded, and meticulously returned the contents of his wardrobe to where it belongs. Our reactions and subsequent behaviours directly inform those of our children, and so in those moments of frustration, we have to ask ourselves as parents: ‘Am I raising the kind of person I’d like to know?’
Dr Markham explains, “Your child will delight and exasperate you, thrill and annoy you. By accident, really, your child will ask you to grow, too. If you can notice when you’re triggered and restore your equilibrium before you take action, if you can soothe your own anxiety, if you can reflect on your own experience and make peace with it, you can raise happy, emotionally healthy children who are successful in every sense. You can become a calm parent, raising happy kids.”
Kate Benton is a pre- and postnatal counsellor at It Takes A Village on the Central Coast of NSW and a mother of four; Jax, nine, Alby, seven, Moby, five, and Pippin, two-and-a-half. When Alby arrived, it was the most challenging change for Kate as a mother. “I suffered from postnatal depression and really struggled emotionally. I ended up on medication and in counselling to help me cope. The whole experience is why I became a counsellor myself; to support and empower mums of all types – mums-to-be, mums who wish to be, new mums, second time mums, grandmums – to speak freely in both group and one-to-one sessions to clear a little of their hectic mental load.” The ‘load’ that Kate speaks of is unprecedented today as we juggle family life, professional careers and the overwhelming access to information, choices, and opinions from all corners of the world.
Kate describes her bustling home as complete and utter chaos most of the time as she and her husband James manage a pest control business, a counselling service and their vibrant children. “I don’t think that as a mum there’s ever been a day when I have felt like I’ve had it all together. That’s the biggest lesson I’ve learnt I think – there is no finish line, no end to the race. It’s every cliché you’ve ever heard about motherhood rolled into one emotional ride!”
When raising the kind of human you’d like to know, both Kate and Dr Markham attest that there are no perfect parents and no perfect children. It’s about recognising your own triggers, wounds and scars, which make you want to harden instead of responding to your child from a place of compassion. It’s about looking deeply into who you are, learning from your shortcomings and growing in emotional awareness.
“Children and teenagers rely on us to guide them in this big and confusing world. Unfortunately, our own childhood experiences and cultural messages [might] tell parents to guide with punishment, force and control. Instead of threatening or manipulating, we need to get to the root of your child’s behaviour – the feelings underneath it. When you nurture your child’s emotional intelligence, [they] can learn to manage their own emotions, and therefore their behaviour, which helps kids want to behave,” shares Dr Markham.
Kate adds: “I love being a mum, but I also feel it’s important to say that most days there are times when I don’t love being a mum. It’s both the most rewarding and stressful job out there. The pressure to raise decent, respectful boys and a strong, confident daughter is immense. Struggling through depression and anxiety while showing my kids vulnerability and strength is a daily challenge … In saying that, I wouldn’t have it any other way. We are very, very lucky and it’s important to be grateful, but it’s also important to acknowledge that it’s overwhelming at times. It’s important to feel all the things and not feel guilty!”
While penning this story, my family and I moved homes into a cottage on our friend’s five-acre property. Blissfully surrounded by nature’s bounty, the hard manual labour of packing up our life and then reimagining it within new walls while entertaining my boisterous son and listening to my pregnant body’s changing needs was exhausting to say the least. My triggers were brought front and centre and I realised I had a choice: give in to them or learn from them.
With my head buried deep in yet another parcel of our life packaged in a moving box, feeling overwhelmed and unequal to the task, I was interrupted by Jude’s hysterical laughter. When I looked up, he was joyfully rolling around on the grass with the butterflies. I decided to join him.
Words: Leah Davies
Photography of Kate and her family by Kendell Tyne