As a parent, I find myself questioning my behaviors, my approach and my decisions on a daily basis. Was that the right way to respond to my daughter’s temper tantrum? Is it a bad idea to let my child eat her dinner on the couch while watching a movie? Am I a horrible mother because it has been two days since I gave my 13-month-old a bath? Is this non-organic apple I bought going to negatively affect my child’s development?
I reach a point in my role as mother where I have to just STOP and tell myself that enough is enough. My overactive brain and my inherent desire to provide the best, be the best and create the best for my children causes more stress and anxiety than anything else. Constant self-criticism and self-questioning becomes a catalyst for negative thoughts and feelings to build up inside. It just isn’t worth it.
As a result of wanting to let go of this cycle of self-sabotage, I began to focus on the concept of acceptance and its many intriguing facets.
Acceptance is defined as: consenting to receive, to undertake something offered or the process of being received as adequate or suitable.
I want to explore some branches that compose the full meaning of acceptance and how these concepts apply to parenting.
As parents, adopting a mindful perspective of self-acceptance is one of the greatest gifts we can give to both ourselves and to our children. Learning to let go of whatever images or ideals we are holding onto that make us think we have to strive for perfection is a process that can ultimately generate a calmer, more genuine family dynamic.
Self-acceptance is a daily practice that we can cultivate by becoming mindful of how we criticize ourselves or how we self-judge. Notice the moments throughout your day when you feel guilty or ashamed for something about yourself or your life. Notice your critical self-talk and do your best to stop, breathe and replace the self-critical thinking with positive reinforcement. Develop a personal mantra that you can silently repeat to yourself in your mind in moments of self-judgment or self-doubt. I like to repeat in my mind: “You are okay. I love you for who you are. Everything is working out the way it’s intended.”
Acceptance of Situations
Raising children in our modern culture puts constant pressure on us as parents. We can do our best to maintain control over our lives, the structure and ideals of our family, the ins-and-outs of our day to day existence. Nevertheless, life is inherently full of unpredictable occurrences and the course of our lives can take sudden turns for which we are not always prepared.
When we try our best to be more accepting of all of life’s situations – the ups, the downs and the sporadic elements of surprise – we open ourselves to a more flexible way of thinking and experiencing all that life has to offer. Accepting everything that life throws our way is not an easy task. But again, it is a process that we can integrate into our daily routines to help alleviate excess stress and guide us to a calmer state of existence. Even something as simple as choosing not to react in a negative way the next time your child accidentally spills a full glass of grape juice all over the carpet is a step in the right direction. Or, accepting that you have a flat tire when you go out to your car in the morning to take the kids to school. By accepting that what is just IS, we open a pathway to moving on to the next step of our day.
Acceptance of Others
For me, this is the most challenging form of acceptance. I struggle every day with my efforts to accept others and their behaviors. On a personal level, it is easier for me to accept disagreeable characteristics and behaviors of loved ones as opposed to complete strangers or people I am not close with. My guess is that this is often the case with everyone, not just me!
However, I remind myself on a daily basis that learning to accept that people are who they are and that we will always come up against behaviors or attitudes we do not understand and we feel repelled by is the only way to lessen my own struggle. This does not mean that I have to agree with behaviors or attitudes that offend me. The daily practice is to simply move on from these challenging interactions with others and do my best to focus on the positive relationships I cultivate in my life.
Choosing to react to other people in a way that demonstrates self-control provides a healthy model of behavior for your children. As I mentioned already, we do not have to go around every day pretending to like everybody in the world. We do have the choice, however, to exhibit mature responses to adverse interactions with others. Your children are constantly absorbing the way you handle yourself in social situations. By providing a model that emphasizes acceptance of others, we teach our children to develop open minds and open hearts.