I think much of the inability to teach others how to respect you stems from a confusion as to what our needs really are or where boundaries should be. How can one achieve that kind of clarity? How does one teach others when one often cannot articulate one’s needs to oneself?
What an insightful comment on my last post! Yes, this is completely true – so often we don’t know what we want and therefore we can’t communicate it to another person.
The six foundational principles of my Leadership Parenting approach are:
Connection, Compassion, Clarity, Courage, Calm and Correction
Every one of these are critical in parenting effectively.
Let’s talk a bit about clarity. Very, very often when parents ask me questions about how to handle different situations, I’ll ask them what they want. “What is your goal in the situation? How would you like this to play out? What do you really want?”
That might seem simple, but knowing what you want often isn’t simple at all.
I recently had my first Supernanny stint, when I went into the home of clients to watch their family dynamics and see firsthand what was happening. During our session that followed, I told the mother that she wasn’t clearly communicating to her child what she wanted of him. In the privacy of my office, I was able to ask, “What do you want?”
She explained and explained and explained, and I finally told her: “I’m a mature adult sitting here listening to everything you’re saying, and I still don’t know what you want! We can’t expect a child to be able to figure it out – we have to make it easy for him!”
You know why it wasn’t clear to her child or to me? Because it wasn’t clear to her!
It’s okay not to have clarity. It’s not a moral failing. It’s understandable to feel ambivalent and have conflicting feelings about what you want. But lack of clarity can lead to unnecessary pain and frustration in our lives. To get the most out of life, you need to be able to clearly articulate to yourself what you really want.
Why is it so hard to get clarity?
- Sometimes we’re afraid to admit to ourselves what we want. It feels too big, too unreasonable, too hard to attain. So we readjust what we want to what we think we can have, and then we tell ourselves that’s what we want. However, there’s often a residual niggling discomfort that remains of the subordinated original desire that will keep poking at you.
- Sometimes the lack of clarity is because you’re living life based on what others expect of you and doing what everyone else does.
- Another reason for the lack of clarity comes from having competing agendas – for example, someone who wants to be a stay at home mom and also wants career success. I recently experienced a conflict of competing agendas, which I shared at a seminar with the person leading the sessions. His feedback was that I have to be honest with myself. That was not the answer I wanted to hear. I felt like screaming in frustration when he gave me that answer, because (I thought) I was being honest with myself and that’s why I felt conflicted!
But when I thought it over afterwards and didn’t feel so defensive, I realized he was right. There was something I was saying that I wanted because I felt I should want that – and part of me really did want it and felt excited at the thought of taking on that role – but there was something else that I wanted more which I was giving my available life energy to.
Don’t be afraid to ask yourself, “What do I really want?”
To tune into the answer, choose a quiet place when you can be alone with your thoughts. It can be helpful to lie down with some beautiful relaxing music playing in the background, or to sit outside in nature. I like sitting in my garden – you don’t have to go far from home! The main thing is that it feels peaceful to you.
Take some deep breaths and try to quiet your mind.
When I start this process, I initially get mental noise, like the static when you’re not tuned into an official radio station. “I don’t know what I want! I want this and this and this and I can’t have it and it’s to much and I’m completely overwhelmed!!!!” While I consciously may say I want clarity, there’s part of me that likes being able to be ambivalent because then I don’t have to change anything I’m doing. But if I keep sitting with myself and giving myself space for the response to come, the answer gets more and more clear.
Your inner self really does have all the answers. However, sometimes you’ve gotten so used to habituated responses that aren’t in tune with that inner self that you can’t distinguish what is the healthy voice of truth and what is the voice of fear or habit. It can be helpful to get feedback from someone you trust who is outside the situation; those people can often see things more clearly than you can.
Being a parent is such an amazing opportunity because it opens us up to incredible possibilities for growth and awareness that we wouldn’t have had otherwise! Seriously.
Having to be clear with your child forces you to think more about what you say you want and why you want it. Let’s say you’re battling a child to take a bath every night or eat dinner. What do you really want? Do care that much about the bath? Is there something else that you care more about that you’d rather be investing your time in?
Often parents admit that they don’t really care that much about the things they’re fighting with their children about, but they feel these are rituals or activities that everyone should do so their child should also do it.
Doing what you think you should do because everyone else does it doesn’t align well with being happy!
Sometimes it becomes clear that yes, the bath or meal or whatever else really is the priority. In that case, it shouldn’t be set aside but there might be some more effective ways to go about achieving your goal.
There’s no one right way to parent and there’s no one right way to deal with a given situation. It depends so much on what you really want – you can have two very happy and healthy families who have chosen completely different ways of living their lives.
When you get clarity you can create healthy boundaries and teach others how to treat you, as you align what you say with the actions you take. That’s a very empowering place to be!