Healing Forward: On Becoming a
By Ellen Rowland
Many years ago, I decided to
become a gentle parent. It wasn’t enough to want to be that person, I
first had to become her. It was a long process of confronting the
disparity between the way I saw myself as a mother and the emotional
mechanisms that got triggered with my children as a result of the way I
was parented. I decided to share my journey in
a blog post about becoming a “true mother,” which to me meant
realizing my best self through the process of healing my childhood
wounds, thus breaking a dysfunctional cycle. It resonated with a lot of
people from all walks of life.
I had no idea at the time I
shared my story that so many people longed to parent differently from
the way they were raised but had no idea how to get there, the steps
they needed to take or even what attachment or peaceful parenting looked
like. More significantly, the reaction to the post brought to light a
degree of adult pain, suffering, depression, anxiety, and a multitude of
traumas, both first hand and ancestral, that needed to be healed.
But it also brought forth a
collective voice of parents who got it, who saw and felt and understood
the urgency for change in their relationships with their children, not
just within the family, but on a societal level. This desire to parent
peacefully is part of a collective consciousness that is emerging on a
global level and is connected in meaningful ways to the restoration of
human dignity, the abolition of “otherness,” children’s rights,
feminism, freedom in education, and healing and preserving our planet.
The hum is getting louder each
day, telling us we are not alone. We’re finding each other, connecting,
sharing our stories, our knowledge, our pain and our healing. And in
doing so, we are actively taking part in the collective movement of
healing forward. If, by breaking a cycle of negative parenting we can
halt destructive patterns that have been passed down to us, by embracing
peaceful parenting, we can create and perpetuate a new narrative that
will have lasting positive impact on generations to come.
Breaking the cycle is not easy.
It takes courage, conviction, reflection, resilience, hard work,
vulnerability, introspection and support. In that spirit, I offer a few
important steps I needed to take along my journey to becoming a peaceful
Learn to Ask for and Receive Forgiveness
Over the years, as my
relationship with my children has deepened and evolved, I’ve learned
that being a gentle parent requires maintenance. As much as we would
like it to be so, we don’t get a certificate for going through all that
hard inner work declaring that we are now officially a fully healed,
infallible parent who will always handle every parenting situation with
patience and compassion. We are human beings, and as parents, especially
parents who are striving to create new ways of interacting with and
nurturing our children, we will make mistakes. Old wounds will get
triggered. Bad days will dawn. Patience will hide. There will be
setbacks, even full-blown reversals. We will break our promises to
ourselves and to our children. And when that happens, we will feel shame
and self-loathing because that is our default space, that is the tape
that has played over and over since we were children. It cannot be fully
erased. But we can consciously lower the volume and eventually silence
it by asking for forgiveness. We must ask it of ourselves first, then
I’m sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me.
These words are hard for many
people to say. I rarely heard them growing up because an apology meant
admission of wrong-doing or guilt, which was so heavily laced with shame
that it was too threatening to utter. So as an adult, and eventually a
mother, I had to learn to say them with conviction and the
responsibility of my actions. When an apology to another person,
especially a child, is based in shame, it’s about you, not them, and
thus loses its power and intention. That’s why it’s important to forgive
yourself first, gently.
Our children need to know
through our example that it’s okay to make mistakes and learn from them.
Messes and slips can be powerful opportunities for growth if we don’t
stay stuck in guilt and shame, but instead ask ourselves how we can
evolve from the experience.
Learn to Forgive Others
One of the first things I came
to understand when I decided to break the transgenerational parenting
cycle was that it all started with me. I alone needed to stand up and
take ownership of my relationship with my children and in order to do
that I needed to relinquish a life-time reliance on blaming others.
One of the hardest and most
rewarding things I did on my journey was to confront my father about how
he had hurt me as a child through his often loud, harsh, critical and
demeaning behavior. I had a lot of questions for him and he answered
them as best he could. At the time of our conversation, he was dying of
cancer and he showed me very clearly that wounded children grow up to be
wounded adults. He told me how he had been deprived of affection and
love by his own mother and as he spoke, he became that child who just
needed someone to listen, to tell him it wasn’t his fault. I didn’t
shoulder his pain, but I forgave him because I understood that this was
a vicious cycle of unresolved feelings and withdrawal and deeply buried
When we are able to “map” our
parents’ emotional history in this way, it can help us approach their
stories with equanimity and compassion instead of blame. There is
obviously a wide spectrum of childhood wounding and trauma. This is not
to suggest in any way that a victim of violent abuse should allow the
continuation of a toxic relationship. We can forgive someone in order to
release the power they had/have over us, but do so from a safe distance
when and where forgiveness feels appropriate.
Share Your Story with Your Children
When my children were old
enough, I made my struggles and my intentions transparent from a
position of strength rather than as a victim. I encouraged them to call
me out when I crossed the line. I answered questions about my childhood
and told them honestly how I had been hurt and why I sometimes reacted
in ways that had nothing to do with them and everything to do with me.
This allowed me to give context to our relationship and the work I was
doing in order to create trust and respect between us. It’s okay and
even important to let your children be part of the process. Our society
doesn’t like to acknowledge or address personal or collective suffering.
But we can’t cope with a problem until we have consciously uncovered it,
identified it and shared it. Simply stating that the wound exists,
letting it be true, is the first step to healing.
My children will often say
things like, “Mom, I think you’re upset because you feel left out.” Or,
“I understand that you’re angry/sad/frustrated, but you don’t have to
take it out on me.” That’s when I know I’m on the right path. Knowing
that my children feel safe enough in our relationship to say what they
need to say without fear means that a vast divide has been mended. And
they are the bridge.
If you want to become a peaceful
parent, you first have to be gentle with yourself. We have learned to
focus on our flaws, to hide our light, diminish our talents and
strengths and stay small so that others can feel important. We have
learned that every misstep is a means to reinforce the negative messages
we’ve been telling ourselves over the years. Nothing could be more
destructive to our efforts to parent with love and patience and trust
and respect than to show up to the job believing we will never be good
When conflicts arise, put on the
oxygen mask before you assist those you love. Take a deep breath. Take
time. Remind yourself that you are no longer that small person. You have
power now. Your environment has changed because you made the choice to
change it. You are safe. Your voice matters. You deserve to love and be
loved. You are always good enough, even when you falter.
Acknowledge to yourself every
single day that you are making a difference. In making the
transformative choice to consciously parent with purpose and peace, you
are bringing about meaningful change, not just in your relationship with
your children, but in the world. You have created a new path. It belongs to you. Lead the way.
Ellen Rowland lives off the grid on a small
island in Greece with her husband and two unschooled teenagers.
She is a writer of sustainable issues, fiction, humor, and poetry.
She is the author of
Everything I Thought I Knew, a collection of essays about living,
learning, and parenting outside the status quo.
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