Looking back on Aware Parenting after 10 years

When I first started practising Aware Parenting ten years ago, when my daughter was a baby, I wanted to meet an older child who had been brought up with Aware Parenting principles and practices.  I had heard stories from Aletha Solter about her own children who were young adults, and about other young adults she knew who had been brought up in the context of Aware Parenting, but I had never with my own eyes seen someone who had had their feelings listened to empathically as a baby.

Now, I look back over the past ten years - including six with my son - and I see the amazing gifts of Aware Parenting.  And I wonder if those of who starting out on the Aware Parenting journey might be interested in reading about some of my perceptions and experiences.

I have learnt so much over those ten years.  I have listened to hundreds of hours of my children crying as babies, as I held them in my arms.  I’ve been present and empathic as they have raged and cried since they have been children, and have played many laughter games and power-reversal games with them.  There have also been many times that I unknowingly repressed their feelings.  Whilst on the whole, I have been empathic to them, there have also been many times when I was in my own emotional pain, and behaved in ways that I did not want to behave.  I have never punished or rewarded them, but there have been a few times when I said things that were disguised ways of getting them to do what I wanted.  

Over the years I have evolved so much as a parent; to the extent that the times that I do things I regret, or react in ways that I don’t want to, are becoming much rarer.  I am still learning to become more and more compassionate, present, and self-responsible, and I trust I shall continue to do so.  

Yet I still see the many gifts that I believe have come from practising Aware Parenting, despite knowing that there were many things that I didn’t know and haven’t done over the years.  

The most obvious things I have been aware of have been my children’s sense of calmness, ease in sleeping, ability to concentrate, joy in connection, interest in the world, and empathy in relating to others.

Funnily enough, one of the first things that jumps into my head when I think about what I see as the effects of practising Aware Parenting is being with my children in restaurants over the years, especially when they were young!  My children’s ability to concentrate, to be calm, to be happy wherever they are, and to sit still, has been commented on many times.  I was often amused when people said, “What good children!” and I thought about all the hours of crying and raging that I had listened to that had led to that calmness, and knowing that they had never been punished or rewarded, or asked to sit still, or told to be “good”!  The paradox has been that in listening to all those hours of crying and raging, and avoiding punishments and rewards, and not labelling them, has meant that they are generally happy and calm and peaceful when out.

Another thing that has been very noticeable is their ability to concentrate.  When my daughter was two and three years old, she would enjoy sitting for hours at a time playing with “Hama beads”; tiny beads that are made into patterns.  Her goddess-mother used to buy her little delicate things to use and play with, and she played with them with care, and has never broken anything.  Over the years she has concentrated for hours in a similar way when involved in something she is interested in, whether it be reading, creating a piece of art, or learning a new skill.

This year, seeing her with her half-sibling twins has been beautiful to watch.  Just as when Sunny was born, (when she was four-and-a-half) and she would carry him and hold him with such presence when he cried, so she, now at ten-and-a-half, still holds the twins, adores them, plays with them, and holds them in her arms whilst they cry.  

I have watched, with interest, how she is when she holds them when they are crying.  What I notice is that she doesn’t have an intensity about her listening.  I see in myself an intensity of listening, of making eye contact, of making sure the baby I am holding really knows that I am present and that I am listening.  When I watch Lana, I see that she is very relaxed about the crying.  She isn’t being “effortful” .... it’s as though she knows in her body, in her being, that feelings are simply feelings, and that the twins know she is there and listening.... she imbues a sense of relaxed confidence that all is okay.  

When I was watching her recently, holding her little brother as he was crying before sleep, I noticed anxiety arising in me....and I followed it to the thought that her little brother would not know he was being listened to because she was not doing the things that I usually do when I am holding a crying baby (making eye contact, saying things like, “I hear you,” and making noises that I think express empathy for how they are feeling).  I sat with this anxiety and the matching beliefs for a while and realised that it was coming from a lack of trust in being heard.  As I sat with, and let go of my own feelings, I saw that she knows in her being that she is heard and that she knows that she was hearing her brother..... she knows in her being that feelings are her friends, to be moved through... she has the body memory of hundreds of hours of being held in the arms of her parents whilst she cried and raged.  

So of course, what she offers is different to what I offer; I have cried being listened to by therapists and friends and partners and myself, but never when I was a baby, and never by my parents.  I am so curious about how she will be when she is a mother; and how she will have moved way beyond what I have given to her and how I have been with her......

Something else I love about practising Aware Parenting has been watching my children interact with each other.  From the time when Sunny was a toddler, they would play for hours together every day; making up games; laughing, playing, and generally having fun.  They make up creative things together; they love being with each other.  And at times feelings come up for them, and challenges, and disagreements, and yet the overwhelming majority of the time they are deeply connected.  Today and yesterday they spent a couple of hours each day running around the house, making up games, and laughing and laughing.  The love and connection and creativity they share is beautiful to watch.

Another thing I notice about Lana is that she seems to have such a connection with what is true for her.  For example, she has been learning ballet for many years, and has studied other forms of dancing, such as tap and jazz and contemporary and hip hop.  Last year she decided that she wanted to simply focus on ballet and contemporary, although there were exciting things being offered in the other styles.  She was quite clear in her choice, in a relaxed and self-assured way.  

I see too, in the style of clothing she chooses, that she knows what she loves, and chooses carefully, and doesn’t care what other people are wearing or what others will think.  She is so inner-directed ... and I love watching that.... and keep learning from her about really listening to what I want, to what I want to do and what I love!!

I have noticed different things in Sunny (now 6).  I saw in him, from a very young age, an openness and joy.  As he was my second child and I was much more confident about practising Aware Parenting, I was able to listen to even more of his feelings than I was able to listen to from Lana.  I saw in his eyes a complete openness to life, and a joy that sprung out of him.  I believe that the more we are able to hear our baby’s uncomfortable feelings, then paradoxically, the freer they are to express their joyful feelings.  I have noticed over the years how he leans in to make eye contact with people when he talks to them.  I notice that he remembers people and their names after meeting them once.  I see in him a deep engagement with the world and a deep curiosity, which I think stemmed partly from him not developing a breast-feeding control pattern, and thus being free to turn outwards to the world with a deep interest and confidence.  

I have learnt as much about Aware Parenting from the things that I did that I later wish I had understood, or done differently.  For example, seeing Lana’s breast-feeding control pattern emerge, and how it affected her relationship with exploring the world and connecting with other people, showed me how powerfully a breast-feeding control pattern influences a child’s ability to connect with others and be confident in the world.  I see how my beliefs and feelings around separation, connection, and being heard, influenced my ability to set loving limits with her and to help her express pent-up feelings as a toddler and young child.  

It is in seeing my learning process over time, and seeing how my blind spots and unloving beliefs about myself and the world have affected my children, that I have learnt much about self-forgiveness and self-love, and thus about forgiveness and love for others.  When I started Aware Parenting, I wanted to be the perfect parent.  I soon learnt that I could not be that, and I could only start from where I was and who I was, and be willing to keep learning, keep growing, keep being willing to feel more and love more and let go of ways of thinking and believing that no longer served me.

Again and again I have seen how my deep love for my children has been the only thing that has been enough for me to face things I would have preferred to avoid forever, to shift things that I would have clung on to dear life for, and to keep becoming more.

I see this now, with my daughter approaching adolescence.  I see that she sees me now as a real person, not just with the unquestioning love and adoration of a baby and younger child.  She sees me clearly.  I know that if I want her to grow into a young woman confident in her own power and beauty and gifts to the world, ready to love and be loved; to know what she wants and to be willing to have it, that I need to keep on moving further and further in those directions too.  

Being a mum is my greatest joy in the world, and my greatest avenue of learning.  I have learnt more being a mum than I would ever have realised was possible.  Being a mother has taken me to my biggest learning edges, my greatest challenges, and the most amazing unconditional love and gratitude for my children.  Most of all, I keep seeing day by day that the love I have for my children, and my deep desire for them to be all that they can be, keeps requiring me to grow, to love myself more, to know myself more, and to be myself more.  I am deeply grateful for Aware Parenting and the other models and paradigms that have helped so much in this journey.