The Parenting Pedestal

Posted on September 10, 2019

I was at the mall yesterday, and outside the dressing room, I could hear a mom screaming at her two boys (maybe nine and six years old) about how they were “ungrateful little shits” and didn’t “deserve the privilege of being in a mall.” The dad, who was just a few feet away, heard this and walked over, and the mom then went off on him about not watching “his ill-mannered bratty boys fighting over a stupid toy car” while she was trying on outfits. The dad then joined in with “I’m so sick of your fighting. That’s it. You’re grounded. We’re going home.” 

When we are mad at our children, we often throw these statements at them:

I do so much for you, but you are so ungrateful.

I sacrificed my own desires for you.

I spent my whole life on your well-being.

If it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t even be born. 

I put food on the table and a roof over your head.

I call the shots while you’re in my house.

What is this Parenting Pedestal that we stand so high on? Are we doing a huge favor to our kids in raising them? Seriously, let’s think about this for a second. All these “I” statements are emotionally charged ego trips that burden our children with guilt and unworthiness.

It’s interesting to observe that in each one of my parenting talks and workshops guilt is the most commonly spoken about suffering in parenting. It’s number one. Parents complain about it all the time. They feel trapped when they feel guilty. It makes them feel that they aren’t doing a good job, and that opens the door to doubt and worry and, yes, unworthiness. Guilt makes us feel that we are not good-enough parents. Isn’t it ironic then that what we detest most we unconsciously pass on to our kids when we are angry at them.

Why do we step onto this ego-laden parenting pedestal? Perhaps it makes us feel—at least temporarily—that we are in control, that we have the power because we are the ones who birthed our children and brought them into this world. Here’s a humbling perspective from Khalil Gibran in his poem “On Children.”

On Children
 Khalil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

This poem needs to hang in every home where children are present and should be a required study for every parent. How did we forget that we have zero ownership of our kids? How can we assume that without us they are doomed? How do we forget that our children are our teachers and that parenting is truly a master class, one that can help you master your own behavior? How do we not realize that the experiences that our children give to us are a red-carpet invitation to growth? Don’t we see how by simply having our children in our lives we are better human beings, more patient, more kind, more compassionate, more lighthearted and loving?

Parenting is an opportunity for us to recognize our own triggers and our own shortcomings. It is a platform for self-transformation, but this can only be achieved if we get off our parenting pedestal and commit to being, as Khalil Gibran says, “a stable bow” for our kids. That’s what our children need from us. There are enough pressures with peers and experiences in the outside world that will cause our kids to feel “I’m not good enough,” but we, their parents, should never inflict this on them, for we are their safety net, their safe haven, and their anchors.

We need to get off our guilt-inducing parenting pedestal for we are not more superior than our children. On a human level, our existence is not more important than theirs. Being a parent or an adult taking care of children does not give us a free pass. It does not put us in control. Parenting is not a dictatorship; it is a directorship. It is not a power position; it is an empower position. It would behoove us to remember this most when we are angry with our kids. So next time you are right, practice being kind first.