Parenting summons the best in a person; it also sometimes triggers, well . . . less than the best. When I brought together my Quaker faith with my aspirations for parenting, I found “a way” to be a parent, especially as my children became teenagers. With my friend Marti Woodward, I coauthored a book, Slow Parenting Teens [reviewed on page 10], and I now conduct trainings on this approach.
What appealed to me first about the Quaker faith was its elegant simplicity. Since that first encounter, through my decades as a Quaker, I have learned to let Quaker simplicity teach me how to get out of the way of the Light shining in my life. Parenting can develop a similar quality of elegant simplicity. In my view, parents’ only job is to love their children no matter what. And to love children, parents must learn to get out of the way, relax their ideas about what their children should be, and look for the Light in them.
However, even though it can be simple to parent well, it is rarely easy. You have to learn to slow down so you can thoughtfully respond to your children instead of abruptly reacting. Two questions that I ask myself to help me slow down in this way are: “Why do I care?” and “How will this bring out the Light in my child?”
In today’s world of electronic distractions, countless dinnertime conflicts erupt over teens using phones at the dinner table. Getting a teen to cooperate with a parent’s request to put down the phone is tough, not only because teens value their electronic connections, but also because parents are not generally good role models in this area. The habit of responding to a request by saying, “Just a minute,” and then not showing up for twenty minutes (if at all), is common for parents and children alike. I hear every day about parents’ frustrations with their teens’ use of phones, videogames, and computers. This aspect of parenting is filled with mixed messages and anger. Instead of being simple, it’s complicated and hard.
In my workshops, I ask parents, “Why do you care about how your kids handle electronics?” Their initial responses generally concern long-term effects on their children’s development. “They won’t have any manners.” “They are distracted and won’t be able to focus.” Then I ask parents to turn their attention to themselves. “Why do you care?” At first, they seem to find this to be a preposterous question. “Are you kidding? You can’t possibly think that it is OK to use the phone at the table!” However, when I understand how I am affected by my child’s use of a phone at the table, I have found a source for my parenting decision.
When I asked myself why I cared about phones at the dinner table, after some reflection, I saw that it was simple – I wanted to hear about everyone’s day and to share about my own. It had nothing to do with the future of my kids’ manners or their ability to focus. When I asked my family to make the dinner table a phone-free zone, and I told them why, they agreed. Now during dinner, I make a point of listening closely to what everyone says about their day, and I ask questions, including, “Is there anything I can do for you?”
The second simple question that slows down my parenting reactions is this, “How is this decision going to bring out the Light in my child?” If I don’t have a good answer, then I have to really wonder what I am doing. For example, I couldn’t come up with a good reason to argue with my son that he should handle his homework my way. So I started by considering the first of my two questions, “Why do I care?” His hit-or-miss approach to homework had gotten under my skin, but why? I concluded that I cared most when I got phone calls about his grades. I didn’t like looking bad to his teachers, and the calls annoyed me. So I asked him to make sure I didn’t get any more calls. He agreed.
Then I meditated on the second question, “How can I help to bring out the Light in my son with regard to homework?” I decided, knowing him, that the best thing for me to do was to stay out of the homework business until he asked for support. He likes to figure things out on his own, and he shuts down when nagged. He did want better grades, so getting regular credit for homework was something he already wanted. I waited a long time before he asked for help. He asked me to pick up and return public library books for a research project. He took charge of his own homework-related affairs, and we didn’t fight about it anymore.
In fact, slowing down my reactions so that I can have a thoughtful response has led to very little fighting in our home. That surely is one of my major goals as a Quaker parent, a more peaceful home. When I asked another Quaker mom who uses Slow Parenting Teens, she agreed that her goal is a more peaceful home. She went on to say that slowing down her reactions has helped her with her second goal, to keep strong connections with her children, no matter what is happening. “I had to come to terms that they are teenagers, . . . they are going to talk back. And that scared me a bit.” As she slowed down and asked for God’s guidance, she was able to respond more calmly. “If we are listening to God, we don’t have the fears. Listening makes us aware that whatever is happening, it is only temporary, and that we are part of something larger. Slow parenting causes me to reflect on what the big deals really are and helps me not to get lost in the little things.”
In my parenting, I have come to understand that when I react and quickly judge my children’s actions or beliefs, I block myself from seeing the Light in them, and I block them from seeing the Light in me. What might at first seem like a really terrible or scary decision might actually be just right for my child; we each have our own path and our own relationship with God. At first it may seem like a terrible idea for your daughter to skip third period, but when you hear that she has an entire plan that will allow her to work on a group project during third and attend another section of the same class during seventh period – well, that doesn’t seem so bad, after all. In fact, it is sort of ingenious. What a clever girl to figure out how to accomplish so much inside the restrictions of the average school day. That is something a parent can approve of – but only if the parent takes the time to ask.
Acceptance and approval are what everyone wants, especially teens. We all gravitate toward people who like what we like and are okay with us just as we are. When parents slow down and see the Light in their children, they regain some influence with their teens.
When parents strive for simplicity, slow down their reactions, and look for the Light in their children, they are grand role models for children of all ages. Whether children chose to follow in their parents’ Quaker footsteps or not, they do respond to the respect and unconditional love that our faith helps us to know and express. And if we are slow enough, we will see the Light in our children, and we will hear God in their voices. ~~~
Molly Wingate is a member of Colorado Springs Friends Meeting (IMYM) and coauthor of Slow Parenting Teens with Marti Woodward. Molly is a writer and teacher, and has given parenting (and grand-parenting) workshops at IMYM, at Colorado Regional Meetin, and in schools and counseling centers. She has two sons, ages 18 and 22.