What do we mean when we say we want to nurture our children? As parents, we probably think right away about food, clothing, shelter. I don’t know about you, but those considerations alone take up most of my time. Hugs, snuggles, taking care of “owies.” Those things are nurturing, right?
But when it comes to the more complicated functions of parenting—teaching values, establishing routines, instilling discipline—what is the most nurturing thing we can do?
It’s always useful to consult the Four Questions, as I brought up last week. When I check what I want to be doing against what I’m actually doing, I am often surprised, and not always in a good way.
What does nurturing mean? I’m not a gardener (I struggle to keep houseplants alive), but I can understand that I need to be watering and tending the plants that are useful, and that if I don’t, it’s the weeds that are likely to flourish and take over.
There’s a story that keeps coming up when I have conversations about parenting in a nurturing way.
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil—he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good—he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you—and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
What does this have to do with parenting? I want to “feed the wolf” that will help my child feel loved, valued and respected. So, I have to demonstrate this with real words and actions. For example:
My time with my children should belong to them, rather than my iPhone screen (I struggle with this).
Nap times and bedtimes should be calming and predictable, and I should be committed to helping them to rest.
I should discipline them according to clear and consistent expectations; they should know what my expectations are, and any consequences should follow logically from them.
If I want them to be the most responsible, capable and caring people they can be, I need to focus on the behavior that demonstrates these things, rather than the behavior that falls short. If I feed the wolf that misbehaves—with my time, my attention and especially my anger—then the misbehavior is what will flourish.
None of these things are easy. They take real work, experimentation and practice. But I find that it is helpful to keep in mind what it is that I want to do, and what it means to nurture.