Before I even planned on having kids, I always had this vision of how I would parent. There is a little known fact that every new generation of parents evolve from the way they were raised. Why? Simply because there were parts from all of our childhoods that we knew we didn’t like and therefore we decided to do things differently when it was our turn to have children. For me, I knew that I wouldn’t use punishments, spanking or timeouts with my children.
When I did become pregnant with my first child, I still had in my head the way I wanted to raise him. I had no idea if there was even a way of parenting out there that met my needs as a soon-to-be parent. Little did I know at the time that my desire to parent a certain way would land on my lap and send me on a journey that would shape myself as a Mum, entrepreneur and human being.
In my 8th month of pregnancy with my first child I was reading the Appendix section at the back of my Calmbirth book when I came across an essay written by Marion Rose (now my Mentor and dear Friend) about something called Aware Parenting, which is a parenting philosophy by Developmental Psychologist Aletha Solter PhD. As I sat there all bulgy and pregnant, my mouth got wider and wider in complete shock, delight and excitement as I soaked in those 5 pages of words. I thought to myself “Oh my goodness, can this really be? There is a parenting philosophy out there that 100% fit my desires as a parent. Plus so much more?” The answer was yes. I got up as quickly as an 8-month pregnant woman could and hobbled into the kitchen to share my exciting discovery with my husband. I read to him the entire article out loud. At the end I asked him what he thought. He said that it resonated with him before I’d even finished the first paragraph! That’s pretty powerful stuff.
The next thing I did was jump on the Book Depository website and ordered every single one of Aletha’s books on Aware Parenting (there were 4 at the time, there are now 5). Unfortunately the books didn’t arrive before my son was born, but once they arrived I devoured each page of those four books as quickly as I could. Thankfully, it didn’t take long because the time spent sitting up at night feeding my newborn gave me the opportunity to read the books that changed my life.
I became so passionate about Aware Parenting and sort other parents out in my community and abroad who were following this approach. I then connected with Marion (who I mentioned above). I have done several of the amazing online courses she has to offer. I lived and breathed Aware Parenting, all with the support from my husband – which let me tell you, when you are on the same page about parenting as your spouse if freaking amazing. Our family didn’t really understand this different kind of parenting. Some of them probably thought the whole thing was completely ludicrous. However, there were a couple of family members that went to the effort to understand and even practice Aware Parenting with my kids, for which I am truly grateful.
As my journey into Aware Parenting deepened, I realised it was more a way of life than just a way to parent. It sparked in me a deep passion and altered my career course to specialise in parenting and children. It was very early on that I decided I was going to become a Certified Aware Parenting Instructor. I achieved this almost 4 years ago; 3 years after I commenced my Aware Parenting journey.
So what is this Aware Parenting you ask? If you’ve read my previous blog posts they will give you some inkling as to the philosophy. Aware Parenting is about honouring a child for who they are, seeing them for who they are instead of their behaviour. It is a way of life encompassing compassion, empathy, cooperation, connection and understanding. There are three main components as outlined by Aletha as the core of what Aware Parenting is. These are:
Attachment parenting principles – bonding with baby immediately after birth, prompt responsiveness to crying, lots of physical connect, prolonged breastfeeding and being sensitive to the needs of the baby.
Non-punitive discipline – no punishment (including timeouts), no bribes or rewards, looking for the underlying feelings and needs and peaceful ways to manage conflict.
Healing from stress and trauma – this is where Aware Parenting is different to other parenting philosophies. Behavioural and emotional problems are seen as stemming from unmet needs and unexpressed emotions; ways stress and trauma can be prevented; recognising that play, laughter, tears and tantrums heal us from stress and trauma; and compassionate and empathetic listening and acceptance of children’s feelings.
All of these principles are based on scientific and psychological research into the development of a human baby and child. When you read that tears and tantrums are healing, I wonder how that makes you feel? Before I came across Aware Parenting, I thought these were things that needed to be stopped. However, after reading the scientific research it makes complete sense for me personally. Biochemist William Fey discovered that when we cry to release emotions such as sadness, powerlessness, frustration and anger we are releasing stress hormones such as cortisol from our body. This is a crucial step in allowing our body to regain equilibrium.
Aware Parenting is following what works for you, tuning in to your own feelings around all aspects of your life and going with what resonates with you. As with everything in life, take what you like and leave the rest when you close this window.
I have lived, breathed and parented Aware Parenting for 7 years, and I can say with absolute certainty that the times I have stumbled (whether from exhaustion or stress) and defaulted to the way I was raised (punishment, timeouts, etc), my children have not responded well. When I use Aware Parenting by connecting before correcting, using play for challenging behaviours and holding space for big feelings, everyone feels happier and more connected.