When I was in veterinary school I was lucky enough to spend a few weeks working on a beautiful coastal farm in Australia. The owner of the property was a real-life horse whisperer and people from far and wide brought their “problem” horses to him to be rehabilitated.
On weekdays, the herd ran wild across green rolling hills and through long grassy meadows. They were free to be horses; to be their natural selves. But, on Sunday mornings, we’d bring them into the round yards for some slow and purposeful training.
Most of the horses were terrified and their behaviour reflected it. They’d rear onto their back legs, their eyes were wide with fear, snorting, kicking and trying in any way they could to fiercely defend their vulnerable personal space.
As I sat perched safely on the old wooden fence, I was mesmerized by this strong, burly Aussie bloke as he communicated peacefully, patiently and respectfully with these majestic animals.
It never entered his mind that these were “bad” horses and getting the “job” done quickly was clearly not a priority for him; it would simply take as long as it took. I was deeply affected by the dance I observed unfolding between the two souls in the arena, each bowing their heads submissively as they assessed the other’s intentions.
They took their time: the journey was more important than the destination.
Witnessing a 1000-pound horse go from being visibly distressed to lying on the ground calm and relaxed, being gently stroked by this human, who was so recently a threat, was nothing short of miraculous. It was almost twenty years ago, but it had such a profound effect on me that I am there, in the moment, when I recall those magical Sunday mornings.
Animals have always been a central part of my life. Growing up, they gave me a safe outlet to express affection and to be myself: something I struggled with through childhood and beyond. I felt then and do now, that the human race can learn a lot from them.
Their intentions are pure and their love is unconditional. Practicing patience has never been a virtue of mine, but the exception to my rule is animals, and since becoming a parent, I’ve realized it extends to babies and children.
It’s a blessing I’m incredibly grateful for, but no matter the amount of patience we’re naturally blessed with, just like whispering to horses, caring for babies and raising children requires a deep understanding of why they do the things they do.
If we don’t take the time to understand the WHY, frustration overflows and we risk succumbing to conventional parenting practices we may come to regret.
Much like traditional horse trainers attempt to break horses, I fear we may be unconsciously breaking our children with mainstream techniques favouring detachment rather than fostering connection. Methods such as cry it out, punishment, threats and time outs, slowly but surely sabotage and weaken the attachment relationship mother nature intends parents and children share.
The parent-child connection is a two-way street: nourishing our children yet also granting us the strength and patience to carry on when we have nothing left to give. It helps us dig deeper, enabling us to endure a level of physical and emotional exhaustion we would never tolerate from anybody else. It’s a treasure to be nurtured and fiercely protected.
Yet, in a recent study, only fifty eight percent of six-month old babies were securely attached to their parents. If this figure comes close to representing our society, it’s not okay and reveals something about modern parenting practices isn’t working. I feel our disconnection stems, not from a lack of love, but from unrealistic expectations and unfair assumptions society places on our children and us, as parents.
Modern myths about how babies should sleep and how kids should behave mislead us. They mask us from our children’s innocence and tempt us to assume the worst in them.
If we believe these myths, we’ll crack our whips and dig in our heels: nagging, ignoring, prompting and correcting. We’ll be duped into believing the aim of parenting is to control, rather than to guide our children as they grow, inevitably stumbling and needing our guidance and support not our authority.
So, what do we do instead? We dare to ignore convention and judgement. We tap into our consciousness and trust our instincts so that we can see beyond superficial behaviour, while observing our children’s naive souls. We find the courage to nurture our kids through their young struggles and appreciate that they are not giving us a hard time, they are having a hard time.
We appreciate that no matter which choice we make, someone will disapprove. Resistance is inevitable, but speaking personally I would rather swim against the tide of our culture’s expectations, than compromise my son’s young needs. Instincts have no agenda: trust them. Invest in connection.
Because, just like the dance in the round yard, witnessing a securely attached parent-child pair is a beautiful thing; shining only brighter in times of difficulty.
It pushes us to the edge of our comfort zones and compels us to become braver people – to become conscious parents.
Conscious in the knowledge that the choices we’re making are honouring and respecting our children. That, as parents, we’re playing a long game, recognizing quick fixes are generally accompanied by unwelcome side effects.
Although, the realities of everyday life means taking the slow route isn’t always possible, what matters most is recognizing everyone has needs, no matter their size, and while they can’t always be met, they will be acknowledged. Our kids don’t need perfect parents, they need responsive parents.
Let’s soften our hearts to our children and seeing them as partners in this slow dance – it will always lead to good things Appreciating our children’s innocence means although parenting will be challenging it will never be a hardship.