With the surprise colder evenings, we have taken to snuggling up beside a log fire and searching Netflix (other film providers are available). We first enjoyed Cuban Fury and then a very old Australian film Strictly Ballroom. I was reminded of the work of Harriet Lerner, her books “The Dance of…” explain eloquently how in all relationships we weave a kind of dance that we settle into and changing this will ultimately bring about a resistance from our dance partners, we all need support of family, friends, counsellors or coaches to push through and learn a new dance…..
So, what has dancing got to do with parenting? I like to work with my clients with the notion that although we are all unique individuals, we live in society and actually do need each other. I frequently hear people’s stories that reveal they are comparing themselves to others and here in lies the rub. How can we be truly unique and yet strive to be like everyone else? This is especially true in parenting. There is always plenty of advice out there (including my articles of course) that we may find useful to read, courses we may wish to engage in, but at the end of the day, our dance with our own children is truly unique and only our intuition will inform us that all is OK.
Harriett writes: “Hanging on to comparisons as a way to lift yourself up will ultimately bring you down. Comparisons breed shame, and feelings of inadequacy can overwhelm you as you measure yourself against others or by the media images that surround you. You’re not healthy, beautiful, thin, rich or productive enough. There’s something wrong with you for not being more emotionally or physically “fit.”
You are essentially flawed because you have too much bad stuff happening to you, and you’re not “getting over it” in the prescribed amount of time or the way other people seem to.” My antidote to the consequences of a life of comparison is to enjoy the dance itself. If you watch a dance class, or a polished dance show or film you will notice that even the same dance is executed slightly differently by each couple.
There are ‘rules’ of how The Tango should fundamentally work but each couple interprets and adjusts the moves to create their own special chemistry, a chemistry that is intoxicating to those who watch. How great is it to realise that your relationship with your child, is based on the general ‘rules’ thrown at us, but it is up to us to weave in the chemistry, to find the unique form of the dance that only this one child and you can perform?
The uniqueness of the dance probably starts within the womb (for both parents) and is identified in the science world as sensitive parenting. Vimala McClure writes:
“Sensitive parenting is defined as “The extent to which a parent responds to a child’s signals appropriately and promptly, is positively involved during interactions with the child, and provides a secure base for the child’s exploration of the environment.” Basically, it is being an attentive and involved parent and treating children as individuals.”
She cites research that shows us that early sensitive parenting actually has benefits well into adulthood and concludes: “The findings have been a gold mine for child development research and gave the new study’s authors the chance to see how parenting in those first three years can have lifelong effects.
Lee Raby, the main author, said, “Investments in early parent-child relationships may result in long-term returns that accumulate across individuals’ lives. Success in relationships and academics represents the foundation for a healthy society.”
The dance we create therefore has far flung effects on the quality of our children’s lives and it is hoped that this becomes generational, our children become sensitive parents and will be less likely to be drawn into the comparison method of parenting. Are you aware of times when you have felt compelled to check out how other parents are doing parenting?
Have your in-laws or own parents got a lot to say about your parenting style? As with any information it is useful to take a pause and decide for yourself “is this helpful or unhelpful?” or with the dance analogy, is the rhythm, pacing and tone right for you and your child?
I am often asked about sleepless nights; temper tantrums (from 2 to 22!) and other day to day perceived ‘disturbances in the force’.
I rarely give an answer but will ask further questions to try to understand the type of dance parents are co-creating with their children. Kuroda, in a BBC article on parenting reminds us of the dance in such a compassionate way that I believe this is the key to fulfilment in parenting: “as with all parenting choices, people should find what works for them and their baby, rather than worrying too much about what anyone else is doing. “I think the parent and the infant can adapt to each other,“ she says. “It’s like a tango.”
The key to thinking outside the Western box might be to remember that babies are not out to manipulate us, no matter how tempting it might be to see it that way at 3am. “What we really need with babies is to stop thinking about them as hard-to-please bosses,“ says Dutta. “They’re helpless little beings that have come into this world, and we must look at them with empathy and compassion.”
I would argue that babies are not completely ‘helpless’, they come equipped with their own dance steps fully loaded. The challenge is for sensitive parents to really observe, listen, and respond to the nuances of their baby’s behaviour, giving full attention and enjoying every move. So, pop some music on and experiment with different moves, allowing your baby to lead of course and with gentle adaptation discover that unique way of parenting that works for you both.