LIFESTYLE

A Parenting Realization That Really Moved Me

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toby goddard-williams

The other day, the boys and I went to the park when a realization hit me…

As sun poured over the playground and children played in clusters, Toby grabbed a basketball and Anton ran across the track. “Mom, watch this!” one of them shouted. “Mommy, check this out!” said the other one. They weren’t looking for feedback or coaching. Interestingly, they weren’t asking me for praise or applause, either.

They simply wanted me to watch.

***

A Cup of Jo reader once commented that after her mother died, she felt as if she had lost her audience. How heartbreaking and beautiful is that?

And it’s true: When I call my mom, I’ll tell her the MOST BORING DISPATCHES, like “We’re having chicken quesadillas for dinner, and I think I’m going to use chicken thighs because the grocery store rotisseries can be kind of dry, but I guess I could also…” like WHAT! WHO CARES?

But you know what? She does. She’ll even ask me follow-up questions to make sure she really understands that specific quesadilla plan. Because, with me, she’s watching.

***

toby

At the park that day, sitting on a bench and watching my rosy-cheeked children run around, I thought about how kids — who naturally feel the world revolves around them, for better or worse — are like the main characters in their movies. And, as parents, we’re their original and most rapt audience members. We say, “Wow, that was cool” or “I loved watching you play” — just as if you might say, “I’m into this show” and “Give this guy all the Oscars!!!!!!!”

I imagine it’s one reason why a parent’s love and acceptance and validation and approval is SO ESSENTIAL. It’s as if kids are asking, “You’ve been watching my life movie from the start, tell me I’m doing it right, tell me you think it’s good.”

***

When my sister’s husband Paul died nine years ago, she wrote the epilogue for his memoir. Her final words? “For much of his life, Paul wondered about death — and whether he could face it with integrity. In the end, the answer was yes. I was his wife and a witness.”

Around the same time, she published an essay in The New York Times and repeated the sentiment: “When pain wracked his body, I drew hot baths, kneaded his muscles, and offered anti-inflammatories, music and the simple act of witnessing.”

Feeling witnessed, feeling known, feeling the opposite of alone in this world. How beautiful is that?

***

anton

When Anton was three, he went through a phase of regular tantrums. As a parent, I wracked my brain for a way to help until I remembered some old advice: try sitting on the floor with your child every day, even for a couple minutes. Don’t plan a structured activity, just follow their lead; you can even simply watch them.

“Almost every morning for the past two weeks, I’ve been playing on the floor,” I wrote back in 2016. “I’ll build a bridge, comment on the tracks Anton chooses, or even just watch him and the way he breathes really slowly when he concentrates.” And guess what? The approach worked. The tantrums didn’t disappear (I mean, he was three), but the frequency plummeted and he immediately brightened up.

After all, he just wanted to be seen.

***

Thoughts? I would love to hear… xoxo

P.S. The best thing my mom did as a parent, six words to say to your child, and trying out slow parenting.

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