Never Stop Learning
When my children were small I would look around to see who I’d like to take my influence from. There’s lots of information around, but there’s nothing like someone with older children who you respect and admire to whom you can take your big and small questions. Someone who’s got the scars and the victories and is able to look back with humility and wisdom and share from her heart.
So for that reason I asked a few people who had inspired them. And I was introduced to Tania West.
She’s a well-thought through, self effacing, fun-loving mum and she’s also humble enough to know she’s still growing and learning, at the same time as giving out pearls of wisdom.
I loved many things about our conversation, but particularly when she had the epiphanic moment of handing her children responsibility for their own problems. I love how she handles that.
She and Guy have four children from 36 years-old down to 29, three grandchildren and two more on the way.
Here are just a few highlights from our conversation. Pop across to the podcast here to hear our chat.
Are we training our children?
We’re certainly training ourselves!
Boundaries is a teaching opportunity. When I was in a good place discipline was about teaching and learning. When I wasn’t in a good place I was more chaotic and out of control because I wasn’t in control of myself and that was when I said things I thought I’d never say, such as, “Because I told you so." But that was more about my lack of control. The training part was for me. And I needed to keep myself in a healthy place to set limits so they could teach and grow and learn and I needed to be in an emotionally healthy place for that.
What unsettled you and took you to that unhealthy place? When we didn’t have a car and I couldn’t get out, for example. Getting four small children out to get a pint of milk was hard work. I had no parents locally, so there were times when it felt so so intense – it would be tea time, a child needing a breast-feed, two of them arguing - and those were the times when I reverted to being the controlling shouty parent I didn’t want to be. But one thing I did get right is that I always apologised. I would say, “Mummy was wrong, I was shouting and that wasn’t ok.” And they were always so forgiving. The teaching (for me) often came out of me doing it wrong and apologising. That lead to conversations about emotional management and what to do when it goes wrong. I can remember using those times to teach about emotions. We would talk about what was going on and how we could handle things better.
Somethings are excusable but nothing is unforgivable.
Is there pressure to be perfect?
We have facebook and Instagram and we can project any image we choose to. There's so much pressure there. I remember, I started not to worry about what people thought of me, not e-learning the house or making fancy food when people came over, but just being me. I was on my own a lot of the time so making connections were really important to me and they needed to be authentic. I wanted to make genuine connections.
Attract the people who are attracted to the authentic, vulnerable you.
Never stop learning
I always wanted to learn and continue to learn so I did parent courses, even before my first was born. In those courses I had epiphanic moments, such as not telling your children what they’re doing wrong, but telling them what you want them to do – not what you don’t want them to do. I found it helpful to do parenting courses and talk about approaches with friends and share how we were getting on. I found that really helpful, It was reinforcing. There were times when I’d lose my emotional balance and be able to share that with friends who were on the same page. We would motivate and encourage each other.
It's your problem
Another great tool was teaching them to own their own problems rather than sorting it all out myself. They were so resourceful. I was amazed at how good they were when I stood back. Sometimes they really were stuck and I would say, “can I help you with your problem?” I would give them suggestions and they would choose the way forward. My language was always clear. It was their problem, but I could help them.
I would always put it on them. It’s a coaching approach – “what have you thought of? How can I help?” But I hadn’t realised you could do it from such a young age; my youngest was about four. As adults they are great problem solvers, they’ve had to do it since they were young and they’ve really risen to it. I have some great examples of when they have been gentle, but firm and direct with people who they are having a problem with. Its’ brilliant. I would really affirm them for their approaches when they were gentle but assertive through difficult issues.
Choose your battles - with your partner!
I learned through getting it wrong that it's healthy to make room for your partner in parenting. Let your partner step in, even if they don’t do it your way. Allowing your partner to do things their way without saying "Don’t do this or that or do it this way." That way they feel equally confident and enjoy their experience. If they are always being corrected they will begin to withdraw. As an antenatal teacher I would observe mothers who continually criticised their partner and it was counterproductive.
So, I would say choose your battles. If they're doing something that's ruining the child’s self esteem, talk about it out of the heat of the situation and own the problem as a couple, “How can we together address the low self esteem,” rather than, “I want you to do everything the way I think we should do it.” I know I’ve got that wrong many times, but it just creates a wedge. So I’ve learned, through the experience of doing it badly, that there’s a better way to do it.
I’m not an expert; I’m still learning.
When my son and his wife were expecting their first child I asked my daughter-in-law what books she was reading so I could see what culture they wanted to embrace. And I had an epiphanic moment when I read the book she recommended. It was about allowing a child to rehearse and repeat a difficult experience and vocalise it in order for it to be taken healthily into their long term memory. The book is The Whole Brained Child.
Labelling positively or negatively is not kind to a child. We were very careful not to label, positively or negatively. Such as “You’ve done a a really helpful thing.” Rather than “you are helpful.” We were keen to distinguish between the child’s behaviour and who they were. So even when they were acting out or doing ‘unkind’ or ‘naughty’ things, we were really careful not to say “You are…”
Tania had so many great tips and tools for family life. Do pop along and have a listen here
Tania West is a leadership trainer and is also a published author.
Currently she and her husband Guy are couples-coaches and Tania has written marriage and couple support programmes.
To contact Tania for leadership or couples coaching pop here