Being a Powerful Parent and Raising You With Empathy

Dear Daughter,

I hold you close. Lithe little toddler body squirming against me as you try and settle. Small human child. One day you will be big and tall and strong. A grown woman, not the little girl I hold now in my arms as you try to relax and sleep. Not the little kid whose body is frantic to move and bursting with energy that even a whole day of play can’t consume.

I see many things in you.

You are my mother who wishes for a happier childhood. You are my father who wishes he had been taught instead of forced. You are each of my friends who wished their parents had talked more and been more involved. You are the cousin who was terrified of the night but who slept alone. You are me when I was small and cried alone in the bathroom because someone told me that emotions were manipulative.

You have grown into none of these things yet, and I hope you never will. You are small and have this chance to grow without this sadness and those regrets.

This is the power that I have. To raise you up full of peace, joy, and with healthy boundaries that I gently teach you to understand.

Parenthood is nothing like what I thought it would be when I was a child myself. It is not a seat of power from which someone mighty rules. Don’t get me wrong, I feel powerful as a parent, but not the type of power that I imagined as a child where things would just fall into place. Rather it’s the power of a strong rain that can easily batter young plants into the mud. It’s the power of a strong wind that can simply topple young trees. It’s a looming thing. An overpowering thing. A crushing thing that when wielded without empathy.. It can simply be destructive. Yes, I’m bigger than you. I’m taller than you. I can tower over you like a mountain and force you to bend to my will.

I don’t want to. I won’t.

I do not remember bending easily to the will of others as a child. Instead I held my spirit carefully inside and learned to simply avoid anger and annoyance as I struggled to form into a woman who would be everything that she needed to be. There was never a punishment that made me realize the error of my ways when I did something wrong. Rather it was when the grownups around me showed true emotion that showed me what things were valued, what things were sorrowful, what things were joyful, what things were appropriate, what things were helpful. I remember every “no” as leaving a void that did not easily fill with “yes” things without first being surrounded by many other little no’s that tried to redirect me by creating walls of negativity instead of simply and gently showing me a better way to act, a better way to ask, a better thing to do.

I’ve found rapidly that being a powerful parent means sitting down so that I am no taller than you are. Embracing you with open arms and helping you put your struggles into a context that you can understand. It means listening to the words that your older brothers have, even when they frustrate me and even when I disagree with them. It means slowing down instead of speeding up. Of gently putting my foot down rather than stomping it in a grown-up tantrum. It means hugging you close when a “no” is upsetting, but quickly showing you all the things that are around you that are a “yes” and that you can immerse yourself in without worry.

Being a powerful parent means raising you with empathy. It means being open to the delightful good that is inside of you rather than fearing everything that you will ever do wrong. It means snatching up your little hand with glee and running down the paths that we can explore together in your childhood rather than sitting back and directing you with a series of negatives in the hope of your finding a more positive path to follow.

Being powerful means teaching you that you have power inside of you as well rather than being afraid that you’ll find that out on your own and that it will be the end of parental dominance.

I’m big enough and strong enough to acknowledge that you are a person. Fully formed and full of thoughts and feelings of your own. I understand that my job is not to imagine a different child and force you to bend to the shape of a mold, but rather it is to keep you safe and teach you as you explore and learn.

I’m powerful not because I’m bigger and stronger and more intimidating than you. Not because I can bend you to my will and force you into things and deny you freedom or ownership of your things. I’m powerful not because I can yell louder than you can or because I could hit you.

Oh gosh, no. I’m powerful because I have the world to show you, daughter. Because I have many things that I have learned that I want to teach you. Because my arms are there for you to find comfort in when you make mistakes that you regret. I’m powerful because I can sit next to you when you’ve made a huge mistake and I can forgive you for the hurt that you caused because in that moment I’m trying to help you navigate the ways to make it better. I’m powerful because I’m a teacher. A shower-of-things.

I’m powerful because I am mindful of the power that a parent has during those moments where they feel powerless. And because I’m not afraid to approach you softly when you’ve gone hard and resistant.

I want to raise you without the sadness that I see in so many people whose parents saw them as something to conquer and control or whose parents saw them as something to put on a shelf and ignore.

I’m powerful because I allow myself to feel empathy, not because I’ve chosen to parent you without sympathy and with force. I’m powerful because I walk along side you rather than avoiding your journey when it is more difficult than my own.

You’re small still, but I see so much of my mother in you. She sees herself in you as well. “It’s like seeing pictures of myself when I was little… If I had a happy childhood.” she says sometimes. All of the pictures of her when she was your age show a somber sad little face. She wanted to be taught instead of trained. The only thing that her training taught her was that she was “borned bad”. She said that when she was not even two. Borned bad.

You, dear girl, were borned good. So very very good. And so very very human. Full of mistakes to make and things to discover. Your grandma was too. The power I have as a parent is that I have the ability to choose to make sure you know this. That you were born good. While you might grow to make bad choices here and there- as we all do… YOU, your spirit and your heart.. YOU were born good.

And I will never let a moment of my own upset allow me to try and convince you otherwise. I will be as big and powerful and strong as I can, and I will hold my empathy through my upset.

<3 Mama

15 thoughts on “Being a Powerful Parent and Raising You With Empathy

  1. Sarah – again, this is amazing. It puts into words exactly what I am trying to do in striving to be the parent that I wanted (and still wish for).

    I can also see the shift in how my husband parents because of you. It is beautiful. Our sons are thriving under this graceful and gentle approach.

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  2. Thank you Sarah. You are an inspiration, both in the way you raise your little ones, and the beauty and power of your writing. You have no idea how much I treasure your blog posts. They are things of wonder, not to mention excellent reminders to me of how I want to approach bringing up my little boy. Thank you again.

  3. I have just found you.. thank you. I am struggling with my 3 year old. I needed to read this and start afresh tomorrow. I have not been a good mummy recently, I feel I have lost my way. I have an 8 month old, I find parenting a baby, easier than a toddler. Nursing , co-sleeping, it all falls into place. Toddlers are hard x

  4. Seriously outstanding and brought tears to my eyes. I’m new to your writing but I will be reading much much more.

  5. So beautiful and so easy to forget when your teen is screaming I hate you. Please everyone print this out and keep it handy for the teen years. It’s going to be a bumpy ride 😉 Keep the lines of communication open…stay close. Don’t judge, allow room when it’s so confusing to be in their own bodies. Hug them even when they say they don’t want a hug because they DO!

  6. This is such a touching, moving letter which had tears streaming down my face – thankyou for sharing it! I feel and understand every word you wrote, and am striving to be the best mummy I can be for my little girl. She is my sunshine & I would love to be hers too 😉 Namaste x

  7. Sarah, you are so wonderful… Thank you again so much for sharing your beautiful heart and mind with us.. I sent this to my DH immediately with tears in my eyes, he saw me and asked if I had cried and I said yes, I had another one of your amazing pieces.. Btw, I second Sadie, I keep wondering if you’ll write a book and I am sure we are to the only ones :-)

  8. I agree with the first comment. I went against my instincts and fell into the pressure to “train” my baby to sleep, If we didnt do it now it will be harder on him later.
    I regret it and feel like I failed him. We made it a week and then stopped. He did ok the first couple of days but slowly got worse. I stopped, with no clue what we were going to do with him, what is next?
    Then I found your blog which puts in black and white everything I havent been able to explain! Today I nursed and rocked my little man to sleep and enjoyed every second! -and he is taking his longest nap ever!

Leave a Reply