Can you teach what you do not know?

The saying goes “When the student is ready the teacher will appear.” What I wonder is: can I help Gracelyn learn that which I am still very new at learning myself?

At one level, the obvious answer is “yes” because we can be students learning alongside one another. My real question then is how to foster her growth in an area where my own current behavior may model precisely what I don’t want her to mimic.

Learning Compassion with Oneself

When I make a mistake that is really upsetting for me, I generally do two things automatically:

  • continue to regret my behavior by obsessing on it in my mind
  • judge myself as bad and shameful

Take the example of what happened the other day when getting out of the car to go to the library with Gracelyn. Normally Gracelyn gets into the baby sling and I carry her into the library. For some reason she didn’t want to go into the sling and let me know this by stiffening her body and making non-verbal protestations. I could of heard her communication and simply carried her in or let her walk with me. Instead, I repeatedly attempted to get her into the sling and then the ergo carrier while “reasoning” with her that her wriggling was dangerous (I could accidentally drop her) and that fussing was uncalled for (She “should” just do what I wanted was my demand). She got more and more upset and finally I carried her in my arms while justifying my behavior to her as we walked. YUK!

While I realize that such parental irrationality, controlling, and plain jerkishness isn’t the worst behavior in the world, treating my beloved daughter in this way is FAR from how I desire to be with her. Thus once I regained my sanity and compassion, I felt horrid about how I had behaved and had a hard time letting go of the experience. I repeatedly replayed the incident in my mind, cringing at my behavior, feeling embarrassment and shame, and fearing that I’d harmed my daughter forever.

What I Want to Learn and Teach

So here’s the problem. I want several things for Gracelyn when it comes to making mistakes.

  • I want her to know that mistakes are totally normal and totally acceptable
  • I want her to know that our behavior is a choice that may or may not reflect our best self in any given moment
  • I want her to know that she is ALWAYS and ALL WAYS loveable even when her behavior isn’t what she or others desire it to be
  • I want her to be self-reflective enough to change behavior she chooses AND compassionate enough to be gentle with herself when she discovers behavior she doesn’t like

The good news is that I know what I want for Gracelyn and I know that I want this for myself as well. The challenge is that the model I currently set for her isn’t the one I want her to follow. So I guess that means that for our mutual benefit, my current opportunity is to start changing the way I am with myself when I make a mistake while also doing my best to help her form a different habit from the start.

“If you must love your neighbor as yourself, it is at least as fair to love yourself as your neighbor.”
~ Nicolas de Chamfort

BTW, since I’m in learning mode, feel free to share any wisdom you have on this subject (maybe the learning can be accelerated that way). 🙂


5 thoughts on “Can you teach what you do not know?

  1. Beautifully written and well said.
    Please don’t beat up on yourself, Shonnie, for the mistake you feel you made; because, it is obvious to all who know you and Bruce that you are both full of love and compassion for not only Gracelyn, but for each other and those of us fortunate enough to be a part of your community.
    It is just that – a learning experience – for both you and Gracelyn.What I might have done differently, would have been to,allow her to walk. alongside you holding her hand tightly, since she seems to be trying to demonstrate her independance…

  2. I agree with Abby on both counts: your and Bruce’s love for G, and the option you might take next time. You already know a lot about how to be with G and vice versa; the issue as I see it is that G will be changing much more rapidly than you will be for the next 20 years, and if you get into a habit that turns into a demand, it’s going to be met with resistance. Kids go thru periods where they’re sooo predictable that we’re seduced into thinking we’ve got them sussed … and that’s when they change. Often we parents/grandparents try to get them to “revert” to the “good” behavior, and we miss that this new behavior is the next step on their learning curve. Most of the time we aren’t expecting it or ready for it, but if it’s been peaceful for a week or a month, be watching for the next phase to begin!
    Sometimes it’s inconvenient to let them do it their way; sometimes it’s downright dangerous; sometimes it’s just fine; sometimes it breaks your heart open. You are a wise, intuitive soul — you’ll know when to clamp down and when to ease off.

  3. Hi Shonnie! What a beautiful, heart-felt post! I don’t have any advice from a parenting perspective, but as a mindset coach, I feel compelled to share a few things that came up for me as I read this.

    Firstly, you are clearly a compassionate, loving mother who wants to create the very best for your daughter. There will always be these kinds of things that will come up as you are each discovering what works best for you. You have to know what you don’t want, what doesn’t work, what feels “off” before you can be totally clear about what you do want. In that way, these “yuk” dilemmas are really important, because now you know what you don’t want for the next time this comes up.

    The other thing that came up for me is that any time you need something – or someone – to be different so you can feel better, you are going to be out of alignment with your own source energy. The “yuk” feeling that you had was an indicator of that misalignment. And the easiest way to get back into alignment is to remember that you get to choose your thoughts and Gracelyn gets to choose hers. They may not always line up, but what a gift to teach her at this young age that her happiness is her responsibility. I think this will serve her very well.

    And lastly, (please forgive me for going on and on… just realized this is quite a lengthy comment), I definitely think you can teach Gracelyn what you are now learning. In fact, you are probably even more well-positioned to teach it when it’s fresh in your mind like this. What a smart girl to have chosen such a conscientious mother! 🙂

    Much love to you all!

  4. Thanks for your wise and compassionate comments, Abby, Jenny and Jana. I know that Shonnie’s intention (and mine, as well) is to be loving and respectful with Gracelyn at all times. Being human, we sometimes miss the mark. Shonnie has described such an example, and as for me, I sometimes get busy checking email or Facebook and don’t readily respond to Gracelyn’s calls to be with me in that moment.

    Shonnie and I have an agreement to gently bring unloving or disrespectful actions to the other’s attention, and we have an agreement with Gracelyn to apologize to her when we miss the mark with her. This works well, and having said that, both Shonnie and I have behaviors that have been brought into our consciousness through our desire to be the best parents possible so that Gracelyn has the opportunity to fully blossom into who she’s meant to be. Shonnie describes what she’s working on in her post. For me, it’s about letting go of my mental to-do list and be present in the moment with Gracelyn, with myself, with others.

    Anyway, I actually began this comment to acknowledge my partners in this journey–Shonnie for her inviolable commitment to Gracelyn and for her unconditional love toward our baby . . . and Gracelyn for her joy for life and openness toward everything that comes her way, even when it’s one of us acting out our unresolved issues. I wouldn’t want to be going down this path with any other momma in the world or any other baby.

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