As moms, we've been gifted with very strong built-in instincts, which are a powerful tool to guide our parenting.
But if you’re like many moms I talk to, or myself 24 years ago, you often either don’t know how to access your instincts or you don’t fully trust them to guide your parenting.
Or you easily followed your instincts when you child was a baby, but it became much harder once she became a toddler, started exploring everything around her and developing strong preferences.
If that’s the case, read on for some guidance, suggestions and encouragement to trust yourself and discover your own truth when it comes to parenting and your family.
FOLLOW YOUR INSTINCTS
I first heard about my instincts when I was a new mom, in a La Leche League meeting, when I was encouraged to ‘follow my instincts.’
Coming from a family where my feelings were never acknowledged or taken into account, and where I was made wrong, shamed and sometimes even punished for them, I learned early on to not place any value on them and eventually to completely ignore them.
I learned to live my life ‘above the neck,’ valuing only rational arguments, spending tons of time trying to come up with ways of convincing people of the validity my ideas, in the hopes of sometimes getting my needs met and getting what I wanted in my life.
So when I was advised in La Leche League to follow my instincts, it felt like those moms were speaking a foreign language. I had absolutely no frame of reference to process this information. I was completely puzzled.
But as I kept spending time who moms who parented primarily from an instinctual place, I started realizing the ways in which I too was connected to my instincts and that they were already guiding me.
MY DECISION TO FOLLOW MY INSTINCTS
Once I got exposed to La Leche League’s beautiful philosophy for caring for babies, and connected with like-minded moms, I started reading numerous books that they recommended.
I deeply resonated with concepts like the importance of secure attachment, of focusing on meeting not only physical needs but also emotional ones, trusting children, respectful and peaceful guidance, etc.
I also realized how profoundly my own needs went unmet as a child, and how much I still suffered from the consequences of it in every aspect of my life.
And I became determined that my children would not suffer in the way I had, and would not grow up with all the baggage that I still struggle to free myself from, 24 years later.
They would grow up with a rock solid sense of self, feeling unconditionally loved, that they mattered, were welcome, had all the support they needed, both physically and emotionally, and that they were perfect exactly as they were.
They would grow up with all I so desperately longed for as a child, and still did as an adult.
So I made what was possibly the most important decision I ever made in my life:
I committed myself to only doing what truly felt right to me when it came to parenting and fully listening to my instincts, even if they guided me toward practices that 99% of people around me, including pediatricians and so-called experts, disagreed with.
I followed my instincts when it came to deciding if my baby should sleep with me or in a separate room.
… when deciding whether my children were too old to sleep in our shared bedroom or not.
… when deciding how long it was okay to breastfeed my child.
… when deciding if I should push them to separate from me before they were comfortable doing so.
… when deciding whether or not to send my children to preschool or elementary.
And essentially, what I did (and I highly suggest you do too!) was blocked out what most of society was doing, and tuned in to my heart, to that place of knowing in me. And I also looked at my family and how we were all doing. And did what felt right for us.
If I needed an outside reference, in addition to getting feedback from parents I trusted, I’d think about what moms have done for most of humanity and what native people (who are much more connected to their instincts and a natural way of living than we are) still do, rather than the current fad or what’s been done for the last decade or 100 years.
INSTINCTS OR CONDITIONING?
Often times, I hear parents describe their feelings or reactions as instinctual, when what they actually are are automatic (reactive) or stemming from conditioning.
It’s important to understand this distinction, so parents truly learn to parent from their instincts (or inner guidance,) and don’t erroneously follow their conditioning’s guidance, mistaking it for their instincts.
Below are some examples of each.
I have no simple answer for this. I’ve found it to be a process of discovery that’s involved a lot of inner work, a lot of clearing of conditioning, but mostly a lot of learning to value and trust my own voice and feelings.
But here are a few tips for you that might help:
For me, I often know what’s true because I feel it in my solar plexus. Or it may be a feeling that ‘it feels right in my bones.’ What’s often referred to as ‘the still quiet voice deep inside us.’
I also often experience a sense of relaxation, a grounding, and/or a quieting of my mind when something feels right. And this doesn’t mean that it feels good or is what I’d prefer in the moment, but there’s a feeling of ‘yes, this is the truth of this.’ Like deciding to skip a dear friend’s wedding because of how it’d impact your family, even though you really wanted to go. Choosing not to go back to work after your baby’s born, even though you’re worried about the financial impact of your decision. Pulling your child out of school or daycare, even though it will greatly complicate your life and will affect your ability to work.
(Note that I’m not saying those are things you should do. They are just examples of options which might feel true and right for some moms even though they don’t necessarily feel good.)
In contrast, something that comes from my conditioning often has me choosing it out of the fear of the consequence, or from a belief that I’m bad or wrong if I don’t take that action. It also often has more to do with what others have told me, beliefs I’ve developed about myself through others’ influence. It’s fear based. A sense of agitation. The energy is more in my head, in my thinking, rather than a knowing in my body. It’s a rational belief, one that could easily shift with new information.
Another perspective on this was presented to me by the wonderful long term editor of Mothering Magazine, Peggy O’Mara. In an editorial in the 90’s (which I so wish I could find again!) she recommended that we choose to parent out of love instead of out of fear. This idea always stayed with me, and can sometimes be used to determine if what you’re feeling is true guidance or just fear based.
WHAT SOCIETY TELLS YOU
One challenge to following our instincts in parenting is that what they guide us to do is often in direct opposition to what most parents around us do and professionals recommend.
Here are some examples of comments I read frequently in peaceful parenting and Continuum Concept Facebook groups, where moms are doubting their instincts:
(And for the record, all 3 of my daughters now sleep through the night, in their own bed, are weaned, and are comfortable doing sleepovers. ☺ They also function well in society, did well in school and have great social skills, all without ever being punished or pushed into doing anything they weren’t ready for.)
One thing that’s sorely missing in our society is the organic learning about parenting that we got from most of humanity through living closely in tribes or close knit communities.
And unfortunately, in recent history, parenting practices have mostly gotten very far away from what humans truly need in order to develop optimally, sometimes through flawed logic, sometimes through a misguided strategy to prevent a problem, sometimes so companies can make profit and many times for the convenience of parents
I think it’s critical for most parents to have access to more experienced ones who share your values, to have a sense of what’s normal and healthy in children. I highly recommend that you hold back from asking advice (or listening to unsolicited ones) from people whose values you don’t share, and find some people you really trust to use as reference. In the world of Facebook, this means never asking questions or taking advice in groups that don’t share your values, and finding at least one that really shares yours to turn to.
YOUR INNER GUIDANCE
Though they’re closely related, I think of our instincts and our inner guidance as two separate things.
Our parenting instincts are what all mammals are born with, and which guide us in properly caring for our babies, and in protecting ourselves and our families.
Our inner guidance (or inner knowing) is the place in us that knows what’s right because it all at once takes into account every aspect of a situation to determine the best course of action.
My goal when I work with parents is to support them in getting to a place where parenting feels easy, and their life with their children is harmonious, joyful, and they all feel connected.
This happens through supporting them in connecting with their inner guidance so they can consistently parent positively and in alignment with their values AND in a way that works for the uniqueness of their family and each family member.
It usually requires becoming aware of and shedding their conditioning, and creating new pathways to parent from a place of knowing their children are innately good, being on the same team and stepping into their role as the leader of the family.
Whereas many parents seek specific parenting techniques and solutions to their parenting problems, and that’s what many experts offer, this isn’t something that I provide.
Because I don’t believe it’s what best serves parents in the long run.
And because no one can know what’s right for you, your child, and your family.
I believe as a parent, you are best served by being provided guidance and support in clearing what’s in your way of finding what’s true for you, for your unique child, for your unique circumstance and family. In connecting with and parenting from your inner guidance.
When trying to make a decision, your mind can only consider a limited number of factors at a time. But your gut feeling, your inner guidance is usually taking all the relevant factors into account:
How often have you said “I knew I should have done that!” but you instead let a rational argument or someone’s opinion lead you in a different direction? How often have you had a gut feeling, not followed it, and later regretted it?
Start practicing tuning in to and following those gut feelings, and see what happens.
THE CHALLENGE WHEN CHILDREN GET OLDER
Through my work, I often talk with women who had relative ease in connecting with and following their instincts when their child was a baby, but find it increasingly hard as their baby turns into a toddler or a preschooler.
As I experienced a lot with my first child, they often have a sense of what feels wrong, like punishing or hitting a child, or yelling at them, but don’t know what to do instead (this is the main reason parents contact me and choose to do one of my parenting programs.)
They unfortunately lack the modeling and the experience (since most were parented very differently) of effective peaceful parenting to know what to do.
This is the time when it’s critical to learn to connect to your own parenting voice so you can keep parenting in alignment with your values and living out the beautiful promise of peaceful parenting instead of disconnecting from your instincts and gradually parenting in a more and more mainstream way.
The most valuable investment you can possibly make for your family is to get the support you need to achieve this, if you’re not able to get there on your own.
The principles I teach in my 2 parenting programs apply to children of all ages, and most also apply to all close relationships. I’ve had a number of moms report wonderful improvement in their marriage while doing my Clean Parenting™ Program, because many of the concepts (like being on the same team, seeing everyone as innately good, creatively looking for win-win’s so everyone’s needs can be met (including yours!!), setting healthy boundaries, focusing on meeting needs and identifying underlying issues instead of reacting to situations) are deeply valuable to any relationship and what we organically would do if we were grounded in a place of compassion and care for everyone involved.
If you resonate with my perspective and would like my support in accessing your inner guidance, clearing your conditioning and finding your unique way to parenting peacefully and effectively, check out my Clean Parenting™ Program page. If you answer 'yes!' to the 11 questions in the section 'This program will work for you if...' and all you read speaks to you, email me. We'll set up a time to chat so we can connect and make sure the program’s right for you.
In my experience, the most powerful help you can get is to clear the way to accessing your own voice, and to provide you support in connecting to the place in you that actually knows how to parent. (You know, those days, when you’re feeling great, are connected to your child and when something comes up, you just somehow know how to handle it positively?) I’d love to do that with you if you’re interested!
I’M SO GRATEFUL TO THE YOUNG ME!
I am so grateful to the young mom I was 24 years ago who had the courage to trust her instincts, ignore all the naysayers who predicted pretty awful things for her beloved children, and committed herself to learning to and to parent in full alignment with them.
It took me about five years of intense study to get there, but it then led to a life with my daughters that was relatively easy, was joyful and harmonious, and to now adults who are successful in the ways that matter to them, and so well adjusted!
We’ve all reaped the benefits of the commitment I made to myself and to them when Cassandra was just a baby.
Lots of love,
Want my support in connecting to and consistently parenting from your inner guidance and truth by fall?
Then join me in my next Clean Parenting™ group!
SUGGESTIONS: If you liked this article, you may also enjoy: