Presence & authenticity with children
ELIANE SAINTE-MARIE is the founder of Parenting For Wholeness, creator of the acclaimed Clean Parenting program, author of Clean Parenting – The Peaceful Parent’s Essential Handbook, and mother to three wonderful adult daughters. Here she shares her gift of helping parents take peaceful parenting from theory to day-to-day reality.
In my own family, as well as many families I work with, I find presence and authenticity in parenting to be the key to accessing a quality of relationship with our children, and a quality of flow and aliveness in our lives with them, which most parents don’t even realize is possible.
I am a parenting coach, and most moms come to me thinking they need to build new skills in order to be effective parents. But though I teach some skills, the bulk of the work is designed to help them become present.
Present to their children: to their children’s inner experience, essence and uniqueness. To truly see their children through every interaction with them.
Present to themselves: to their values, so they have clarity in their priorities and focus. To their feelings, their needs and their own experience, so they have access to their own guidance. To their conditioning, so they can become aware of obstacles and hopefully be free of them.
Present to what’s happening in the moment, instead of being in their heads, caught up in some narrative that does not support them to deal with the situation effectively.
Some parents come to me seeking specific parenting techniques and solutions to parenting problems, but I don’t provide them. In part, because I don’t believe it’s what best serves parents in the long run, but mostly because no one else can know what’s right for them, for their children, or their family.
My wish for all parents, my
intention when I work with
them, is that they can access
their own guidance. Because
once they do, they can find
the exact words, approach
and solutions for the unique
needs of each situation they
When trying to make a decision, our mind can only consider a limited number of factors at a time. But our inner guidance is usually taking all the relevant factors into account, like:
- Our values;
- Our child’s unique personality;
- What he’s been through and what he’s going through right now, which might influence his behavior;
- Our life as a whole, including our schedule, other people etc.;
- Our intuitive sense of what might be going on and what might happen given specific responses; and
- Factors that aren’t directly related but still have an impact on the situation.
- So I can’t tell parents the right way for them to respond to an issue in their family. What I can do, however, is help them find their own answers. And help them figure out their approach to finding their own answers, so they quickly stop needing any external support.
My wish for all parents, my intention when I work with them, is that they can access their own guidance. Because once they do, they can find the exact words, approach and solutions for the unique needs of each situation they encounter. And this doesn’t happen through studying and memorizing sentences, techniques or tools, but by being fully present and aware, attuned to the moment and whatever is called for in each unique moment.
I do teach some basic principles to parents, such as developing realistic expectations, learning to trust children, being on the same team, addressing the underlying cause of their behaviors, and providing support. And many parents do need help learning to be clear benevolent leaders for their children, in order to provide their children the guidance and sense of security they need.
But the bulk of my work is to support them to access their guidance and to parent in alignment with their values. I support them to create new pathways until they become the new default, and to clear the conditioning that keeps them stuck in reactivity and old patterns of reactions. Then they become confident and capable of easily handling what comes their way, so they’re able to stay present.
One thing that can help us be present with our children is to be authentic. So many parents are looking to me for the right way of expressing themselves, specific words and tactics, when the most effective approach is to be authentic.
Children respond to authenticity, like us, because it is alive. It is what is unarguably true. You can hear and feel authenticity. It creates goodwill. It inspires. It connects. It taps into children’s innate desire to please. It awakens what is alive in them. Being authentic with children is generally much more effective than any other approach because we connect with them when we’re authentic. We truly engage with them, in relationship with them, which is much more likely to activate their innate desire to please us.
I provide this analogy to parents:
Think of a situation in which someone is trying to convince you to do something. How does it feel? How do you react?
Now think of a situation in which someone would like you to do something for them, and they honestly and authentically express their reason for it. How does that feel? How do you respond to that?
When we’re authentic, we take responsibility for our feelings. It can be challenging at times because it forces us to become aware of uncomfortable experiences, be honest about them, and be vulnerable.
Children can handle our range of feelings,
as long as we take responsibility
for them rather than blaming others.
It’s actually important they see
how we handle negative feelings.
Otherwise, how will they learn how to behave
when they have strong feelings?
Here is one practical application of this: instead of trying to come up with effective tactics to get our children to do what we want, simply describe the situation, authentically, as we would to another adult. For example, we might tell a child: “I’m feeling uncomfortable watching you use this sharp knife, because the last time you did you got distracted and almost cut yourself.” Or, “It makes me feel so happy when I wake up to a neat house. Can we please find a way to pick up all the toys before we go to bed?” Or, “I’m really having a hard day today. Would you mind helping your sister out with her snack?”
One caveat to being authentic is to make sure that what’s being shared with children is age appropriate and presented in a responsible way. And that it comes from groundedness and clarity, not reactivity.
Children can handle our range of feelings, as long as we take responsibility for them rather than blaming others. It’s actually important they see how we handle negative feelings. Otherwise, how will they learn how to behave when they have strong feelings?
Also, naming what’s actually going on, which they’re probably picking up on and feel, helps them relax. Their world makes sense, instead of them living in the discord of being told everything’s okay or seeing mom pretending to be happy when they clearly feel it’s not the case. This is a form of gaslighting and pretty damaging to their sense of self and ability to function well in the world.
By being present and authentic with our children, we develop a rich, joyful, connected and harmonious life with them, and also grow in our own ability to be present and live in closer harmony with our values in every area of our lives. What serves us with our children serves us in every other area of our lives, and vice versa. What a beautiful win-win, organic, joyful way to live!
Article by ELIANE SAINTE-MARIE