WORDS: Mark Le Messurier
Mark is a teacher, counsellor, public speaker, and the author of 16 publications. He works in private practice in Adelaide as a mentor to children and adolescents, and as a coach to parents. Mark is the recipient of SA Senior Australian of the Year (2022).
To begin my relationship with you I have a gift. It isn’t one you can touch, but I’d like you to carry it in your mind, forever. It’s a kaleidoscope with the power to offer an emotionally connecting set of parenting attitudes and skills I describe as using our “soft eyes and warm hearts”. Gently twist it, and it shifts your understanding from one perspective to a different and more insightful one.
Creating wonderful possibilities
I think of family as an intricate, dynamic, messy, and beautifully chaotic world. Not as a ‘happy Instagram family’ or one characterised by ‘picture-perfect obedience’. Family exists to protect and nourish…but the living in it is not always easy. When one of us is not doing well, none of us are. When we take out the kaleidoscope, twist it, engage our “soft eyes and warm hearts” we create wonderful possibilities from the chaos of family.
Let me explain how this might look in real life. What about the inevitable moment when you must intervene and call one of your children on an unsafe, careless, or selfish behaviour. In this moment, do you lead by lovingly reaching out, placing a reassuring arm around them, and warmly bringing them closer? Might you kiss them on the head, even if they’re a teen, and say, “oops, that didn’t go so well. We’ll talk later. Hey, what can you do to fix things for now?”
Later, you will follow up. In the meantime, by connecting with “soft eyes and a warm heart” you have buoyed your child’s composure, kept their dignity, freed them from shame, and left them in a malleable position where they are more likely to feel a little regret and might want to make changes, rather than being forced to.
Changing gears in our parenting
Now you are beginning to get a glimpse of the sacred ground I want to build with you. Cultivating this style is not easy. It demands practice and refinement and will feel uncomfortable for those who received harsh words, force, and punishment to be controlled in their formative years. My invitation is to coach you to change gears, and feel affection for your child, when they are being stubborn, argumentative, even oppositional. This is what they need if we want to create trust and loyalty in our relationship. It is a call for us to be at our most respectful when, sometimes, they are at their least.
The “soft eyes and warm heart” technique safeguards a young person’s emerging spirit because we separate their behaviour from who they are, and who they can be in the future. We suddenly transport them into a precious space where they have the best chance to own their behaviour. On the flip side, when we push young people too far, too fast with scathing words and harsh actions they bunker down in self-protection mode. Their thoughts switch solely to us; our tough actions and how unjust we were. They lose sight of their responsibility and what they might do to repair the situation.
Our children are under construction
I also want your new kaleidoscope to remind you of the order of life. You are the parent, and they are your child. Their brains, bodies, and spirit are in the process of precious construction. Now it has become your time to teach the exquisiteness of being human to your children. To immerse them into our greatest assets as a species: kindness, perseverance, optimism, integrity, humility, empathy, personal responsibility, teamwork, creativity, innovation and so much more. To explain that they are beautifully unique and worth your every effort. That the atoms which merged to make them who they are, did so like never before, and will never do so again. There will never be another of them anywhere in the universe. They are a matchless creation on this fabulous blue planet. Yes, there will be all kinds of challenges ahead.
Our mission is to support them to find their goodness, their happiness within, to feel loved, to be kind to others, and be especially gentle on themselves. We want them to rejoice in their humanness. They are so much more than enough! Now is not who they will be in the future, but what we do now and how we do it, sets a trajectory for their future.
Parenting with “soft eyes and warm hearts” connects leadership, composure, strength, and kindness. Once upon a time it was thought a parent could only lead with strength, and kindness shown in the trickier moments was weakness.
If we are to shift patterns of behaviour, positively, from one generation of parents to the next please accept my gift and let’s continue to walk together.