The Parent Mentor Overflow
By Jack Underwood
Any parent, no matter the race, class, or creed will tell you that raising a child in today’s world is an awesome challenge. Regardless of the circumstances of a pregnancy, put a newborn child in the arms of their mother and/or father for the first time and feelings of love are reflected. From those first precious moments, the parent-child bond begins.
Whether the parent understands or knows it at the time, they have begun perhaps their most important role…as mentor to their child. Wait a minute, mentor? Isn’t that a role an adult plays with a fatherless child or a boss plays with an employee or a coach plays with an athlete? Labeling a parent as mentor is kind of understating the parental role isn’t it? Well, yes it is. But by definition, a mentor is a trusted counselor or guide. Can you think of anyone who serves as a more important guide and counselor to a child than their parent? And in the early development years of every child, this parent mentor role is heightened, as the child is largely dependent upon its parents.
So it is, as the cycle of life begins with each child and parent, with the parent assigned by nature to the role of mentor. The child takes their queue from the parent based on the feedback they receive from the mother or father. Speaking in today’s terms, the child’s software is being downloaded as the program for their internal computer.
Again, depending on circumstances, some parents understand this is a large part of their role…to program, guide, and love their children from the day they are born. Other parents are less “savvy” about their parent mentor role and will do as so many have through the ages and simply parent by instinct. Which parent will provide and nurture the healthy development of their child may have little to do with which understands their greater role going into it. Rather, it more likely will have to do with what the “overflow” of the parent is.
It is human nature to pass along that of which we have in abundance. And in today’s world, it should be of little surprise that many parents are not exactly overflowing in love, patience, and compassion. The challenges of parenthood haven’t evolved or changed much in recent times; the difficulties remain essentially the same…providing, setting a good example, and developing a respectful and productive child when society teaches them to covet other principles and virtues. And if a parent is spending most of their time making ends meet, then they may have trouble meeting the emotional needs of their children. Or if great demands are placed on the parent through work, relationships, and responsibilities, they may simply want to shush the kids away so they can just find some time to breathe. How can a parent be a positive role model and mentor for their children when so much is required from them to just get by?
It can be summed in one phrase: “It’s all about me!”
Yes, that’s right, by being positively selfish in taking care of themself, the parent can grow and become selfless and unselfish in the care and love for their children. By tending to themselves first, their overflow can become exactly what the child needs: Love, patience, understanding, compassion, and guidance.
This is an important point to make. If parents don’t take care of themselves first, their ability to take care of their children is either limited and/or they develop resentment for the sacrifices they “have” to make for their kids.
So how does a parent take care of themselves first without neglecting the needs of their children? This is a question each parent has to answer for themselves, but invariably, it points to, what puts you in touch with something greater than yourself? What do you enjoy, that puts you at peace?
Now if the answers to these questions are things like: “I enjoy my cocktails when I get home at night” or “I unwind when I can just sit and watch TV” or “working helps me to forget about my problems” – these solutions simply provide temporary diversions and guess what, the issues/problems/responsibilities are still there to stare you in the face once those activities end.
So let’s re-ask the question: “What activities allow you to walk with grace with your ongoing issues and responsibilities?” “What activities allow you to remain present with your problems and be able to have a different relationship with them?”
The suggestion here is that by making healthy choices as to how you can embrace your life or circumstances you are moving in the right direction.
For some people this may mean giving themselves 15 minutes in the morning in solitude for prayer and meditation. For others, it might be taking a walk and communing with nature. Perhaps another might find comfort and release in sharing what’s on their mind with a trusted friend. Or, maybe a half hour each day to journal.
John, a friend of mine, who works in a highly demanding corporate environment, confided that he suffers the consequences when he doesn’t take the time to pray in the morning. He told me “It’s like rebooting a computer for me and when I forget or don’t take the time to do it, my settings become disconnected and I end up getting swept away by rough currents of life.”
Do you find yourself getting swept away by the currents of life? If so, answer the questions posed in this text and be selflessly selfish. You may find that you can start having balance and a rich overflow for the precious children in your life.
Jack Underwood is the founder of Rise and Renew Consulting, which specializes in helping individuals and organizations succeed on purpose. He is also the loving father of boys Brendan (19) and Sean (14) through which he has had to develop his own rich overflow