Parenting is Not an Instinct

The idea of the ‘maternal instinct’ is old, tired, and culturally irrelevant in this day and age; what ALL parents–mothers and fathers– must start hearing is that parenting is a muscle and a mindset.  Instinct implies either you’ve got it or you don’t.  Parenting is neither of those things.  If you adapt easier to your role as a parent, great.  Good for you.  That’s not typical.  If you feel sometimes inadequate, often stressed, and frequently confused–congratulations, you’re A PARENT.

Undoubtedly there are some natural inclinations that do exist and scientists have proved this time and time again (example: we are biologically programmed to want to snuggle our babies).  But it would be amiss for parents to think that the birth of their first child comes a graduation cap of achievement for themselves.  Birth is just the beginning of the journey and you are never an expert at the beginning of a journey.  Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours of doing something to be considered an expert.  But the problem lies within the fact that your children are not static beings and their constant development requires constant new skills to train your parenting muscles.  Training your parenting “muscles” takes intentional practice until it becomes muscle memory and you do it automatically with unconscious competence.  Before parents can reach unconscious competence their must be an entire journey of consciousness–raised raw awareness of their own needs and desires.  And truly that journey never ends.



Mindset is another valuable way to look at parenting.  Mindsets are beliefs—beliefs about yourself and your most basic qualities. Think about your intelligence, your talents, your personality. Are these qualities simply fixed traits, carved in stone and that’s that? Or are they things you can cultivate throughout your life?

People with a fixed mindset believe that their traits are just givens. They have a certain amount of brains and talent and nothing can change that. If they have a lot, they’re all set, but if they don’t… So people in this mindset worry about their traits and how adequate they are. They have something to prove to themselves and others.

People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, see their qualities as things that can be developed through their dedication and effort. Sure they’re happy if they’re brainy or talented, but that’s just the starting point. They understand that no one has ever accomplished great things—not Mozart, Darwin, or Michael Jordan—without years of passionate practice and learning.

Flex, stretch, grow, and practice practice practice.

Mindset and muscle. Flex, stretch, grow, and practice practice practice. If you are feeling like your kids are not “doing childhood” the way your envisioned it for them, that is OK.  Being conscious, present, and attuning yourself to their needs (as opposed to your  needs or your projections of what you think they need) will allow them to grow into their own authentic self.  Believe in cultivating your own truths and let your child teach you theirs.  Follow their lead, strengthen your skills, and practice your parenting intentionally to feel competent in your journey.

What parenting skill do you need to practice?

(c) 2016, Nurture: Family Education and Guidance

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