The Importance of Self-Reflection for Parents
Each year at my school, our 8th grade class travels to Costa Rica to study sustainable agriculture, perform service projects at elementary schools, and at the end of each day of the trip, reflect on themselves and their futures. It’s an almost unbelievable privilege these kids have, and our school generally does a good job of helping them understand this.
Several years ago, I was able to take the trip as a faculty chaperone. It was a beautiful, lively, and exhausting adventure, and I was able to bond in a profound way with both the students and teachers I accompanied. In addition to all the great conversations and exhilarating events, one of the power powerful experiences I had was near the end of the trip, during a three-hour “solo” session I had on a quiet, peaceful beach.
During those three hours, all of us—students and teachers—spread out, far and wide, with just our travel journals. Each of us used this time to reflect, and/or just be.
Such a privilege, right? I couldn’t believe it myself.
I occasionally find myself thinking about that “solo” experience, because it was the first time I experienced the transformational power of self-reflection. During those three hours on the beach, I found myself reflecting on what was happening in my life at that time. I jotted down thoughts and ideas that I had not been able to express before then because I hadn’t even let them rise to the surface of my awareness. Until then, I didn’t know they were there.
Ideas began to flow after only a few minutes of sitting quietly, and then they just kept flowing: ways to address challenges in my personal life, personal and professional goals for the months and years to come, stories I wanted to write, lessons I could teach my students.
I felt like I couldn’t write down my thoughts fast enough.
Looking back, I was at a point in my life where I hadn’t given myself time to reflect in a long, long time. As so many of us are seemingly expected to do, I worked long hours. And outside of work, I kept myself busy with social activities, television, and/or mindless internet browsing. I hadn’t really given myself time to pause and think about where I was in my life and where I was going.
Since that “solo” experience, I’ve been better about finding time for self-reflection. And now that I’m parent, this has become both more important and more challenging. Three-hour reflections on the beach aren’t happening all that often. (By that I mean they are never happening.) But I am finding more and more ways to self-reflect—with writing, meditation, and prayer being most meaningful to me. If you’re a parent, find whatever form of self-reflection feels most meaningful to you and do it as often as you can.
This means intentionally making time to be alone and to be quiet for a little while, without our phone, books, or whatever else we could use as distractions. Try not to go into these moments of quiet with the goal of coming up with lots of great ideas for self-improvement. That feels stressful. Just go into it with the goal of getting back in touch with yourself—all those needs, desires, worries, and passions that exist just beneath the surface of your consciousness.
Paradoxically, by feeling more connected with yourself, you’ll feel more connected to the world.
Also, after a bit self-reflection, our actions begin to correspond better with who we really are. We notice the gap between our True Self and how we can actually act, and we naturally want to work on making that gap smaller. In this way, self-reflection seems to enable us to live with more integrity, which, as parents, is of the utmost importance.
In The Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes: Biblical Studies and Ethics for Real Life, theologian and priest Yiu Sing Lucas Chan writes in a chapter about the sixth beatitude in the Gospel of Matthew—the one that says “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God”—that “integrity as a whole conveys a sense of personal congruence, a correspondence between one’s ‘private’ and ‘public’ selves. From a religious perspective, it points to an undivided life commanded by God; hence it opposes hypocrisy that implies a divided heart.”
Doesn’t this ring true? We must do the work of aligning who we really are inside with how we actually act every day. And self-reflection enables us to bridge this gap.
When we take stock of whatever’s going on beneath the surface of our thoughts, words, and actions, we’re better able to understand the gap between the way we are living today and the way we know we should be living. (Side-note: We don’t need to shame ourselves about this gap. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s best to try to extend ourselves the same grace that we extend to others. We’re constantly in a state of becoming. Who we are today is different in some way(s) from who we were yesterday.)
If, as parents, we aspire to be “pure of heart”—if we do our best to live with integrity—then we create the conditions in our homes to help our children live this way as well. They’re always watching us carefully, right? So let’s commit ourselves to the purification process that is self-reflection. Let’s distill all that noise inside our heads into the sounds we care about most deeply—the ones humming in our hearts. Naturally, our kids will tune in, and they’ll want to listen for what’s humming in their hearts, too.