Parenting has been a long series of learning opportunities for me, opportunities that have helped me to grow and transform in ways I am deeply grateful for. My most recent growth edge that's been coming up for a few ways is finding the right use of power.
As a new mom, I had a tricky relationship with power, wanting to have the capacity to make my kids be reasonable and nap, eat, and respond as I expected them to most of the time. I didn't yet know how to engage in the important work of letting them learn from experience rather than by listening to me. For years,my primary work has been to moderate my power, learning to be softer and more present.
Over the past few years, I'm learning that I need to wield power, just in a different form. I've been learning to be aware of my own needs, limits, and authority, listening more closely to myself without ignoring everyone else. It has been a constant process of trail and error, falling too far toward caring for their needs at the expense of my own, then too far toward my own needs at the expense of theirs.
The middle path, awareness and care for both at the same time, is where I'm headed. I'm starting to feel it more easily. It's like riding a bike, you can't be perfectly balanced in every moment, there's an overall sort of balance that keeps the bike up. That's what I'm working on.
Stay tuned, this week I'll write each day about finding my right use of parental power.
On th is Memorial Day, I've been reflecting on both those men and women who didn't survive their military service and those who came back suffering from traumatic and life-changing physical, emotional, and mental injuries.
My heart breaks for the kids and families of both those who have died and those who didn't come back the same as they left. When parents suffer from depression, traumatic brain injury, and post-traumatic stress disorder or physical injuries, families are put under enormous pressure.
May is Mental Health Month, a time to remember how important mental health care is for all of us, and especially for kids whose parents have mental illness. If you are struggling or know a family who may be dealing with a mental health issue, check out resources from NAMI, PTSD in Military Veterans HelpGuide, Military Kids Connect support for parents and kids.
In this video, actor Patrick Stewart offers very personal and candid insights into how PTSD (shell shock) can hurt kids and spouses:
When things get hard, I can be quick to turn away from a situation in frustration. Again and again, I need to remind myself that love doesn't always look like I think. Sometimes I need to be more open and soft than I expect, other times I need to be willing to be firm. Some simple things I've noticed that love means for me are:
Trying again, even when I want to run.
Being patient enough to let someone find their own path.
Offering a kind word, even when I want to snap.
Listening. And listening more.
Ignoring things that are better ignored.
Telling the truth, even when I'm scared.
Looking carefully at my intent and purpose.
Being willing and able to say 'no'--in a loving way.
Caring for myself.
Finding my own freedom and honoring others' freedom.
Letting others forgive me.
Kindness rather than niceness.
Doing nothing together.
Trying new things.
Seeing the beloved's true self, even when they have lost track of it.
Being brave enough to let people see my vulnerability.
Needing and receiving help.
What else? Please add to this list with me!
The Summer Day
by Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean the one who is
eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth
instead of up and down -
who is gazing around with her
enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms
and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall into the grass,
how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed,
how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Mary Oliver is an amazing observer and a master of quiet moments. We all need this kind of experience! I was talking with someone recently about spending what I think must have been hours watching clouds when I was a kid. Nothing else to do, no reason to get anywhere or hurry.
How can we help today's children to have that quiet time?
“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection..”
― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
This morning I've been grappling with how to handle a parenting situation. There's a pretty significant part of me that feels that I should lay down the law, set an ultimatum, and force my son to comply with my rule. There's another (bigger than I wish it was) that wants to hide from the issue. And another part that desperately wants to look smart, wise, and strong rather than risking vulnerability. And a part that wants my child to look good rather than confused. That's a lot, right?
As I was struggling with the confusion I felt and the ways I should probably just fix things, I suddenly realized that I was holding the pain at a distance, defending myself from the vulnerability of the situation by staying in my head. I remembered that my connection with my son will not thrive because I try to control him. Nor will it thrive because I avoid a hard moment and let him avoid it. It's essential that I stay both connected and loving.
As soon as I got there, I felt the pain come in. It's hard and scary to set limits and deal with problems while staying connected. It feels safer to make demands from a disconnected place. And as I realized how important that vulnerability is, my consciousness kicked in, watching the stories, fears, and desires with compassion and clarity.
One of the most loving things we can do for another person is to listen deeply. This older post, Listening to Feelings, explores how to listen to our kids. Today I want to add a bit.
When a child (or teen, adult, even a baby) is upset, they're having an emotional experience that doesn't necessarily make intellectual sense. Most children can't articulate their feelings easily, but we can usually tell they're upset. They may withdraw, avoiding eye contact and conversation. They may get into a rage about big or small issues ('Why can't I have a phone,' or 'I can't do this homework.'). Maybe they suddenly need to be taken care of, insisting on help to do things they normally take care of independently.
The signals that tell us they're upset probably don't directly correlate to their feelings, but they give us clues. A child who is dramatically upset that someone ate the last granola may not be only upset about the granola bar, but it can help us to understand her. Maybe she is feeling uncared for, like nobody cares enough to ask if she would like the granola bar?
When we listen carefully, verbally and nonverbally, to an upset child, they have the space to get to know what they are feeling. They may express themselves irrationally or superficially at first, ranting about nobody loving them when they discover that you ate the last granola bar. This is how they begin to put the emotions into words. Sometimes they show us by their actions, turning away from us or stomping their feet. We can offer gentle observations, 'Looks like you feel really upset,' or 'I think you are mad!'
We may be tempted to interrupt, explain, or try to fix the problem, but these responses aren't real solutions. The child needs time to make sense of the feelings. As you listen, they may begin to articulate layers of the experience that are surprisingly insightful, even explaining the points you would have made if you had interrupted a few minutes earlier. They may process the entire situation with little more from you than your loving presence. Our listening gives a child the chance to integrate their feelings with words and understanding.
Sometimes this ends abruptly as a child solves their own problem ('Okay, I'll just have an orange,') and moves on. Other times they may ask for help or seem to need time. Whatever happens, listening gives our child the sense that they are important, that we have time for them, and, most of all, that we love them.
This week's theme is emerging as parenting from the heart. It started with Sunday's mindfulness practice and continued with Monday's Uncertainty.
For several day the words 'heart-centered' have been rattling around in my mind. I've been reflecting on how my own parenting has transformed over the years, on my experience as a teacher, and on what the kids I know are experiencing in most schools.
It's so clear that kids need heart-centered relationships. Connection is more than a luxury, it is a survival need. When children know they are cared about, everything goes better. They are more cooperative, receptive, and respectful at home, not because they have to be but because they are just moved to be.
They are more cooperative at school, too, and actually learn better (see Improving Students' Relationships with Teachers to Provide Essential Supports for Learning from the American Psychological Association and A Case for School Connectedness by Robert Blum, both articles which cite a number of research studies).
How heart-centered is your home? Is there a way to strengthen your connection with your child? Today, consider adding a heart connection to your regular life at home. Imagine how it would be if you couldn't say "I love you," you could only show it. How would you do it?
Here are a few simple ways to add connection with your child:
My life and work are guided by the these core understandings: that all beings (including me!) are capable of transformation and joy, that healthy parenting matters profoundly, and that simple practices can support each of us.