Recognizing our kids' own innate power and our own (as I've been writing about) can be easier in theory than practice! So how do we find this elusive balance of treating or children as sovereign beings and recognizing our own sovereignty? Let's start with getting to know permissiveness.
Permissive parenting may look like:
The antidote to permissiveness is not to be controlling or harsh! If you recognize permissive parenting in yourself, begin to find better boundaries for yourself without judging or blaming your child. Remember that every day and every moment you are helping your child to discover their true self.
The foundation for respectful parenting is self-respect. We can not give anyone else what we do not have for ourself, and that includes giving our children respect. There is no shortcut or bypass, no way to do it for our kids without doing it for ourselves, too.
This is a rough truth for lots of us. We become parent to a sweet little baby and want to give it the world, to fix the mistakes our parents made, and offer this child the love, acceptance, and nurturing needed. But to do that, we must confront and heal the dark, confused, and messy places in ourselves.
When parents treat a child as a wise and wonderful soul without treating themselves that way, they are permissive, indulging that child at the expense of their own needs and comfort, putting the child in a privileged or special position. As wonderful as each child is, they aren't more special than their parents, siblings, cousins, neighbors, or any other human being. As children grow, they need to feel their own power of self-expression, creativity, and purpose grow and emerge. At the same time, they need to learn to recognize and value these things in other people, beginning in their own family.
How do we help children to both feel their own goodness and balance it with other people? This is probably going to be a long and messy process, but we can start with two simple steps. For ourselves--slow down, be aware of our own needs and feelings, and respond to them wisely. For our children--slow down, be aware of their needs and feelings both from their more personal point of view and your broader point of view, and respond wisely.
We do need to offer our children special treatment, sitting up with them when they're sick even though we are exhausted, loving them even when they're rude and hard to love, reminding them to clean up after themselves even though we've already told them a hundred times. And we need to cultivate a sense of balance, seeing ourselves and our children as sovereign, innately good souls on a journey, souls whose needs may appear to conflict but who are learning the most important thing humans learn, how to be in loving relationship.
To raise a child as a sovereign being requires self-awareness, attunement, and emotional intelligence. As parents, we may be more controlling than we realize. We may think we're helping a child to follow their own path when it's really our path.
Not long ago it was not unusual to punish or threaten children for being gay, refusing to eat meat, wanting/not wanting to go to college, refusing to join the family business, or playing with 'girl' or 'boy' toys that didn't agree with the child's visible gender identify. Of course, there are still parents who do this, but most kids experience more freedom in these areas than they did a couple of generations ago. Cultural consensus is gathering around the belief that it isn't right to hurt children to make them obey us, and that child labor and exploitation are not acceptable.
Will you join me in exploring your own family structures and expectations? Let's get curious about the paths we may be pushing our children toward, and the alternate paths that may be right for our child even though they seem strange to us.
Tomorrow--the difference between respectful parenting and permissive parenting.
We welcome these helpless little babies into our lives and believe ourselves to be the ultimate force that cares for them and keeps them alive. But of course that is ridiculous! What keeps them alive is so much bigger than us. It's their own life force--that which drives them to nurse and breathe and move and connect. And it's something that I think of as Life Itself or Interdependence or Spirit.
It's not us.
We have a role, and it's a very important role. But it's not THE role.
Each child is born into the world a sovereign being, on a path that none of us understand. There will be challenges and gifts and handicaps that no sane parent would sign a child up for, but that may just be the most important things this being will encounter. Maybe it'll be a reading disability, or an allergy. Maybe a brilliant intellect or a weak one, a very sensitive personality or an insensitive one. Maybe the kind of physical circumstances that would make a weak person just give up and die, but somehow inspire this particular being to dig in and LIVE.
We are not in charge of the path. We are not in charge of challenges or gifts, only of helping these beings to be ready to face them. Connection and love are our true offerings, not safety or comfort.
If we are wise, we look on our children as incredible, wise, sovereign beings right from the start. We recognize that they are the ones who will rise to each occasion, who can and must conquer each challenge, the pain of falling down as they learn to walk or their first heartbreak. We honor their innate drive to learn and grow, the deep inner knowing that somehow guides them along their true path, and (at the same time) their profound need to be seen, loved, and accepted by us.
Life is busy, and it takes a conscious effort to allow ourselves time to BE. We have to slow down, put off the productive things that can feel important and urgent--washing the dishes, mowing the lawn, paying bills. Today, consider creating some space in your day today just to be. It won't be productive in the same way as things on your 'to do' list, but it can bring you back to yourself and your clear center. From this center, everything in your day changes because you bring peace into each chore, conversation, and moment.
Whether you are sitting in a quiet space right now or a noisy one, mindful listening can be a great practice. With it, we establish an open and friendly relationship with the sounds around us rather than a judging relationship. That intentional openness can find it's way into our day and life in lots of ways, especially perhaps into openness to sensing our emotions as they are without reacting to them.
Here's a guided mindful listening practice to try:
I love the term 'approximating.' It makes so much sense, recognizing the value of getting near to a goal rather than seeing things as simply right or wrong. As parents, we are wise to help our kids get where they're heading step by step with support. To do this, we need to establish expectations, that toys are put away before bed, for example. We start with our own example, tidying up after ourselves and after them when they're very small..
Kids will naturally start to help, and we can support this by noticing that they are approximating the thing we do. Simply acknowledging their work without a big fuss or reward encourages them. There will be times that they'll resist the habit of clean up. We don't need to demand perfection, just help them back to the path of clean up by supporting their approximation.
This works at every age. We can approach helping a child do homework, teaching them to drive, encouraging them to be respectful toward other people, in this same way. It even works with ourselves when prepare a few extra seasonal vegetables each week rather than expecting ourselves to prepare perfectly healthy meals each night.
Kids (and all people) integrate responsibilities bit by bit with support. They seem to master a skill, then may regress for a few days or weeks. With support, they master it again. Mess ups are less of a problem when we recognize that we can support an incremental movement toward mastery rather than believing in an 'all or nothing' kind of mastery.
In my own world last night, while Britain was voting to leave the European Union, the rain came. It's been so dry with surprisingly low humidity and hot temperatures. The gardens and yard were parched.
I was anticipating rain, counting on it for several days over the past couple of weeks, but it didn't come. I was impatient. Of course, I couldn't do anything about whether it rained, so I tried to remember to be open to life as it is. I watered the garden but I also closed the car windows. Last night as I 'realized' that it just wasn't going to rain that day, it started. A soft and steady rain (not the heavy thunderstorms we were warned of) fell for a long time.
This rain is, for me, a lot like that moment when things fall into place with my kids. Sometimes things are off, really off. They are mad, maybe because I was bossy or controlling, maybe because they're exhausted, maybe because a friend is having a rough time, maybe for reasons they don't even understand. As a parent, I really want to fix it, to reconnect, to get them to talk about what's going on. But it doesn't work that way. I can't force the rain. I can't make them talk. I can stay open and loving without being pushy. I can hang in moment by moment, day by day, allowing them to move toward me at their own pace and in their own timing.
Eventually, the rain comes and the child opens. It's so much better when they open because they want and choose to rather than because they feel pushed. The conversation is deeper and more authentic. The timing is right for them, the self-awareness is ripe. The connection is heart-ful and warm.
I look forward to summer for myself and my kids. I love turning off the alarm clock, getting onto a more natural schedule, and having time together that isn't hijacked by schoolwork and school schedules. It can also be hard to adjust to new routines.
I have noticed that I start summer with unconscious expectations for myself, my kids, and our time together. This summer, I'm remembering to slow down and make those expectations more conscious and clear. Rather than imposing those expectations on my family and spending the first few weeks frustrated, I'm practicing curiosity.
Starting with myself, I'm reflecting on how to make sure I have time and space for the things I really need--quiet time and space to meditate each day, to write, and to work from home.
I'm reflecting on how to see our house as home base for all of us, finding ways to collaborate on using it, filling it with our interests, and caring for it.
I'm reflecting on what the summer is for each of my kids, taking the time to consider it from their perspective and ask them what they really want to prioritize this summer. I'm talking with them about what I've noticed and inviting them to consider with me what they may need to balance out their school experience.
At each age, summer brings changes into our lives. Long days, garden produce, heat, travel, summer jobs, pools and other adventures change day-to-day life. Do you have unconscious expectations about the summer? Would it be helpful for you to get clear about what you really want and need, and to reflect on your family?
As I've been exploring this week (The Beauty That is Always Here, Mistakes and Starting Over, You Are Not a Failure, and Hard Times and Young People), there are times that I need to recover myself. I can lose my way and get caught up in the drama of my mind and emotions and body, not realizing that underneath it all I am fine. I work with parents every week who have the same problem--forgetting the quiet space in their own hearts or the way it feels to be truly open to their child or parenting situation..
When this happens, we need reminders! When things are going well, we can plant the seeds of reminders for when we need them.
A regular mindfulness practice is a wonderful reminder, because it brings you back to an intentional process of openness and presence. Even outside of your formal practice, a few conscious breaths or a moment of awareness of your body can bring you back.
I have favorite mantras, too, that remind me of what is real. Some favorites (mostly from Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings) include:
This is it.
Right now, it's like this.
I am here.
Present moment, wonderful moment.
Breathing in, breathing out.
No mud, no lotus.
Maybe one of these will connect with your inner being, too? Try it by choosing one and reflecting on it for a bit, bringing it into a confusing or quiet moment. See if it reminds you of what is real and important, of your quiet and surrendered inner self.
Sometimes I go to bed feeling so grateful, having had a rich conversation with one of my teens, having stayed connected with my husband through a disagreement, or knowing that I did good work with a family that needed some help. The next day I may read someone's post on social media or get unpleasant news about a child's grade or an unexpected bill and suddenly feel inadequate and low.
The beauty of my life is not always visible and tangible to me. It's as though that beauty comes and goes depending on how well I've slept, whether I taught a class that went well, or how my kids are talking with me. But what's true is that the beauty is always right here, and I just need to be wise enough to see it.
Instead of insulating myself against jealousy or worry or fear, I only need to tune in to the constant, steady source of beauty in my own heart and soul. It's a choice that I can make.
n low moments, it helps to feel the lowness (to follow up yesterday's post, to Notice it, Acknowledge it, Accept it, and Move on). And then to intentionally, purposely remind myself of the beauty and joy that I find in my life. In the ways that there's imperfect but strong love in my relationships with my sons and husband. In the work I do that gives me a sense of purpose and interconnection. And in small things like my garden--picking fresh arugula and turning it into dinner, yum.
When things go wrong, I can be tempted to spend hours or weeks or years thinking about how stupid I was, what I should have done. or how much I hurt someone. With mindfulness, I'm learning to recover from mistakes more easily because I get intentional practice every day.
When I'm doing mindful breathing, I don't just stay with the breath. My attention wanders away as I get caught up in stories, sensations, judgment, or the past and future. Once I notice that I've wandered (sometimes after a moment and sometimes after a longer time), I get the chance to be clear and open with myself and to come back to the present moment. This happens again and again, and I do it with the explicit intention to accept my whole experience without judgment. Over time, I've become more gentle with myself.
This helps when I make a mistake with my kids. I use the same practice, simply noticing that I'm off track, accepting and inwardly acknowledging my mistake, and moving on. There are so many great acronyms in mindfulness and parenting, I think I could do better than NAAM, but that's what I've got today!!
Happy Father's Day! I hope you enjoy this poem by one of my favorite poets, David Whyte. I think this speaks so beautifully of the true nature of a father--loving presence, courage, acceptance, and vulnerability.
MY DAUGHTER ASLEEP
Carrying a child,
I carry a bundle of sleeping
my daughter adrift
on my shoulder,
dreaming her slender
I carry her
her moon lit
like a tiny
a path that leads
where I can't go,
so that I read her palm
what I read
walk with her
in moon light
on the landing,
with whom I walk,
to go on
where I can't
with so many
that must know her
than I do.
And so to these
and this broad night
to hold her
when I cannot,
to comfort her
when I am gone,
to help her learn
to take it
for the way
to help her see
light will not help her,
where happiness has fled,
My prayer tonight
for the great
and hidden symmetries
to reward this
faith I have
with home coming,
her first awkward
promised onward leaps.
May she find
in all this,
day or night,
of pure opposites,
may she discover
before she grows
not to choose
may she find
one or the other
as I helped
to name her
I help to name
what is needed,
the help she'll
those moonlit lines
into a future
by me but
As she grows
may these life lines
grow with her,
keep her safe,
with my open palm
have run before her
to make a safer way,
I hold her smooth cheek
and bless her
and beyond it
and for every unknown
night to come.
As parents, we make mistakes. We fail our kids in little and sometimes big ways. We miss things we 'should' have noticed and get involved with things we 'should' have let go. There's a big difference between failing and being a failure, though.
Messing up is an opportunity to fix things, to learn, to see, to listen, and to be generous with yourself. Instead of dwelling in the past and beating ourselves up about a mistake, just be present with how things are now. Yes, maybe your little one is melting down because he needed a nap an hour ago but you decided to do one more errand. Yes, maybe you have let your child get in the habit of speaking to you kind of rudely. Yes, maybe you overreacted when your teen made a mistake.
Whatever the mistake is, be here with what's happening. Listen deeply, hearing what your child is saying and what their behavior tells you. Adjust! Make the change that needs to be made. Move on. Try to keep your eyes wide open without judging yourself.
Whether your children are young or old, they know that rough things have been going on in the world this week. Babies and tiny children don't need to understand what we're talking about to sense that something is wrong. They feel it in their bodies. Our tension, the heaviness or emotion in our voices, and changes in how we move or pay attention are easy for little guys to read and respond to.
School-age children know that something's going on even when we are careful not to talk about the Orlando mass shooting (or other shootings and shocking and violent events in the news) in front of them. Kids sense our feelings, reacting not to how we think we feel, but to how we actually feel. Consider if your child ever says "Why are you mad, Mommy," and you assure them you aren't mad, all the while wondering how they can tell. They sense it.
Tweens and teens are certainly hearing about these tragic events in school, from their friends, and/or on social media. Some may read, talk, argue, collect information and try to make sense of what's going on. Others may say nothing about it at home and avoid conversations, but may be thinking about it. Others may ask questions or express anxiety or other emotions.
So if your child (at any age) has been unsettled, fussy, restless, clingy, or irritable, they may be processing their feelings about this shooting. Be careful! Don't watch or discuss the news in front of your children (unless they are teens). If they're ready to talk about it, make sure you talk in developmentally-appropriate ways. Listen to their stories, concerns, and emotions if they bring them up, but don't add your own feelings to the burdens they already carry, talk to an adult instead. Help them have space to have their feelings, even when their feelings make you uncomfortable. Be extra gentle, remembering that they are affected even if they aren't talking about it. And be gentle with yourself, remembering that you may be heartbroken, angry, or scared, too.
I sometimes get caught up in seriousness. When something is not going well at home or work I can get stuck in thinking, reflecting, reading, trying to work through my emotions, communicating (maybe over-communicating), and sometimes I just need to lighten up. This was true when my kids were tiny and has continued to be true through each stage, up to and definitely including this current teen stage!
When I realize that I'm over-focusing on challenges, I try to:
A long time ago, I was a preschool teacher. We served school lunch 'family style,' I asked each child about the options, put food on their plate, and passed the plate around the big table. One of my all-time biggest touchpoints happened at lunch one day when the plate (it was meatloaf that day) got to a little boy who looked up at me and said, "This is not what I ordered."
He was confused, thinking he had more choice than he had. Maybe I misunderstood what he had said about the options, or maybe they arrived seeming less appetizing than he had hoped. But his response is one that I recognize in myself.
When life is happening, do you ever feel like saying "This is not what I ordered."?
"No, not this!"
"I wanted something else."
Maybe your child is cranky when you've planned something special. Or they get sick on your birthday! Maybe they are ending the school year not as one of those kids singled out for special awards, but in the back row barely managing to get by. Maybe they got a hard diagnosis this year, physical, emotional, or mental. Very few of us get exactly what we order as parents.
When these 'this is not what I ordered' feelings come up, I try to remember that what I order is only a small part of what happens. Finding flexibility in myself to be open to the things I didn't order (or didn't MEAN to order) is where my growth will happen. I've long loved Leonard Cohen's lyric from Anthem, "Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in," which says all of what I feel so powerfully.
Conflict, frustration, and anger are pretty normal things in parent-child relationships. We get used to them, learn how to navigate them, and (when we're lucky) learn that love can bring us back together even when things are very hard. We accept our children as worthwhile, lovable people even though they can be really difficult.
This opens our hearts. Our children remind us that our hearts don't live entirely within our own bodies. As parents, we know that we aren't separate from our children. We are deeply interconnected.
A little imagination, a little openness helps us to understand that the same is true with other people. Listening to the news yesterday, I heard an interview with a young man who had been in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando just before the shooting. I cried as I heard him describe getting texts from his friends on his way home, telling him what was happening. I felt the pain in his voice. His heart was my heart right then.
I know there really is no 'other,' we're all connected. I feel it with some people easily, with others it's hard to sense. But it's always true. By recognizing the heart connection, I expand. I am stronger, even in pain. Each time one of us builds this connection, the world is more whole.
When events are shocking, tragic, and heart-breaking as they are right now, I can't forget to look inside. I connect with the terror of the victims instantly, imagining their fear and pain and opening my heart to them. I imagine the children, the parents, the brothers and sisters, the friends and lovers, who are hearing this horrible news, and I recognize my love for them even though I don't know them.
I also connect with the dark ones. Where are the roots of this hatred, this violence, this intolerance in my own heart? How am I the shooter, the rapist, the self-serving politician? I don't need to look far to find pockets of self-righteousness, anger, and intolerance in myself, and I turn toward them to really see and allow them to begin to transform.
I recognize that my own choices, strong and weak, can affect the world. Where do I need to change my behavior, my voice, my choices to create a safer and more peaceful world? On a personal scale, I look to conflict within myself and my family, with people I know well or may only experience when I'm driving or in a store. By looking honestly, I discover where it is important to stand more firmly and clearly and where my work is to soften and be more loving.
I also look at the broader scale, how am I supporting or not supporting justice with my time, energy, and money? Am I sure that my none of my money is ending up with the NRA? Can I be sure that every vote supports real change? How will I use my time, energy, and money to better support the transformation of our world to a more peaceful place? That's part of what I will be working on today. Perhaps you will join me?
Getting lost in the past or the future, I lose touch with what is real. I worry about what might happen, actually imagining the experiences in detail and living through them mentally, emotionally, and even physically as my heart speeds and my muscles tense. I dwell on mistakes that I've made in the past--wishing I could change them rather than making my best choices right now!
So I remind myself, even in the midst of something difficult, to come into this moment, opening to what is. I gently loosen the grip my mind has on the past and future and bring it back, maybe many times, to this moment. I notice the choices I can make now. When I can, I choose to be spacious, making choices once my mind, emotions, and body settle so that I can choose from a calm, neutral perspective.
I remember that right now, I'm okay, even though I may be feeling upset or angry or sad or worried. That right now, I'm okay, even though my mind is racing to all sorts of stories. And that right now, I'm okay even though my body may be sick, tired, flooded with adrenaline, or otherwise feeling lousy.
I let time slow down, let myself slow down, and let the impulsive reactions fall away. Pretty soon, things get a bit clearer.
Every day, I'm letting go of my children. Letting go of who they were yesterday to make space for who they are today. Allowing them to change, grow, and develop naturally without clinging to their past selves. Recognizing that the interest in pirates or sharks never completely disappears, it's transformed into a new interest. With each change, they leave something behind, but carry other things forward in a new form.
I'm developing the wisdom to know what to hold on to. I don't need to cling to what they loved to when they were little, because it is alive in their current interests. My own open interest in their interests lets me see the same joy and passion that drove them to spend entire days creating structures in the sandbox, setting up dinosaur worlds, or making stop-motion animation stories show up now in new ways.
So I hold on, not to the form their interests, friendships, and relationship with me used to take, but to the essential nature of those things. I remind myself to start fresh and open to who they are today.
When I have to set a hard limit as a parent, my emotional, mental, even physical stance tightens up. I'm learning that even as I say 'no,' I can be loving.
Some simple ways to do this:
There are times when it is really clear that are kids are making a passage. Today my oldest son graduates from high school--wow. Whatever is going on in your life, I'm sure your child is in the midst of a big transition, too.
No stage ends all at once, kids slip from being newborns to babies to toddlers bit by bit day by day. Becoming adults is no different, it's a gradual process.
Let's take time today to open to the wonder of raising these beings, making this journey, surviving, learning, growing, and loving. It's a gift. Whether you're at the beginning, middle, or near the end, let's enjoy the magic of this moment, this day, with each of our children.
The end of the school year can be full of school parties, potlucks, ceremonies, and special events. Children reflect on their year and what they've learned. Some are given special honors at awards ceremonies. Many of us have a love/hate relationship with all of this!
Some children get exhausted. Overexcitement, changing routines, and extra-busy schedules take a toll. Some children don't enjoy the end of school. They may be leaving a class, teacher, school, or community that has been important to them. Some children reach the end of the school year feeling unsuccessful. They may not have learned or accomplished what they wanted, may not be given any special honors, may be compared unfavorably to other children, or may not have made friends they get to say a special goodbye to.
Some of us finish the year with mixed feelings rather than only positive ones. That's confusing in the midst of parties and fun. Don't be surprised if your child:
What can I do, right now, to serve my family, to help us be in our best possible relation with each other and with life?
Not what could I have done last night, last week, last year, 5 years ago. That can be tempting to think about, but it distracts me from my real power, here and now.
And not what can I do after the kids leave for school, when I talk to that teacher, over the summer (even though it's almost here), when things calm down, or next year. These moments, when and if they happen, will need my presence then, but I'm not there yet.
Right now, this day, this moment, what can I do? Starting with bringing my awareness fully into my body, feeling that I am here. Taking a full breath, feeling the inbreath open me, feeling the pause, and feeling the outbreath release.
This moment, the one I'm in right now, is the only one that ever is. Bringing my whole presence to it is my greatest work. Whether this moment is a quiet one downstairs before anyone is up, a moment of emotion or reactivity (mine or someone else's), one that is dull routine like driving to school or brings unexpected news. A meeting, a conversation, cooking a meal. I am here.
Writing so much lately about boundaries has me reexamining all sorts of boundaries, including the ones I set for myself. With children, we want to be 'the captain' as Susan Stiffelman says, being in charge of the big picture and setting clear limits with love.
Setting limits for myself is hard, whether I'm trying to cut out sugar or stop yelling at my kids. What I can easily forget while getting more and more frustrated with myself, is that I need to handle myself like I would handle one of my kids or a student, with connection, love, listening, and clarity. Self-boundaries, just like boundaries with our children, need to develop out of deep listening (to the parts of ourselves that are having trouble), love and connection, generosity, and clarity.
So if you, like me, are trying to change any deep patterns or established habits, remember to:
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.