When things get hard, your child or teen really needs your presence more than anything else. That means they actually need our presence even if and when they're being rude or loud or whiny. It's not easy to stay with them when they're doing what all of our training tells us is the wrong thing. But we CAN stay near them and love them while staying clear.
When things go really wrong and your child loses it, being present does not look like saying,
These are things we've probably all said, right? They all push a child away when they are at their most vulnerable (Of course, it would be good for them to be vulnerable in pleasant and soft ways, and that will happen as they feel safer, closer, and sure that your presence is unconditional.). Instead, I'm recommending that we take an unconditionally present and loving approach to our kids even when they're difficult.
Being present may look like,
* But what about if they're hurting me or their sibling or themselves? Tomorrow I'll write more about how to respond lovingly when you have to take a more active role.
We learn love experientially, not intellectually. How we were loved as babies and children sets up a pattern of what love means. This pattern is rooted deep in our bodies even when we realize that our parents were imperfect and sometimes misguided. The relationship patterns are strong, pervasive, and mostly unconscious.
Most of us learned consciously or unconsciously that we had to fit into family expectation to be accepted. We learned that we would be pushed away or punished when we were too loud or quiet, too messy or uptight, too emotional or cerebral, too rude or goody-goody, too needy or independent, too inappropriate.
Those learnings are like muscle memory in us, they operate reflexively. As adults, they are probably still stopping us in some ways, maybe stopping us from speaking our truth, expressing our true nature, crying, or asking for help. These learnings also operate in our parenting. Without intending to, we pass these same teachings on to our own children. We may be uncomfortable with how they express emotions and send them to their rooms until they can speak appropriately. We may repress the parts of them that make us uncomfortable and embrace the parts that feel good to us, teaching them that the way to our hearts is to behave 'well.'
As we become more conscious parents, we begin to notice the ways that our kids 'push our buttons' and get curious. We explore what's happening in us and how we tend to react, discovering behavioral patterns that are conditional rather than unconditional. With awareness and practice, we can take care of and release our old feelings and patterns, learning how to open our hearts more fully. This helps us to love and accept our children, even when they challenge our beliefs and habits.
I am blessed in many of these ways, are you? Our kids don't need us to be perfect, they just need us to learn from our experience as parents!
I've been writing about loving ourselves through challenging times, today let's turn to our families. Honestly, there are times that husbands and wives, children, teens, parents, siblings just don't seem very lovable. Then what?
It's the same as with ourselves. It's when people are the least lovable that they need love the most. So we slow down and remember that they are our practice. These kids who are complaining about dinner again, these teens who aren't telling us when they'll be home, these partners who have forgotten to treat us tenderly when we need it. We take care of ourselves, of course, and we connect with our love for them.
Is there someone on your last nerve? Let's do an experiment.
Think of them now and feel how that is in your body. Does anything happen? Maybe muscles constrict, breathing changes, you feel warm or cool somewhere, there's an empty feeling. . . Just sense what happens.
And now, can you remember this same person in a wonderful moment? The moment you first held your child? A time your teen was enthusiastically telling you about something they learned? Kissing your partner? Think of a specific wonderful moment. Stay with it for a few minutes, breathing and remembering, imagining their face radiating happiness. And now notice how you feel in your body. Anything change?
We can remember love even during hard times just by taking the time to do it. Connecting with love is powerful because it reminds us of our true selves and reminds us of their true self. We don't do it to forget the hard times or pretend they aren't happening, but to sustain ourselves through them! So today, connect with your love for someone who has been bugging you. More tomorrow on how to work with that.
When I wrote 'Your Superpower is Love' I was remembering those times that things go badly wrong and I try to suppress my feelings. I try to be calm by pretending that I am calm. That kind of calm is artificial; it doesn't inspire connection or share love or help at all, because it isn't real.
I wrote about feeling the feelings that come up instead, breathing into them, allowing them to be there, and not acting on them yet. As is often the case, I got a chance to practice what I wrote about the same day. Really upset by something that happened at home, I could feel this sort of frozen self take over. I spent a lot of time breathing into it, allowing it, softening into the feelings under it, and being patient with myself. I'm still working on it, slowly.
Soon I'm going to write more about how love toward our kids is our real parenting superpower, but today I'm adding a bit about this practice of loving and nurturing ourselves. It isn't always quick or easy. The pain, fear, anger, or numbness in us has deep roots. You may turn toward yourself, breathing into your feelings and experience relief--a good cry, a softening, comfort. Or you may turn toward yourself with love and feel very little, like I did yesterday. The feelings may seem kind of stuck. The numbness or anger or fear may not budge. That's okay. Stay with it.
We aren't turning toward ourselves with love to make the feelings go away. We are doing it to feel them. When we do deeper work, tapping into the old emotions and conditioning that have been with us for a long, long time and are hard to even sense let alone release, it can take a while. Don't hurry. The only thing to do is feel what you feel (even if it's still anger or numbness) with awareness.
I've been writing all week about 'when things go wrong' because that's when we usually need help. When things go wrong in my family (hard as it is to admit this), I often forget all of my mindful practices. I get upset, angry, worried, hurt, judgmental, withdrawn. But what has changed over the years is that I don't always react out of those feelings. Mindfulness has helped me build the capacity to slow down, take care of my feelings, and use some of the practices that I've been writing about (respond in two parts, WAIT, keep going).
The most important thing to remember when things are hard, though, is to connect with love. Love is a practical, game changing superpower in parenting and other parts of life. I've learned that I can reach for that superpower to comfort myself during hard times, to connect with and support others, and to see my children and other people with love rather than fear or judgment when I consider how to respond to them.
The best starting point, even though we may want to start with an outer response to an outer situation, is inward. When things go wrong, slow down and look inside, even it has to be brief. Notice how you feel. Breathe. Try the very accessible breathing practice that I've shared before, 'Breathing in, I am aware that I feel _________. Breathing out, I allow this feeling to be here.' You don't need to act on the feeling, just accept it.
When we connect with our loving energy and turn it inward, we are infinitely more able to respond outwardly to an angry child, a worried friend, a sick parent, a catastrophic natural event, the news, etc.
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.