I used to jump into the middle of issues with my kids, reacting impulsively before I even thought about how best to proceed!
For me, that might have looked like:
Over the years, practicing mindfulness and taking care of my emotions has changed me. The reactive habits are still with me, but they aren't as strong. I appreciate this shift, and at the same time it makes me realize how uncomfortable it is not to know what to do. Because I often don't know what to do.
I do know that it helps me to sit and feel my feelings, but it's still not easy for me to do it. I usually avoid them first. I get busy with work, run mostly errands, spend time on Facebook, eat, think about how I wish things were. Sometimes I even clean, go for a walk, or balance my checkbook.
Eventually I realize that I have to direct my attention inward and sit with my feelings. Because knowing how I feel isn't the same as feeling it! Once I turn inward, feeling the discomfort of not knowing, my irritation or worry about my child, or my helplessness about something going on in the world, then I start to create inner space. I notice how my body feels, to feel my emotions, to watch my thoughts. I breathe into the feelings, allowing them to be here.
Sometimes there's a dramatic shift--I relax or cry or soften. Other times it feels like nothing much happens. But doing this creates the space for my wisdom to show up.
Sometimes it takes a lot of looking and reflecting to see our own controlling tendencies, but the truth is that we all have them! Both permissive and controlling parenting are going to come up in us. It's the things I can't see in myself that scare me the most, because not seeing them doesn't mean they aren't in me, it just means they're unseen. So consider if and how yesterday's post about permissive parenting along with today's post relate to you even if the specific examples don't resonate.
So if and when you're being a controlling parent, it may look like:
The biggest parenting struggles happen for me when I'm trying to control something that I can't control. That's had me reflecting on the tension between control and power lately.
Think about bowling. If you've ever bowled you may know that feeling of wanting to control the ball after you let it go. It's rolling down the floor and maybe you lean or talk to it or will it to go the way you want it to. Have you ever done that? We don't have any power over what happens to the ball after it leaves our hand, but there's an illusion of control.
As parents, the same thing can happen. We want to control what is out of our hands. Consider the struggles that happen in your family, whether you're the parent of an infant or grown ups. Do you ever want them to be happy, tired, or quiet when they aren't? Want them to eat the meal you made and like it when they don't? Want them to make a choice that you believe will be better for them than the one they are making? If so, you know how frustrating this can be!
At the very heart of mindful parenting is the practice of accepting what we can not control. This includes many of our child's behaviors as well as our own feelings and thoughts. Instead of wasting energy trying to control that which is not in our hands, we practice being present and choosing how to respond wisely. Right use of power is something I will write about soon, but let's start now with the first step, releasing the illusion of control. Today, if you start to react to something your child does, consider the question, 'Am I in control of this situation? Has the bowling ball already left my hand?' If so, slow down and be present. What is the wisest response you can make to the situation as it is?
I've been remembering adopting my first cat at the SPCA. To take her home I had to sign a paper saying that I would not let her go outside. I was not comfortable with this, but, having already chosen a sweet little kitten who was not going to survive much longer at the shelter, was not about to leave without her! The shelter volunteer explained the rule to me, saying that cats who go outside don't live as long as indoor cats.
I guiltily signed the paper, knowing that my new cat would go outside. This was years before I had children, but I remember thinking the same thing was probably true about kids. If we never let them outside they might live longer, but who would want that kind of life for them?
As a mom, I've remembered this story, but it isn't as easy for me to let my kids take risks as it was with my cat! Part of me wants them to stay in, to be safe. and to be careful. I want to know where they are and what they're doing. That's attachment. Fear of losing them or having to see them be hurt. Love is allowing them to live, to go outside and brave the sometimes dangerous world of friendships, driving, parties, even homework and school performance.
I know people who monitor every assignment their kids are given, and who use their child's cell phone to trace their movements. I've never gone that far, but do recognize the attachment in me that is similar. The work of parenting is to love them enough to let them grow through real and even hard experience. To be available again and again, supporting them as they integrate their experiences. To trust the life energy/soul presence in them that leads them to experiences they need and want. To know that they will make mistakes, but those mistakes may be the very ones they need to make as they learn to be fully alive and awake.
Lately, I've been quieting the part of myself that tries to tell my kids to 'be safe' and 'be careful' each time they go out. Instead, I'm saying 'have fun,' and 'I love you.'
It's so easy to react when kids are rude, unkind, bossy. And not so easy to look past the behavior and wonder what's up with them.
When I take things personally, I make up a story about myself along with the story I make up about my kids.
They shouldn't act that way.'
'I haven't done things right.'
But sometimes, with all people, there's just a problem that I know nothing about. They bombed a test at school today, a friend is having trouble, they don't feel well, they're tired. Something.
It's not about me.
I'm learning, learning to listen when one of my (now teenage) kids is complaining about something I've done, yelling, overreacting. When I stay quiet enough to pay attention, I can see the pain, the worry, the suffering under the difficult behavior. Sometimes I can just listen and love them, recognizing that what's under the unpleasant behavior is their own pain.
Some parents think this makes kids entitled and rude. And the truth is, it doesn't help anyone if we treat them like they're fragile and can't handle life's up's and down's. It's good to stay real with them. AND there are (not so frequent) times to talk about their behavior and other times that modeling behavior is more powerful. When kids feel heard, seen, and loved they develop the ability to hear, see, and love more fully.
If you think you're been taking things personally that might not be about you, join me in getting curious about your children. Ask yourself some questions.
What is s/he feeling right now (watch for body language, expressions, word choices that will clue you in)?
Is this really about me? Or is it them?
Would it be better to jump in and talk about this or wait and see?
For me, the outcomes are almost always better when I respond more slowly.
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.