How will I be remembered?

mom and boy kiss PAID

The death of my mother earlier this month had me reminiscing about all the wonderful things I love about her and got me thinking about what do my kids love about me?  When I’m gone what will they remember most?  And how do I want to be remembered?  Do the two perspectives match?

I want to be remembered for:

Singing Slip Sliding Away and Under the Boardwalk at bedtime.
Making up bedtime stories that started with “Once upon a time there were two little boys and they decided to go on an adventure…”
Reading The Giving Tree ten thousand times.
Waking the boys up to watch the eclipse of the moon through the telescope.
Giving my boys a big pot of dirt and a pitcher of water and letting them make mud.
Contorting my body into forts made with blankets draped across chairs.
Waiting at the bus stop with a big umbrella on those really messy days.
Making up silly songs with their names:  Jer-a-me-a, Jer -a-mi-a ate the pumpkin and the pie-a…and Mr. Jake caught a snake in the lake with a rake.♪♫
Reclining back in deck chairs under blankets watching for meteors shooting across the sky.
Cheering on the sidelines at all the soccer, baseball, football and basketball games.
Noticing the colors of the sky and the shapes of the clouds.
Giving hugs even when my boys tower over me by a foot.
Staying cool when the first girlfriend comes over and not asking her a million questions.

 

When I asked them what they would remember most about me, they said:

You keep me safe, even if it’s annoying how you always want to know where I am all the time.
You’re nice to strangers.
You don’t lie, that’s for sure.
You love everyone and always see the good in people.
You’re enjoyable to be around.

I found it interesting that I remember specific incidences and they remember more along the lines of values that I model.  But hey, that’s cool, I know they’re watching and absorbing.  And hopefully they will remember the same thing I remember about my mom, something you can’t always put your finger on but you just feel in your heart and when you do it brings a smile to your face…her mom essence!

♥♥♥ LOVE IN ACTION ♥♥♥

Try your own experiment and see if how you want to be remembered is how your kids are already starting to remember you.

  1. Make a list of how you want to be remembered.
  2. Depending on the ages of your kids, ask them what they will remember about you when you’re gone or ask them what they love most about you now.
  3. WATCH THIS VIDEO for some heartwarming hope that our kids see past our imperfections and will remember most of all–our love.

Do you have a “NO” default?

mom thumbs down

One of the best pieces of advice I received when my kids were very young, was to be aware of how many times I said “no” and consider if I could say “yes” instead. This is actually sound advice given that the average child in America hears “no” 80 times for every 1 “yes.” Can you imagine if the bigger, more powerful people at your workplace or in your life said “no” to your requests and your actions that much in a day?! Would you be able to thrive in that environment?

When I became conscious of my extreme overuse of the word “no” I did an about face and became very good at opening up to “yes” instead. I believe it made a tremendous impact on my relationship with my children. Not only because my kids developed a deep sense that they mattered; but also because I felt better as a mom when I went through my days saying more of “yes, of course” to their requests…that is, unless I had a good reason to say “no.”

I don’t think we intentionally seek to thwart our kids’ wishes and wants, but somehow “no” becomes our default answer.

No you can’t go out and play; it’s wet. No, don’t touch that! No, you can’t bring that bug in the house. No we can’t go to the park right now. No you can’t have a cookie before dinner. No it’s not a good time to have your friend over.

What if we became aware of this “no” default and instead considered and weighed each request on its own merit? Could we change some of those no’s into heartfelt yes’s?

Yes, what a great idea! Let’s go outside with our boots and splash in puddles. Yes, you can pick an item from my basket to play with, but that item is fragile and might break; here do you want to play with this cool thingie instead? Yes, let me get a jar and you can show that bug to your friend when she comes over.

Could we invite in more positive “yes” energy, even if we felt the need to attach conditions to it?

Yes, of course we can go to the park–right after we finish cleaning up the toys. Yes, of course you can have a cookie–just as soon as we eat our yummy dinner. Yes, of course you can have a friend over–after homework is done.

Imagine the energy shift in your home…from negative to positive…if you shift to a new default of “yes, of course…”  Not that you won’t ever say “no,” but you just become more discerning and purposeful with it.

Instead of defaulting to “no” unless you have a reason to say “yes,” switch to defaulting to “yes” unless you have a reason to say “no.”

You and your kids will feel more expansive, connected, and alive…because “no” shuts us down and “yes” opens us up.

Confession time….while I was writing this, I told my whining dog, “No I’m not letting you go out again. You’ll want to come back in in 3 minutes.” Then I smiled when I realized what I’d said and I changed it to, “Yes, of course you can go bark at the squirrels for 3 minutes.” (I’m still practicing too!)

♥♥♥ LOVE IN ACTION ♥♥♥

Want to give it a try and shift the energy in your home from negative to positive?  Start with these simple steps:

  1. Become aware of how often you say “no” to your child.  Keep a count in your head and record it in a journal every night before you go to bed. As your awareness increases, does the number decrease?
  2. Set the intention every morning to say “yes” to your child at least 5 times during the day.
  3. Think of one thing this week that you’ve been putting off for yourself.  Perhaps you’ve told yourself you don’t have the money, or the time, or the energy.  Say “yes” to one thing for yourself and get the positive energy flowing in you.

“I imagine that yes is the only living thing.” – e. e. cummings

 

The Unseen Effects of RIPPLES

There was a couple in one of my very first parenting classes who was struggling to relate to their teenage daughter.  They had a lot of anxiety about choices she was making and the friends she was hanging out with.  They were desperate to try the concepts I was teaching because nothing else had worked for them so far.  The fear-based techniques they were using (grounding, taking away privileges) were causing their daughter to move further and further away from them.  They were really, really scared and rightly so, for she had started to “experiment” with drugs.

It’s hard NOT to try to get a tighter grip on our kids when we sense they are slipping away from us into dangerous territory.  But often, tactics which use punishment (or guilt or shame) take us further away from the desired results.  The conscious parenting model I taught to this couple was a four-step process in which the intentions are to connect, to understand, and to let go of attachment to the outcome.  The main goal is to repair the relationship rather than change the behaviors. The premise being, that once the relationship is solid and the child trusts that her needs matter as much as the parents’ needs, then the door magically opens to empathic listening, honest expression, and care for each other.  This was very different from their earlier intentions which were to force their daughter to obey their rules so that she would stay safe.

This process is radically different from the fear and punishment parenting model most of us grew up in, so it takes a lot of practice to be able to apply it in the family.  The framework is a communication model based on Nonviolent Communication (cnvc.org), and it’s a lot like learning a foreign language.  It takes practice and repetition to be able to communicate in a “needs based” language.  But the mom and dad were committed to integrating the process and deepening their consciousness around a new way to parent.  They came to the eight weekly classes and then I lost touch with them.  Until…..

A couple years later the dad showed up at a mindfulness retreat that I had organized in North Georgia.  During the retreat he shared his story with the group.  He said that coming to those parenting classes had not only “saved” his family…he believed it had literally saved his daughter’s life.  Soon after the parenting classes, his daughter had made a choice that sent her life spiraling out of control.  At a party, on a lark, she tried crystal meth and was very quickly addicted. The dad said that it was his worst nightmare come true as he witnessed his daughter transform into someone he didn’t know.  He described the “darkest moment” of his life, when late one night, he found himself in a rundown seedy area of Atlanta in a “crack house” trying to rescue his daughter.  He found her upstairs drugged out, naked, in bed with her meth supplier.

He went on to describe how he and his wife used the process they had learned in the parenting classes to begin to repair their relationship with their daughter. To hear her, to see her, and to get clear on what the needs were underneath her use of drugs.  Once they could identify the needs under the drug use (such as, a need to belong) they could respect her need and support her in finding other ways to feel belonging that didn’t come at such a detrimentally high cost.  By respecting her need they weren’t seeing her as wrong and feeling a need to punish.  Together, as a family, they faced the dilemma before them and supported their daughter as she fought the addiction and healed.

But it didn’t end there…the RIPPLES continued…

The daughter, now healed and whole, and knowledgeable in a new way to communicate and relate to others (thanks to her parents’ modeling of the needs-based process), became passionate about working with other teens who were addicted to meth.  She became a counselor at a drug rehab center and used her experience to help countless other young people heal from their addictions and get their lives back.  And I imagine the RIPPLES continued on and on with these young people and the many lives they touched.

Repetition In Place Produces Little Effects Somewhere.  It’s a Law of the Universe.  What’s the quality of the pebbles you are dropping?  The ones that send their ripples in wave upon wave to eventually touch unseen and unknown shores………

Mommy! Deidra won’t share with me!

Deidra, who is four, and her sister, Kim, who is three, are playing with their pony pals.  Everything is going fine until Kim asks to take a turn with Deidra’s special glitter pony and Deidra refuses to share. Kim starts to get upset and so you go in to see what’s causing the fuss. Kim is crying and asks you to please “make Deidre share with me.”  Deidra says no, this is her special pony and she doesn’t want anyone else to play with him.  Kim is in full meltdown by now and is trying to pry the glitter pony from Deidra’s hands.  What’s a mom to do?

First and foremost….take a deep breath and pause.  Notice that instant flash of heat in your belly and your thinking which has probably gone haywire with thoughts such as:  “Why can’t I ever get five minutes of peace so I can do the things I need to do around here?”  or “That’s just like Deidra, selfish and uncaring” or “They will never grow up and learn to get along with each other…this is the story of my life!”

When our buttons are pushed, the thinking part of our brain shuts down and we are hijacked into a fight or flight reaction where our thinking becomes exaggerated and fatalistic.  If we act when we are in this mode, chances are it’s going to be ugly and no true learning will take place. 

That’s why the pause is so important.  It allows us to calm that fire in our belly and shift back into our thinking brain where we can respond from a place of choice. So now that you’re back to calm, what do you choose to do?

Here are some options (and my guess as to the path each option will take us down):

1.  You take the pony out of Deidre’s hand and give it to Kim.  It’s important that Deidre learns to share whether she wants to or not.  It’s the polite thing to do.
The Path: Deidre will have a sense of powerlessness.  She will learn that if you’re bigger, you can exert power over smaller people.  She will start to resent her sister and take her frustrations out on her every chance she gets. Kim will learn that in order to get what she wants, she just needs to throw a fit and you will come running.

2.  You try to distract Kim with other pretty ponies and tell her, “That glitter pony is old anyway.  No one wants to play with him.”
The Path: If the ploy “works” and you succeed in distracting Kim away from wanting the pony, it’s not likely to be for long.  In a few minutes, the fighting will ensue over some new toy.  That’s because the issue of sharing has not been resolved and no learning has taken place.  Plus, Deidre may feel hurt that you spoke about her special pony in such a way.

3.  You tell the kids that if they can’t work this out on their own then they’ll each be sent to their room  to play alone.
The Path: If it’s gotten to this point, it’s unlikely that they will be able to work this out on their own without your support. They are both also hijacked by their limbic system into a fight or flight mode.  If you follow through and send them each to their room they will learn that when life gets messy, no one around here knows how to straighten it out. The message they internalize will be, “When the going gets tough, I’m on my own.” 

4.  You go deeper than the behavior and search for what is driving it…what is each child needing in the moment?  You show understanding for what’s happening with each child.
You might say something like, “Deidre, are you wanting to be able to choose for yourself when you’re willing to share your toys–or not?”  You show  that you understand what Kim is feeling by saying, “Kim, you really want to play with that glitter pony.  You really want your sister to let you play with him.”  Then, you might invite them to help you problem-solve: “It looks like we have a dilemma. What can we do?”  Chances are they can’t hear you…yet. Kim may try to grab, Deidre may clutch tighter to the pony.  But if you remain calm and confident that together as a “team” you can find a solution, then the odds are greater that you will. 

Respect Deidre’s need to make choices about her possessions and be there for Kim as she goes through her intense feelings of not getting what she wants.  When the commotion dies down, together you may come up with some guidelines around sharing: (1) if an item (such as the glitter pony) is not for sharing, then it will be left out of sight when the sisters play together, (2) if both sisters want to play with the same toy at the same time, then they will play “rock, paper, scissors” to see who gets it first, (3) if there’s a squabble over a toy, then the toy gets to take a break in another room for 10 minutes.

The Path: The bottom line is…we can’t teach our children to share by forcing them because true sharing comes from the heart. By respecting each child’s boundaries and willingness (or not) to share, we send the message that  “Your voice matters.  You can say no if you don’t want to share.”  Now of course we also want to encourage empathy and seeing the needs and wishes of others…but that’s hard to do if we don’t sense that anyone sees our needs and wishes first.  In the teen years, we will be glad that we instilled in our child that her voice matters, that she can set boundaries and say no.

And for the child who so wanted to play with that toy and was denied, we send the message “I know it’s hard. It’s okay to have your feelings.”  And you know what?  She survives and she builds up resilience to life’s many frustrations and disappointments.

♥♥♥ LOVE IN ACTION ♥♥♥

Be proactive when teaching values to your children.  Don’t wait for a conflict over a toy to try to teach sharing.  Set your kids up for success by planning strategies to “practice” sharing when everyone is in a good mood.  Encourage them to come up with their own solutions, such as:  taking turns choosing a toy to play with, setting a timer then switching toys with each other, etc.

You can also model sharing by having your own toy box of toys which you joyfully share with them.  Share your toys with their friends when they come over too.

10% Is Enough

When I first started teaching parenting classes back in 2005 I once told my class about an incident that had just happened where I yelled at my child.  I remember several people gasped and they all exchanged looks. Then one person asked, “You mean you yell?”  Another added, “At your child?”

I was equally bewildered by their bewilderment.  And then it hit me…they think I’m on the “other side” of this parenting stuff…somehow they’ve gotten the impression that I’ve graduated…that I’ve arrived…that I’ve reached perfect parenting nirvana and bliss. This was a disconcerting thought because, in reality, nothing could be further from the truth!

“Oh!  Wow!,” I exclaimed, “I hope I haven’t misled you into thinking that I don’t do all these things that we’ve been talking about…the things you are trying to change and improve.  I’m right there with you!  I’m teaching this because I need to learn it myself.”

Then as I watched those words sink in for them, for a moment it entered my mind that this was the beginning of the end of parenting classes for me. I had just let the cat out of the bag and now the word would get out that I yelled at my own children, and no one would want to come to my parenting classes.  What could I possibly teach anyone about parenting when I didn’t have my own parenting act together?

Thankfully,after I was knocked clean off that perfect parenting pedestal (thank God!), the parents expressed relief. I went from being the “parenting expert” to a “mom” who was struggling with the same issues that they were struggling with…and who was able to apply what I was teaching to my own parenting around 10% of the time (yeah, I got a little crazy with my confessions).  My willingness to be vulnerable and “let it all hang out” put us on equal ground and created emotional safety where we could openly share what was really going on in our families, the guilt (and sometimes shame) we felt around our parenting, and the hope that we still had time to get it right…or at least to get it good enough.

Fast forward eight years and I’ll tell you 10 things I’ve learned about the parenting paradigm I teach—even if you can only apply the concepts 10% of the time:

  • 10% of conscious intentional parenting is better than 90% of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants parenting.
  • 10% of focused attention on your relationship with your child is better than 90% of focused attention on “behavior issues.”
  • 10% of striving to connect and understand is better than 90% of attempting to correct, convince, cajole or coerce.
  • 10% of parent “time-ins” is better than 90% of child “time-outs.”
  • 10% of quality engaging time with your child is better than 90% of stressed-out distracted time with your child.
  • 10% of listening is better than 90% of lecturing.
  • 10% of setting loving limits is better than 90% of issuing threats, punishments or bribes.
  • 10% of changing ourselves is better than 90% of trying to change our children.
  • 10% of unconditional love is better than 90% of love with conditions.
  • 10% of honest imperfect parenting is better than 90% of false unattainable perfect parenting.

Now I’m very intentional about letting my classes know where I stand in my imperfect parenting. (I stand pretty solidly in imperfect parenting by the way).  After 8 years of studying, practicing and teaching conscious forms of parenting, I may be up to applying it 20% of the time….on a good day.

But now I know it’s more than enough.

I’ll leave you with these words from Brené Brown, about imperfect parenting as a gift:

“The practice of framing mothers and fathers as good or bad is both rampant and corrosive.  It turns parenting into a shame minefield.  The real questions for parents should be, “Are you engaged?  Are you paying attention?”  If so, plan to make lots of mistakes and bad decisions.
Imperfect parenting moments turn into gifts as our children watch us try to figure out what went wrong and how we can do better next time.  The mandate is not ‘be perfect and raise
happy children.’  Perfection doesn’t exist and I found that what makes children happy doesn’t always prepare them to be courageous, engaged adults.”
Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

♥♥♥ LOVE IN ACTION ♥♥♥

Invite yourself to a nice cup of tea and sit down and ask yourself these questions:

In what areas do I try to edit the version of my family that I present to the world?
In what ways am I afraid of being judged by other parents?
Do I ever judge other parents based on how their children act, look, or sound?
Do I put pressure on my kids to be, act, look, and sound perfect so that I look good as a parent?
What part of my authentic self am I afraid to show to others?  What would be the worst thing
that could happen if I revealed this part of me?

Based on your reflections, decide if there’s room to practice more authenticity and vulnerability in your life.

I’d love to hear about your experience with these questions in the comment section below.

Are you asking the right questions?

Sometimes in order to get the most meaningful answers, you need to ask the right questions.

You know how you usually have an annual review at work and basically your boss gives you feedback about what’s working and what’s not working regarding your performance?  In the right frame of mind you can use this feedback to modify how you’re doing things so that your performance is more in line with what’s expected and needed on the job.

You can use this same approach to gather feedback about how you’re doing as a parent.  And who better to ask than…your kids?  They are the ones who are living day in and day out with your expectations, your triggers, your reactions, your nurturing, and your ways of giving and receiving love.

Over the years I’ve found some questions that have been helpful to me as a parent to glean what it is exactly that I do to help my children thrive and feel loved and what it is I do to make them feel less than that. Their answers over the years have been useful information to help shape my parenting style. And just asking the questions lets them know that they matter. That their input is a part of the relationship equation and that I want to learn and grow in my role as their mother.

Some of these questions came from reading Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life and Pam Leo’s Connection Parenting and some I came up with myself as I delved deeper into what was working and what needed improvement in building my relationship with my sons.

Questions for the Kids:
1.  How did I make your life more wonderful today?
2.  How did I make your life less than wonderful today?
3.  What made you feel loved today?
4.  What do you like most about me?
5.  What do you like most about yourself?
6.  What do you like most about your brother? (asked in the presence of each other)
7.  What is your growing edge? (What do you need to work on yourself?)
8.  What is my growing edge? (What do you think I need to work on?)

The secret is to be completely open to whatever answer your child gives. There are no right or wrong answers….just good useful information. This is not a time to get defensive or convey a lesson. Ask with a curious mind and an open heart. Then use the information to celebrate the little things that lead to closeness between you and your child and to repair any ruptures in the relationship.  Ask often and savor the precious moments of connection.

♥♥♥ LOVE IN ACTION ♥♥♥

Ask your child one or two of these questions every night this week and be open to receive the answers. Thank your child for sharing his or her thoughts with you, then use the information you hear to make adjustments in how you interact with your child.

“Listen earnestly to anything [your children] want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.” (Catherine M. Wallace, author)

What the young and the old both want

He sits at the kitchen table patiently waiting for the pureed beets, pureed beans, and mashed potatoes. As he takes a bite, some juice dribbles down his chin and drops onto the bib around his neck, but he doesn’t notice. He is intently focused on getting the baby spoon to his mouth, moving the food around with his tongue, and swallowing.

Sixteen years ago, this was my son learning to feed himself. Today, it’s my dad who is re-learning how to swallow as he recovers from a stroke that tragically altered his brain (and his life!) two months ago.

As I sit there with him, encouraging him to tilt his chin as he swallows so that the food goes down the right “pipe,” I’m reminded of how my life has come full circle in caring for those most precious to me. I’m finding that the words and actions I used with my children to help them navigate the “bumps in the road” of life are coming back to me to support my dad in this new phase of his life.  I’m noticing the many parallels between caring for young children and caring for elderly parents.

 Once my son fell on some sharp rocks and got a big gash in his scalp. There was a lot of blood and the emergency room doctor tried to convince me to stay in the waiting room while they stitched him up. I refused. “I’m not a wimp!” I told the doctor, “I’m not afraid of blood. I’m going in with him.” I couldn’t bear the thought of my child facing that needle and sutures without me by his side. “Mommy’s here. It’s going to be okay,” I told him as I held his hand.

In March I was by my father’s side when he had to decide whether or not to receive a stomach tube for feeding.  A procedure that would prolong his life, but also significantly decrease the quality of it, especially if he could never swallow again. “I know this is a hard decision,” I told him. “And we’ll support you no matter what you decide. I know this must be scary. I’m right here. Everything is going to be okay.”

 Isn’t that what everyone wants? Young and old alike? For someone to hold your hand through the hard times. To know that someone is watching out for you. Everything is going to be okay.

 My father was moved to a skilled nursing facility last week…and so was my mother (because he was her caregiver before the stroke). I’m learning to be an advocate for their care just as I was an advocate for my son who was on steroids much of his infancy due to wheezing. The pediatrician said, “Get used to it. He’s going to be an asthmatic kid.” I said, “I will not get used to it” and began my research which led me to a naturopath who “cured” his wheezing.

 In the nursing home, I advocate to make sure my dad is encouraged to eat more (he’s lost so much weight!) and to make sure the call button is positioned in the same place each time they make his bed (because he’s blind and needs to feel around for it). I’m on it when I hear it took too long to assist my mom to the bathroom or that her sponge bath water was cold. I speak for them because right now they need someone looking out for them. Because I love them and want the best care for them.

 So many qualities I cultivated while raising my children–patience, understanding, listening, empathic presence–are coming in handy as I support my dad and mom in adjusting to their new lives. Gratefully, the work I’ve done to grow my consciousness and skills in order to become a better parent is helping me be a better daughter too.

♥♥♥ LOVE IN ACTION ♥♥♥

Reflect on how the consciousness and skills you are building for your parenting role carry over into other areas of your life.  Are you getting better at listening to your co-workers?  or (after counting to three) do you have a sliver of curiosity and compassion for the person who cut you off in traffic?  Can you push the “pause” button when your partner says something that triggers you and step outside of your habitual reaction and choose a thoughtful response instead?  One that is more likely to lead to connection rather than further disconnection?

 You put so much effort into being the best parent you can be.  Get the most mileage out of your growing consciousness and skills by applying them to everyone everywhere!

 “Until he extends his circle of compassion to include all living things, man will not himself find peace.”  (Albert Schweitzer, Nobel Peace Prize Winner)

Build a firm foundation for your house of love

You probably remember the story in the bible where the foolish man builds his house on the sand and when the storms come and the rivers rise, the house is washed away. The wise man builds his house on solid rock and when the storms come, the house stands firm and unshakable. 

 When we are building our “house of love,” which is the environment we create to house our children’s spirits, we would do well to consider whether we are building the foundation on shifting sand or solid rock. 

 Our relationship with our child is the foundation upon which all else depends. If the parent-child bond is strong and secure, then the foundation will be sturdy and we will be able to weather the many storms that come our way. If the relationship is weak and the parent-child bond is eroded, then we may be in trouble when the storms come. Often, we don’t see the stormclouds on the horizon and we squander the time we could be working to build a strong foundation until it is too late.  Or, we find that it’s so much easier to dig in the sandy soil; why take the time and hard work to dig into hard rock?

But trust me, the time and effort you put into building a strong relationship today will be worth it in the teenage years! That is when you may find that the tools and techniques you have come to rely on in the younger years don’t work so well anymore.  And if you’re not in “right” relationship with your child, it doesn’t matter how many tools and skills you’ve managed to acquire as a parent, tools and skills alone will not solve your problems and conflicts.  In fact, they will start to backfire.

So if you’ve become caught up in what to “do” in order to get your kids to listen to you or to behave better, I encourage you to shift your focus from controlling behavior to building the relationship.  The time you spend building connection, respect, and trust with your child will actually allow you to pull out those tools less often and use them sparingly. 

I know it’s hard to see how you can possibly find the time to work on relationship when you’re in the midst of the day in and day out frenetic pace of family life.  It seems much easier and more efficient to use the tools that get immediate compliance so you can get out the door, or you can cook dinner in peace.  But taking the time to strengthen the bond between you and your child will actually get you much the same results and will also bring the joy back into parenting. Think of it this way:  you can spend time one way or the other–“being” with your child in a loving, connecting way (which will decrease the acting out behaviors) or “doing” something to get your kid to behave (when he’s acting out his need for connection).  Either way, you’re going to spend the time.

How do you want to spend your time with your child?  Getting easier compliance momentarily on shifting sand? or building a lasting relationship on solid rock?

♥♥♥ LOVE IN ACTION ♥♥♥

Spend at least 10 minutes every day with each child one-on-one.  Turn off your phone, turn off the stove, and get down eyeball to eyeball with your child and have fun!  I know a lot of parents use this special time at bedtime to read and cuddle and calm.  I invite you to also consider building in this special time at the pressure-cooker points in your day when there seems to be the most tension.  For lots of families this is in the morning and the “bewitching” hour around dinnertime. You can do a lot to prevent those meltdowns by proactively spending quality connecting time with each child before the bewitching hour!  Get up a little earlier and build in 10 minutes of play time, whether that’s playing I Spy, or racing cars, or having a tea party for breakfast.  Before you begin cooking dinner, spend 10 minutes to build a fort or play chase in the yard.  Proactive parenting is so much more enjoyable than reactive parenting!

 “It is not so much what we do, but rather WHO WE ARE to our children that matters most.”  (Dr. Gordon Neufeld, author of Hold on to Your Kids)

Are you missing the “co” in cooperation?

Tell me, what does cooperation mean to you?  It’s a word I hear often from parents and it appears to be a very important quality that we desire from our children.  Picture for a moment the many needs met when you have cooperation at home:  needs met might include ease, support, calm, peace, flow…to name a few.  No wonder we value cooperation so highly!

So wouldn’t it be nice to get more of it? I’m going to share with you ways to increase cooperation in family life.  But first, let’s look at what we actually mean when we use the term.

“Cooperate” comes from the Latin roots “co” meaning “together” and “operari” meaning “to work,” so cooperate means “to work together.”  But if we are honest with ourselves, we may find that what we mean when we say, “I just wish my kid would cooperate!” is more accurately expressed as, “I just wish my kid would do what I told him to do….and be pleasant as he’s doing it!”  In this sense, what we’re really wishing for is “compliance”…not “cooperation.”  (The word “compliance” comes from the Latin word “complire,” meaning to “fill up” or “full fill,” as in fulfill a wish or request.)

Here’s the deal:  if we want cooperation from our kids, then we must be willing to look at our responsibility for the “co” part.  How much are we willing to work together for the common good?  How open are we to hearing what works not just for us, but for our kids as well?  Here’s where we can influence how much cooperation we receive from our kids–it’s directly related to how much cooperation we’re willing to give.

If we remember that children learn primarily through modeling, then how much are we modeling cooperation for them?  How often do we check in with them to see if what we are doing, where we are going, or what we are requesting of them actually works for them too?  Or do we just drag them along on our self-focused errands, overschedule them so they have little down time, request of them to do what we want when we want it, and expect them to go along with it willingly and pleasantly?  And when they push back, “acting out” needs that are not met for them, do we label them uncooperative?

Who’s really the uncooperative one?

I’m not saying this to make you feel guilty or to suggest permissive parenting where you forget what you want and cater only to your child.  I’m hoping to increase your awareness that your child has her own agenda and timeline and her own needs.  I’m hoping to inspire you to find that middle way…that mutual place of working together that secures a firm attachment with your child and bolsters a solid relationship that stands the test of time.

If you’re willing to look at your part in the dance, then here are a few ways to immediately increase the “co” in cooperation:

1.  In interactions with your child, imagine you are talking to someone you admire and respect (I often imagine Mother Teresa).  Would you choose your words more carefully?  Would your tone change?  Would you be more willing to collaborate?  Would you make a request rather than a demand?

2.  The next time you make a request of your child, ask him, “Does that work for you?” and be willing to have a dialogue and open to hearing his voice, even if he says no.  Explore what would work for both of you.

3.  Ask your child for her input before making decisions that affect her.  Everyone wants to know that they matter.

4.  Give your child choices.  If the task is to “work together” to prepare dinner and you ask him to set the table, give him some wiggle room on when…would you like to do it now, or after you shoot some basketballs?   If it’s time to take some dreaded medicine, ask her how she’d like it?….in a spoon, or stirred in some juice?  At bedtime… would you like to brush your teeth first, or put on pajamas?

5.  When your child makes a request of you…listen, and, if it doesn’t work for you, don’t just say no.  Acknowledge the importance of it, let him know why it doesn’t work for you, and explore other options that might work for both of you.  Let him know what he wants is valued.

I invite you to give it a try.  I think you will find the more you model and inspire cooperation, the more you will receive it in return.  Let me know how it goes by commenting here.

When one child is “mean” to another: healing both

When your child comes home in tears because someone was “mean” to them at school, the first line of defense is to listen to their outpouring of feelings and allow them to feel them….fully.  This is quite hard to do.  It’s heartbreaking for us as parents to be with our child’s painful feelings.  We just want to fix it for them, smooth it over and make sure that it never happens again.  But if we can just be with our child and let the tears fall (without trying to fix it), this is great medicine in and of itself.  Having someone to listen to them in this way, feeling fully heard and understood, will help your child develop inner strength and resiliency.  This simple, but healing, act of listening will help instill in them that they can weather life’s storms and come out okay.

Once your child feels fully heard and understood, you can help them brainstorm ways that they can “respond” to hurtful words or actions, rather than “react” emotionally or with their own damaging words.  Help your child come up with some key phrases that will help to protect her from the impact of a hurtful comment.  Some phrases may be, “That’s not nice and I’m not going to listen any more” (and she turns or moves away).  Or “It’s not okay to talk to me that way” (and she turns or moves away).  If the phrases and disengagement don’t work, then it’s time to get a teacher or adult involved.

While it’s helpful to teach our children tools so they can “stand up for themselves,” no child should have to go through this alone.  It’s our responsibility as parents, teachers, and adult mentors, to support our children in tough times and to model for them how to deal with others who have hurt us.  Usually, the impulse is to judge the “mean” child for their behavior and punish them for their wrongs.  But I believe this perpetuates the problem.  It adds another layer of blame and shame to what the “mean” child is already feeling, which is causing the behavior in the first place.  

I believe that a hurt-ful child is a hurt-filled child.  When a child’s needs are being met, they are loving and kind and have no need to act out in a hurtful way.  When one child is mean to another, there is something bigger going on below the surface, there are some needs that are not being met.  When we set up supportive systems (like peer mediation or restorative circles) in our families, schools, and other institutions to address this bigger issue of unmet needs, then we will start to see this type of behavior fade.

So instead of punishment for the “mean” girl, I would want her also to know that she is loved and cared about even after the harm she has done. I would want a loving adult in her life to sit with her and listen to what is going on for her to cause her to act out in this way.  And to help her understand what needs of hers she is trying to meet with such behavior and guide her to find better strategies to get those needs met with less cost to others (and to herself).  No one feels good being mean.

Here’s an illustration of how I used this approach with a similar situation in my family.  Recently, my son made an inappropriate attempt at humor by writing some text below another person’s photo and sending it out on Instagram.  Someone showed the Instagram to the person who was in the photo and that person was not amused and sent us (the parents) an email. 

Before I approached my son about it, I thought about my intentions.  I got clear that I wanted my son to learn how his actions affect others (especially how widespread the effect can be in today’s electronic world) and I wanted to give him a chance to restore his honor, to come back to his best self.  Above all, I wanted him to know that he is loved and cared about even when he makes mistakes.  And that he can count on me to support him through the uncomfortable and awkward stage of restitution—as he repairs the harm he has caused another and as he restores his own honor to himself.

I was very satisfied with our conversation.  Because I didn’t approach him with judgment and punishment, he didn’t become defensive.  He knew it was a stupid mistake and he sincerely regretted that his actions had caused embarrassment and hurt.  He sent an email to the person in the photo apologizing for sending the Instagram and for not thinking through how hurtful it might be.  The person in the photo responded with a very sweet email in return.  As far as I know, the hurt was repaired on both sides…and some valuable life lessons were learned to boot.

I’m reminded of a story I read in Alan Cohen’s book, Living from the Heart.  Here’s an excerpt which captures beautifully how, instead of punishing, we can love others back to their best self:

When a woman in a certain African tribe knows she is pregnant, she goes out into the wilderness with a few friends and together they pray and meditate until they hear the song of the child. They recognize that every soul has its own vibration that expresses its unique flavor and purpose. When the women attune to the song, they sing it out loud. Then they return to the tribe and teach it to everyone else. When the child is born, the community gathers and sings the child’s song to him or her.

Later, when the child enters education, the village gathers and chants the child’s song. When the child passes through the initiation to adulthood, the people again come together and sing. At the time of marriage, the person hears his or her song. Finally, when the soul is about to pass from this world, the family and friends gather at the person’s bed, just as they did at their birth, and they sing the person to the next life.

In the African tribe there is one other occasion upon which the villagers sing to the child. If at any time during his or her life, the person commits a crime or aberrant social act, the individual is called to the center of the village and the people in the community form a circle around them. Then they sing their song to them. The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behavior is not punishment; it is love and the remembrance of identity.

When you recognize your own song, you have no desire or need to do anything that would hurt another. A friend is someone who knows your song and sings it to you when you have forgotten it. Those who love you are not fooled by mistakes you have made or dark images you hold about yourself. They remember your beauty when you feel ugly; your wholeness when you are broken; your innocence when you feel guilty; and your purpose when you are confused.

May we all be surrounded by family and friends who know our song and who will sing it to us when we need it the most.

Beginner’s Mind

What is it about a new year that seems to propel us out of our complacency and get us excited, inspired and motivated to make changes so that we are living our best lives?  Even though I have come to use the start of a new year to review and and make adjustments to my intentions of how I want to live and show up in the world, I more deeply realize that the real power lies in when I can do this every day, even…every moment. 

There is a Buddhist term, “shoshin”, which mean’s “beginner’s mind.” It refers to a mindset in which we encounter situations with a fresh perspective, like a beginner encountering the situation for the first time.  In “beginner’s mind,” we drop our preconceived notions, ideas and opinions and embody an attitude of not knowing, of curiosity, of openness and eagerness.

This is how I want to live each moment of my life, not just on New Year’s Day!  I want to live with openness and curiosity, because I’ve found that the opposite of that–closed and judgmental–doesn’t bring me much happiness.  When I can bring my “beginner’s mind” to parenting–staying open and curious to what is going on for my child, letting go of my preconceptions that he’s stubborn or trying to manipulate me, or any other story I make up in my mind–then I create space for understanding, compassion, and connection for both of us. When our relationship is rooted in these qualities, then nothing seems impossible!  There is no situation that we can’t work through.

 As Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki says in his book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”  I don’t know about you, but I like having lots of possibilities!

I invite you to give it a try.  The next time your kid “pushes your buttons,” pause and get into your “beginner’s mind.”  Get curious.  Ask yourself, Why would he say that?  Why would he do that?  What’s going on for him?  Maybe I can find out and help him.  Because that’s not the best him.  That’s not who he really is. 

 With beginner’s mind, we can cultivate an attitude where we are savoring every moment of this precious life we have been given, every moment of interaction with our loved ones, every encounter even with strangers.  The world can become new again and exciting when experienced with beginner’s mind.

Try it the next time you are stuck in traffic, or waiting in the wrong line (the slowest one) at the grocery store, even while your 3-year old is clinging to your legs and whiining.  Imagine you just landed on this planet or you just woke up from a coma after 40 years.  How does the world look?  What sounds do you hear?  How does it feel to have your child seeking your attention if you let go of the label whine-y and look at her with fresh eyes?

Is it possible to savor, absolutely s-a-v-o-r the moment?  Savor the wait, savor the whining, savor the stuck wheel on the cart.  This precious moment of life that you have been given.  What a miracle it is.

What I would ask Nancy Lanza

Memorial for Sandy Hook victims

Even as the New Year dawns and I’m teased with new beginnings and bright possibilities, I’m also still mourning how the Old Year concluded with the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  I find that I keep vacillating between tears and numbness; I can only hold so much sorrow and despair before I have to shut down for a while and not feel. Then slowly, the sadness and grief return.

What has touched me most in this ordeal is reading about Adam’s mom, Nancy, and how it appears she was so isolated while dealing with her son’s increasingly extreme social withdrawal. Aside from a few conversations with casual friends, it appears that she faced her uncertainties, worries, and hard choices alone.  Her acquaintances are quick to describe her as happy and cheerful, but I imagine a different Nancy Lanza living behind the closed doors of her big beautiful home in Newtown.  I imagine a mom who desperately wanted her son to “fit in” and who was sick with worry about how to reach him as he slipped away, receding further and further into his own world.

This breaks my heart because it hits close to home for me. When my son was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder and we were dealing with some pretty severe behaviors day in and day out and I, too, felt he was slipping away, there were times when I thought I would lose my mind.  If I hadn’t had a couple good friends around me to hear my painful stories, to witness my struggles and to just be there to love me through it, I don’t know how it would have turned out. (Thank you Faye and Donna!) What I learned from that experience is it’s easy to become isolated when you have a “problem” child.  It’s hard to find sitters and play dates and friends who will go the distance with you.

I see this isolation often as I work with parents who have children with challenging behaviors, whether it’s violent outbursts or extreme social withdrawal.  It’s easy to wag a finger at the parent and find fault with their parenting.  It’s easy to give well-meaning advice of just do this, and that should solve the problem.  But unless you’ve ever lived with a child who doesn’t respond the same way as a “normal” child to “traditional” parenting techniques, then I’m here to tell you, “You don’t have a clue!”  What these parents need is not finger-wagging and advice, but compassion and acceptance, so that they feel like part of the human family again.

We can second-guess Nancy and think, “if only she had done this, that, or the other,” and we can blame her for taking Adam to shooting ranges and teaching him to fire a gun—just like we can judge the actions or inactions of other parents who have “weird” or “unruly” or “bully” kids.   But I don’t think fault-finding helps anyone.  I think it fuels the shame and fear of judgment that parents of children who are “different” often feel.  And shame and fear is what keeps these parents and families isolated.  What I would like to see is for us to love and support the Nancy Lanzas in our communities–the parents who are struggling with family life, often very much alone.

If only I could get in a time machine and reach out to Nancy before this awful tragedy, I would ask her, “You seem worried.  What’s going on?  How can I help?  What do you need?”  I would listen with my whole heart and I would hold a safe non-judgmental space for her to share her struggles, and to begin to heal.  Because I know when parents heal their own pain, they can help their children to heal too.  When parents receive compassion and acceptance themselves, they can extend the same to their children…and there’s a lot of children out there starving for compassion and acceptance.

As a parenting educator/coach, I’ve seen the power of a group of parents who come together to support each other.  A foundation of my classes is developing empathic listening, so parents are paired up and spend time outside of class just listening to each other.  Not giving advice, not trying to fix or console, but just listening. The parents are always astounded at how much this simple practice supports them.  As one mom recently said, “My friends and I talk all the time about parenting stuff, but this is a different quality of listening.  The word that comes to mind is transformative.”

Who knows what kind of ripple effect a supportive listening ear would have made for Nancy and possibly many other lives?  Would it have been enough to change the trajectory of what was to come?  It’s too late to know the answer in regards to Nancy Lanza, but there are many struggling, exhausted parents out there right now who need our support—perhaps it’s your neighbor, perhaps it’s your sister-in-law, perhaps it’s you.

My vision is a world where we create emotionally-safe, judgment-free communities where parents can come together,  share their struggles, be accepted no matter what is happening or how they are handling it, and be supported and nurtured by each other.  If this sounds like the kind of community you would like to be a part of, I invite you to join me in this quest and reach out to a parent who is struggling in your community today.
Rest in peace…Nancy, Allison, Ana Grace, Anne Marie, Avielle, Benjamin, Caroline, Catherine, Charlotte, Chase, Daniel, Dawn, Dylan, Emilie, Grace, Jack, James, Jesse, Jessica, Josephine, Lauren, Madeleine, Mary, Noah, Olivia Rose, Rachel, Victoria, and Adam.