I feel I can finally exhale

(Original post: 8/14/13)
Earlier this week I watched as my two boys got in the car (my older one driving) and headed to their first day of high school together. This year my older son is a junior (hard to believe!) and my younger son is a freshman. The first day of school is still a reflective time for me. I stood on the porch waving and wondering that old cliché, “where did the time go?” My heart was full of pride for the awesome young men they are becoming.  I also got in touch with the gratitude and pride I feel for myself that I’ve done the work (and it was damn hard at times!) to nurture and grow relationships with them built on mutual respect and trust.

When you have an especially challenging child (like my older son), it can take an incredibly long time to see the results. Often, parents lose faith that anything is working. There have been so many times I wanted to throw in the towel because I lost my confidence that I was doing the right thing. There have been times over the years when it was just a hopeless mess. Yet, I was committed to grow my consciousness and skills in order to lovingly parent my challenging child.  I knew in my heart I wanted to parent in a way that honored and accepted him just the way he is.

He is almost 17 now and I feel I can finally exhale. The relationship is intact. We’re talking. He’s sharing. He’s even listening sometimes. We often enjoy each other. Everything is going to be okay. (Deep breath)  I feel confident I did the right thing by shifting the way I was parenting him, even though it felt like swimming upstream the whole way (because our culture isn’t very good at supporting conscious parenting). I am starting to see the fruits of my labor and I am so glad I didn’t shrink back and didn’t throw in the towel.

Can You Relate?
If you have a challenging child you’re raising, hang in there! When you’re in the midst of the day in and day out struggles, it may seem that there is no end in sight. You may tell yourself many times a day, “Parenting shouldn’t be this hard!”

But know, please know, that you are doing holy work.

You are supporting and nurturing a child who needs that extra love and acceptance. Who will stretch you so far outside your growing edges that you can never shrink back to your earlier dimensions. Stay committed to practice being a calm loving presence for your child and one day, I promise you, you’ll find you’re on the other side. You’ve made it through. Everything is going to be okay. Bring a bushel and start picking the sweet fruits of your labor.

♥♥♥ LOVE IN ACTION ♥♥♥

The way we interact and communicate with our children often determines whether or not the door to communication stays open.  Begin to notice those moments when you sense your child has “shut the door” on communication and try to remember what you said or did immediately prior to that.  Often our tone of voice or our choice of words comes across as criticizing, judging, or blaming. These are sure-fire ways to bring up defensiveness and cause the door to shut.  If we want to keep the door to communication open, it’s up to us as parents to communicate in ways that invite openness, nonjudgment, acceptance, and collaboration.

Keeping the Focus on Relationship

This post was orginally published on August 5, 2011

Next week my kids go off to school and as always, the bittersweet nostalgia sets in.  I so enjoy the summer months and spending more time with my kids.  I so look forward to school starting again so I can regain some focus on work, some peace and quiet, and some “normalcy” to our days and schedules.

This year my older son goes to high school and I am humbled by my relative lack of influence on his choices.  Gone are the days when I could share my values with him while he sat intently listening, asking questions, and formulating his own ideas and opinions—which pretty much mimicked my own.  Now I worry that our values seem so far apart.  Our priorities so different.  Our attempts at resolving conflicts messy and requiring lots of effort and self-empathy.

At 14, he is just entering those murky waters of the teen years.  Already we’ve wrestled with some big issues that could easily shake even a sturdy foundation.  I’m often gripped by fear when I observe behavior I label “risky,” “dangerous,” “self-destructive.”  I constantly walk a fine line between honoring his needs for autonomy, expression, and freedom and my needs for trust, safety and his wellbeing.  I seem to constantly be in the mode of relationship repair.  Conscious parenting is not for the faint-hearted.

And still there is comfort in knowing that we can repair the relationship when the connection breaks.  We do know a way back and have found it many times.  I’ve worked with families where the chasm in their connection is so wide that it can seem quite hopeless to build a bridge across.  And yet I know that certain conscious parenting processes, like Parenting From Your Heart and Connection Parenting, can support families in establishing, repairing, and maintaining trust and connection.  Even in those difficult teen years.

Compared to other processes, conscious parenting may take more time and effort.  It’s often easier to use power-over, especially when the kids are young, to get the behavior and “cooperation” we want.  But just try “counting to three” with a teenager or forcing a teenager to sit in “timeout.”  I think you’ll find those behavior modification techniques are short-lived and buy you a little extra time at best. At worst, they tend to be disconnecting and alienating, the antithesis of relationship-building.

The work of conscious parenting, of building a relationship with your child based on mutual respect and trust, is harder and takes more time.  You often don’t see results right away.  It may take weeks or months or even years to build the trust.  Why would you want to put that much time and effort into it?  Because keeping the focus on relationship rather than behavior allows the process to grow as you and your child grow (not just in age, but also in consciousness and skills).  Behavior modification techniques come and go according to the latest trend or parenting guru.  A connecting relationship between you and your child transcends all ages, developmental stages, trends and “experts.”   Keeping the door open to communication and connection serves the relationship when your child is a toddler and carries over into when your child grows into an adult.  A solid relationship built of mutual respect and trust provides a strong sturdy foundation that lasts a lifetime!  I mean, way past the teen years.  Isn’t that worth the extra effort?

I Will Make Time Because You Matter To Me

During my parenting classes I hand out slips of paper to each parent for them to fill in.  On the piece of paper it reads:

“Dear _____, I want to support you in building healthy self-worth.  For you are loveable and you are valuable.  One thing I will do every day this week to spend quality engaging time with you is: ________________.  I will make time for this because you matter to me.” 

This is an attempt to get the parents to think concretely about things they can do with their children to build connection and nurture the relationship.  It’s easy enough to think, “Oh, I will pay more attention to my children this week.”  But–unless you can concretely visualize doing that in your mind and you set a strong intention–daily living, responsibilities and distractions tend to get in the way.  I encourage parents to fill in the slips of paper (one for each child) and put them on the refrigerator or the bathroom mirror or somewhere where they are daily reminded of their intention to connect and nurture.

One mom reported at the next meeting that initially she was a little confused when I gave her one for her new baby.   She had no trouble envisioning activities she could do with her 4 year old (like reading a book together, creating dinner together, going to the park with their bikes) but what can I do with a baby? she wondered.  

After some thought, she decided to give it try.  She wrote “Dear Samuel, I want to support you in building healthy self-worth.  For you are loveable and you are valuable.  One thing I will do every day this week to spend quality engaging time with you is: to look into your eyes while you are nursing.  I will make time for this because you matter to me.” 

She reported that when she started doing this, looking into her baby’s eyes instead of doing other tasks (like checking emails) while he nursed, that she felt a sweet connection with her baby who also gazed up into his mother’s eyes.  She also noticed what a difference it made in her, as her body relaxed, as her mind enjoyed a peaceful moment, and as she let the responsibilities of the day fade into the background.  The moment became  just about mother and baby, connecting and bonding. The shift helped her to connect with herself and with her baby and she came to enjoy these precious nursing breaks in her day, instead of seeing them as a necessity that got in the way of doing other things.

Haven’t most of us been there before?  Overwhelmed as parents and multi-tasking to get things done? I can clearly remember standing at the stove stirring a pot with one hand, holding a nursing baby with the other, while talking on the phone which was wedged between my neck and ear.  Really?  How much would it have cost me in time if I had put the pot on simmer, told my friend that I would call her back, and sat down in the comfy chair with my baby and gazed into his eyes as he nursed?  Did I really save that much time by doing it all at once?  And more importantly, did I lose something with that choice….like a moment of sweet connection and bonding and a message with my eyes that said, “I will make time for this because you matter to me.”

I invite you to look at the choices you are making today.  What messages do they send to your child?