Let my love give you roots…and help you find your wings

son flying PAIDWell, it’s official.  I’m an “empty-nester” now.  There have been a few tears, there have been a few lonely mornings drinking my smoothie alone, and there is now a spotless breakfast nook without books, backpacks, homework papers, lunchboxes, and random socks lying around!

It seems surreal to think back to when my boys were little and running around like wild monkey weasels (my husband’s term for them) and the only way I could steal 10 minutes of me-time was to take my time in the bathroom.  Now the minutes d-r-a-g by even as I enjoy my newfound freedom to focus on what I enjoy doing the most–helping families to thrive.   This……my friends……is going to take some time getting used to.

So I’ve been listening to sappy songs, and looking at old photos, and cherishing the memories of witnessing two little boys grow into two fine young men.  My hope is that my love has given them roots and now they will find their wings.

Here’s one of the sappy songs, if you want to get teary-eyed too thinking about when your babies will fly away…….

Find Your Wings
(by Mark Harris)

It’s only for a moment you are mine to hold
The plans that heaven has for you
Will all too soon unfold
So many different prayers I’ll pray
For all that you might do
But most of all I’ll want to know
You’re walking in the truth
And If I never told you
I want you to know
As I watch you grow

I pray that God would fill your heart with dreams
And that faith gives you the courage
To dare to do great things
I’m here for you whatever this life brings
So let my love give you roots
And help you find your wings

May passion be the wind
That leads you through your days
And may conviction keep you strong
Guide you on your way
May there be many moments
That make your life so sweet
Oh, but more than memories

I pray that God would fill your heart with dreams
And that faith gives you the courage
To dare to do great things
I’m here for you whatever this life brings
So let my love give you roots
And help you find your wings

It’s not living if you don’t reach for the sky
I’ll have tears as you take off
But I’ll cheer as you fly

 

♥♥♥ LOVE IN ACTION ♥♥♥

Stop right now for a few moments and think about how you are providing roots for your child.  What specifically do you do to make them feel “firmly planted?”  To feel secure and trusting enough to rest in your love?
[The developmental psychologist Gordon Neufeld says “the provision must be greater than the pursuit.”  In other words, you need to give your kids more love than they are seeking in order for them to be able to relax and rest in that love.]

 

How to say “I love you” without saying “I love you”

Studies have shown that our children learn more from what we model for them than from what we try to teach them with our words.  Think about it for a moment, does your child learn more when you lecture him about how to treat the family dog, or when he sees you gently stroking the dog’s head?  Does she learn more when you admonish her to say I’m sorry, or when she hears you expressing regret?  Like it or not, your child pays more attention to what you do than to what you say.

So even though it feels good to hear the words, “I love you,” it feels even better when someone consistently acts in a way that conveys love and caring.

Here are 7 ways that you can say “I love you” through your actions:

  1. Be present with your child.  Be fully aware and attentive to her being.  Lay aside all distractions (email, cell phone, to-do list) and just BE with your child, letting her guide all action (or inaction).  (Do this at least 10 minutes every day and see what a difference it makes in your child’s behavior).
  2. Listen with your whole being when he speaks to you. Get down to his level (whether that’s kneeling down or sitting beside him), look into his eyes, and listen with your ears and your heart.  This may not be possible every time he speaks, but do it consistently enough that he feels that his voice matters to you.
  3. Make your child feel special by letting him know what you notice and appreciate about him.  I used to play a game with my kids called “What I like best about you is …..”  and I would fill in the blank with something I noticed, liked, or enjoyed about them.  They could never get enough of this game and when the neighbors’ kids heard us playing this, they also started coming to me and asking, “What do you like best about me?”
  4. Ask them what you can do to make their lives more wonderful (that doesn’t involve spending money).  And then do more of those things.
  5. Get out the baby books and go through their birth and newborn pictures with them.  Children love to hear their birth stories and it will renew your feelings of that deep awesome wonderlove as you remember the first time you met.
  6. Let your children “accidentally overhear” you saying nice things about them to someone else.  Kids come to expect that we will say nice things about them to their face simply because we’re their parents.  So when they “overhear” you talking about them to someone else, it feels more objective and boosts their self-image and self-esteem.
  7. Stay loving and affectionate even when your child is acting out and losing it.  Let him know you’re on his side even as you hold loving limits and accept his intense feelings about those limits.  When your kid is the most unlovable…is when he needs love the most.  

♥♥♥ LOVE IN ACTION ♥♥♥ 

For the next week, act on the list above–try a different one each day.  At the end of the week, ask your child, “What makes you feel loved?”  Her answer can help you refine and keep adding to your list.

And also….keep saying “I love you.”  

If you live long enough…

mom and teen PDOne of my favorite sayings from my friend Faye is “If you live long enough…”  I can’t tell you how many times this phrase has helped me to re-evaluate my perspective and take a longer view of my parenting.
When we’re in the midst of the day to day challenges of parenting, it can seem like every undesirable behavior is an indication of a dire future for our child. If she fights with her younger sibling or if she is unwilling to share with her friends, it means she will live a life of social isolation and failed relationships.  Or we will be viewed as incompetent parents and shunned from our communities.  If our teen sleeps until noon on weekends or defies the curfew agreement, it means he will never be able to hold a job and will have trouble following rules out there in the “real world.”  Our minds can come up with some doozies of worst case scenarios and we wind up using parenting strategies that are based on fear rather than love.
It’s good to have a friend like Faye (as a grandmother, she’s “been there, done that”) to remind you: You know what?  “If you live long enough…” you’ll find that most of your worries about the future never pan out and most things work out satisfactorily in the long run.
We sometimes think we have to directly “teach” our children values and good character traits.  When really they come into this world hardwired to develop toward thriving and belonging.  We just have to prepare the soil and water those seeds in them.  They’re already there.  We really don’t have to “teach” them that much. We just have to provide the environment and the nurturance for them to blossom into who they already are naturally becoming.

So when my friend Faye says, “If you live long enough…,” it means if you prepare the soil, give it lots of attention and love, the seeds will blossom eventually in their own time.

Some of you may be like I was and want your child to be a “mini-me.”  To handle situations the way you would handle them, to think about things the way you would think about them, and to act the way you would act.  What I’ve come to believe is my most important job as a parent is to love and accept my child as he is and encourage him to grow into who he is becoming…rather than grooming him to be a mini-me.

Love and acceptance…
not love…and be like me
This is really hard sometimes, especially if your child starts to go in a very different direction than you would.  But “if you live long enough…”
Last night my older son came in from college for Thanksgiving and we went to eat breakfast this morning.  On the way out of the restaurant I was walking in front of him and I pushed my way through the exit door.  Then I heard my son behind me say, “Mom, wait!  I would like to open the door for you but I can’t.  You’re walking way too fast.”I had to smile, remembering the many years I tried and failed (so I thought) to “teach” him the gentlemanly act of opening doors for ladies.  Growing up, he refused to do it or did it with a lot of grumbling and resented it being expected of him.  Since I managed to get through those years by picking my battles, the gentlemanly opening of doors didn’t make the battle list and I let it go.
But I’ve lived long enough and …. He got it!  In his own time.  In his own way.

What is it about your kids that you’re afraid that if you don’t “nip it in the bud” now that they will turn out irreparably damaged?  Whatever it is, I encourage you to expand your view and take a longer perspective. If they are resisting, and you fight hard to “teach” your value or your expectation, I predict your efforts will backfire.

I invite you bring some acceptance around it, knowing that if you consistently model the value that is important to you, your child is likely to learn the value on her own, in her own time.  See if you can model and encourage the value without it becoming a demand or expectation.

If I could give you the perfect gift this holiday season it would be to give you…a friend like Faye.  Someone who invites you to take a “reality check.”  Someone who has gone before and can lead the way through the jungle of parenting with confidence and assurance.   Everyone needs a friend like Faye when they’re in the thick and thin of it, when it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.  Everyone needs a reminder of the natural unfolding of things…of the way time itself takes care of many imagined problems…“if you live long enough.”

 

You can give them your love but not your thoughts

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ti0rzHq_0xU]

Before you read another word, click the link above and enjoy listening to Sweet Honey in the Rock sing Your Children Are Not Your Children, based on the poem On Children by Kahlil Gibran.  Also, here’s the full version of Gibran’s beautiful poem:

on children poem

I love this poem; it resonates deeply in my soul.  Especially the line, “You can give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts.”

I see this all the time in my parenting work and I know it’s also more true for me than I’d like to admit:  we can get caught up in coaching our children to be little mini-me’s, holding the same opinions and beliefs as we do.  Oh, the early years are simple enough; our kids generally do mimic our way of seeing the world.  But as they mature and start to think thoughts of their own, it can be discomforting and downright unraveling to hear ideas and opinions so different from our own coming from the lips of our babes.

Especially difficult are those ideas and opinions that run contrary to our deepest held values.  We often spend a lot of intention and effort in an attempt to pass down our family values through modeling and teaching.  This guidance serves our children well in early life; our shared values become a compass to navigate life.  And yet, there must come a time when our children decide for themselves what their own values are, what they believe in, and what matters most to them in life.  We hope the nut doesn’t fall too far from the tree…but sometimes it does.   Will the tree still recognize the nut as one of its own?  And can the tree still love and accept the nut and give it a sense of belonging?

As challenging as it is for me, I want my sons to find their voice and to speak it openly—even if it’s different from my own.  I want them to question ideas and beliefs that have been handed down to them (even by me!) and make sure they ring true inside.  I want them consciously seeking the values that will guide their lives because I know they have their own unique journey ahead of them, their own sorrows and joys to experience, and their own lessons to learn.

My joy is to be the steadfast tree, grounded in my own truth, with overarching branches spread wide enough to love, accept, and cherish the uniqueness of even that nut that may have fallen and sprouted a long ways off.

♥♥♥ LOVE IN ACTION ♥♥♥

  1. Notice what happens in your body when your child says or acts in a way that is contrary to a value you hold?  Do you label it “wrong”?
  2. When you engage with him, is it an energy of trying to convince him to your way of seeing things…or is it an open exploration guiding him through self-inquiry? (i.e., asking “What do you think?” “Why do you think that’s true?” “Why is that important to you?”)
  3. Reflect on your willingness to accept (dare I say “encourage”?) your maturing child to think for herself.
  4. What needs would be met by allowing and accepting your child’s differences? What needs would not be met?

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.

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.

Where Do I Place My Attention?

I had a unique experience today which I believe will serve me well in my journey to become a more conscious parent.  Actually, I imagine it will help me in ALL my relationships, even the one with myself.  I was looking back over some notes I took at a workshop where the presenter talked about how our entire perspective can shift based on where we choose to place our attention.  You know the drill, do we see the glass as half full or half empty?  Depends on where we place our attention, right? 

Well I decided to do my own experiment as I was sitting in my easy chair in the living room reading through my notes.  I looked around the room and placed my attention on everything I could see that was “wrong” with the room.  All the things that I didn’t like about it.  And here’s what I noticed:  This room is too cluttered.  Look at all the stuff on those shelves!  Look at all the shoes piled in the corner; there must be 36 pairs of shoes in there!  The glass doors to the sunroom are hand smudged; I can see fingerprints from here.  And there’s a hole in the sunroom window screen.  There’s the baskets I bought just sitting on the floor.  I’ve never taken the time to rearrange the shelves and put them on there.  There’s the space on the shelf where the TV used to be; and there’s a hole in the wall where the back of the TV went and it’s patched with posterboard.  Jeez!  The couch slipcover is falling off.  I’ve never gotten around to getting new curtains and decorative pillows since the room was painted.   The new rugs already have dog hairs all over them.   And what kind of centerpiece is that for the mantel?:   a McDonald’s hamburger and french fries?! 
(Sidenote:  The kids and I saw a youtube video where someone saved a McDonald’s Happy Meal for 4 years and it didn’t spoil, rot, or get moldy!  So we bought one too.  Our Happy Meal will celebrate its first birthday next month and although it has gotten hard, it pretty much looks the same as it did about a year ago. It’s aging better than I am and the experiment occupies a place of honor on our fireplace mantel where it’s a real conversation starter… but that’s another story…)

Want to know how I was feeling after taking this visual inventory?  I was bummed!  I wanted to throw everything out and start from scratch.   I felt yucky sitting in my easy chair in that horrible room. 

Okay…Phase 2 of the experiment:  I closed my eyes and took 3 deep breaths.  I still felt yucky.  I took 7 more breaths.  And then I opened my eyes and I placed my attention on everything I liked about the room.  I love those shelves.  There’s plenty of room for books and more books.  And look at all those shoes!  My kids are so blessed to have so many to choose from:  basketball shoes, baseball cleats, tennis shoes, sandals, slip-ons, crocs.  How much of the world goes barefoot?  And here my kids have a shoe for everything they do, including doing nothing!  Those wicker baskets are going to look fabulous when I get those shelves rearranged.  And I bet if I put a basket right there on that shelf, it will hide the hole in the wall  where the TV was.  Isn’t it nice not to have a TV in the living room anymore?  Now when we’re together in the living room, we’re really together.   I love the new light color on the walls.  It has really brightened up the room.  Just look at all that light that comes in from the sunroom windows.  I can see through the wall of windows out into the trees.  It’s so green and alive!  And the new sisal rugs, they’ve really added natural texture to the room.  I actually like how the 16-year-old sofa was transformed by a slipcover when it just wasn’t in the budget to buy a new couch.  Look at that unique centerpiece!  I bet no one else has that on their mantel… if anyone gets hungry, there’s a burger and fries within easy reach!

I had to smile after this new inventory.  I loved my room!  It was bright and cozy and well…lived in.  The shift inside me was amazing.  Absolutely nothing about my external environment had changed, but now I really enjoyed and appreciated my room and all its reminders of family around me.

What if I applied this to my parenting?  What if I chose to place my attention on what I love and appreciate about my children?   What if I actively noticed and what if I expressed it to them?  What if I noticed all the things I love and appreciate about my spouse?  My parents?  My colleagues?  The man who carefully arranges my Subway sub?  The cashier who scans my groceries?  What if I noticed what I love and appreciate about myself?  How might my world change?

That’s my assignment for the coming weeks.  Anyone want to join me?