Growing Yourself as a Parent

mom and girl PAIDGrown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.”   -Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

Imagine a baby shower where the guests bring a special kind of gift for the new parents.
Not baby clothes. Not strollers or cribs. Not even a single book on child-rearing.
The gifts for the new parents? Self-awareness, self-love and self-growth as a person, as well as a parent.
The best parenting requires that we not only work to nurture and care for our children but that we nurture and care for ourselves.
Parenting is one of the–if not the–most challenging jobs on the planet. There is the awesome responsibility of raising and guiding another human being, of course. But it’s the daily interactions between children and parents that can require almost super-human amounts of flexibility, patience and awareness. All the experts and all the books aren’t there when it’s your toddler who won’t nap, your child who grabbed the toy out of his friend’s hand, your depressed teen who is desperately searching for answers, your adult child who can’t hold down a job.
Successful–even joyful–parenting is about listening to ourselves as well as listening to our children. It’s a self-awareness approach that brings the focus back to what we are feeling and needing, so that we don’t unthinkingly rain anger and fear down upon our children. Being aware of ourselves helps us develop a strong “inner authority” or an intuitive sense of knowing what is best for us and our children in any moment. (As well as accepting that sometimes we really don’t know yet!)
“We guide (our children) not because they have basically shabby motives, but because they lack the one strength most of us have: awareness of the world,” write authors Hugh and Gayle Prather in their book, Spiritual Parenting: A Guide to Understanding and Nurturing the Heart in Your Child.
Their book calls parenting a spiritual path that helps us grow as people while we are helping our children grow into adults. Our children challenge us and if we can truly listen, we can grow.
One of the first challenges is to understand that old patterns–often formed in our own childhoods–can often rule our behavior as parents right now. For example, if our own parents tried to fix everything that went wrong, we may try to do the same with our children. But our children may need us just to listen to their fears and not jump in with our own fears and try to “fix” it all.
In the process, we allow our kids to make mistakes, and that means we can, too. And if we can forgive our kids and accept them in all their flawed glory, it can’t be too big a jump to do this for ourselves.
As author Joyce Maynard writes, “It’s not only children who grow. Parents do, too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it myself.”
♥♥♥ LOVE IN ACTION ♥♥♥
Spend time reflecting on your own childhood and how you were raised as a child.  Make two lists: what you want to do the same way as your parents
did it…and what you want to do differently.  Pick one of the things you want to do differently, and over the next week, make a conscious effort to pause…and choose your new way.
Author’s content used under license, © 2008 Claire Communications

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

mom and daughter PAID

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.”  

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………