10% is Enough

mom pulling hairWhen 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 12 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.

It’s been quite a journey since that parenting class when I confessed to my own imperfect parenting. After over a decade of studying, practicing and teaching conscious forms of parenting, I may be up to applying it 25% of the time in the heat of the moment….and that’s on a good day.

But now I know that’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.

a hurt is a hurt is a hurt

Scene from Kramer vs. Kramer

Scene from Kramer vs. Kramer

Nothing brings us running faster to our child’s side than when they get hurt.  Not just a little scratch on the knee kind of hurt, but a howling writhing pain. Especially if there is blood. There’s something in our primitive brain that kicks in, gets the adrenaline going, and gets us moving toward our child to offer support.

Remember the scene in the movie Kramer vs. Kramer where Dustin Hoffman’s character, Ted Kramer, sprints across town in a panic clutching his injured son? (Of course you don’t, that was before your time…but rent it sometime…it’s worth a watch). If you are a parent, there’s no way you can watch that scene and not have your heart in your throat because this is one of our deepest fears….that something will happen to our child.

But what happens when our child experiences a different kind of hurt?  An emotional hurt?  Where, instead of blood, there are lots of tears, or screaming, or angry outbursts.  Most of us aren’t so quick to move toward our child to soothe these kinds of hurts.  Instead we move in the opposite direction, or send our child away, to “get it under control.”

Why do we move toward physical pain….and move away from emotional pain?  It’s a question worth pondering, don’t you think?

Consider the research of psychologists Geoff MacDonald and Mark Leary who have found that the brain regions involved in experiencing physical pain are the same areas involved in experiencing emotional pain. (In their research the emotional pain is in the form of social rejection.) This means that the same area of your child’s brain that lights up with activity when he takes a spill on his bike also lights up when he gets in a heated fight with his sister.

There’s a theory that as we evolved into more emotional social beings, evolution “borrowed” the physical pain neural circuitry already present to also detect and send emotional distress signals to the brain.  Why create a whole new neural system when one’s already in place, right?

So if the same brain region fires whether the pain is physical or emotional, perhaps we should reconsider our attitude toward the emotional kind of pain. Our child’s brain doesn’t seem to know the difference between the two. To the brain, a hurt is a hurt is a hurt.  Maybe it’s too much to send our child into isolation to deal with intense emotions…just like we wouldn’t send him to his room to deal with a broken arm. Maybe we should attempt to soothe emotional pain with the same gusto we attempt to soothe physical pain.

♥♥♥LOVE IN ACTION♥♥♥

The next time your child has a meltdown, try this. Remain calm yourself. Then move toward your child and be the container for those big emotions. Soothe the emotional hurt with empathy and understanding

For when the fireworks are too close for comfort!

fireworksFor some of us, fireworks don’t just happen at the park on the 4th of July. You parents of young children know what I’m talking about! I’m talking about the fireworks that happen when our children have their meltdowns, tantrums, upsets, you-name-it….especially in a public place! When it seems like the screaming and flailing about is just as loud and spectacular as any fireworks show you’ve seen.

These are the times that test our fortitude as parents and test our ability to dance in the gap of (1) our vision of how we want to parent and (2) how we actually do it during the daily grind. Hopefully, these 3 tips will help you bridge that gap in the midst of the familial pyrotechnics:

1. Stay calm
THE MOST HELPFUL thing you can do when your child is losing it is to stay calm yourself. If you lose it too and start yelling then all hope is lost. Your child needs you to guide her through the emotional storm. That’s hard to do if you’re lost in the storm yourself. So breathe and repeat a mantra to yourself that will help you stay calm…such as “I can do this in a calm loving way” or “This too shall pass.”
(You may have to come back to this mantra over and over again).

2. Get down close to your writhing child*
Yes, you read that correctly. Squat down, or even sit or lie down on the floor with your child (depending on where you are). Perhaps you just wouldn’t be comfortable lying in the grocery store aisle; but if you’re at home or the home of a friend, go for it!

Instead of isolating your child or letting the emotional tempest keep you at bay… go in, get close. As we say in the conflict resolution field: lean into the conflict. This will get easier the more you do it, and your calm close presence is likely to have a calming influence on your child when he starts to trust that you can be a safe container for his big emotions. With repetition, you may find this strategy alone lessens the intensity and decreases the time of a tantrum.

3. Offer understanding and empathy to your child
Your child is too young developmentally to be able to reason out of her intense emotions. That’s why all the perfect reasoning and logic in the world won’t help in those moments. Plus, we tend to use way too many words when our child is upset. (To be honest, when you are having intense emotions, do you want someone to give you reasons why you shouldn’t be feeling that way? Or do you want someone to hear you and to understand the pain you’re in?)

Instead, offer your child two precious gifts: understanding and empathy.

Here are some phrases to try:

  • I know it’s hard when you really really want that cookie right now.
  • It’s hard to want something really bad and not be able to have it.
  • I know…sometimes I want things too that I just can’t have.
  • It’s okay to cry. I know it hurts. I’m here with you.
  • You want to sit on my lap?
  • You want me to hold you while you cry?

Comments such as these give your child the message: “I know. I understand. There’s nothing wrong with you for feeling this way. I’m here to help you through it.

Understanding and empathy are not permissive parenting. You can set boundaries and limits and still be loving and supportive when they trigger intense emotions in your child. Just as you support your child with physical hurts, it’s just as important to support the emotional hurts.

Your capacity to stay loving and supportive during an upset helps your child to build resiliency and capacity to behave better in the future. Studies have shown that emotional responsiveness strengthens the integrative connections in the brain, helping to bring the prefrontal cortex (the thinking brain) back on-line quicker. As the brain integrates more and more over time, this allows your child to make better choices and to better control her body and emotions.

So there you have it. 3 tips to help you and your child get through the “other” kind of fireworks show. I invite you to start seeing every tantrum as an opportunity to instill this message in your child:

You are loved even when you’re at your worst.
(Don’t we all want that?!)
We’re a team and I’ve got your back!

*Special Note: Some children will not let you get near them when they are upset. (My son is this way; he really needs his space when he’s upset.) You can sit further away or in the doorway and keep letting him know you are there for him, at a distance, until he is ready to be comforted or to re-engage.