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


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.

Know Thyself: Part 2

Reel-to-Reel Audio TapeIn Part 1 of this series I shared with you a glimpse of what is happening in your brain when you “lose it” with your child—when you yell, shame, blame, hit, or punish. The first question to ponder in order to Know Thyself better, is “Who is driving the bus in this moment?”  Let’s continue our exploration in Part 2 by asking another question that will help you become even more aware of what’s causing you to react the way you do.

The neuroscience behind our “triggers”

We all have life experiences from our earliest childhood (some say even from pre-birth in the womb) that are stored in our implicit memory…these are memories below the radar…in our unconsciousness. Mostly, we are not aware they are there.  Among these memories are events that happened that our young underdeveloped brains didn’t have the capacity to understand.  We cried in our crib and no one came.  We touched the stereo and had our hand smacked.  We reached for our caregiver and she turned away.  As we moved out into the world, we stored even more memories:  we expressed fear and were shamed, we expressed anger and got the message that we were bad, we were told we were too talkative, or too shy, or too wiggly, or too this, or too that.

As more and more events happened, similarities and patterns started to emerge.  Our brains started to form neural networks (get “wired up”) in response to these events and internal stories started to form around these neural patterns….stories like, “I don’t matter,”  “I’m not loveable,” “I can’t trust anyone.” “I’m not _______ enough.”  (Fill in the blank with almost anything: smart, pretty, brave, etc.)  These are some of the common stories, or core beliefs, that are buried deep down in our unconsciousness with our implicit memories.

So what does that have to do with us today?  And how does it affect our relationship with our child?

When we react to our child’s behavior in a disconnecting way, such as yelling or threatening, then you can bet that we have tapped into an unconscious core belief, such as “I don’t matter.”  It’s scary to believe that you don’t matter; it makes the world become a very unsafe place.  A child defying your request becomes much more than that.  When we tap into an underlying negative core belief, we are in reaction mode and this is when we say and do things that damage our relationships with others.  We’re like a wild animal backed into a corner; and we bare our teeth because our very survival feels threatened.

Our little child within grabs the wheel because the event that is happening now has triggered an implicit memory of an event (or pattern of events) that happened when we were little.  Since our brains were “hardwired” from these early childhood experiences, the current event travels along the same neural network, makes the same synaptic connections…and produces the same effect that we had when we were little:  we fight, flight, or freeze.

Now remember, this is all below the radar; we’re not conscious that we have tapped into our own childhood experience. We think it’s about them, our children, and what they are doing now.  But if we are not responding in a calm loving way, then we need to do some digging below the surface to find out what “story” tape is playing in our head.

One general guideline is to reflect on your childhood when you were the same age as the child who has “triggered” you.  If your child is five, then she has likely triggered the five-year-old in you.  (A 15-year-old will likely trigger the 15-year-old in you).  Reflect on your life at five years old.  What happened to you if you behaved the same way your five-year-old child is behaving now?  How were you treated?  Did you feel threatened?  Shamed? Is there leftover anger from how you were treated when you behaved this way?  Would you have wished to be heard and seen and understood in a different way?  If you really want to transform yelling into loving guidance, spend some time pondering these questions.  Come back after you have calmed down and think about how you may have internalized your childhood experiences to mean that you don’t matter.  Or some other negative belief about yourself.

Once we are aware how our early experiences shape our adult reactions, we can start to ferret out those unconscious beliefs that are far below the surface and that hold so much sway over our reactions.  This next step in getting to Know Thyself is to identify the core belief, the “story” tape, that is playing in your head. And then to realize it’s just a story.  It’s not a truth.  It’s just a story you made up because your young mind was trying to make sense of your experiences.

You can actually re-wire your brain to form new circuitry which supports new healthier beliefs.  Every time you become aware of the “story” playing in your head, you can speak to the “little child within” in a loving, nurturing, mothering voice, “I know it seemed that way.  It was scary and it seemed that you didn’t matter.  You had no voice.  But I want you to know that you do matter.  You matter a great deal to me.”  As you talk to yourself in a loving, nurturing voice you are wiring up new neural networks that will allow you to choose how you wish to respond to your child.  As you talk to your inner child in a calm loving way, you will start to talk to your outer child (the one standing in front of you saying “no!” to your request) with more calm understanding. And you will have healed two very important relationships.

So now we have two questions to ponder in order to Know Thyself better.  Part 3 will address one more powerful question to ask if we are to transform our habitual reactions into loving responses.

  1. Who is driving the bus in this moment?
  2. What’s the core belief, or “story” tape that’s playing in my head?
  3. ???  Stay tuned for Part 3