living with children in peace, joy and freedom

Posts tagged ‘beliefs’

When giving is no longer helpful

I have spent most of the last 14 years feeling overwhelmed by parenting. Thankfully, this has eased up a lot in the last few years but that familiar feeling still comes to visit. It feels much more subtle than it used to but it can still have me in tears and even make me feel sick. I felt the classic signs of a cold coming on this week. When I lay down and meditated I felt the familiar heaviness, exhaustion and despair that overwhelm brings.

What are the other classic signs of parental overwhelm?

I feel the urge to complain, and it is usually about my children.
I want to blame somebody, and it is usually my children.
I get grumpy, irritated and reactive towards my children.
I burst into tears at the drop of a hat.

Overwhelm has many causes. I have previously written about my tendency to get caught up in too much doing and not enough Being. Over-doing and overwhelm can be driven by a whole range of myths and confusions about parenting. Beth Berry explores some of these myths here.

My old pattern of over-doing to the point of overwhelm no longer really bothers me. I have questioned so many of the thoughts that underpinned the pattern that it has pretty much collapsed and dissolved. The piece that remains to haunt me occasionally is about over-giving. It is a habit of pushing myself to give to my children more than is comfortable or satisfying for me.

It is not so much about physical effort or even physical tiredness. Both of these are an inevitable part of parenting. It is more to do with the emotional strain and negative reactions that come when a certain threshold of giving is reached.

I think there are at least two types of giving and they have completely different energies.

The best sort of giving arises out of the natural flow of love and care for others. It is aligned with peace, joy and kindness. It does not feel like a struggle. When the flow of positive energy and intention is strong it can even carry me past my assumed physical limits. Like most parents, I have stayed up most of the night with a child in pain. I was amazed that I felt mildly euphoric and deeply satisfied to be able to give this help and comfort when under normal circumstances I completely crumble under even mild sleep deprivation.

This positive giving can easily flip into a more negative type. Sometimes the flip is so subtle that I don’t notice the change until sometime afterwards. My giving becomes strained. I sigh in resignation or roll my eyes in dismay at what is being asked of me. I feel tension building within me. I begin to feel exasperated and uptight about the situation. If I ignore these warning signs and keep giving this might progress to snapping at my child in anger or bursting into tears of frustration.

Once I experience these stressful emotions my giving has ceased to be helpful to my child. Instead of sharing true love I am polluting the the energy field that is the essence of our being with negativity. I may try to hide my stress and annoyance. But my child will always feel it. This negative energy inevitably also affects the practical, physical care and support that I offer to my child. The whole atmosphere of the moment changes.

How can transmitting negative energy ever be helpful?

The crazy thing is, sometimes even when I realise what is happening I feel compelled to keep giving anyway. Why would I do this? For the simple reason that I believe my children need me. This is the core belief that underlies my pattern of over-giving.

To many parents this belief is unassailable. “My child needs me” trumps everything else.

I hear it most often among my friends who are into attachment parenting or some variation thereof. I don’t describe myself as an attachment parent but I have undoubtedly been influenced by thinking that puts a great deal of emphasis on the needs of children, particularly when they are young. According to this thinking, if children’s needs for closeness, connection and attachment are neglected there is a risk of lifelong negative consequences.

I don’t have any argument with attachment parenting or attachment theory. My question is: attached to what? If I am caring for and giving to my child with an energy of joy, there is obviously no problem. If believe in the absolute priority of my child’s needs to the point that I reach overwhelm that child is now closely connected and attached to a stressed parent emitting negative and even toxic energy.

What is the solution?

The solution I am drawn to most strongly is to question every thought that brings stress into my life. I sometimes use the questions taught by Byron Katie (read more about this here) and I sometimes just ask my own questions and see where they lead. I know that there are no right or wrong answers. My only guide is whether my questioning ultimately results in greater calm and clarity for myself.

I have questioned the deeply entrenched belief “My child needs me” by breaking it down in to as many separate questions as I can think of. These are some of the questions that I have come up with:

Does my child really need me or do they just want me?
Is this an expression of the physical body for for food, drink, comfort, more sleep or relief from pain? Is it urgent? Can they help themselves?
Do they really need ME or can someone else help?
Can my child’s wants be met in a way that doesn’t put me under so much strain?
Do they need it right now or can it wait 10 minutes or an hour while I take care of myself?
Will my child really be scarred for life if I don’t give them what they want right now?
Are they more resilient than I think?
Is it possible that they have an innate capacity to recover from emotional upset and to heal themselves?
Am I projecting a belief in my own neediness on to my child?
Do I also have the innate capacity to examine and heal my own neediness and emotional wounds?
Does my child really need what they are demanding or is there some deeper issue wanting to be heard? Would listening attentively without reacting help to uncover this deeper, unresolved issue?
If my child wants something that I don’t want to give them can we join together to find a solution that we are both happy with? Is this possible even with very young children?

Remember: these are just questions. If they resonate with you, try them out for yourself. If not, just ignore.

When I started asking these questions I realised that I had been unconsciously projecting my own emotional neediness on to my children. I had long struggled with feelings of neediness. I had also felt the effects of clinging to people who emit strong negativity. The way to healing was to inquire into my own childhood and my beliefs about my own suffering.

I was sure that as a small baby I had needed more comfort, closeness and responsiveness than I had received. I was cared for according to the beliefs of the time (the late 1960s.) I was convinced that Dr Spock and my parents had a lot to answer for. I was filled with righteous indignation; How could they have left me to cry, all alone by myself? How could they have ignored my needs like that?

I carried this belief in my own unmet needs into adulthood and projected it onto others. Boyfriends and husbands were my particular targets. I desperately needed them to hold, comfort and care for me and I needed to be needed in return. This was not a recipe for stable, nourishing relationships. Then I had children. This intensified the pattern. On the one hand I felt more needy and vulnerable. I also unconsciously projected this neediness on to my children. My belief in my children’s neediness drove my pattern of over-giving to the point of overwhelm.

I decided to inquire deeply into my own childhood experience. I imagined myself back in the room of my babyhood. I remembered lying there crying. I asked myself “How would I be, lying in that room by myself, without the story that I needed my parents to be with me in that moment?” I meditated on that question. This is what I discovered: No matter what the circumstances, there was always a part of me that observed my distress but was not affected by it. There was always a part of me that was undisturbed and OK. When I notice this part of myself I am aware of an underlying calm. I can feel deeper into this calm. When I do, I realise that I have always been OK. My thoughts have told me otherwise, but the reality is that my needs have always been met. Lying there in that room by myself I was not only fine, I was better off. It was peaceful in there. I was not being exposed to my parent’s stressful emotions. They had, sometimes, been giving when it was no longer helpful.

Inquiring into my own neediness brought me to a deeper understanding. I am unlearning old beliefs about myself and my life. I focus less on my thoughts and more on the calm, loving presence within me.

Asking myself all of the questions above has greatly reduced my feelings of overwhelm. This process has taken time. Change didn’t happen right away, but it did happen. I recognise much more quickly when my giving is no longer helping. I take more breaks. I nap when I can. I ask for help more often. I sometimes say “No. I am not available to help you right now.” I trust that we can find solutions.

Above all, I focus on my own state of well-being. I know that my own peace and joy are the greatest gifts that I can ever give my child.

What to do about strong fears and persistent worries

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There are times when my fears and worries about my children have overwhelmed and overtaken me. It has helped my a great deal to identify and name my fears. I have feared failure as a parent: that my children will not be happy and healthy and that I will be judged by others. I have feared that my children will get hurt, physically or emotionally. These fears and others like them underpin many of the problems I have experienced with my children. My fear can drive a need for my child to learn certain skills or to behave in a certain way. It can drive me to control, manipulate and pressure my children. It has really helped to examine these fears closely and to question my belief in them.

One of the most liberating things that I have learned in my parenting journey is that there are two types of fear. Eckhart Tolle describes them in his book The Power of Now. On one hand there is fear of immediate physical danger. I don’t put my hand in the fire because I know that I will get burned. There is an instinctive shrinking back from true immediate danger. Then there is psychological fear. This kind of fear is always of something that might happen in the future, not of something that is happening now. Psychological fear arises in response to thoughts about a future that does not exist. It is a creation of my mind. I am imagining a fearful future. I can be completely overtaken by this kind of fear, at least for a time.

I have noticed that when I feel fear in my relationship with my children it is almost always psychological fear. For example, I feared that unless my children developed “healthy” eating habits they would have poor health as they grew up. I also feared that if they didn’t learn to read by a certain age that they would find it much harder to learn when they were older. These were fears about what might happen in the future. There was no immediate danger. At the time I experienced these fears my children were very healthy and learning happily at a pace that suited themselves. These fears were created by my imagination and yet they brought enormous stress and conflict into my relationships with my children.

The arising of these fears is a very strong reminder to bring myself back into presence. Presence is the inner consciousness that is behind or underneath my thoughts. This consciousness can witness and observe my stressful thoughts and painful emotions and sense directly that they are not who I am.

I experience presence as a state of calm, relaxed alertness. It is a space of peace, stillness and vibrant aliveness. Thoughts may appear in this space but they do not dominate. I can notice my thoughts without being overwhelmed by them. There is space between thoughts in which I experience quietness and joy. Helpful, creative thoughts have room to appear. I can choose to act on these thoughts or to remain still. It is a natural and spontaneous state of being.

If you feel overcome by fear or other painful feelings here are some ideas to help you bring yourself into presence. Choose one that suits you and go with that.

1. Sit quietly, relax your body and mind. Let go of your thoughts for a few seconds. Notice that when you are not thinking that you still exist.

2. See if you can feel your inner aliveness. Feel the energy inside your body. Focus on that energy.

3. Go out for a walk in nature (or anywhere peaceful) on your own and focus on what your senses are perceiving. Notice the touch of the air, the sound of the birds, the blue of the sky. Take your shoes off and walk in bare feet. Feel the earth supporting you with every step you take. Just notice. Put your whole attention on what is around you.

4. Notice your thoughts and feelings. Notice that you can observe them. If you are observing your thoughts and feelings then this means that they are not who you are. You are the observer. Closely observe your experience. What images come with your feelings? Where are your feelings in your body?

As I connect with presence I don’t try to get the fear to go away. This just suppresses it and locks it in deeper. I have found that it helps to allow the feeling of fear, to go towards and into it rather than to push it away. This takes courage as I also have a fear of feeling fear! Recognizing it as psychological fear that is a creation of my mind helps. I remind myself that there is no immediate danger. I listen to the fear and feel it with openness and curiosity.

Listening in presence to my own fear has often allowed it to gently dissolve. The more often I remember to connect with presence the calmer I become. If the fear continues to haunt me I write down my fearful thoughts and use the four questions taught by Byron Katie to question my thinking. Through this questioning I can see that fears obscure my awareness of what is real and true and trustworthy about Life and my true nature. Once I reconnect with this reality my urge to push, control and demand things of my children fades away. I notice that my children are fine just as they are. We can relax back into harmony and closeness.

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The wisdom of gaming

image-1I think most parents would accept that it is important for children to have time to play. In fact, many of us think that it is great for children to have lots of time to play. Things get more complicated when we start to talk about different types of play. When I was a child I spent a lot of time playing outdoors. I climbed trees, mucked around in the backyard, played games of cricket in the street with neighbours and siblings, went exploring in the bush nearby and spent hours playing with friends in the local pool. When indoors I liked to build and to make things. All of these activities were encouraged by my parents and seen as good, healthy forms of play.

Flash forward to the lives of my own two children and things look a lot different. They certainly enjoy a lot of play time. They love our backyard trampoline and the swings in the park. They enjoy going swimming and on walks with family and friends and they love to play at friend’s homes. They don’t hang out on the street like I did and they don’t wander the neighbourhood and local bushland on their own. Not because I have told them not to or even discouraged these activities. They just don’t want to. That’s not the main difference though. The main difference between their experience of play and my own is that they love to play video games. Building with Lego had a strong run for many years but video games have triumphed. Playing games on a game console or on their laptops is the first choice of play activity for both of my boys. It is what they most love to do.

I am struggling to adjust to this difference. I have come to accept my children’s passion for gaming but I have not yet been able to embrace it fully. It is not yet something that I am able to celebrate. (more…)

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Understanding our reactions to teasing

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There is no doubt about it. Seeing our children be teased or criticised by others can be tricky. I so clearly remember my own reactions to my child being teased; the rush of pain and defense when I heard the comment made. The desperate wanting to protect my child from the pain I felt sure they must be experiencing. Feeling my own anger rising as my mind reached out to attack the person who did this. It is all so familiar and so unpleasant. And my reactions always led to more conflict and unpleasant feelings, not less.

I knew there had to be another way. I didn’t know what it was but I knew I wanted to find it. I set myself the goal of making peace with teasing.

This is what I now understand about teasing. It applies to people teasing me as well as to people teasing my child (or anyone else).

Teasing can only hurt me if

(1) I believe that what they said about me is true, when it isn’t,

OR

(2) What they said about me is true but I can’t own that aspect of myself.

The paradox is that just about everything can be seen both ways.

To take an example, if my son is called is called “girly” or “weak” then he will get upset if he believes that this is true; that he is feminine or weak and that in his mind these are bad things for him to be. On the other hand, it is true that he has feminine characteristics (as everyone does to some extent) and that he is “weak” in some ways, such as being physically or emotionally sensitive in some circumstances (which many people are too). If he is not fully comfortable with these aspects of himself then he will react to such comments.

As his parent, if I have ever judged my son as girly or weak then part of me believes that what the person said is true. I am sure to react in anger; “How could that person come right out and say what I have been secretly thinking all along!!” If I am not completly comfortable with my son’s sensitivity, feminine aspects or weakness or believe that any of these things are a problem I will also react; “I know that is true but I can’t bear him to be that way!!”

On top of this, if I have ever judged myself myself harshly as being “girly” or “weak” then I will react even more!!

When I am really comfortable about myself and am not concerned with what others think of me then I no longer react to what people think about my kids.

When my child has been teased I choose to focus on myself first. Am I reacting? Am I going on the defense or attack?

If I am reacting defensively I better keep my mouth shut and do nothing. If I leap in to try and help my child or to attempt to fix the situation while I am in reaction I will become part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Instead I choose to inquire within myself. Do I believe that what was said was true? What aspect of my child or myself am I not comfortable with? What judgements have I been making? Gently bringing these painful thoughts into my awareness can make a huge difference. I get to see where I have been unkind to my child and to myself. I have the opportunity to question these thoughts and to choose to see things differently. This can take time.

Once I feel clear and free of reaction I may be able to help my child.  I can be there as calm presence for my child as they get to work it all out for themselves. I can be the one who knows that they are fine just the way they are. I can understand their pain and distress without buying into it myself. I have been there and know what it feels like and I have come out the other side into peace.

I know this is a very unconventional view, but I aim to be the one who is immune to teasing. Not because I am tough in any way, but becasue I have questioned the stories about how I “should” be and I have discovered that I am OK. I can also see how I encompass and have (at some time) expressed all aspects of the human condition including violence, weakness, vulnerability, masculine and feminine and everything else. Can you get the paradox?

If I can model immunity to teasing then I can help to end the war for all of us.

My children are helping me along the way. They delight in teasing me. They try their very best to get a reaction. They delight in teasing each other. They play war games and test it all out. We all get a really good look at what is going on. We are unlearning war and reclaiming peace.

 

Daily tooth brushing and peaceful parenting; Can they coexist?

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“It is my responsibility to make sure that my son cleans his teeth every day,”
I used to believe this very firmly. So do many parents I know.

It seems like a reasonable belief until you have a child (or two!) that refuses to brush their teeth despite repeated requests. No amount of explanation as to why this is an important thing to do would change his mind. In these circumstances this belief can generate a lot of conflict, anxiety and stress – and it did.

I know that I could have held tight to my belief in daily tooth brushing but I was very, very tired of all the conflict and worry. I did not just give up on the issue or decide that it was all too hard. Neither did I did I give in to my child and then wallow in resentment and blame. Instead, I wanted an effective solution to an issue that had become a chronic problem in my relationship with my children. In order to find that solution I was willing to examine and question every aspect of this issue. In my experience, pulling something apart can be a powerful step in finding a way to move forward.

What does responsibility really mean?
I started with looking at the whole concept of parental responsibility. Beliefs about responsibility loomed large in my thinking about parenthood, as they do for most parents. Sure, we have a legal responsibility to ensure that our children are not at risk of significant harm. We must be willing to arrange necessary medical care. But my beliefs were much broader than any legal responsibilities. I am talking about my own piece of the general community vibe. My beliefs about responsibility penetrated into every aspect of my role as a parent. It felt as if this responsibility to ensure tooth brushing was a non-negotiable part of a contract that I had somehow unwittingly signed as soon as my first child was born. It weighed heavily on me.
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How I discovered the joys of less doing and more Being

 

Do you ever feel exhausted, overwhelmed or resentful as a result of what you do as a parent? Do you find that there are times when it all gets too much and you start loosing your temper and yelling at your children? I used to experience this often. I understand, now, that these were symptoms of over-doing. I was pushing myself to do way too much and believing that I had no choice. It seemed as if parenting was such a bottomless pit of work that feeling overwhelmed was inevitable. Fortunately, I have discovered that over-doing is not inevitable or incurable. The solution is less doing and more Being.

For a while I fooled myself into thinking that the solution to over-doing was simply to try and do less; just slow down, take a rest, relax! However, my efforts to control my over-doing were never very successful. I couldn’t relax and slow down for very long before I was dragged back into over-doing again. Saying to myself that the solution was to do less is very much like saying that the solution to over-eating is to eat less. On a superficial level this is true, but it ignores the reasons underlying the push to over-eat. Going on a diet might work in the short term but unless I change my relationship with food at a deep level the long term result will probably be more over-eating. Over-doing is much the same. I could go on a holiday or take a day or two off but it would not bring a long-term solution. Finding the solution to over-doing required a deep understanding of what was driving my doing. It also required a willingness to cultivate Being.

So what is Being? It is not something that I can easily describe. I can only point to it. Being is not the same as doing nothing, although sometimes this can help me find it. Being is a state of calm, relaxed alertness. When I am Being I am fully present in the moment. I am fully conscious and yet not caught up in my thoughts. I allow everything to simply be as it is rather than trying to control it. My earliest experiences of Being occurred in nature; watching a waterfall, floating gently in a lake or walking through a rainforest. It felt peaceful and intensely joyful at the same time. It has taken a lot of practice, but I can now experience Being in my everyday life as a full-time parent. Being is not a belief. It is not something I needed to learn. It is something that I experience directly and that I know is always there waiting within me to be rediscovered again. (more…)

Food, glorious food; our journey from nightmare to nourishment

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Caramel milkshakes made with raw milk and lots of Vitamin Yum.

I love food and I love caring for my body with the best food that I can provide. Until I had children, I thought that I had no real issues around food. It wasn’t a big deal for me. Having children changed all that. Not straight away, of course, but over a couple of years I gradually felt myself descending into a nightmare of anxiety and conflict that I had never experienced before.

Like many parents, I wanted to make sure that my children ate a healthy diet. I had clear beliefs about what was healthy for children and what was not. I believed deeply that it was my responsibility to provide healthy food and restrict access to unhealthy food. I read books about nutrition and tried all sorts of new recipes. I read about all the foods that should be avoided and the list just kept getting longer and longer. I was keenly aware of the dangers of additives, preservatives, sugar, processed fats and highly refined foods. I talked to my friends about food and keenly watched what they were feeding their children. The more I worried about my children’s diet the more stressed I became. It grew as an issue for me as my children grew.

Apparently some parents feed their children with minimal stress and conflict. That was not my experience. Perhaps it would have been different if we lived on a farm or an island and my children weren’t exposed to the vast offerings of a modern supermarket. But it wasn’t like that for us. We live in suburbia. When my first child was very little it was not difficult to limit the foods that he was exposed to. If certain foods were not given to him then he did not miss them. As he got older his environment expanded. He noticed the food that people around him ate. He came to the supermarket and the local shops with me. He went to preschool, visited friend’s houses and went to birthday parties. He gradually discovered what was available out there. He also developed his own desire to explore, experiment with new foods and to work out what he liked.

What I didn’t realize at the time was how excited and determined children can be about exploring the world of food or how strongly they can be attracted to sugar and processed food. As my child grew into his own tastes and desires I experienced a dramatic surge of stress and conflict in my life. The most stressful issue for me was how much sugar he wanted, although I also worried about other “unhealthy” foods too. My anxieties built up even more momentum when I had two children to feed. Trips to the supermarket were very tense. My children asked for me to buy them lollies, ice-creams and chips. This wasn’t mild interest on their part. They were passionate about their exploration of food and their desire to eat all sorts of foods that I didn’t want them to eat. (more…)

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