living with children in peace, joy and freedom

Posts tagged ‘parenting’

I have learned so much about myself from my children

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I love to bask in the vitality and joy that my children beam out every day. I love to see how much they are enjoying life, learning and achieving their own goals. But it has not always been so rosy.

What I have seen in my children has also been confronting. There were things about them that I simply didn’t like. There were behaviours that I struggled with and dearly wished to see gone. What I have come to see clearly is that these aspects of my children that I disliked were things that I had not been able to accept in myself.

When I saw anger, violence, vanity, sensitivity to criticism, neediness or competitiveness in my children and I judged these things I was also judging myself. The urge to control or fix these things in my children mirrored my desire to be rid of these aspects of myself. I was seeing a reflection of my own self-loathing.

My attempts to fix, control and guide my children out of these things that I didn’t like always failed. My reactions and judgements only made it worse.

But how to get out of this old, unhelpful pattern? How do I own, accept and forgive my own violence, vanity and neediness?

There are lots of ways to dabble at the edges of this challenge but I wanted to get right to the bottom of it. What I eventually realized is that all of these shadow aspects of myself are the exaggerated, painful manifestations of my desire for love, approval and acceptance.

Like almost everybody, I believed for most of my life that love, approval and acceptance must be obtained from the people around me. It had to come from “out there” and it had to be worked for. What others thought of me mattered so much. I was driven by such a strong desire to please people and be loved by them.

When I didn’t get what I wanted from others I got angry. I lashed out and attacked them viciously with my mind and my tongue. I agonized about my appearance in the hope that I might get more approval and be admired. I felt the enormous stress and anxiety of performing to please others and this made me feel even more desperate for love and approval. I recoiled from criticism because it mirrored my own self-hatred and the ease with which I passed judgement on others. Competitiveness was the inevitable result of constantly comparing myself to others and desiring the approval that came with being “better than” or “best.”

All of these things were innocent expressions of my misplaced desire. They were an inevitable result of seeking love outside of myself. I believed that this was the only path to happiness and fulfillment.

Why were my desires misplaced? Because they could never be satisfied by anything “out there” for more than a passing moment. I was bringing all this suffering on myself by the simple act of focusing in the wrong direction.

I now chose to focus my desire within. I pause regularly in my day to relax, breathe and turn my attention away from my thoughts. I choose to notice that when I am not thinking, even if only for a few seconds, that I still exist. There is a calm, clear space behind my thoughts. It is aware, vibrant, conscious. It observes everything. It is presence.

I practice focusing on this calm presence. I notice that it is inseparable from the aliveness and energy flowing within my body. When I turn my attention to this inner energy-field I sense a quiet joy and peace. I don’t have to suppress my thoughts or try to stay in this peace. I notice that my thoughts arise from it. I can believe them or not. I know that my thoughts are not who I am.

Presence is not something to be worked for. I don’t have to try and find it or strive to keep it. It is always, already there. All I have to do is notice. It is a natural and effortless state of Being.

Once I connect with presence I know my true nature. I am not an isolated individual struggling and competing for love and attention. I am an expression of presence-energy and the oneness of life. I can relax. I am free to be who I really am without trying to please others. I am no longer driven to seek love outside myself. I know that I AM love.

I can forgive my anger, self-judgement and competitiveness because I know that they were generated by confusion. I know that this confusion was innocent and inevitable. Everybody I knew was believing the same things and acting it out all around me. Until recently, I passed this same legacy on to my own children. But now things have changed. My understanding of who I am has changed. I embody love and appreciation and I see this reflected in my children. I focus on what brings me joy and delight. I treasure the unique gifts of my “self” and I watch my children express their gifts too.

I still see glimpses of things I don’t like in my children but I react differently now. I don’t see them as something to be fixed or controlled. I know that my feelings of discomfort and distress are simply an alarm going off. It is telling me that there is an opportunity to learn more about myself and to dissolve more of my limiting, stressful beliefs. It is an opportunity to move further into presence and to deepen my sense of self-love and self-acceptance. What a wonderful gift.

Have I missed any great parenting books?

I am getting close to finishing the book that I have been working on for the last five years and I plan on publishing it this year. It is titled Being with Children in Peace, Joy and Freedom: A book of Skills and Resources for Parents. One of the aims of the book is to bring together a list of resources on peaceful parenting. At this stage, I am asking for your help to find out if I have missed something great that I should be including in this list.

I want to include books and websites that support peaceful, joyful parenting. I exclude any resources that advocate discipline (unless it is self-discipline), punishment of any kind and parent-imposed limits or consequences. I am also excluding books and websites that focus on the parenting aspects of home education and unschooling as I wish the book to appeal to the widest possible audience.

To give you an idea of the type of resources that I am interested in, here is an outline of my book. It covers five skills:

Skill 1 is a tool for helping your children with their problems. I call it Listening in Presence. I explore what it means to be fully present with your children and share tips for noticing and dissolving your old habits of reacting. Instead of reacting and communicating out of habit you will learn new ways of actively and respectfully listening to your children that help to restore peace.

Skill 2 is called Question your Thinking. This skill is based primarily on the teachings of Byron Katie and her method of self-inquiry based on four simple questions. I describe how to use self-inquiry to open your mind about issues that have been troubling you and dissolve your stress and worries about your children. I have used this tool for finding peace and guidance and I share insights into common beliefs about children and parenting.

Skill 3 is a method to help you to ask for help from your children to get what you want. It is an adaptation of Marshall Rosenburg’s Nonviolent Communication that I call Speaking from the Heart. It is about owning your problems and asking your children for help in a peaceful and honest way.

Skill 4 is called Creative Problem Solving. It incorporates each of the three skills described above and combines them with a problem solving technique. It provides a method for dealing with situations where you are stuck in conflict with your child. This skill takes the power struggle out of parenting. It will also take you deeper into the art of asking for and receiving intuitive guidance.

Skill 5 is an invitation to play with your children and to notice and respect the importance of play in their lives. It describes how play can be a powerful tool for strengthening your relationship with your child as well as healing emotional wounds.

The books that are on my list of resources so far are these:

Marshall Rosenburg, Nonviolent Communication; The Language of Life, 2003, Puddle Dancer Press, Ca.

Thomas Gordon, Parent Effectiveness Training, 1970, Penguin, USA.

Marshall Rosenburg, Raising Children Compassionately, Parenting the Nonviolent Communication Way, 2005, Puddle Dancer Press.

Sura Hart and Victoria Kindle Hodson, Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids; 7 Keys to Turn Family Conflict into Co-operation, 2006, Puddle Dancer Press, Ca.

Alfie Kohn, Punished by Rewards: The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A’s, praise, and other bribes, 1993, Houghton Mifflin, NY.

Alfie Kohn, Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason, 2005, Atria Books.

Ross W. Greene, The Explosive Child; A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children, 1998, HarperCollins, USA.

Lawrence J. Cohen, Playful Parenting, 2001, Ballantine Books. NY.

Naomi Aldort, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, (2005) Book Publishers Network, WA. USA.

Jane R Hirschmann and Lela ZaphiropoulosKids, Carrots, and Candy: A Practical, Positive Approach to Raising Children Free of Food and Weight Problems, 2012, Createspace, USA.

Patty Wipfler, Listening to Children: Playlistening, (booklet) 2006, Hand in Hand, USA.

Patty Wipfler, Listening to Children: Special Time, (booklet) 2006, Hand in Hand, USA.

Patty Wipfler, Listening to Children: Crying, (booklet) 2006, Hand in Hand, USA.

Patty Wipfler, Listening to Children: Reaching for Your Angry Child, (booklet) 2006, Hand in Hand, USA.

Patty Wipfler, Listening to Children: Healing Children’s Fears, (booklet) 2006, Hand in Hand, USA.

Patty Wipfler, Listening to Children: Tantrums and Indignation, (booklet) 2006, Hand in Hand, USA.

I have also ordered some books that are currently on the way to me and may also join this list:

Lawrence J. Cohen, The Opposite of Worry: The Playful Parenting Approach to Childhood Anxieties and Fears

Alfie Kohn, The Myth of the Spoiled Child: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom about Children and Parenting

Gary Chapman, Ross Campbell, The 5 Love Languages of Children

Websites that I include are:

http://www.handinhandparenting.org/

http://www.thework.com

I would love to hear of any suggestions that you have for books or websites to add to this list.

Thank you and Happy New Year!

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.

How can I help with my child’s problems?

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“Exude the state of being that you want your child to end up with and they will find their way to that.” Bentinho Massaro.

Being genuinely helpful to my children when they have problems is something that brings joy into my life. I want to give help that is calm, supportive and that increases my child’s confidence in their own ability to help themselves. This did not come naturally for me, at least not to the extent that I would have liked. It was a skill that required a lot of practice as well as a lot of unlearning of old, unhelpful habits. For example, I often fell into the trap of trying to fix a problem when my help was not requested. My child would react to my intrusion and I would become part of the problem. When my help was requested I often assumed that I knew best and waded in with advice or instructions. My advice was occasionally helpful in the short-term but it also got in the way of my child’s emerging ability to help themselves. There were also many times when my child’s expression of feelings triggered painful feelings in me. I would unwittingly join them in their suffering rather than remain peaceful and fully available to help. It was challenge for me to find a way to relate to my children in a respectful and non-reactive way.

Being genuinely helpful required a shift in my perception of my children’s behaviour and their expression of emotion. I came to realize that what I had been judging as tantrums, rude or aggressive words and unacceptable behaviour were actually cries for help. Young children often have difficulty in expressing their problems in a way that parents can easily understand. They may not have the skills to clearly express what they want or what is causing them distress. Their calls for help are sometimes communicated through intense emotional expression such as crying or screaming, in aggressive behaviour or even in hate-fuelled outbursts. Parents often find these expressions of distress challenging or unacceptable. I certainly found myself challenged in this way.

Out of these challenges emerged the skill of Listening in Presence. This is the skill of listening calmly and respectfully to my child without reacting to or getting hooked into their problem. I have the intention to give my child my attention and at the same time I have an awareness of what the situation is triggering within me. This isn’t as difficult as it may sound, but it does take some practice. The intention and awareness that come with this skill can transform something as ordinary as the application of a Band-Aid into a special moment. (more…)

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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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