living with children in peace, joy and freedom

Posts tagged ‘peaceful parenting’

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.

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!

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…)

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.
(more…)

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