Sep 162013
 

My child is….

Early. Late. Tall. Short. Energetic. Tired. Hyper. Aggressive. Withdrawn. Active. Behind. Ahead. Loud. Shy. Social. Bright. Whiney. Emotional.

The labels that we use have a powerful influence over how we feel about our child.

My child is…

Transitioning. Challenging. Developing. Delayed. Not developing. Growing too fast. Developing too slowly. Oppositional. Compliant. Defiant. Assertive.

The labels that we use have a powerful influence over how children feel about themselves.

Labels are important. Language is the system that we use to understand the world and ourselves in comparison to everything around us. It is how we organize things and ideas and people. It is almost impossible to consider a world without labels.

Big/Small. Happy/Sad. Good/Bad.

But we also need to be aware that labels, all labels, come with built-in emotional biases and judgments. As we label, we are also judging. And as we are labeled, we are feeling judged. It’s just a fact we can’t get around.

But we can be aware. We can realize that as we move quickly to label our kids—picky, bossy, ADHD, reserved, smart, pretty, handsome, athletic—we are burdening them with the underlying assumptions, judgments and emotions that come with each label. Even if the labels seem to fit in the moment. And while these labels may be things that our children need to figure out how to negotiate the world, they also need a safe space to shed the labels and just be.

Think about it. At work an executive may be capable, well-dressed, articulate, bossy, organized and demanding. But at home they just want to curl up in their pjs and eat ice cream from the container while watching a mindless movie. Sure they are all those traits that make them successful at work, but at home it feels good to melt away and not have to live up to any labels.

I wonder if we could give our kids the same space. What if we remembered that it is possible for our child to exist in their own space and just be? If we let go of the labels that our kids use to negotiate the outside world and just met them where they are. In the moment and for that moment, our interactions with our child could be pure, present and connected. If we weren’t thinking about what they should be doing and what they should need, and rather were focusing on what they are doing and what they do need, then we could engage fully. And that feels very different.

Try it. Just for a moment, let go of the labels and really see your child.

Today, in this moment: My child just is.

Period.

 

 Posted by at 7:39 am
Jan 152013
 

I was recently asked to name my favorite parenting philosophy or strategy. My response: “For what child? In what situation? In what family?” I don’t believe in any one perfect parenting strategy. Rather, I believe in good parents who utilize lots of different tools to make good parenting decisions. Why?

Today I read a blog post by Not Just Cute about giving praise. The author specifically discusses the swing in popularity between loading on the praise and attempting to give none at all. She notes that in the 80’s and 90’s the parenting experts gave us the impression that we couldn’t give enough praise, but that now praise is on the outs. It is easy to get lost in the ever shifting world of parenting advice. In fact, not only does the overall zeitgeist change over time, but different experts may give contradictory advice on the same day to the same family!

If you look online, you will quickly find an unending flood of parents and experts debating the similarities and differences, strengths and weaknesses of various parenting methodologies. And it can be tempting, especially for experts, to get locked into one specific view and forget to see the forest through the trees. But, regardless of how much we may wish there was one, there will never be a definitive, works-100%-in-every-situation-with-every-kid parenting standard.

Why? Because kids are different. Parents are different. Families and circumstances and beliefs and values and cultures are different. No two are identical. And times change. The reality is that in 10 years, parenting experts will be saying different things. Sure, some of what we thought 10 years ago has stuck, or we have built on it, but some of it has gone to the wayside. The same thing will happen with what we think now.

 

The truth is that when we are locked into the “right method,” we are likely to fail to recognize what is “right” in the moment. What is happening in our family, with our child. When we get locked into the “right method” and stick to it at all costs, the price may end up being too high. We can fail to meet our child’s needs, fail to see what’s important because we are too busy clinging to the “right” parenting decision. This played itself out in my family recently when over the course of a couple months, my preschool-aged boys who share a room developed a pattern of each waking up numerous times every night and needing something (cover me up, I need to pee, I’m scared of shadows, I’m cold, I’m hot). We tried hard to stick to our parenting plans, consider developmental issues, and respond consistently. Nothing worked and meanwhile frustration, fatigue, confusion and sleep deprivation slowly seeped in. Until finally, I bribed them. I confess. I told them they could have anything (and I meant anything) they wanted for breakfast if they slept through the night without waking me up.

And it worked. From that night forward, they have both slept solidly without waking us up. Even once.

Well rested and clear-headed, I have some amount of guilt over resorting to a parenting strategy that I often advocate against. Some guilt. But at the same time I am aware that my other plan was getting our family nowhere, except into a deeper, darker, hole. And I am also aware that part of what did work in the end (bribe or not) was my ability to realize that what I was doing wasn’t working, and that I was running out of coping skills that would allow me to make good decisions.

Since then, we have reflected as a family on how much better we all feel. How much easier mornings are. How much more pleasant bedtime is. How nice it is when everyone’s needs get met. Since then, we have been able to go back and discuss and engage them in the process. So now sleeping through the night hopefully isn’t just about getting a special breakfast. It is now something that they know they can do and, hopefully, want to do because it feels better. The unhealthy pattern has been broken, and their bodies and minds are capable of repeating the healthy pattern.

I know many people might think I did the wrong thing. But I firmly believe that sometimes, the “right” parenting decision is whatever works for your family, even if others may have different opinions. Rather than focusing on whether or not we are following a specific philosophy, maybe good parenting decisions are more about the foundation on which the actual parenting decision is made. With that in mind, here are my top 7 criteria for good parenting:

  • Lead with Love: Good parenting requires that we first lead with love. Parenting is hard. It requires an unending amount of patience and thought and decision making and intuition. Leading with fear, anger, resentment, etc. makes for bad parenting decisions. Lead with love. Always.

 

 

  • Interact with Respect: The idea that children should be respected is one theme that has slowly evolved in the parenting literature. When we view our children as people in their own right who deserve respect, we make better parenting decisions.

 

  • Aim for Growth, not Control: Often, we make parenting decisions based on what WE need (quiet, calm, a clean house, control). But if we are intentional about aligning our responses with what the child needs to grow and develop, we make better parenting decisions.

 

  • Remember to Self-Reflect: In order to make good parenting decisions, we need to be willing to look at our own triggers, shortcomings, mistakes and patterns. Refusal to do this results in diagnosing the child as the problem, when it may just be our response!

 

  • Maintain Flexibility: Sometimes the problem is that we are going about things the wrong way. Sometimes we make a decision or set a plan or buy into a parenting strategy that just doesn’t work. In order to make good parenting decisions, we need to be able and willing to be flexible in our approach.

 

  • Consider the Child/Parent/Family: Rather than trying to force the child to acquiesce to a parenting strategy, we need to have a strategy that works for the child. Good parenting means asking, “What do I know about my child, myself, my family that would help me determine the right course here?”

 

 

  • Remain Open to Learning from the Child: Our children bring a lot of inner wisdom to the table. Good parents are willing to learn just as much as they teach.

Love. Respect. Intention. Self-reflection. Flexibility. Consideration. Openness. These are the foundations of good parenting. If we work hard to make sure they stay at the heart of all our interactions with our children, we can walk this path of parenting with the knowledge that while we may not always make the best decision every time, we are coming from a place that is thoughtful and true and genuine.

And when we really think about it, aren’t these also seven traits that we would love to instill in our children? What a concept. That’s a parenting philosophy that makes sense to me.

 Posted by at 2:38 pm
Oct 302012
 

Dear moms and dads and caregivers out there:

I have said this before, but I am feeling the need to say it again — This is a love letter to you.

Time and time again while talking to parents, I hear about the intense guilt and fear that we feel in our parenting. We worry that we are doing something wrong, that we don’t love our kids enough, or in the right way, or in the same way that our friends love their kids. We worry that we did the wrong thing or said the wrong thing or that we have somehow missed the boat with our children.

We worry that our kids are eating too much or not eating enough. We worry that our kids aren’t getting enough sleep or reading enough books or learning the right things. We worry that our instincts are wrong or that we chose the wrong parenting book to follow or that we are pushing too hard or not pushing hard enough.

Every day I talk to parents who are doing their best and striving to do better. Parents who are reading and thinking and changing and growing along with their children. Parents who are contemplating their own practices and interactions with their children and challenging themselves to go deeper into this world of parenting than ever before.

And I think it is amazing.

And I think you are amazing.

And I think we are all human. Destined to be less than perfect much of the time. It is easy to find countless things to worry about and regret and struggle over. It is easy to find things that don’t make sense or that we did differently from others. It is easy to get lost in those things and lose sight of what is in our hearts. And when we do that, it is almost impossible to trust ourselves, our instincts and our own inner wisdom about what is right for our families. And that is when we get lost, feel alone and judged and scared and overwhelmed. It’s easy to go there.

But instead, let’s be gentle with ourselves and realize some simple truths:

1)      There is no perfect parent. Parenting is not about perfection. It is about supporting another human along this path called life, with all its twists and turns and bumps. There is no perfect path, only amazing journeys. When we stop judging ourselves on how imperfect we are according to others, we can start truly being present in the path we are on.

2)      We will mess up. If there is a parent out there that hasn’t lost their cool, said something they regret, done something they wished they hadn’t, I would like to meet them. Most of us will have moments, days, weeks that don’t look like we want them to look. The question is not whether or not that will happen, but what we do about it. How do we pull ourselves back together? How do we process it with our children? How do we get help when we need it?

3)      It is never too late to change course. So often I hear parents say, “It’s too late, I did X when I should have done Y and now my child will never….” It’s never too late; that’s the beauty of being mindful and aware of our parenting. If we are aware, we can be flexible. If we are gentle with ourselves, we can understand that something isn’t working and try something new. If we are open, we can become aware of changes in our children, ourselves and our environment that call for a change of course. That’s life. It doesn’t mean we did something wrong.

Parenting is a journey. The path is rocky. We will probably trip and fall sometimes, and it’s never too late to change direction. When we realize that we are walking this path with our children, rather than for them, the journey becomes so much more enjoyable. When we spend our time looking back at all the things we stumbled on, we miss the connection to our child in the moment, we miss the scenery we are currently passing by and, maybe most importantly, we miss the road signs that are up ahead. Our child, our families, our hearts may be trying to tell us something and we just can’t hear it because we are too busy feeling like bad parents.

So, this is my love letter to all of you, all the moms and dads and caregivers who are thinking about parenting so deeply. Instead of focusing on guilt, let’s focus on what we are doing right. If we are leading with our hearts and doing what we feel is best for our child, we can and should trust our own path. If we are listening to our families and exploring our own patterns and becoming aware of our own mistakes, then we are leaps and bounds ahead of the game. If we are guiding our children with love and respect, they will feel it. Even if we mess up. Which we will. And if we treat our children like people in their own right, they will live up to the task. Even if they mess up. Which they will. And together, our messiness becomes life. A life worth living.

Love, Darci

 Posted by at 7:47 am
Sep 202012
 

******* A new post by our own Julie Endress. Hopefully the first of many! *******

I came to parenthood through a moment of deep knowing that I would be a parent. Little did I know what the journey would then entail to actually reach the day when I would shout, “We did it!” as our son was birthed from my body. Many of us either know couples or individuals or ARE those couples or individuals who struggle to conceive and/or face the tragedy of prenatal or infant loss. It is not a road for those who aren’t sure they want to parent. In fact, I would imagine it is part of what puts us so in touch with our deep yearning to care for a little one that is our family, our son or daughter. Although each story is unique, ours is similar to too many others AND fortunately ours resulted in the birth of our two sons who we are so blessed to have in our lives.

Although all parents face a fundamental shift once their children are here, those who put forth more struggle, more resources, and more time in reaching that destination are poised and determined to appreciate every single dirty diaper, every nighttime waking, every scream and squeal of joy. The reality is that becoming a parent is such a significant transformation of our lives that it is impossible to anticipate all that we might experience in the process of integrating our new family member and coming to terms with the life we are now living.

The trap that we can find ourselves in is one of having a narrow set of “acceptable” emotions related to parenting and others that are “off-limits” because we fought so hard to get here. It is completely outside our game plan to be in the midst of caring for our little one and feel irritable or annoyed or sucked in by a sense of wanting to make them happy even when the action may not be in our long-term best interest. To a certain extent, maturity is called for, and telling ourselves to “get over it” has a place since parenting is after all about meeting the child’s needs first and then our own. BUT, there is also a time for honoring our own experience even when it isn’t wanted, yummy or well-received by others. These feelings arise in our own experience—why wouldn’t they when caring for a child? We may try ignoring them, pretending they aren’t there, downplaying their importance, talking ourselves out of it, many strategies to push it away. As you can guess, this seldom works since emotions that go unexpressed find a way to surface or manifest somehow in our bodies. In fact, as we parent, we see that children are transparent and their feelings are quite evident—no matter what it is.

How well practiced are we at acknowledging and giving some space to a full range of emotions for ourselves, let alone our children?

The truth of the matter is, like most of this development stuff, allowing a full range of emotions starts with ourselves, and it is the only way to experience life fully. Once we try to put the kibosh on some feelings but not others, we end up dampening and stifling the whole lot of them. Our hearts are no longer open—we cannot be deeply touched by the quiet moments that are the gift of life itself.

And then where would you be on those precious mornings when your much-wanted child awakes before dawn, you curl up on the comfy chair with him and, in the darkness, as he softly spreads his hands over your body, he says “my mommy, my mommy, my mommy…”?

 Posted by at 1:33 pm
Aug 142012
 

The other day, after returning from one outing and immediately starting to plan where we were off to next, my preschooler said, “The thing about me, Mama, is that I really like to stay home mostly.”

It’s true. He does. Oh, sure, he loves to go the science museum and ride bikes around the neighborhood and climb at the park, but he also needs downtime at home, by himself, with his own “stuff” and special places. Time when he can just hang out. After a busy day out, back at home we often find him in small, quiet, safe places: forts, cabinets, and the back of closets. He gravitates toward activities he has mastered and is comfortable and familiar with. Legos, puzzles he knows he can do, books he knows by heart. It is as if he is trying to remind himself that the world is smaller, knowable, and predictable. What I know about him is that when I make sure I give him this, we have fewer meltdowns, less transition trouble (you know, those times when you just can’t make it out the door without everything in the world getting in the way), less sibling conflict, and even better sleep.

What I know about me is that I love to be on the go. So, sometimes, I let my own needs take precedence and we can spend days on end going here, there and everywhere.  Over time, his stress builds up and he starts to ask for what he needs in his four-year-old way: tantrums, increased aggression, and more out-of-control moments. I imagine he feels depleted. His time at home rejuvenates him. It is my job to remember this and build time into his world for meeting this need.

Often, when our kids are struggling with something, we look for answers outside. We read books or blogs or we ask our friends what they would do. But, in reality, the starting point should be within the kiddos themselves. When a parent presents a “problem” he is having with his child, I like to start by asking, “What do you know about your kid that could help us understand what she is trying to communicate here?” Most of the time, the parent starts to tell me about his child and, through this dialogue, the “problem” suddenly makes more sense.

We have to remember that, just like adults, kids are individuals. Their personalities, proclivities, likes, dislikes, temperaments, and natures vary indefinitely. When we say, “Two-year-olds are this way,” or, “Six-year-olds should be that way,” we have to remember that these are amazingly broad generalities that don’t account for the infinite personal differences that make our children unique and amazing individuals. If we stop paying so much attention to developmental schedules and what our friends’ kids are doing, and we start emphasizing what we know in our hearts about our own kids, we can respond and offer support in ways that work for them, rather than becoming frustrated when they don’t follow a certain pattern!

In workshops, I often have parents write out thoughts on the following questions. Thinking about these questions can help you to organize your understanding of your child.  This understanding can lead to insights about how you can support your child’s interaction with the world in a way that makes sense for him.

What kinds of things make my child feel safe?

What kinds of things create anxiety for my child?

What does my child like? Dislike?

What five words best describe my child right now?

If my child could choose one place to be, where would it be?

How does my child respond to new situations?

What does it look like when my child has had enough?

How would I know if my child were uncomfortable?

What is the best part of the day for my child? The hardest?

What happens when she is hungry? Tired?

Parents are often surprised to discover how much insight they already have about their children. Sometimes the most difficult part of this process is that:

  1. We confuse what is true for us with what is true for each of our kids (just because I feel the need to be moving constantly doesn’t mean this works for my child), and
  2. We have trouble remembering that kids are dynamic, changing beings. What is true right now may not be true next year.

As our children grow, develop, and thrive, the answers to some of these questions may morph as well. We must strive to see our children with open eyes and a flexible mind. The best strategy for supporting an individual child depends on the picture that emerges as we think through these types of questions. Thinking of our children as autonomous individuals can allow us to be creative and think outside of the “parenting book guidelines” to discover what really works.

 Posted by at 12:01 pm
Aug 092012
 

Trust is amazing. It says so much with so little. It opens doors for opportunities and relationships and experiences. The more I explore the topic of parenting, both professionally and personally, the more I come to believe that trust is a central issue that impacts both child and parent development.  Do we trust ourselves as parents? Do we trust our children? Do we trust our partners? What does it look like when we engage in relationships from a place of trust and how does the feeling of being trusted (or not) impact our decisions and experiences? An experience in the park the other day brought this home for me.

The rule in our family is that climbing is an individual activity. If you want to climb a tree or a jungle gym or a wall, you can. But you have to do it yourself. And you have to get yourself down. I will not lift you up or hold your body. It is your job to listen to your body and keep yourself safe. If it feels safe for you to climb higher, and it works for your body, then it must be the right decision. If it doesn’t work, if your leg just won’t reach or it doesn’t feel safe, then it must not be the right time or place for you to climb.

This rule is very important to our family. I want my children to learn to trust their bodies and their instincts. I want them to learn their own limits and feel their own challenges and revel in their own successes. I also notice that when I break the rule and help them do something, they are more likely to fall!

Yes, it’s true. I have actually tested it. When I notice my child climbing and calling for help, I make a point to move away rather than closer. I want my children to be aware that they are in full control and need to be thoughtful about their bodies. When I move closer, they trust me to do it for them. They trust I will catch them and they are more likely to let go, fall backward, or move without thinking. Their trust in me outweighs their trust in themselves. Almost without fail, when I move away, I see one of two things: either they move slowly and thoughtfully, climbing in a way that keeps themselves safe and they get where they want on their own volition (success!), or they move slowly and thoughtfully, realize they are out of their league and it isn’t safe and they make their way down (success!). Either way, they listen to their bodies, assess the situation and make the best decision for themselves. The value of this is priceless. The message is twofold: I let them know that I trust them and I give them the time and space to trust themselves. It is so wonderful and rewarding to watch them as they revel in their autonomy and feel good about their own movements.

The other day at the park, this process was in motion. My children were climbing. My oldest was attempting to climb up a structure in a tricky way. He called for help and I simply said, “Wow, you’re trying to climb up in a tricky way. I wonder what you are going to do?” He asked for me to “spot” him and I reminded him that, while I was willing to stand under him for support, I wouldn’t help him climb. “I don’t want you to help me climb,” he said. “I want to do it myself!” He struggled for about 20 minutes. He grunted and whined and even cried a little. An outsider may have thought he was in distress, but I knew he was working through it. I also knew that he would find his way down if it became too challenging. Another parent, whom I was chatting with, reached out to try and help him. When I asked her not to help him, she looked at me a little critically, as if I were somehow leaving him hanging. In fact, I was leaving him hanging. He heard me tell her to not help him and he added (through his grunts) that he could do it himself. I saw that she was skeptical, but I trusted him and I trusted myself.

We were all rewarded for our patience when he made it to the top, spread out his arms and yelled, “Look at me! I made it to the top the tricky way!” His pride was overwhelming! He immediately swung down, went directly back to the starting point, and did it again. I asked him whether he still needed a spotter for support. “Nope, I got this,” he said. The second time, it took him only ten minutes. The third time, it took him five minutes and then he was going up and down more quickly than I could follow.

While this was going on, his younger brother had observed and, as usual, decided that he also wanted to climb. I knew that his body wouldn’t stretch as far and that climbing up this way would be nearly impossible. I knew he wanted to do it and I knew he would ask for help. And that is exactly what happened. And, in my typical response, I stepped back and told him he would need to figure it out for himself.

I have to admit that my anxiety always shoots up a bit. I could tell that my decision was making the other woman very nervous. She made it clear that she thought my decision was dangerous and that she did not trust my parenting style in this situation. In fact, she asked, “Are you going to let him climb that?”  As my son started to try to climb, I reminded him to be thoughtful about his body one last time. Then I forced myself to let him work it out. She gasped and reached out to grab him. He looked a little wobbly and I started to question myself. Her lack of trust in me made me question and doubt myself. What if he got hurt? What if my parenting decision isn’t the best one? I wondered if maybe I should have either told him he couldn’t do it, or helped him to the top. I quieted my mind and again asked her to let him do it on his own. I told him that I trusted him and I knew that he was thoughtful about his body.

And he worked through it. He climbed a little bit, cried a little bit and then made his way down. “It’s too tall for me,” he said. “Bummer,” I replied. “Watch what I can do over here!” he called as he ran to climb an area he had already mastered.  I breathed deeply and reveled in his success. He had tried something, found his own limit and kept himself safe. My trust in him had allowed him to explore this on his own. Success doesn’t always mean making it to the top.

What I noticed was how strongly the woman’s basic distrust of my decision had impacted me. I noticed how much I had questioned myself, my child, and the situation. And I realized how true this must be for our children as well. When we send the message, “I trust you and I’m here to support you,” we open the door for them to take charge of themselves and learn how to negotiate the world. The process of climbing becomes the experience, rather than just a way to get to the top. In the same way, the process of allowing children to climb becomes the experience. Rather than just putting my child on the top of the jungle gym and then having to get him down again, I got to witness my child developing autonomy, learning his limits, exploring his body in space and time, figuring out what feels right for him, pushing himself past his comfort level, and also being secure enough to know when to back down. Amazing!

Maybe, because I trusted him and he learned to trust himself, he will go a little further on his own.

Maybe, because I trusted him to know his own body, he will be more comfortable with his own limits.

Maybe, because he is learning to be comfortable with his own limits, he will stand up to peer pressure.

Maybe, because he knows I am there to support him, he will come to me for guidance and “spotting” rather than solutions.

Maybe, because we trust each other, growing up will be a little bit less painful and scary for both of us.

Of course, there is risk in this. Calculated risk. Would I have let him climb if the ground had been covered in broken glass or if he had been on the side of an abyss to nowhere? No. But here is the thing: because I give him room to consider those types of things, I doubt he would have chosen to climb with those dangers there. Yes, I have to consider the overall safety, but I also have to swallow my fear and let my children figure things out for themselves. After all, that is what growing up is all about.

 Posted by at 2:56 pm
Sep 192011
 

I often write and talk about the value of “knowing your child” when deciding how to deal with a specific concern or problem that has arisen. But what does it mean to “know” your child, and how can that impact parenting? Ask a parent to talk about their child and they can instantly give you a detailed list of all their child’s attributes that would put any recommendation letter to shame. What they like, what they don’t like, what their latest developmental stride has been. We spend so much time watching our children in amazement that it’s hard to imagine NOT knowing our children inside and out.

But in the heat of the moment, when we are at our wits’ end, we rarely rely on this information to help us empathize with our child or create options and opportunities that can effectively help them negotiate a tricky situation. It is easy to get lost in the situation, and, in doing so, we can lose not only ourselves, but our kids as well. We get too focused on the intervention, what “should” work or what works for our friends. We get too focused on what we want or expect the outcome to be and become frustrated when we can’t seem to “make” that outcome happen.

We become solution focused. We turn to the books and the experts and our friends to tell us the “right” answer to make bedtime easier, to stop little brother from pulling hair or big sister from slamming doors. And when the books and experts and friendly advice fail, we assume something is wrong with our kids or us as parents.

But maybe it isn’t about the solution at all. Maybe, parenting is about the process. And the process is, in essence, the child’s experience with the world. That is what this little person is trying to negotiate and understand and master. That is what all their fuss is about. It’s a rough task, it’s a big task and they are a little person. Our task as parents is to help them through this process. When we focus only on the solution, we risk completely neglecting the child and their experience.

Hence the question, “who is your child?” What you already know about them can give you valuable insight into what they are experiencing and how you can help them. For example, distraction is often discussed as a method to help a child redirect themselves during a tantrum, offering them other things to think about or do. But if I know that my child is the type of child who has less stress tolerance if he is hungry, and I know he hasn’t eaten, then I may be able to help him identify hunger as a basic need in that moment and offer him food. If his emotional dysregulation is a result of low blood sugar, then no amount of distraction will help us negotiate the problem.

In doing this, I am challenging myself to be empathic with my child. To walk in his shoes. To try to understand where he is coming from. To do this, I have to put away my idea of the “solution” and be present with him. I have to draw on what I know about him, what I know about the circumstances and try to understand how he must be feeling. Easier said than done when I am frustrated, tired and at my wits’ end. But when I am empathic and connected with my child first, and when I decide what direction to help him move in based on that, I find that we are usually both more successful. Those interactions feel more meaningful, and often I find that the results seem to make sense not just to me, but to them as well. For example, when I figure out, based on my empathic understanding of my child, that hunger causes meltdowns, and I help him understand this about himself, he can then start to communicate his hunger and get his own needs met. It makes sense to him and he has learned something about his experience with the world. On the other hand, if I repeatedly try time out or distraction, because that is what works for another kid, the child feels frustrated because the core issue isn’t changing. His experience of the world doesn’t make sense and he probably feels like I just don’t understand. Maybe next time he will yell louder.

So how do we do this more consistently?

In quiet moments, think about all the things you already know about your child. Things like: How social are they? How much alone time do they need? What is their relationship with food? Who is their “go to” person? What makes them smile? What do they think is funny? What makes them angry? What situations are likely to make them nervous? What situations are likely to make them feel most secure? If they could choose to do anything, what would it be?

You get the picture.

Then, the next time you have a situation, take a moment to just observe them. Make an intentional effort to really see what is happening with them. Ask yourself: What might they be feeling right now? What are the circumstances at play? What is my child trying to tell me? What things have worked for them in the past?

Really try to walk in their shoes. Sit on the floor or get down at their level and see the world through their eyes for just a minute. Then see what you think. Sometimes, that is all it takes. You may be surprised at what you already know. You may be surprised when you let go of the solution and focus on the process. You may be surprised at the way the experience looks when you see it through their eyes. And you may be surprised at how effectively you might be able to help your little one through a tricky situation when you trust yourself, and your kiddo, as the real expert.

 Posted by at 12:40 pm
Sep 062011
 

Some moments it is easy to stay present and thoughtful and aware and centered as we interact with our little ones. In those moments things work out. They flow. They flourish even. We seem to move from interaction to interaction with our children as if this parenting thing is the most natural thing in the world.

And then, in an instant, everything changes.

Maybe something doesn’t go their way. Maybe something doesn’t go our way. But suddenly we find ourselves struggling to make sense of who this person is in front of us and what in the world we are supposed to do with them. Suddenly, none of the parenting tricks, rules, recommendations or advice work. We can feel our discomfort growing. It is small at first. A nudge in the back of our mind. A whisper really. What if I can’t handle this?

And, of course, it is usually in those moments that this little person in front of us is relentless. They push. They pull. They poke and prod. They have amazing accuracy when it comes to pushing buttons from a distance. At least it feels that way in the moment.

And the discomfort grows. It’s churning now. Maybe it feels like anger. Maybe it feels like fear. Or frustration. Or annoyance. It’s morphing and materializing. What am I going to do? I must get this under control.

And then it happens. We hear ourselves do the thing we hate. The thing we always say we wouldn’t do. It’s kind of like slow motion. We know we are going to do it. We don’t want to. Our mind flashes to all the “appropriate” parenting strategies we “should” be using in this instance.  But. We. Just. Can’t. Stop. Ourselves. You know what I’m talking about. It’s different for all of us. Maybe it’s yelling or using the dreaded words “because I said so.” Or “wait till your father gets home.” Or “no dessert.” Maybe it’s giving a spanking or slamming a door or whatever. It doesn’t matter because the point is, in the moment, we all wish we had it together, but we still find ourselves being less than perfect.

Of course it happens to all of us, but what does it mean? How do we reconcile the parents we want to be with the parents we are and, worst of all, the parents we know we could be? Do we pretend that our shortcomings don’t happen? Do we blame others? Do we give up and stop aspiring to be better parents?

The truth is that there are no perfect parents. And, if you ask me, that is a good thing, especially if perfect parenting means always being in control, always responding consistently and appropriately, always keeping our personal feelings in check as we interact with our children. If perfect parenting always means being calm and fair and well…perfect, then it also means missing out.

If parents were perfect, then how would children learn about real life? How would they learn about healthy adversity? How would they learn about emotions? How would they learn how to tolerate stress and ambiguity and how in the world would they learn that it is okay to be human?

Don’t get me wrong. We can be hopeful that most of the time we respond and interact with our children in a way that is consistent with our views on optimal parenting. We should strive for that and we should never resort to anything that is abusive or harmful. But we should also know that we won’t always be perfect.

Rather than expecting perfection, we can use our “human” moments to teach our children life lessons: how to admit fault, take responsibility, make amends, recognize the need for change. We all know that children learn from what we do rather than what we say. Why would we assume that we can simply tell them how to do these things when we can show them? Rather than expecting perfection and hiding in shame when we fail, we can talk to our kids. These moments can be learning experiences for everyone. We can apologize and role model coping skills like taking a deep breath or a moment to ourselves. We can show them that we are human and in doing so we give them permission to do the same.

But maybe more importantly, it gives us the ability to relax just a little bit. Remembering that there are no perfect parents helps me to take a step back. It allows me to say, “I’m not sure, I’ll have to think about that” or “I was wrong” or “I don’t know.” It allows me to say, “Mama needs a minute” or “I’m feeling really frustrated” or “I’m not quite sure what to do here, got any ideas?” Not only does this awareness help to avoid those dreaded reactions we all fear so much, but it might just help to shed some light on the situation. Maybe we think to ourselves, “I’m out of my league here, what would (my mom, my mentor, my friend) do?” or “maybe I should call in reinforcements.” Or maybe, we can even ask the kiddo.

It is amazing, but when parents do this, little ones may just surprise us with their response. One day as my three-year-old made his thirtieth or so lap around the house screeching at the top of his lungs, I caught him and whispered in his ear, “I just don’t know how to help you right now.”  He responded with a high pitched, “I NEED TO GO TO  SLEEP!!!!!!!” and took off for lap number thirty-one. Alrighty then…at least I knew what direction to head, which is more than I could have said a few moments earlier.  I had admitted defeat and he had given me a clue. But that was only possible because I reminded myself that I wasn’t perfect.

Aug 122011
 

Breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, snack.  In between is wake up, diaper change, trips to potty, nap, get out the toys, put the toys away, into the car seat, out of the car seat….And repeat. As I moved through the never ending steps of day to day parenting I suddenly became aware of my thoughts. “Get through blank so we can blank.” Fill in the blanks with the appropriate duty. Other thoughts floated by. I should get them outside, we should go to the zoo, an art project would really enrich their day, the boys need their toenails cut, pick out their pajamas before bath, what are we going to have for snack, I can’t believe he is hungry again.

Admittedly all of these thoughts are parenting related. They are all important, necessary and wonderful parts of parenting.

But I realized that my mind was overrun with these thoughts while my body and spirit went through the motions of the moment.  While changing a diaper I was thinking about getting them loaded into the car. While I was loading them into the car I was wondering if I was going to have to use that obnoxiously huge car cart at the grocery store. As I was pushing my way through the grocery store I was wondering if I would make it home in time for lunch….My mind was always on the next parenting step while my body was left on autopilot, going through the motions of the moment.

I wondered to myself what is parenting? Is it all the planning, thinking, and worrying? Surely my day is smoother when I am prepared for the next step. But in doing so I lose out on so much. I lose This Moment. I lose this opportunity to connect and really be present with my children. And if I am always one step ahead, what is the cost of an infinite series of lost moments?

I stop thinking about what is next and ground myself in the moment. I make eye contact with my child. I smile and connect with him. In This Moment. He touches my hair and laughs. I notice how it feels to be in This Moment, whether it is changing a diaper or clicking a car seat or pushing a huge car cart. And it feels amazing. I realize that children are experts at being  in This Moment.  They engage fully in it with their entire body, mind and spirit, giving anyone who joins them the amazing opportunity for connection. And when I am here with them, parenting feels more joyous and real and less stressful and overwhelming.

Of course I can’t always be there. Someone has to plan meals and tend to schedules and see the future. But my goal is to remember that stuff is the secretarial work. No doubt it is crucial to a finely tuned family system. But it’s This Moment that matters. This Moment IS parenting.

 Posted by at 6:40 pm
May 312011
 
 Posted by at 7:00 pm