Parenting Through the Deep End

the-deep-end-of-the-pool-deep-end-of-the-pool-crankyhead-demotivational-poster-12809828113I believe that parenting is the most challenging and important occupation that there is. And yet it’s a job for which we don’t have to submit a resume, show up for an interview, read the employee handbook or attend trainings and workshops to upkeep our skill set. Parents are thrown into the deep end with no floaties on their arms and sometimes it may feel like you are flailing your way across an Olympic size pool, clumsily dog paddling to keep afloat you and the puppies holding onto your feet for dear life.

So we often turn to the resources at our fingertips to help us through our journey. But with all the myriad of parenting philosophies, books, websites, approaches out there, an Amazon search for “parenting books” can leave us feeling more overwhelmed and helpless than we felt on our own. Google “Parenting Philosophies” and you will come up with over 996,000 search results. So where do we begin and how do we sift through the information we are given in order to decide what is best for our families?

When I work with parents I start with the underlying Truth that they, not I, know their child best. Different things work for different children. While I am not a big proponent of “time out” as punishment, some children do very well with a time out in order to take a little break and calm themselves down. For other children, it can be a painful trigger and send them into further dys-regulation and shut down. It depends on the kiddo and on the way you are framing it as parents. If you have tried something, it comes from a place of love and compassion and it works well with your child, trust in it.

I encourage parents to trust in their intuition. When we read a parenting book, attend a class or ask for help from others, we are not surrendering our responsibility over to another. We are expanding our resources and our repertoire of possibility, giving us more options to draw from; but we are certainly not obligated to take what “the experts” tell us at face value. These so-called experts (myself included) are human…They have their own stories, their own wounds, their own “stuff” (if you will) and there is nothing on Earth that has made them fully capable of knowing what is best for your child 100% of the time. So trust in yourself. Be compassionate with yourself. Take away what feels right for you and gratefully add it to your tool kit. You are welcome to leave the rest behind and just know that it’s there if you’re needing to try something entirely different.

My final bit of advice stemming from my own philosophy of parenting and relationship…sink into the child’s experience before doing anything else. What was she feeling? What was he trying to communicate through his behavior, but didn’t have the words to express? How might it feel to be all alone up in his room while he’s feeling sad and helpless? Once you have allowed yourself some space to be curious and empathic, then you respond to the situation from a place of love. This doesn’t mean you forego limits and boundaries or that you let children run rampant. It’s your job to be the container and provide the boundary to help them learn and feel safe. What it does mean is that you take the time to understand that at the root of your child’s negative behavior is a scared little person who doesn’t have the tools to communicate. So you let him know that you got the message (to the best of your ability) and you understand how he may feel. This is hugely empowering and liberating for a child.

This post was inspired by a newsletter I have been receiving from the Love and Logic Institute. When you google “parenting philosophies” Love and Logic is the first of 996,000 entries. So it has a lot of clout. Their overarching purpose is to teach parents to raise responsible children, which  is noble and lovely, of course. And they sometimes come out with tidbits encouraging empathy, which is great. But there are times when I question how they are able to maintain such unwavering support for what often feels like a very unsupportive approach to parenting. So I will leave you with a story from them to ponder over. Remember these simple instructions:

1. Trust in your intuition
2. Find your empathy- sink into the child’s experience
3. Act from a place of Love, not Fear

Now read on and feel free to comment on what you would do in this situation:

from The Love and Logic Institute (Read post here)

Veronica came to the fourth session of her Becoming a Love and Logic Parent® class anxious to get help with a festering problem with Jake. Twelve-year-old Jake decided that he no longer needed to listen to his mom. His growth spurt now made him taller than his single mom.
“I was so embarrassed on our last ‘movie day.’ I’d saved money to take him and his little brother to the movies. You should have been there. He wouldn’t take his feet off the back of the seats in front of us and he made one loud nasty remark after another during the movie. Several of the patrons even told him to settle down. I just didn’t know what to do.”
A couple of the class members offered to help Veronica design a Love and Logic training session for Jake. They had fun putting the plan together.
On their next “movie day,” big sixteen-year-old Preston appeared at her door just before they were ready to leave for the theater. He was the son of one of her fellow Love and Logic class members.
“I’m here to babysit you, Jake. I understand that you were a jerk the last time you went to the show, so you’re not going this time. By the way, this is going to cost you big time. I hope you’ve got fifteen dollars ’cause I’ve got better things to do with my time than sit around the house with a jerk who doesn’t know how to act in public.”
“Hey,” yelled Jake. “I’m not staying with you, and I’m not paying. I’m leaving!”
“Fine, kid. Your mom says that if you don’t pay, I can go through your room and take anything I want as payment. Have it your way.”
Little did Jake know that this plan had been hatched at Mom’s parenting class. What do you think will happen the next time this family goes out in public?

Loving yourself serves all of us

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.

-Marianne Williamson

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I have the greatest job in the world. I work with kids and help them learn and experience how loveable they are. And I work with parents and help them access their own strengths and inner beauty so that they can see the greatness in their children. I mean, it doesn’t get better than that. My intention is to help everyone who walks through my door, big or small, cultivate a deep sense of love and appreciation for him or herself. This is the force that drives healing.

It sometimes feels as if we live in a world where it is not permissible to love ourselves (often mistaken as ego). That doing so takes away from our ability to show up for others. That we must not take up space in this world if we are to get by. This, however, is a fear-based way of thinking that can lead to senseless acts of hatred and violence. It can cause us to project our own self-loathing onto those in our closest environment, onto those who trigger our vulnerabilities and onto people who are different from ourselves. This is what seems to be happening in the recent race-related killings of Trayvon Martin and Kenneth Chamberlain. As I am reeling from the news of these two killings (and so much other turmoil on our planet), I’m working to step up my personal path of self-love and that on which I work to guide my clients. For me, this is the solution to atrocities such as these–preventing it by loving ourselves (and therefore each other) as fully as we can.

As a child, this sort of relationship with myself was as far from permissible as running out onto the freeway during rush hour. When I was in the first grade I had an experience that left a pretty big impact on me. It was one of those little events in your life whose residue lingers for years to come. My parents had returned from Back to School Night for my classroom. They were mortified and needed to talk to me immediately. Hanging up on the wall of my classroom were worksheets that each of us little 6 year-olds had filled out listing a number of things that we LOVE. What had struck my parents and led them to decide I needed some reprimanding was that I had chosen to write “ME” as my answer. So, I was 6 and I loved myself…was that really such a bad thing? I remember my dad, in particular, scolding me, telling me it wasn’t nice to write that and that I should have written in some member of my family. Now as an adult, I have compassion for my parents and the vulnerable place they were coming from, not having had all the resources for self-love and nurturing that i have. And I think deep down, even as a 6-year old child, I knew they couldn’t fully take away my ability to love myself; but I sure as heck wasn’t ever going to reveal that to anyone. What a sad moment in the life of a child…the day she is taught that it’s not ok to love yourself. Now it’s my mission to shift this perspective and teach parents the benefits and joys of watching little people recognize their own inner greatness.

Hence, my career path and my personal path, as well. And hence, my message to you parents. Let your little one bask in his integrity and his light. Children are uninhibited little messengers of truth. When your child experiences herself as “the best” or “amazing”, admire her capacity for self love. Learn from her self love! Watch him/her shine and think of all the ways that you also wanted to be seen as a child. Give yourself a great big dose of self love and let your child know he/she has permission to do the same. The world will be such a sweeter place because of it.

And a poem whose words you can bathe in today:

Love After Love

The time will come

when, with elation

you will greet yourself arriving

at your own door, in your own mirror

and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was yourself.

Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart

to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored

for another, who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,

peel your own image from the mirror.

Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott