Tuesday, April 30, 2013

When I think about the most difficult times I have as a parent, it usually centers around CONTROL.  Either my daughter is resisting my request because it runs counter to her agenda, OR I'm feeling controlled by a request that runs counter to my agenda.  Because I am often trying to decipher whether her resistance is need-based or control-based (while working to keep myself calm), at times it can get pretty mucky.  Add hunger, exhaustion, time crunch or illness to the equation and someone is likely to end up frustrated and in tears.

That's when I start breathing.

I'm slow to process.  For whatever reason, it takes me longer than some others to decide how I feel about things and how to proceed.  Perhaps it's because I'm analytical, and I really strive to be consistent whenever possible.  I, like most parents, also want to do the very best job I can with my child to guide her to become an empathic, strong, responsible, independent, confident and capable adult.  The challenge is that, to develop these characteristics, she will need for me to be all of those things myself, AND to be patient with her process over the years as she develops them.  This also requires me to disconnect from my own fears and ideas about what "should" be happening in the moment.

No one ever learned what "HOT" is simply by listening to their parents telling them not to touch the pan on the stove.  As humans, we all learn by experience.  Furthermore, depending on the child's learning style or developmental stage, many will need to see, experience or hear things multiple times before the lesson is integrated.  All of this can be a common cause of frustration for parents who have an expectation that children simply obey -- because they're tired of repeating themselves, because they have to get to work, or because they themselves obeyed as children under threat of punishment.

What if we were to look at this dynamic from a different angle?  Children don't listen for many reasons, some of which are absolutely valid if we observe with some objectivity.  Consider...

  • Most children have very little control over the direction of their day to day lives; this runs completely counter to their innate need for some sense of control
  • Children's feelings and needs can be unintentionally overlooked in the busyness of modern life 
  • Children may not be truly heard by the adults in their lives, therefore they may not be truly understood by the adults in their lives.
  • Many children are not getting adequate sleep, nutrition and/or exercise
  • Children today have fewer quality moments with parents and are over-stimulated from outside influences -- media, advertisers, peers etc.
  • Children spend roughly 36 times more time interacting with a screen than with their parents/caregivers (by conservative estimates).  

American/Western families are less connected than ever in history -- and I would argue that with the pace of modern family life, we ALL need connection now more than ever!

Demands on families are great -- financial pressures, competing priorities and the frenzied pace of urban/suburban life can easily keep us maxed out physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually with little to no room for error.  What are parents to do?  There's no magic bullet, however integrating mindfulness into our daily lives can be a good place to start.


It's simple but not easy.  Mindfulness is being present with what is happening in the moment, without judgment.

Developing in-the-moment awareness takes practice.  Shifting our judgment to observation also takes practice.  Neither of these is easy.  What would motivate you to begin developing these practices?  Ask yourself what more of the same will look like in 1- 5- or 10 years from now. 


STEP ONE:  Check in with yourself.  Ask:  How am I feeling?  What am I needing right now?  Notice where in your body you tend to experience feelings like anger, fear/worry/stress and even peace; this will help you to more quickly identify what is true for you in the moment and to choose a healthy response.

STEP TWO:  Tune into your inner dialogue.  Challenge thoughts that are negative and self-deprecating; remind yourself what you're doing and what's going RIGHT.  Create a mantra or affirmation that you can view and/or repeat daily.

STEP THREE:  Build in downtime for yourself -- relax with a book or schedule a date with your partner; reach out to a friend or do something just for yourself.  Resist doing "one more thing" before you give yourself permission to sit down and be.  Remember, the housework will never really be DONE, but if you don't balance out your responsibilities with even a little recreation, your reserves and your patience WILL be DONE.

STEP FOUR:  Build in special time with your child(ren) every day.  Even if it's only 5 minutes, look into your child's eyes and connect.  Inquire and listen to your child with the desire to understand his or her world.  Make plans you can look forward to and follow through.  Children don't need expensive toys and entertainment, they need to feel a sense of belonging and unconditional love with their parents/caregivers.  Remember, this is all temporary, and WE DON'T GET THESE YEARS BACK!  Another reminder:  we are now sowing the seeds that we will later reap in adolescence.  Lay a foundation that is stabilized with the trust and connection you create in your relationship now and you will both be much better off for it.


If I had my child to raise over again:

I'd build self-esteem first and the house later
I'd finger paint more and point the finger less
I would do less correcting and more connecting
I'd take my eyes off my watch and watch with my eyes
I would care to know less and know to care more
I'd take more hikes and fly more kites
I'd stop playing serious and seriously play
I would run through more fields and gaze at more stars
I'd do more hugging and less tugging
I'd see the oak tree in the acorn more often 
I would be firm less often and affirm much more
I'd model less about the love of power
And more about the power of love.

~Diane Loomans