img_9654-1

We met when the leaves were orange. I had waited so long. Before I really had a chance to say hello, your dad was holding you up to the window so you could see the colorful trees. That was your initiation into this world, into this life. Look at all of this beauty. This, all of this, is for you. You will find your place here.

And as I look at you today, beauty is all I can see. It is all around. As you’ve grown, you’ve given an open heart, hands that hold, lips that smile, and a mind that searches. The light in you sees the places that need light and you leave yours there. You reach towards it, gathering its energy. I watch you shine it forth, creating a wake as you pass. I cannot take credit for who you are. I can only take joy in witnessing you. In experiencing the way you move in this world you’ve been given. The way you take your place and enhance the lives of those you meet.

And I wonder how we got here. How I’ve gone from a tired mother, counting your breaths to one who slowly exhales them as she lets go. Because as much as I wanted to hold you first and always, you don’t really belong to me. Your life belongs to you and you will walk through it on your own feet. My job is not to keep you safe but give you a sense that you can rise. That your power is in you, not in me. That I might hold your hand but yours can grasp and find the anchor you need. That I might have been there before, but if could be different for you. That as much as I want to know that I can protect you, what you really need to know is trust. That it will always turn around. That you are not alone. That hope is the best lens of perspective. That we believe in you. My work has been to lay that ground under your feet. Walk with confidence, my girl. Run if you must. You have what you need. And you can find what you need next. This is where we are after fifteen years.

The world is not flat and I will send you there, among the hills and valleys, as surely and as soon as the sun will appear again. With every moment I am letting go a little more. It is not without wistfulness but I know the only way is ahead. The days are unfolding one into the next without any of my effort and you are growing up and away. I can only clear the way for it to continue. All I can do is help you go. I will create the space in which you practice responding to the forests full of trees, the deep seas, and the hilltop sunsets you’ll encounter. I will hold the space for you to feel what you feel, to question, to wrestle with your choices, to wonder what is the best way. To wonder at everything. I will close the space that harbors my own fear, my own longing. The space between who I am and who you need and who I will be without you is ever in flux. Because even though I’ve always been here I’ve never been the same.

You know those orange leaves? That was change you saw and into which you were born. When I did hold you, everything unhinged. Everything came together. My heart exploded into the stardust of which you are made, raining down on all those parts of me that needed healing and love and joy. And it hasn’t ended. I knew at that moment that there was nothing I wouldn’t do for you; that all I would ever want was to be in wonder with you. My life started again when yours did. And so it has continued. Expanded. How everything is bigger and more beautiful than I ever noticed before! And I’ve learned the irony of my desire to be steadfast; to be the mother you need. It is not for holding fast to the ground upon which I stand. Indeed, being a mother is for surrendering to the seasons as they come. I’ve learned that requires constant and continual shifting, asking more of myself and not of you. Releasing the way it should go and embracing the way it does. Holding my tongue and opening my mind. Closing the past and walking boldly forward. I’ve rejected the status quo because you deserved more. My hope has been that you see possibility. Opportunity. Growth. Do not accept the way that everyone says it is, says it should be. You decide.

I did. Our society tells me that parents raise their children. That the kids need to change, should change, according to pre-determined stages. Toddlers are to be endured. Tweens are to be grounded. Teens to be controlled. Does that sound like your life? Have you ever known me to brace against you? To dread the year you became a teenager?

No. You’ve told me that the years have simply strung together, without any expectation that one should be more challenging than another.

I let you rise. I’ve searched for what I wanted to see: kindness, curiosity, a desire to help, team spirit, generosity, openness, hope, trust, wonder, effort, lightheartedness. And that’s what I found. That’s what I cultivated. You already have everything you need to live this life you’ve been given. To search and to try until it feels right to you. To run until you are exhausted and decide it’s not worth running anymore. To take a step forward and fall two back as many times as it takes to get where you want to go. To experience that a when life feels good it’s easy to do what’s right. To embrace your talents and build upon those and let the rest go. To know that you can’t be everything to everyone so it’s important to be true to yourself. To ask for help because you are loved and worthy of that love. To uncover your deepest desires and put them first. To listen to intuition and insist that it lead your head. To look around, not just within, and extend your hand where you can. Because this life is not just for you to rise up. It is for you lift others as you lift yourself.

Don’t do what is expected of you. Be an example of what it means to live with integrity. Only by being true to the character that you create can you know life’s liberty. I am here to help show you the way, but it is your responsibility to take the steps. I’ve held you and I know the strength of those arms. The beat of your heart. The light in your eyes. Share that. There are places in this world that need the healing and hope and joy you’ve brought me. That stardust still lingers. You linger. And I still see you, my sweet baby. You have only added to the beauty the colorful trees held on the day you were born. Fear not. For even when the season changes again and you are further down the road away from me, I will still be here, holding the space, holding you to the window with hope. That will never change.

“Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.”- E.B. White

{ 2 comments }

This post is part of my Parenting Calmly series written by guests to offer a variety of experiences and ideas. We want to bring encouragement, hope and inspiration as parents learn to let go of harmful practices and embrace helpful ones. How can you strengthen the relationship with your child in a way that brings laughter, love and ease to your family? Let’s find out together.

Please welcome writer, De Smith.

IMG_5649

There are some things that are in a constant or near-constant state of flux, like fashion. Sometimes, it is little things like hemlines or colors; other times it is big things that come with questions. Remember the bra-on-the-outside in the ‘80s? That was kind of shocking at first and there were lots of people who said it wasn’t outerwear, but underwear. Today, someone wearing a “Papa Don’t Preach”-style bra in public wouldn’t garner gawking or dropped jaws. Before the 80’s craze, a bra was underwear and would have been considered scandalous worn outside of one’s clothing. But time and exposure and understanding concepts have changed perceptions.

Parenting ideas can be like that, too. There are “societal norms” that go back through parents and grandparents and beyond what we can remember from our own personal experience; things that get ingrained in our psyche, in our cultural ideas of “normal”. They become so ingrained, sometimes, that the concept of anything else is startling and discomfiting; it can be something that leaves us feeling unbalanced and fearful. As much as our society touts independence and uniqueness, there are quiet parameters to that – definite lines that, if crossed, become alarm bells and garner finger pointing and distrust.

Spanking is one of those “norms”. Though the numbers of parents crossing the quiet, black lines into “non-spanking” territories, in general, our society is a punishment/spanking-based one.

I have not admitted in public before, because I was ashamed to: I spanked. Oddly enough, I was so against spanking (from a very young age) that I hesitated to get pregnant after my husband and I were married. I called a “stop hitting” help line once, telling them of my fear that because I’d been brought up in a household where spanking was the norm, I’d be unable to help myself and I would become a spanker, even though I didn’t want to. My even bigger fear, which I didn’t voice out loud to anyone other than my husband, was that I would become so enraged while in “spank mode” that it would morph into beating – just as I had experienced as a child. The operator on the other end of the line chuckled at my fears and told me that because I was aware, I was armed against it and I needn’t worry. This attitude did the opposite of quelling my fears: indeed, it made me more anxious.

I had reason to worry. I found myself once, frustrated that my husband (before we married) was not understanding my gestures as we played Charades, having slapped him (lightly) across the face. I was shocked – maybe more so than he! – that it had happened at all. There was no conscious thought to it… One moment, I was gesticulating, the next, my eyes were wide and my hand over the O of my mouth in shock as I realized what had happened.

My frustration-to-anger timeframe seemed indecipherable, instantaneous. It seemed as if my frustration and anger controlled me – even against my will, some times.

The problem came from a lack of tools to deal with my feelings.

As most children of my era, we were told how to feel and scoffed at if parents or adults thought we should not feel the way we did. No one modeled coping behaviors to me. I learned early on that anger was dealt with by either throwing things, yelling or hitting, and usually by placing blame on others – most often children. Most of the parents I was able to observe confirmed portions of this. Non-parental adults usually didn’t go to the extremes that parents did, but they had the same general attitude. Nowhere that I remember was I exposed to coping techniques or de-escalating practices or even adults that were calm and understanding about big mistakes; events that would make most adults yell and/or spank.

When our oldest was born, I was still against spanking. Well, actually, I was never “for” spanking, as it were, so that is kind of a misnomer. There were times, as he got into the late part of his third year and beyond, where I would pat him on his diapered butt – not in any way a “hit” or “spank”, just enough to have his diaper cover crinkle. Something to get his attention. It seemed harmless enough, but it set a precedent.

As he got older, parenting seemed to get more difficult. I thought I’d thrown out the spanking tool, but the problem that I couldn’t yet see was that I was still trying to make a soufflé with jelly bird eggs (jellybean) and even if I was using a spatula instead of a whisk, I really didn’t have a clue.

Much parenting advice these days says, “Don’t say “no” or “don’t”, because that leaves a void: instead of “Don’t run”, say “Please walk”. That’s what a large part of “stopping” something like spanking is about. I knew I didn’t want to spank, but I didn’t know what I should do, instead. Any other ideas I could think of or find seemed negative. Alternatives never really “clicked”. There was no “ah-ha!” moment, nothing that seemed like a viable set of tools that were clearly the tools for the job and not just a twist on the same old thing.

I knew that I had to be in control; I had to be the boss. It wasn’t really something I consciously though about, it was just one of those things that was ingrained in me because of the society I grew up in. Occasionally, as he got beyond the toddler years, I’d swat his butt enough to feel it, but not hurt. Just once, usually as he was passing or climbing. I employed ear-tugging techniques. I gave toys time-outs (not the child, but the toy). I took toys away. Nothing really mattered to him. He wanted to do what he wanted to do, regardless of the danger, inconvenience or what I the parent/boss wanted. In frustration, and as a last resort, I finally accepted defeat and realized that I was going to have to start paddling him.

I even delineated “spanking” as being “with a hand” and “paddling” to be with a “tool”. I don’t think I paddled him even 10 times. I do remember approaching each time I “needed” to paddle him with dread and a churning stomach. I’d be stern and firm and spank or paddle him 4 or so times, repeat what behavior I was punishing him for, send him on his way, then find a secluded spot and cry. I hated having to do it. Every time. That period didn’t last for long.

I was lucky enough at that time to happen onto a parenting idea that came at it all from a completely different angle: partnership.

I began reading voraciously. I couldn’t quite believe what they were saying: no punishment is required if there is respect and partnership. I had some serious knee-jerk reactions to these statements. Each example that was touted had me muttering to myself, “That would never work in MY house!” Yet, I was intrigued and I kept reading. The examples were different and the solutions were often quite different, though they all had that same base core of ingredients: respect & partnership. I read with a small bit of skepticism and a lot of surprise, the claimed results of this new (to me) idea of parenting. I read a long time, with growing hope, before I decided to try things out, myself.

Things got better. I worked with my oldest, trying for a win-win situation in each difference of opinion we had. I had a hard time adjusting from what I’d “known” about parenting for more than 33 years to this completely different idea of parenting; that Madonna-style bra that was just so obnoxiously staring me in the face.

It was working… and yet, I still had the core of “flash to rage” within me. I tried seeking out advice on that, not really wanting to admit it, nor the tendencies I had to resort to a swat on the behind when I was too tired or hungry or tense to remember to be a partner. One bit of advice stuck with me: that if I could pause, just count to 3 or 5 or 10, even just count to one – just take a moment… that would lead to longer moments, which would lead to the ability to redirect myself or my thoughts, to eventually work up to enough time to calm myself and re-center and get in touch with those new ideas of partnership & respect so that I could problem-solve in the moment.

Do you know – as much as I wanted to – I could not take a moment in the heat of anger? Not even one second. By this time, our youngest had been born and 95% of the time, he’d gotten patience and understanding and partnership. But occasionally, that toddler still got a spanking on his diapered bottom. Not really for a punishment/reason – just because my flashpoint was so quick, I couldn’t catch it.

I kept telling my kids that I didn’t want to spank. I didn’t like the idea of spanking and I was done. I really meant it when I said it. But I still hadn’t found the tools to cope with my frustration. One day, when the youngest was on our bed and I hit that flash point and my hand flew out before I could think… Afterward, he turned around with such a look of mistrust, reproach and condemnation with big tears in his eyes, that it broke my heart. I’d promised I wouldn’t spank any more and I’d not only left respect & partnership behind, but I’d broken a sacred promise.

That was the turning point. The next time my temper took over, I pulled back my hand and swung – and stopped just short of his butt. That happened several times. The next step, I raised my hand and stopped there. After that, I felt the urge in my arm and quelled the urge. Along this path, I started doing breathing exercises that I’d learned as a kid to quiet down and rest, then refreshed in my birthing classes. I started taking time after each episode where I got blindingly angry, talking to myself and figuring out what the heck there was to be so angry about. I started realizing that most of the time, there wasn’t anything to be so blindingly angry about.

Knowing I could actually remain calm and that I could cope with something without being angry made it almost second nature to flip that switch to “cool” before it even got warm. It was a process – it didn’t happen overnight. But, compared to the 33 years prior, where it was “who I was”, it was pretty quick. Having my oldest get into the puberty stretch of life, where hormones add fuel to sparks helps me to be sure I don’t slip back into old habits. I am the one who’s setting the example – he needs to have someone to learn from, because I know what the result can be without guides and models and choices.

Our youngest, having had less experience with the flash-to-anger, is a calm person who doesn’t strike out when he’s angry or disappointed or frustrated. Neither with words or hands. He is quick to let me know when something’s broken or spilled because he is sure he’ll get assistance and love and guidance.

Just a few weeks ago, my oldest grabbed a hot bowl of Coney sauce out of the microwave and brought it to the table and set it down a little too hard. It shattered. Ten years ago, I would have raged and been upset about food that was going to waste and a dish that was broken. That day, my first question was, “Are you okay?” He was upset – most likely he felt at fault, but he started yelling at himself. His daddy & I assured him that there was no problem: there was more Coney sauce to warm up and more dishes – even ones exactly the same. “Accidents happen”, I told him, “I’m just glad you didn’t get cut or burned.” The best part is that there wasn’t a rage to quell, first, before I could respond calmly. The tools & recipes I’d been given and the dedication I’d given to using them had gotten into my psyche and replaced those “norms” upbringing and society had instilled in me.

That’s not to say I’m perfect; I still keep aware and practice techniques and talk myself through things. However, I can say that that instant-rage has at least gone into remission. I rarely get angry to the point of lashing out; I don’t get angry much at all, any more. Disgruntled, yes. Frustrated, yes. But, those get less as time goes by, too.

I’ve found many “gaps” that I had before could be filled with something I can do. That helps cut the frustration level, too. Best of all, my family has all become one big partnership, where everyone tends to look out for one another, are generous with their help and criticism is few & far between. We like each other and we want to be with each other.

Neither of my kids has forgotten all about “fire mama”. They will occasionally bring up things from the past and share with me how upset or hurt they were by it. I always apologize. I wish I’d have found my solutions earlier, so that they didn’t have to deal with “fire mama”, but I’m glad I found them while they were young enough that it mattered. I tell my stories in hopes that it might help someone else find their solutions sooner rather than later – or worse, too late. Hopefully, my kids won’t be trapped by other societal “norms” and will find it easier to take alternative paths, if those are the right paths for them. Hopefully, my struggles with being a better parent will give them a leg up not just on parenting but on interacting with others and help them be better friends, partners, significant others, siblings, workers, bosses, etc.

It can be a struggle to walk that path outside the lines of societal norms, but if it is the right thing, it can be so rewarding and it can change many lives for the better. No matter how remote the path is that you choose, you are not alone on that path.

deDe Smith lives in Ohio and is mom to two wonderful, active boys. Together and with her husband, they create original sculpture jewelry sold through their Smithfits Bazaare Emporium. Visit their facebook page or shop their store to support small family business.

{ 0 comments }

This post is part of my Parenting Calmly series written by guests to offer a variety of experiences and ideas. We want to bring encouragement, hope and inspiration as parents learn to let go of harmful practices and embrace helpful ones. How can you strengthen the relationship with your child in a way that brings laughter, love and ease to your family? Let’s find out together.

Please welcome writer, Shannon Loucks.

IMG_5649

Deciding to parent from a gentle, connected place is the best decision I have made in my journey as a mother. Here are my top five fridge-post worthy reminders, to bringing it all together, day in and day out:

1) Listen more talk less.

I have to remind myself of this one over and over and over again. It’s the knee-jerk reaction to jump into problem solving- I’ve been around longer than you mode- and cobble together more words than a child can fully grasp, especially, if the child is overwhelmed by emotion in the moment. Keeping my response to one sentence at a time opened the door for me to hear more of what was going on for my child. Hand-in-hand with this is also: walking away and the 24 hour rule. If something feels desperately important to say to my child in the heat of a conflict, it will be just as important 24 hours later when we have both had time to calm down, collect ourselves and connect from a heart space.

2) See my child not the behavior.

For an example, I remember a day vividly: My son, six years old at the time, thrown down in the aisle of department show, having a total meltdown because we could not afford to buy the two items he wanted. It is loud and people are staring. My initial reaction was make this stop, people are looking, judging me, my child, this behavior. Taking a deep breath I see my child then I can react from a whole different place. There before me is my child, whom I love with all my heart, truly overwhelmed by the choice before him. From this place, I can step forward, sit beside him, maybe rub his back and empathize. The priority shifts from performing for others to connecting with my child.

3) Respect.

And when I say respect I am referring to the you get this simply because you are a human being definition of respect. Just the same as I get respect, so does my child. It does not need to be earned, it is not behavior-based, it is a right. In our family everyone gets respect, plain and simple.

4) Apologize.

I am human and I make big messy mistakes as much as anyone else. The thing that makes this okay, in my gentle parenting, is that I take the time to apologize. And not just a flippant I am sorry. A true sitting down with my child after the fact and owning the mistake I made, the way it fell upon them and how I wish I had handled things differently. This has been the cornerstone of showing my children that I am accountable for my actions and that I value our relationship.

5) Community.

I hummed and hawed about putting this in the top five. Competing for this spot was trust and choice, which I think are super important. However, when you make the choice to walk a path that is different than most of your neighbors and/or your family of origin, you are going to need some serious support. Sadly, gentle parenting is not yet the norm. It’s not the expectation. So when you are starting out, especially, it is essential to find people who are also striving to parent in a gentle way. Whether you find a local group, an online forum or a few Facebook connection, reach out to those who understand your commitment to parent with patience from a gentle, loving space. That way, in the moments when it all feels overwhelming, you will have a safe space to which to turn. There is nothing more isolating than turning for support and having folks suggest a spanking, a time out or a good solid punishment. I know for me, my commitment to gentle parenting was strong and those suggestions were lost on me. But I still needed help in the moments that overwhelmed me (heck I still need this on a very regular basis). Friends to help me pull apart my issues from my child, to see all the angles, to suggest other gentle ways to support myself and my child.

Just the other day, as the boys and I drove home from a burger date I said, “I am writing this piece on gentle parenting. What would you say are the top five things to remember?” I quickly grabbed the voice memo because what they shared was brilliant.

1) Room for dislike.

When expanded upon they explained, this means that there is room for a child to not like things. Food, activities, people, all of it.

2) Respect.

This one they said emphatically. It is essential, “that the kids get respect too.”

3) See it through.

“Hmmm..” I said, “tell me more.”

“Well when your kids have dreams or ideas you need to see it through. Even if they are wild and crazy you need to help them with it.”

4) Trial and error.

This means there needs to be room for everyone to make mistakes. And for everyone to be okay with those mistakes being made.

5) Connect.

I am going to admit here, I darn near drove off the road when they shared this. Yes! Yes! Yes! There needs to be connection in order for gentle parenting to work.

When I line our lists up side by side, I am drawn to think their list trumps mine.

But what I think the true take away is, “ask your kids.”

Wherever you are at in your gentle parenting journey take time regularly to check in with the kids, to see what they think. They will give you the honest-to-goodness, no-holds-barred truth about what is and what is not working.

shannon_loucksShannon Loucks is Mom to two always unschooled boys 9 and 11. A Canadian living in California, chasing her passion for writing, photography, hooping and remembering forever to play. Read more from Shannon at www.breakingdaylight.org.

{ 2 comments }

This post is part of my Parenting Calmly series written by guests to offer a variety of experiences and ideas. We want to bring encouragement, hope and inspiration as parents learn to let go of harmful practices and embrace helpful ones. How can you strengthen the relationship with your child in a way that brings laughter, love and ease to your family? Let’s find out together.

Please welcome writer, Eithne Egan.

When my son first became interested in stories, one of our favorites was “Listen, Listen”, a beautiful rhyming storybook celebrating the pacing and poetry of the seasons. Written by Phillis Gershato, this gorgeous Barefoot Books offering artfully lulls you into quiet examination of nature, breathing in the sights and sounds of Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter; the chirping and buzzing of birds and insects, the silent drifting of clouds, and the distant sounds of children playing joyfully. Of course, the book is not just about the shifting of the seasons, it’s about learning to listen and observe.

One of my greatest lessons (one I’m still learning) as a parent is to listen. Children are always communicating.

They are always telling us what we need to know, even when it seems that they are completely at odds with us, shut down, and not cooperating or communicating. When that wall goes up, as parents we can feel utterly clueless about our children’s innermost thoughts, motivations and seemingly perplexing and confounding behavior. That sense of ineptness is magnified when you have a child with a communication disorder. Labels aside, (my son Luca, who just celebrated his eleventh birthday, has several), it’s very challenging when your child lacks verbal skills. Much of what we are taught about positive parenting is focused on verbal communication; a rather unhelpful approach if your child can’t easily converse, negotiate, advocate, or object. At least, not with spoken words.

When Luca was about three years old, I watched his teacher pick him up and roughly fold his little limbs into his preschool-sized seat. She did that because when she greeted him that morning, his tiny body made an almost involuntary u-turn like he would rather bolt through the school door into a busy urban street rather than comply with her requests. He was afraid of her. But all she saw was non-compliance.

Luca’s anxiety was palpable, but it took years of wrangling before he had an official diagnosis, and until then (and many times since), it seemed that nobody was willing to listen. It seemed that people would rather believe that Luca’s difficulty self-regulating and communicating appropriately were rooted in a desire to act out or manipulate, when the truth was he simply lacked the skills to do so. And this is one of my core beliefs about children – they are always doing the best they can.

In the meantime, I honed my listening skills. Here’s the thing about listening – it’s a practice. You can’t just switch it on. You have to practice being present and still and you have to silence that voice in your head that tells you should know the answers right away. You have to get to a place where you aren’t overwhelmed by your child’s emotions and your fears about the future. And that requires self-care. Most of us have at one time or another lost our patience with our kids, and we understand that if we’re not getting enough sleep or we haven’t made it to the gym in a few weeks, we can begin to slide away from that place of self-control we like to operate from as parents. But it goes much deeper than that.

We can only be present for children if we’re first present for ourselves. And so our children become our greatest teachers by constantly challenging us to do that.

 

As Luca’s communication skills have improved slowly, so have mine. He’s gotten better at talking, and I’ve gotten better at listening, and together we’re better at communicating his needs to those that support him in other ways. When I feel like my son is struggling, it reminds me to pay closer attention to what he is telling me in other ways. Or to simply just be quiet, and stop listening to my own fears andjudgments about the challenges we encounter. And as time goes by, the struggles are less frequent and not so fraught with anxiety. And language has become a tool we use but not something we can rely on completely. I’d guess that’s true for most kids, even those without communication delays.

When Luca was about six, my sister and her daughter flew over from Ireland to visit us in Boston. My little niece was only three and full of curiosity and a million questions a day as only three-year-olds can be. She followed Luca around and wore his clothes (back then, boys were cooler than girls) and the two of them had a grand old time doing handstands and freeze dances and baking chocolate cupcakes. But she really, really wanted him to talk to her. And he was so quiet that she was disappointed and perplexed. And many times during that visit, she asked my sister, “Mam, why won’t Luca talk to me?” And my sister would always say, “Don’t worry, he is listening. Luca is a really, really good listener.” And that satisfied her, because she felt heard.

My son is the best listener of all. He experiences the world in different way, much of it based on sights and sounds that are often overwhelming, but never ignored. He will never miss the subtle cues that we so easily disregard. Every single day he reminds me to listen, and I try to remember to show him that he is heard, even when he doesn’t speak.

 

eithneEithne Egan is a life coach and postpartum doula in Boston, MA, who helps women and moms in every stage of motherhood find joy in the imperfect, balance in the chaos, and learn to express their truly unique and beautiful selves. You can find her at http://trueessencecoaching.net/

{ 5 comments }

This post is part of my Parenting Calmly series written by guests to offer a variety of experiences and ideas. We want to bring encouragement, hope and inspiration as parents learn to let go of harmful practices and embrace helpful ones. How can you strengthen the relationship with your child in a way that brings laughter, love and ease to your family? Let’s find out together.

Please welcome writer, Jeff Sabo.

IMG_5649

For the past few years I have been writing about what I strive to be – the best Dad I can be under whatever circumstances are rearing their ugly heads within any particular moment. Like most parents, some days I think I have it absolutely nailed; my partner, kids, and I are operating in perfect sync for hours, days, or even weeks at a time. Everyone is mostly happy, everyone is mostly connected, and everyone’s love tanks are mostly full. Other days are much, much harder. My imperfections seem magnified, and things that would normally roll off my back choose now to attach themselves to my doubts, fears, and insecurities. On these days, I am not patient, I am not connected, and sometimes I just am not very nice – and obviously, then, not the best Dad I can be.

Despite the fact that I’ve written for the past few years about how being imperfect is both understandable and okay, I still beat myself up a bit on the bad days. You’d think I would have learned by now, but life is simply not so neat as to always be reflective of steps forward, or even staying in neutral. Sometimes life is a few steps back, as well.

Today was, in some ways, a step back for me – or it felt that way, at least. The compassion was hard to access today, the patience was stretched thinly, and the usual playful spring in my step was more like a dutiful clomp. As I sit here getting ready to say goodbye to another weekend, I’m trying to think of why the day went strange. Although it could be any number of things, I think I put my finger on it. And it’s an old, familiar theme.

It’s pretty simple, really. Today, I felt like I was entitled to a few things – a kind word, a “thank you”, some appreciation for having gone shopping and cleaned the cat box and played Guitar Hero and taken the family bowling. In truth, all of those things I have done today – and probably hundreds more that I did not even know I did – have likely been appreciated by my children in an authentic and deep way. That is usually how it works. The fact is that most days I am fine with being appreciated and respected in whatever ways work for my children, but today I would have preferred – preferred – to have been appreciated the way that felt best to me, regardless of how they felt about it. Why? Well, frankly, because I feel like I am entitled to it – not all the time, not even most of the time, and never when I am at my best and most secure – just right here, right now.

As I think about that, I am reminded about how these situations felt before I became a parent, like when I was in the Army. As a military leader, I always felt like my leadership was providing a service for my troops, and so I performed my duties and led my teams with a selflessness that was both engaging and effective. I could lead gently or hard, depending on the situation. But I always felt that I had to go out and earn the respect of my troops every day, that I was not ever entitled to it simply based on my rank or position. I had to earn my stripes, every day, through my words and actions.

Good leaders – GREAT leaders – never have to tell anyone that they are in charge. They teach, they inspire, they motivate . . . but it is never, EVER, about them. In his book on business leadership, “Good to Great”, Jim Collins argues that the best leaders in the corporate world have the same attributes: they lead from the front, they question, they are curious, they teach, they coach, and all of that creates a persona which inspires and motivates the people around them. But they are, above all, humble about it. Not only is there no need for them to tell people that they are in charge – they don’t actually view themselves as being in charge. Surely, they have decisions to make and responsibilities to bear that are different from the other people on their teams. But they view themselves as a beneficiary of a culture that is created equally by all parties. This builds significant trust and credibility. Collins refers to these people as “Level 5 Leaders.”

As I listen and observe other parents, it is easy to see some parallels between leadership and parenting. At various times over the past few months, I have seen or heard the following: “3 . . .2 . . .1 . . .you’re in a time out, mister!”

“Joey, I told you to sit the hell down, so DO IT!”

“Why can’t you just sit there and be quiet?”

“What is the matter with you?”

“I don’t care if you’re hungry. You didn’t eat the muffin I got you, and that’s all you’re getting.”

“Shut up!”

“Did I or did I not tell you stop?!?!”

Wow . . . I mean, wow. I wish this were uncommon, but of course it isn’t. Somewhere along the way, many parents have just gone crazy. Why? I don’t know. Maybe they are flying out to Omaha for a funeral. Maybe they just lost their job, or something difficult happened earlier in the day. Could be because being a parent is hard. Heck, even though I never say these kinds of things I would be lying if I said I never felt them; today is a great example. It could be a thousand things, I guess. And if these were all isolated incidents, if the parent (who is only human, after all) caught themselves, or apologized, or gave a hug or something, then maybe it would be easier for to understand and overlook. But that rarely happens. And after giving it some thought, I think it comes down to expectations and entitlement.

Last year, I wrote a blog on expectations because I needed to think through my own expectations – of myself as a parent and partner, of my wife, and of my children. In short, I think expectations can be dangerous because they set a visual image for us of how something “should” be, which only gets more detailed over time, and which becomes so alluring to us that we get single-mindedly focused on pursuing it. And in that pursuit, we often miss amazing opportunities to pursue other things that might be even more satisfying. And of course, the reality of our vision is rarely as we originally envisioned it, and so we can become disillusioned and disappointed.

I think parents, for whatever reason, expect that parenting is going to be pretty easy. Oh, they know that having a baby can be hard, and that teenagers can run a little wild, but overall I think they start with a fundamental expectation that it will be fairly simple and in control. And when they find that parenting isn’t really like that, they do what many people do – they try to hold on tighter to that which is becoming elusive, like a mountain climber grabs a rope hard when she begins to slip. But grabbing the rope too hard can be fatiguing, so if that is all they do they are bound to slip further down eventually. Kids are the same way, I think. The more you try to control, the harder it becomes. A parent may start with reason (“You should not do that because . . . ), graduate to guilt (Mommy really wishes you wouldn’t . . . “), and move swiftly to coercion (“If you stop, I’ll give you a . . . “). And if that doesn’t work, they may move straight to fear and intimidation (“Dammit, I TOLD you . . . !!”)

In short, they are trying to be a leader for their children without having the credibility. Why? Because they think that they are entitled to respect and obedience. I mean after all, they are in charge; they make the money; they provide the roof, and the food, and the toys, and the clothes; they do the driving, and the cleaning, and make all the hard decisions. Doesn’t that mean that they are entitled to be respected for their abilities and sacrifices?

Absolutely not. Just because they had sex without a condom, or whatever, doesn’t mean they are entitled to anything except their name on a birth certificate and a tax deduction. Seriously – that’s it. Nothing else. A parent is not entitled to love, or respect, or obedience, or friendliness, or concern, or anything else.

A parent, like a leader in a company or in the Army, has to earn those things – without ever being attached to whether or not they receive them, or when, or how. They have to be willing to do as artisans had to do hundreds of years ago when building cathedrals. They have to trust that they may never see the ultimate benefit of their work, but to still have confidence that their work had meaning and that the quality of their work was critical to the overall beauty of the end product.

So a parent has to be a “Level 5” leader . . . to earn the privilege of connecting with their children by coaching, and loving, and respecting, and believing, and inspiring, and motivating . . . but with a humility and grace that inspires confidence and trust, and earns credibility with their partner and their children. They have to recognize the fault in their expectation that a child should listen to and respect the parent because they are a parent, instead of because of what kind of parent they are. They must recognize and embody what every good leaders knows instinctively – that trust and credibility with your children must be earned, in every action and word.

jeffJeff Sabo has been called many things in his life – an actor, a hockey coach, a Staff Sergeant, a manager, a teacher, a trainer, a class leader, a presenter, a writer, a husband, a partner – but his heart found a home when he began to be called “Dad.” He and his family make their home in San Diego, CA.

{ 0 comments }

holding each other up

I’m not a mind reader. I can’t know what you want if you don’t tell me.

I said that to her and then as I often do, I began to wonder about the truth of my statement.  Do I not know my own child that I greet each morning and kiss each night? That I have watched and waited with, listened to and loved, held and released surely as I breathe?

In some ways, no. As she grows and spends less time at my side, I find that I don’t know all of her stories anymore. She has inside jokes about moments that happened with friends instead of me. She goes to parties that are full of kids I’ve never met. She sends and receives messages on her iPod that I’ve never read. Part of her life no longer includes me and I don’t know who she is in those moments, what thoughts and feelings are passing through her.

In some ways she’s becoming more of a mystery than she was when she was brand new to me.

And yet, I know what it means to be a girl nearing adolescence. It was the best of times and it was the worst, too, as I just wanted to fit in but didn’t know how. I remember the longing and the anticipation and the uncertainty.

More importantly, I remember that she is my daughter and I see her. I’ve always seen her as she observes the world with her wide, watchful eyes. She takes it all in, tucks it away and then puts her heart on the line. Every time. So do I know what she needs? Of course, I do. It’s what every child needs.

Time to be let go.

Time to be protected.

Time to be herself.

Time to experiment.

Security.

As she wanders off the path I’ve cleared for so long, she won’t always know where she’s going or what she may need along the way. People can’t always know what to ask for so it’s my responsibility to have some clue about what to offer. Parents can’t have all the answers, nor should we as part of becoming a self-reliant adult is thinking, feeling, making decisions and accepting accountability.  I know that I will spend restless nights wishing I could fix things and make everything right, holding back my strong opinion as The Way To Go, or wanting to say no, just so I don’t have to worry. At this stage of the game, though, my suggestions are helpful guidance; signposts that suggest what might lie in several different directions, indicating their distance while I remain planted firmly where she can always return. Maybe to choose again, maybe to get more information, maybe to just re-fuel but it’s clear that I will always be available for her.

When I am paying attention, I get to read between the lines. I can notice when something seems off or missing and I can make an educated guess. I do know my daughter very well and I can make very accurate assumptions about what she needs, even if just space. I can try to be a step ahead and offer what may fill a need that she maybe can’t articulate. Relationship is becoming incrementally more important as I rely on her self-esteem, intuition and good sense while she steadily grows in a direction away from our home. It’s years away but the seeds are planted now. Kids don’t always want to ask for the net but they need to feel that they are safe to reach, safe to fall. The risks become riskier (in my mind) if only because they happen more often out of my sight. Because I can’t always be there, my biggest priority these days is to make one message clear:

I am on your side.

When I became a mother, my child came into my world. And here she remained, in the world as I define it. I took her to the stores and parks that I liked, dressed her in the cotton clothes I preferred and fed her the wholesome food of which I approved. As the years pass, I find that I am the one who is entering her world, doing things I swore I would never do, being the person I swore I would never be. Yesterday when asked what my hobby was she replied, “being a soccer mom.” I about fell off my chair.

This is the common ground. As she makes her way into uncharted territory, as her life unfolds in these new ways, so do I, so does mine. Just as I can’t know the right choice always, neither can she. Just as I will make mistakes, so will she. Sometimes she won’t always have a good answer to my question and will be silent. Me, too, and that’s okay. And this, right here, is what every child needs: to feel an understanding for who he or she is in this moment of his or her life. Not where she’s been or where she might be going, but in every snapshot of time. Not when she gets everything figured out, not when she gets on the right path, not when she does all the things that my worldview deems “arrived.” How would it feel to have a sense of belonging, always?

Every child needs to be seen, to be heard and know they are not alone. Hold out the net with understanding that, in truth, we are all just holding each other.

 

{ 2 comments }

This post is part of my Parenting Calmly series written by guests to offer a variety of experiences and ideas. We want to bring encouragement, hope and inspiration as parents learn to let go of harmful practices and embrace helpful ones. How can you strengthen the relationship with your child in a way that brings laughter, love and ease to your family? Let’s find out together.

Please welcome writer, Gwynn Raimondi.

IMG_5649

The practice of forgiveness is our most important contribution to the healing of the world.

-Marianne Williamson

 

Twinkle lights glowing in our family and living rooms. Candles at the dining table. Softness blooming out of the lights in our home, gently revealing what each space holds.

Creek gently babbling. Wind chimes tinkling. Sounds quietly entering my senses.

Mellow breeze kissing my face. Supple cotton touching my skin. Caressing touches opening possibilities.

I entered a world of Softness, surrounding myself with soft sights, sounds and feelings. This exterior softness represents the inner softness seeking out space in my body, my heart, my relationships, my being.

As I entered into this shift, the Hardness made itself clearly known. It came as resistance, to not see the world from the eyes of Others. It came as snapping at my husband and daughter over trivial things. It came as judgement of others and how they are living their lives.

Yes, others did hurtful things. Yes, others said unkind words. Yes, I’ve been misunderstood. Yes, there have been times I have been abandoned and unloved, shamed and ridiculed.

I held onto those hurts, the unkindness, the misunderstandings, using them as armor, protecting myself from future pain, or so I thought. I would mouth the words of forgiveness, giving platitudes to make nice, while clinging to pain, and turning hard, cynical, hurtful and unkind myself. I would put on a mask to model the behaviors I wanted my child to grow into, the ones I also desperately wanted to grow into myself, but those behaviors weren’t coming from my being, my core; they were not an authentic expression of my heart at the time.

I’ve been strong and tough. I’ve scoffed and ridiculed. I stood behind my brick wall and refused to let anyone in, not even my husband, not even my child.

It was lonely.

The loneliness only added to the hardness. I would repel against the softness of others, while simultaneously cracking at the seams, aching for their gentle vulnerability to be a part of me and my way of being in the world.

Aching for that connection to others, to my world, to my little family.

 

I’m not sure what the first event was to cause this shift inside me to start, I do know however, the actual cause of the shift is not relevant. What is relevant is that it began. Softness wanting to manifest within me so I could express it out into the world. So I embraced this word, explored what it means to me.

I shook up my routines and the stagnancy that had found its way into my life, experimented with new ways to move my body, became curious about this pain or that weakness in my muscles. I moved my body into tree pose for the first time in years and felt a sense of coming home. I sought balance in half-moon pose, my body revolting, claiming it’s not strong enough or graceful enough and yet my heart and mind kept breathing, kept shifting, building strength and finding grace.

I found soft places in our home to replenish and relax, kept these spaces soft, sacred. I removed the clutter from our physical space, allowing clutter to leave my mind, my heart. Feeling in my whole being a settling, a calming, a clearing as the shelves were cleared, cleaned and organized.

I wrote the words Soft, Love and Gentle on my arm as reminders of the shifting. I would see the words throughout the day, take in a slow, deep breath and reach out to my child, my husband or a friend to connect. I would give hugs and kisses and say “I love you” without promptings, just to share with those important people how much they do mean to me. I would bite back shaming or blaming comments, and focus on my breath, allowing the potentially hurtful moment to move into a moment of peace, of joy.

All this exterior work was both simple and challenging. Through all this shifting and changing, my breath settled, my muscles and mind released and yet the tears did not flow, there was still a hardness in my heart.

While the hardness was still there, I felt it starting to release: the a-ha! moments of what this muscle pain was telling me I was still holding on to; adding another person to my Loving Kindness meditations. Slowly and quietly the tears would flow as I laid on my mat, breathing in and out loving thoughts to this person or that group. Insights coming foreword, my ability to find compassion for where these others are in the world.

This forgiveness and compassion flowing out of me towards all these others, sending out love and empathy; understanding that we are all on a journey and sometimes perceived intents are only a perception and not a reality.

The gentle tears flowed and my heart softened and yet there was this hardness still in the center of my chest. A hardness I could not see into.

Until one day it became clear. Yes, forgiving all those others and the hurts that were built into my heart and body from their actions and words was important, vital to my own growth and journey into softness, into living the life I wanted, and yet there was one person who I needed to forgive, who deserved my compassion so deeply. I had been unable to see her, to hear her, to give her the love and empathy I so willingly gave others.

I breathed in this truth with a gasp.

Me.

It was time to forgive myself for the hurts and unkindness I sent towards me, my body, my mind.

 

There was now this space opened for feeling where before there was numbing, bottling, clenching, tightening and hardening.

The softness found the cracks in my armor. There are always cracks in our armor, often we find ways to mend those cracks, adding spackle and a fresh coat of paint so we believe we look shiny and sane on the outside, that armor holding in all the chaos that swirls within us. More cracks appear and more spackle and paint is applied and we grow tired and weary from the work of keeping up appearances.

Inevitably, the chaos seeps out, in one form or another. It surprises us, takes us off guard and leaves us feeling shame at our actions or words. We blame the cracks, we blame the armor and we find ways to build a stronger suit.

This was how it went for me until the Softness came. By embracing this simple word, I was able to slow down my repair of the cracks, allowing whole chunks of the armor to start to dangle, to eventually fall off. One day I found myself without my armor, wrapped in a soft robe, feeling the softness caress my skin, whisper in my ears and glow in front of my eyes.

My heart opened wider for the beautiful people in my life: my loved ones, friends, my husband and our daughter. I was finding more patience and calm. The shaming that would spew out of my mouth began to slow and then stopped almost all together. I found ways to connect with my daughter and my husband: I would listen to their heartbeats, I would let them listen to mine; I would turn off my phone and my laptop and sit down and play and listen. I started to release my need to “fix it,” to have a solution and response, not really hearing what the other was saying. The more I softened and sank into the beautiful moments of my life, I noticed a softening in my daughter and my husband, a gentleness towards each other, towards me and themselves started to grow. More laughter came, more peace.

I found sweet forgiveness for others, yes; it was an important part of the journey. More importantly I found sweet forgiveness for myself, giving myself healing and opening the space for more joy and connection within me and in my world.

 

me and her windGwynn Raimondi is a writer, mama, wife and relationship and mindfulness coach. Gwynn utilizes mindfulness practice mixed with attachment theory and brain science to guide her clients to deeper connections with themselves, their families and their worlds. You can follow Gwynn’s blog and connect with her on facebook.

Her newest program, Mindful Mantras, a free, year-long journey to bring more peace, calm and focus into your days, began December 29th, however you can sign up and begin at anytime during 2014. Information and registration.

Gwynn will also be offering Grounding in Grace, a 30-day journey to find your center and to ground your body, mind and Soul, will begin in February. Information and registration.

{ 0 comments }