Renee’s story

 

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I met Renee’s family and admired them from afar before I took up the courage to swing by on a road trip and have a sleepover. We were instant forever friends all of us. I adore what she has to say here and so left it all just the way she answered it. 

 

 

 

1) What lead you down the path of gentle, connected parenting ?

My ears. The first time I heard my babies cry it touched something primal in me. Suddenly all I wanted was to protect and care for these little creatures and all my ideas, opinions, and plans flew out the window.
Even now, 13 years later, listening more and talking less is a big part of how I stay connected.

2) Why have you stayed committed to the process? And what strategies do you have that pull you back to the centre when life or stress creeps in?

I’m stubborn.
I wanted the kinds of relationships I saw other unschooling parents having with their kids.
What I’ve done to stay connected is : pause, breathe, listen, laugh, find community.
Pause physically sometimes but also mentally. Check my thoughts- are they helpful? Rational? Am I using “have to”? Is this life or death?
Breathe- this literally slows my heart rate down and relaxes my thinking.
Listen- if we have conflict I try to shut up and really hear them. If I can understand their perspective I am better at coming up with useful solutions that work for them. Or often listening allows them the space they need to work out their own solutions.
I also go to therapy. Most of my fears and issues are just that: MINE.
I laugh at myself often.
And I found a great group of people who parent like I do so when I’m having trouble I can call on them to help me get perspective. Also reading daily at Sandra Dodd’s Always Learning yahoo group. (https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/AlwaysLearning/info)

3) What is one piece of encouragement you would offer to a parent first starting on the journey toward a more gentle, peaceful relationship with their child(ren)

Do it. It’s so worth it. I have the most amazing relationships with my kids, they are my best friends along with my spouse. Speaking of, parenting this way has spilled over into my marriage, improving it in ways I never could have imagined.

4) What do you dream of for your child(ren)?

My hope for them is that they create a peaceful fulfilling life. I hope they find other people to build their passions with who are as compassionate, connected, interesting and interested as they are.
I hope they find as much joy doing whatever they choose in their lives as I have found in being their parent.

 

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“We were laying on the beach at sunset. Xander had this idea that we could watch the sunset twice by first watching it laying flat on our bellies and then jumping up to watch it again while standing.”

Making memories not punishments

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He was only just four and so very proud of his ability to write his name. So he had taken a sharpie and sprawled his name across the front hood of our gold saturn wagon. I walked out on the front porch and my jaw dropped. Immediately racing to places like “I just lost any resale I had on this car” followed by bubbling anger.

“Hey dude did you write your name on the front of the car?”

“I think that was Kinny,” sensing my disapproval perhaps.

There were many directions the next steps could have gone in.  First up I needed to get to a calmer place. I needed to be able to see my child and remember his intent. It is easy in this world we live in to quickly slip into the place where my child has done something to me. That he stepped toward the car marker in hand to maliciously deface our car branding it forever to ensure we never were able to sell it. However,  when I remembered he was four and fully unaware that some markers were permanent I could reframe my next step.

“Buddy, we don’t write on the car. ” Keeping it simple so he understands. And I took responsibility to gather up all permanent markers and put them up high.

Now we had the issue of the marker on my car. So I looked up ways to remove marker from various surfaces and low and behold I found toothpaste was exactly what we needed. So together we squirted toothpaste on the car grabbed some toothbrushes and within no time and with tons of laughter we had removed his name from the hood of the car.

There was no shame. No guilt. No anger thrown his way.  It was a chance to learn a few new things while keeping our relationship 100 percent in tact.  Seven years later and he can still tell you toothpaste removes permanent marker from most surfaces, handy tip to have.

My Story

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When I was pregnant I built the most delicious nest for my first born child. It was a jungle room complete with vines covering the entire ceiling. His Gramps bought him a top of the line crib and I placed it right next to the window. I imagined he would spend hours peaking out at the world from under the matching blanket covers. And then I met my son.

From the beginning he was my guide. He slept next to me because it was warmer and cozier and much much safer then a crib in the next room. I felt this when I placed him there and he looked to me with a tear stricken face. He napped snuggled up in a sling close to my body. And he nursed when he wanted, not on the schedule well meaning folks encouraged me to put him on. My heart knew then, that I would need to break some rules that I had always known, in order to be the mom he needed. He was the first, his brother confirmed and strengthened this truth.

This path, of attachment, of peacefulness has stayed mine for the simple reason that nothing else made sense. There was never a time, when imposing rules or applying discipline appeared more important than, loving and nurturing what was unfolding in front of me. Yes, there have been moments and times where a path might of looked greener then my own, but always I could find my way back. For me, having a foundation of intention and a tool box of breath deeply, listen more and talk less is how I have regained my footing, on those rougher days.

When I meet others starting or curious about throwing caution to the wind, embracing more love and less discipline, I say, trust, in your heart and what it knows to be true for your children, for you. Be patient with all the parts of you and of them, that need healing and find  that one person who can hold your hand along the way. In real life, virtually, through a phone, at least one person, who knows the pitfalls and can see you there and simply lift you up, back to where you were headed.

Now, as tweens and tees are upon us, I see these same fresh to the world faces, looking to me to be there. To be that anchor they need, as they stretch out further and confirm who they know they are and this anchor tethers us no matter the distance. It’s this, this evidence of intact relationship that is my most treasured part of the journey so far.

And as I gather my own wishes, for my children, it’s simple, that they, for all the ages and stages, may love exactly who they are.

Staying close

mitch

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every challenge we face with our child is a chance to move closer together or farther apart.

My son had a rough evening. For his privacy I won’t be sharing the details. It was a hard thing to witness as his mother. He is far to big for me to contain him like I used to when the world got rough around him. And he’s independent enough to not necessarily want me to try and contain him.

Emerging from child to teenager is a most challenging process. To see the world through these eyes of understanding that show just have close and far away pure independence is.  To see how little control you have over the bigger elements of life, the money you have access to, the location of where you live, your ability to get to the places you long to visit.

Their understanding of how the world works is maturing at an accelerated rate, while their emotional maturity is desperate to be in the same place. It’s a torture really. I remember.

Not to mention there are all those new hormones that are showing up on unpredictable days at rates and doses 100 percent outside of their control!

When all of these things arrive with a side of sleeplessness or life emotions that on a regular day are challenging the world can feel like a most unfair and dismal place to be in.

I know this as an adult and have created a long list of coping mechanisms over the years to help myself out. While also failing miserably at moving past these days with any sense of grace or composure. So it makes sense that my child, first experiencing all of this would need some time, some space and an overflowing bucket of patience.

It is natural as his mom that I want to fix it, make it go away. Truth be told that is simply because I don’t want to feel this uncomfortable anymore so if he could just speed things along so I can return to calmer ground, I would prefer that. Reality though, it’s his process and I need to step aside and deal with my own shit on my own time.

When I take away my child’s power to express his emotions, I push myself out of his world. I send the message that there is something wrong with him. That he is in need of fixing or at the very least that he is getting in the way of my life.

When I step back and create a safe space for his process to unfold, I remain in his inner circle. The trusting place where he is free to show up exactly how he is and express the most frightening of thoughts that are inevitably going to pass through his mind.

When I listen without judgement, I embrace all the parts of his emerging self.  I believe in him all of him. I witness, without words, the unfolding of the pieces he struggles with. I send the message, with my silence and compassion, that he is surrounded with love. Especially, in the scary places. This opens the door for all of these emotions to MOVE. To find their way out. There is no shame. Only emotions, feelings of the hugest sort finding their way through to a place that eventually makes sense (or simple calms down enough to be manageable).

It’s not easy. I write this after two glasses of wine, 8 hours of sleep and recovered cuddles with a boy who thanked me for loving him “even when I make it hard.” But there truly is no other option because with each challenge, I want our relationship to strengthen not weaken. And that can only happen, if I listen more, talk less and embrace every part of this complex human being unfolding in front of me.

From intention or circumstance

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Patti Digh was the first person, to open my eyes to the idea of living from a place of intention or as a reaction to the circumstances in my life. It quickly spilled over into my understanding of my journey as a mother.

Am I parenting from a place of intention or as a reaction to set of circumstances that are in front of me. Yesterday I found my son head down on his desk in front of his xbox, tears hanging on his words. I asked what was up. He started to yell and point and say things that did not compute for me. I reacted from a place of circumstance and met his angry words with just as much frustration as he was feeling. We were both wound up in fury of miscommunication, hurling useless information at one another and spiraling further and further away from any sort of solution.

In a breath, I found my way back to intention. My intention as a mother is to hold the space of peace for my children when the world around them gets wobbly and they can’t figure out which way is up. To be their constant. Their support. Their unconditional place. That looks like a lot less talking and way more listening. And patience. So much patience for the storm to move. The solution never comes in the heat of the storm. It comes in the calm that I know from experience always comes after.

For me this means having a clear foundation of what that intention is. So that when circumstance blows through the door and knocks me on my ass, I have a foundation to land on. So that even if I have a brief moment of dancing with circumstance,  intention will cut in before the chorus carries me away.

When the boys were young we sat down and created a family vision statement. They were little and it was fun and loose and mostly just a playful way to find out what each person was seeing as our way to be together. I took our words and played with them, tried out a few sentence structures and finally we decided on this “to unite in our commitment to love each other unconditionally.” This got painted in sparkly letters on piece of canvas and has hung on the wall wherever we live. As a visual reminder of our intention as a family.

There is much more to it then just that sentence. But that visual reminder helps me to find those strands of connection, respect, relationship, love and peace that are my intentions, my foundation in how I choose to be as the parent of these precious human beings who I share space and time with. Especially in the moments when circumstance is tall and ugly and begging to take control of our entire experience.

The deeper meaning that rolls out of a commitment to parent with intention is a message that says, over and over again, you my dear child are much more important than any stress ball that may tumble between us. Your sense of self means more then any moment of frustration that might push us to the edges our anger. Our relationship matters to me, more then mistakes and misunderstanding. Yes, my child, this unconditional love is yours to have in your weakest and your strongest moments and everything else in between.

How you show up matters

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We weren’t out of the rink three steps when he told me, “I was wrong about coach. He is not a good coach at all. He’s an **s.”

I was a little bit expecting this but secretly holding my breath that he had not noticed. The weekend previous we had a different coach on the bench and the boys really responded to him. We had the best game of our season. The parents were involved. There was a real sense of team. It was exhilarating. And we hoped that coach would hear about this from his son and take a page out of this young mans book to keep inspiring the team.

After this weeks practice our coach said to the team, “I asked, Joe (for the sake of this post), to coach you guys this past weekend so he could get through to you. To tell you the same thing I have been telling you all season.”

That is the moment I knew my son’s opinion of his coach was about to change. Because this man was lying to them. He asked someone to coach for the weekend cause he was out of town and no one else on the team had the proper forms signed to take over for the day. And what Joe shared with the boys was nothing like what coach was doing.

My son went onto share that at this last game, coach said to the bench, “you are impossible to coach.”

At this point I might have lost my cool.

Let’s step back and get a wider look at what is happening here. There is a locker room full, twice a week, of young boys who like to play hockey. They show up. Never once has anyone of them been rude, defiant or unwilling to take direction. Each game and practice I witness a bunch of boys giving the best they have in the moment. No one looks to coach and tells him he can not to do his job. They take what he says and work with it, in the way their 11 and 12 year old selves can.

After the game coached by Joe, I went up to him and said “thank you for showing up for these boys. You could really tell you paid attention to them and knew what they needed to hear and how to talk to them.”

His response, “Of course, these are my players and I love them.”

Joe helps out with practices on a rotating schedule as part of our program. I weld up knowing he was that committed to these boys. And it showed in how the boys played for him. He believed in them. He challenged them. He showed up.

Now I know that coach is parent volunteer and brings with him the weight of balancing a busy life. I understand that. What I don’t understand is why he agreed if he wasn’t willing to show up for these boys.

My son said to me, “I know my coach last year wasn’t very good. But at least he wanted to be there. He was enthusiastic. Coach this year, you can tell he doesn’t want to be there and is not having fun.”

It is true. He carries a burdened energy with him each time he walks in the room. I had been hoping my son would not notice. That he would make it to the end of the year without feeling, what it’s like to be a burden to someone. But he did not. He picked up on it and I heard the weight of it in his voice.

Belittling and shaming children does not work to motivate them. In fact, all it does it beat them down. This is obvious in the locker room. Where after practice you could have heard a pin drop. No one was talking to each other. They were feeling the weight of being a burden not capable of being coached. Heck, even as a parent, I was silent. Which is likely a good thing because all that could have come out of my mouth at the time was anger and I know you can’t change a mind by tossing at  it just what your begging of it to stop doing.

This is an example to me, of how we as the adults in children’s life, have infinite opportunities to lift them up or put them down. How each moment the energy we carry into a room has the chance to say, you are a burden to me, or I’m happy to see you. As well, to be examples of what it means to really show up for someone. To leave what is bothering you at the door and show up to what is going on right now between you and that person.

I don’t imagine coach wants to be saying over and over with his words and language, you suck and I don’t wanna be here. But as a product of what he has come to know in the world, he is doing that week after week, day after day. And it makes me think of all the children in the world, on ball field, ice rinks and in classrooms that are hearing this very same message much more then they are hearing, you are awesome and I am so glad to know you, just as you are. Imagine with me just for a second, a world, where this is what our future generation hears, more then anything else. I don’t mean in the empty praise sense of it all. I mean in the my heart is full of you and I really do see you here in this world, as you are, figuring it out, mistake making, tantrum throwing, hearth breaking and I still with all of me presence think you are awesome. And because of that I really want to be here for the entire journey with you.

It might feel like a big job. A big job to change the minds of all the coaches, teachers, mentors, heck adults out there in the big world. But if we begin, at home, with the people we are gifted with, the ripple will happen. Cause we will be the coaches, the mentors, the voices that make up what they hear most. It is what will give our children the courage to go out in the world, confident in their sense of self and capable of making a difference by showing up with the enthusiasm of Joe.

 

A personalized learning timeline.

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Learning has it’s own timeline and the most challenging part in this alternative approach to learning is trusting in that. I have a nine year old son who is learning to read. In leaps and bounds right now. Though he has been preparing for it for years. It has been hard to wait for more outward signs.  I also have an eleven year old who is only now starting to write in sentences, tweets, texts and emails. He as well has been gathering the tools for years upon years now. But I had to wait and trust because the signs I was trained to notice simply were not present.

As I lay next to my nine year old last night. He was playing through is new Pokemon game. The one he hesitated for a while to purchase cause he knew there was a lot of reading to be done. He read each word slowly, stopping, sounding, asking for help. And then he exclaimed, “Games rot your brain, no way. They make it work. And give you new information.” He moved in the course of one day from reading just bits of a sentence to completing full sentences, two, three in a row. In the course of a single day driven by his own desire he moved from what a grade school teacher would evaluate as kindergarten reader straight through to a second or third grade level. On his own. Through pure desire. He was happy. It was hard work. But of his choosing so the rewards were what fueled him forward.  Forever he will claim, I taught myself how to read. But deeper then that he strengthened his own trust in his ability to learn what he needs to learn to move through, even the tough parts, of gathering new skills to reach a goal. That sort of magic is worth waiting for.

In the room across the hall, my eleven year old son worked with his dad to design his first graphic because he is building a business. Yep. He wants to make some cash. He knows he has the tools. So he is starting. He has years, like his brother above, of building an unwavering confidence in his own ability, to figure out what he needs to in order to meet his goals. He is driven because it is his learning. It is his goal. His passion. In a day he researched marketing strategies, designed graphics, updated his youtube channel, figured out a video capture system and exclaimed this is so awesome.

Not all days are this rockstar awesome I can see evidence of learning everywhere. In fact, it could be said that exactly the opposite is true most days. But on the inside, where I can not see, this is always growing, of a strong confidence, in their own ability to learn what they need to learn to step closer to their dreams. Holding this knowing is how I learn in to trusting that indeed learning has it’s very own personalized timeline and my job is just to hold the faith and apply tons of love.

Love Matters Most

Screen Shot 2013-11-22 at 11.35.02 AMDear Kj

with your heart breaking

about death.

You are right

it fucking sucks

that people die

it is utterly devastating

that you will never see Gramps again

and that he is slipping from your memory.

It is beyond tragic that one day

you will not be be able to hold me

or tell me you love me most

right to my face.

It would be so delicious if time could stop

right now

and none of us would ever die

but in those tears of yours

you are healing a little girl

one who was pushed away

told to go back to bed

and that everything was just fine.

Holding you in your breaking places

she can finally fall apart

picking you up from the edges

she heals a deep wound

your tears mix with hers

as both of you lament

the most horrific truth of living

it always ends in death

while simultaneously celebrating

another truth of living

love matters most.

Truth telling

My youngest son was having a tough time saying good night when he knew I would be leaving the next morning. So he found a teddy bear for me to carry on my journey. I promised to send photos of all the places we were together. And I did for that first day. To my horror however I discovered that some how the bear had fallen from my bag at some point between Houston and Atlanta.

The first thing I did was order him a replacement. My husband coached me to only admit the loss should my son notice. I didn’t want to break his heart and this seemed the easiest way to avoid that. I thought my plan would go off just fine because he had not asked about the bear after my first night away. The night I had tossed all my belongings out of my suitcase all over my room in frantic search for the bear.

As I waited to board my final flight, in a facetime chat with him, he asked “did you find Knut?” Now I had a choice here, the easy road or the the honest road. Another bear, looking just the same awaited me in a box at home. I could say “Yes love he is in my suitcase and can not wait to see you.” This would have saved me witnessing his breaking heart. It would have also compromised the integrity of our relationship.

I looked in to his eyes staring earnestly at me through my phone and admitted “No love I think I really lost him.” My fears were spot on. He melted in to a pile of tears and sobbed the sounds only heartbreak can bring out of a person. He cried and I was a 4 hours plane ride away. So I sat on the other end of the phone and listened to his sobs. I held the space for him to cry. I could not fix it. He did not want a new bear.

“Are you a little bit mad at me?” I asked.

A tear stained face nodded to affirm.

“I would be mad at me too. You trusted me with your bear and I lost him.”

The dam opening again and a new flood of tears escaping.

“I ordered a new bear and wasn’t going to tell you about loosing him. But then I remembered that my relationship with you was more important.”

“Thank you mom.” he squeaked through his heartbreak.

Even though he was mad at me and sadder then I would ever hope for his day, he had a piece of gratitude for this little part. He later said to me “Mom I was a little bit mad at you for loosing him but that was just an accident. If you had told me a lie I would have been so mad I would have wanted to hit you.”

These moments are the true magic of building the sorts of trusting bonds that will invite me in to their sacred spaces. He trusts me now, more then ever, to tell him the truth, even when it hurts.

 

Authority over his body

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My commitment to parenting in a most peaceful and respectful way alongside my children can be most challenged when visiting a medical professional. I am beyond grateful that this happens on a rare basis as my children for the most part are super healthy. It’s a side benefit of being happy and avoiding the world of germs that are a natural part of hanging out in a large crowd like school. None the less there are concerns like allergies that send us in to the medical world.

At 3 my youngest son had a scratch test done as we suspected some allergens were causing some asthma like symptoms, some chronic runny nose and because daddy has an anaphylactic reaction to tree nuts. It was a terribly horrible experience. He reacted to a large number of the things on his back in a large hive like way and was screaming for the 15 minutes we were left alone in the room. He remembers only that part and speaks regularly about how horrible it was. So one can imagine heading back to the allergist was not high on his list of things to do.

However, when your epi pen expires and you live in a whole new country these things needs to get done. We chatted about that and he agreed it was a good idea. We also discussed the idea of getting re-tested just for the specific nut allergy. Which at first he thought a bad bad idea. Yet, as the days rolled past the thought of perhaps being freed of that allergy opened in his mind and he was willing to get just that test done. So that is how we entered the building ready for one scratch test.

The reality was the boy ended up with full panel survey (which is an 11 by 11 checkerboard on the back with each box tested for a different allergen) and a requisition for a full panel nut allergy blood test. How do you peacefully get from, “I’ll let them test me with one small scratch,” to willingly engaging in a huge full out allergy investigation. I can’t take all the credit for this at all. The folks we encountered at the Allergy And Asthma Associates of Northern California where amazing. The first nurse who walked us in to get our vitals, instantly started chatting with my son. Assuring him he would always be “I heart bacon to her.” As this was the shirt he wore. She earned his trust by noticing who he was and what sorts of things made him smile.

The doctor also walked in the room and introduced himself to my son first. He asked us questions and almost immediately started drawing pictures and using 3-D models to explain things to BOTH of us. He spent 45 minutes earning our trust, explaining, exploring, answering. When he suggested a full panel scratch test I looked at my son. I knew it was the best idea. I also knew I would walk out of there if it was too much for him to take in today. We had agreed to just one test and I knew I had to keep my word to him. He looked at me with a small shrug, not a no way but a body language of maybe but I am not quite sure. So I turned to the doctor and I told him our story, of the first scratch test. The doctor turned to my son and said “as soon as we know you are reacting to something, we can wipe it right off your skin. If it’s too itchy you just tell us.”

BOOM – he heard my son, he respected, his experience he earned his trust . My son felt he had both choice and control so he agreed. When we met the nurse who was to conduct the test, we told her our story as well, before she began. She looked at my son and said “that must have been awful. I am going to check in with you every 5 minutes to make sure it’s not too bad.” She also listened and respected his experience. And she was true to her word, she set a timer, she returned and when he said it was too much she wiped off all of the allergens that were too much to handle. She then returned after another 5 minutes and he was done so she wiped it all down massaged in some anti itch cream and sent us back to the doctor. I won’t post photos of the poor boys back but it’s safe to say he had a big reaction to 75 percent of the things on his back and it looked like a terrible case of the chicken pox.

When we were finishing up with the doctor we talked about the nervousness of having a blood test. He suggested we take a bag of ice cubes with us so we could numb the area before the needle went it. He said it’s cheap and works just as well as anything he has tried. Again, my son was heard, respected and so a trust could be formed. The sort of trust that gives him the courage to do something super scary.

I am deeply grateful that this experience was as beautiful as it could be. If it had not been, I was ready to walk away.  Respecting my boys choices about their bodies gives them full authority over their bodies. Trusting them to make the sorts of decisions that will support their full health also builds them to a place where they have full authority over their bodies. This is important, so important because I want them to trust their instincts, to know when something is wrong inside of themselves and more importantly to know they have the right to say “get your hands off of me, this is not okay.”

What I saw today was my son gaining a deep understanding of his allergies and the ways he can manage them. I saw him building a relationship with professionals built on respect and trust. These are things I want for him. For he will manage his health and his body for many more years outside of my care then he will with in it. To know now that he has choice and deserves to be heard and respected is the best possible possible thing he can learn.