Lean in with love

When I was out on my walk yesterday I saw a man with his child. It was the second after something happened that lead to the man grab his bag and storm away with the child running behind grabbing at the man’s out of reach hand. From a distance it looked like something happened that caused dad to withdraw his love. Because all I could see were images, a tall man, a tiny child, reaching and withdrawing it really hit home for me the power we have as parents to withdraw our love when our children are not responding in a way we would like them to. The child looked desperate to regain the love and the parent intent on keeping it locked inside the anger of what ever perpetuated the situation. It took my breath away, I felt for this child I’d never met but bigger then that it shed light on the moments where this same thing happens with my own children.

It’s the frustrating moments that challenge me the most. When I feel perhaps undervalued, personally attacked or as if something has been “done to me,” where I can slip into patterns from my own upbringing.  Let’s take for example, the frustrated nearing teenager who is trying to learn a skill for the first time, while I hover in the background offering to support him. Only to be told to get out of the way (or something more colorful). My reaction in that moment can be to come back with a whole lot of hurt feelings that then turn the attention to me. Or I can lean in to love. I can meet my child eye to eye or eye to back of head which is more likely the reality, and connect and respond keeping the attention where it needs to be. On a growing human being who has hit a wall and trusts my love enough to lash out. Now is not the time to talk about how my feelings are hurt when … Now is the time to see my child, with love and hold that space.

I know for myself, the withdrawal of love gets a faster reaction from my child. They want my approval. It’s a powerful tool for shaping behaviors or shall I say more truthfully turning someone in to a people pleaser. I know from my own hard work at choosing a different way to be in relationship with my children that I don’t want them to be people pleasers. I don’t want them to go out in to the world looking for validation outside of themselves. Changing direction in their relationships in order to please others. I want them to make decisions from a solid foundation of love that will place them in mutually satisfying relationships. And that right now as they figure out what that looks like I am the safest place to make mistakes. Which let’s be truthful is a huge honor, to be someone’s safest place.

So what do I do to make sure I’m not slipping in to those places of patterned reaction?  First off, there is self compassion for the mistakes that I do make. Having the level of awareness to notice when I am slipping off base, is a great indicator that I am doing things from a place of intention and not a reaction to circumstance. Secondly, is a phrase, I wish I knew who to attribute to, QTIP, quit taking it personally. It’s not all about me. Most of the time it is rarely ever about me. Holding on to this gem of information let’s things wash off of me and land on the floor where they can be brushed away. Finally, I walk away (after a quick touch or smile so my child knows I am not in need of anything from them) until I can get my reaction to a better place.

It’s the giving of unconditional love that I trust is building a foundation upon which my children will grow a strong sense of self. In order to go out into the world knowing who they are outside of others expectations.

 

 

 

 

 

Lost Data

It can be easy in this big world to minimize what feels HUGE to our children. I’m here to say my job is to feel it’s just as important as my children see it to be. To sit quietly with them through their heartbreak and keep any dismissive thoughts to myself.

This past weekend my son had a game that kept crashing on his computer. With the help of his friend on Skype and said friends older brother, I got the game up and running. Which is always a victory to me. Because the truth is I don’t know much about games and how to fix computers. I know how to research and apply a layer of logic but it still fascinates me when I can solve one of their tech issues.

I had returned to the living room when I heard something I thought was playing game noise. Listening closer it was actually heartbreak. I returned to find my son on his bed, face buried in the mattress sobbing. “All my characters are gone.”

I kicked in to I can fix this mode, riding on the high of my recent success. Poking around with little understanding of what I was looking for I finally typed the words “lost all characters” with the name of the game in to google. To discover that yep upwards of four game crashes and loss of data is an issue with this game and due to a recent 20 percent cut back on staff they were not longer supporting players in the retrieval of lost data.

My son was devastated. It would be easy here to insert such words as “it’s just a game, you can make them again etc. etc.” But truly this is heartbreaking to him. This lost data is akin to me loosing an entire novel on my computer. Or loosing a months worth of photographs. The file with important contracts being deleted by accident. Or just as simple as loosing something that really mattered to me that I had put hours of my time into.

I turned to my son, “this is awful.” And then I listened to why he was sad. Gathered his tears in tissues. Held him. May have dropped a tear or two myself. Walked with him to tell the others about his loss. Held him some more. He cried hard for a good 20 minutes.

When we give our children the ability to mourn what ever losses are important in their lives we tell them with our actions that they matter. When we hold space for our children to truly feel that loss we help them to release it. When we show up with love for our children when their hearts are breaking (no matter why) we build the sort of foundation that grows strong, confident human beings.

Power over

The other day I was exiting the Safeway when two green aproned Starbuck’s employees poked their heads around the corner and said “is he with you?” Referring to a child between us.

I said “Nope. Oh dear have you lost your mama?”

No sooner had the words left my mouth then a Safeway employee grabbed the boy by the wrist and said come with me while dragging him behind here. Thankfully the boys mom popped her head around the Self Checkout and said “I’m right here.”

The way the Safeway employee, who I’m certain was trying to help, grabbed the boy really caught my attention. It left me thinking about how all the times, even with good intentions, we assert our power, as adults, over children.

Simply by our stature we have more power then our children. Then there is our access to funds, ability to transport ourselves where we want to go, more reliable respect from others and the list goes on. This allows us access to more power than a child. It’s so very easy for that power to get out if control and damage the relationship we have with our child.

Even as a person who is aware of this I drop the ball all the time. “Hey mom can we go to GameStop?” I’m in pajamas on the couch after running around all day. I don’t want to leave the house again. I am the only way for my child to get where he needs to go. This is the moment where I can have power over or power with my child. It doesn’t always mean I have to get my butt up off the couch and take my child to the store, it means we can have a conversation.

“Hey dude, I’m in my pj’s and kinda of done going out for the day. Can you wait? ”

Which then gives my child a chance to consider their needs and the two of us to engage in a conversation about what we are both trying to get out of the situation. Is there another adult in the house who might be willing to go? Can I show up at the GameStop in the pjs? Is sitting on the couch more important than the relationship I am building with my child? Are all the sorts of questions that allow us to share the power in the situation.

Now I have been know to have another reaction to this situation that I think does just as much damage to the relationship as does refusing to go.  It’s the martyr trip. Where I huff my way up off the couch, lamenting under my breath about how I have to do everything around here, drive in silence to the store, ignore my child’s thank you and hit the couch again irritated. This sort of power says to my child that they are in my way.  I am irritated by them and their needs, even if I am meeting them, they are annoying to me. And let’s not forget the stinking pile of guilt I also heaped up on my child’s sense of who they are in the world along the way. Thankfully, I most often catch this little tantrum mid stream and turn things around or at the very least apologize for my attitude.

Mealtimes are also a great place to slip up when it comes to power overing and power with.  I am the one who cooks in our house. I am the one who grocery shops in our house. So, there are endless opportunities for me to be in charge of what everybody has access to eating. And as a recovering control freak I can get really caught up in this. A few ways I have shifted to invite everyone in to the fun of fueling our bodies (power with) is to ask questions. “Hey guys is there anything you want to make sure we eat this week? Is there anything you want me to pick up at the grocery store today?” Now I do understand there are budget constraints that come in to play when you open the door of asking to pick specific foods up at the grocery store. I have also learned that asking this question,  overtime, leads to pretty modest requests. As well, as creating another beautiful opportunity for conversation, choice and understanding. However, my super duper favorite part of this whole being in charge of the food business is paying attention to what everyone loves and then coming home with it. Picking up those favorite chips that are on sale that no one asked for and presenting them to my child. The smiles, the gratitude, priceless.

What I am aiming to illustrate with these few examples is that we as parents have countless opportunities through out our days to choose power with instead of power over in the relationships we have with our children. Heck, all the children in the world. And it’s these little acts that say big things like “you matter in the world.” Through hearing, in our actions, how much they are valued, our children grow to be empowered human beings. We all know that empowered human beings are for more likely to choose power with in ALL the relationships they seek out in life. Think about that for an extra second. Choosing to team up with your child, through simple everyday acts, is setting them up for a lifetime of healthy balanced relationships. Worth it? Hell yeah!

Dance Break

Dance Break

Take a dance break with your child. You don’t need to have any special training or moves for this one. You just need to move to the music. We dance a great deal around here. Sometimes I do it to catch a laugh in the strangest of situations. Nothing stops a meltdown midway faster then mom dancing down the cereal aisle (worth noting that timing does matter on this one cause not every melt down is conducive to the insertion of humor). Days on end of rain or cold or sickness can be transformed (if only for a few moments) by a stereo turned a couple notches too high and getting your groove on.

One day my youngest son and I were at the hockey rink. He really does not like the hockey rink, so we danced there a lot. He looked at me and said “Mom we are the only ones who can hear the music.” It was true we were the only ones dancing. In front of strangers, to music they may have tuned out. In that moment I was so very connected to my child and what could make his heart smile without concern for those around me. It’s a hard place to go. But when I think about what I am showing my child, it makes it that much easier. I am helping him to see that marching to the beat of his own drummer feels good. And that even when he finds himself in a place  he would rather not be there are ways to lighten the mood.

Opinions : take them or leave them

It was the day after Christmas when my son told me he needed an Xbox one. A handy thing to have known days before Christmas in order to redirect funds that had just been spent on the gathering of other much needed items. It’s worth mentioning that he did not come to me with a demand or a lack of gratitude for what he had just received. He came to me with a need and a question on how he might be able to fill that.

It takes some deep breathing for me in these moments because I have a lot of issues around money, it’s lack and even it’s abundance. The spending of money on things when we have what to my mind appears to be the exact same product with a slightly different twist in duplicate.

I did thrown down a “That would have been good to know before Christmas ” to his “but I didn’t know how awesome it was then. ” Fair point.

So we began to talk like we always do about the things we have that could be traded, the pros and cons of that, his own financial status and ways to turn that into the sort to cash one needs for a big purchase. I can’t quite capture in words the magic that comes out of these conversations. My son does a real inventory of his own priorities. Looking at items that were important before and making decisions on their current value. It was at this stage that I was able to step back and see how mature he really is becoming in this area. A year ago, it would have been “all of my things must go so I can have this new shiny item.” This time it was more like, “I would like to hold on to that because I know I might go back to it.”

Let’s pull that out for a second. My 12 year old son, knows his own patterns well enough to begin predicting future behavior. I don’t know, that at 42, I’ve quite nailed that down yet.

Back to the story. We did acquire an xbox one, through serious negotiations and fund seeking and selling and trading. And mom gets to rest now. I find this sort of thing exhausting. Not because my child is pestering me or being rude or asking for too much but because it all makes me feel outside of MY comfort zone. It brings up issues for me about money, about providing for my child, am I doing too much, not enough and having all those issues raised up day after day makes me uncomfortable. I would prefer he just get over it and let me scurry back in to my place of comfort. It is so important to notice right now that it is all about me wanting my child to change so I can feel better. That’s not his job. This lesson I learn over and over and over again.

So from my foot up place on the couch I darn near bit the head clear off my son when he asked me to look up something on GameStop. He was hoping to get another game for his Xbox One. I may have lost my cool just a little bit here. Saying something obnoxious like “will this need for more stuff ever end.” I could see on his face what I was doing and quickly changed course.

“Dude I am sorry for snapping. What can I look up for you?”

We do another round of research all my same issues flying to the surface. I look at my son and I say “can you tell me more about wanting this right now?’

“It’s just that when I know I am close to having something I want it is all I can think about. I want to find ways to get closer to having it when I know it’s right there. I’m sorry if I’m annoying.”

We tumbled on to the most heart felt of conversation after this. Where I learned more about him and about myself. A very important thing I wanted him to know at this moment was that I would offer him many more opinions throughout our journey together and that he was welcome to take them or leave them. But even more so, my support of him was never tied to his acceptance or rejection of my opinion. My support of him was always and forever. And with the end of that he decided to scrub a hard drive exchange a game and without a scent out of my pocket  pick up just what he wanted.

My lessons summed up are,  it is never my child’s job to make me feel inside my comfort zone. My issues are mine to tend to outside of my relationship with him. It is not the job of my opinions to stop my child from making mistakes of his own. Supporting my child is not tied up in what he does with my opinions. And the Xbox One has pretty cool graphics.

Love MoRe

This is your letter of permission to go ahead and simply love your children.

Put down those expectations that are ingrained in someone else’s idea of what it means to be successful in the world and stare a few moments longer into the precious eyes of the child who stands before you.

Instead of asking how their day was inquire about what lights their passion, what made them smile today and what was one place they would like a do over.

Institute a random dance party in the middle of the grocery store in the second before a melt down threatens to take you all to a place you’d rather not visit. It’s okay if everyone turns and looks at you cause you’re making memories and we could all use more of the happy sort in this lifetime.

Say I love you over and over again not just in words but in the foods you put before them at dinner time or the extra marshmallow on the hot chocolate.

Listen more and talk less with the sort of full attention you pay to the most important conversations you have because they are just that the most important moments of truly getting to know who your child is out there in the world.

Touch more in cuddles and tickles and wrestling matches. Especially the bigger ones who are making their way farther out in the world so they can always remember your arms are a safe haven.

Undo the places where you were done wrong by, so you don’t accidentally pass them along to the most precious person you’ve had the honor to know in this world.

Laugh from the bottom of your belly side by side on the couch watching the movie you swore had no value but your child was dying to see. Hold in the breath that longs to pull it apart and choose instead to see it through the eyes of wonder that are your child’s.

Yes, each day, find one, just one simple way to love more, that being that is your child. It’s life’s most precious work. I promise.

 

Hold that space

My oldest son is changing at what most days feels like warp speed. I am holding on with barely a fingernail to the cliff. Just yesterday I was throwing a woe is me pity party in my head (and not out loud cause I have at least learned that much). It all sounded something like this ..

“Oh my god I’ve screwed it all up.”

“He doesn’t want to share with me.”

“He’s completely peer oriented.”

“How the fuck did he get so rude?”

And on and on went this internal dialogue that is all caught up in my own time at that age, the people I had around me and the demons who regularly lurk at the edges of my confidence.

I know my go to pattern is to withdraw love. I can actually feel it happening in the moment. And for whatever reason in my irrational mind this feels like a reasonable thing to do when dealing with someone who’s size is the same as mine. It is easy to jump to a place where I treat him like a full adult. But he’s not there yet. And this is my practice right now. To love more.

My tween (dipping his toes dangerously close to being a teen) lashing out at me is NO more about me then when his toddler self would throw a temper tantrum. It’s a cue that he is overwhelmed. And the best thing I can do is hold the space with him.

Heart Strings

 

 

 

I just finished an Attack on Titan marathon. A show I never would have watched left to my own devices but a young person in my life said “mom will you watch just one episode to see if you like it?” Cuddled under the blankets side by side in my bed I knew  I would watch every last episode.

“I’m so glad someone in our family will understand my references.”

“Who’s your favorite character?”

“What do you think that means?” all poured out of him as we played “one more episode” after just one more until we were finished.

He’d seen it all before and knew exactly what was coming. He wouldn’t share the tiniest clue with me. Even when I guessed what would happen next he was straight faced. “You’ll just have to wait and see.”His enthusiasm grew with each cliff hanger. Diligently removing my phone from my hand so I wouldn’t miss a single detail.

It’s easy for me to get lost in the doing of laundry, making of meals sort of tasks for the ones I love. But truly all that is ever required is for me to show up with my full attention to the things that pull their heart strings.

 

Catching the passing time

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As I type this the house is completely still and quiet. I can hear the song birds outside. And it is 10:48 am. When my boys were younger for many years I could not imagine this moment, where I was the first awake with a stretch of time before me to do with as I please. Things have changed quickly over the past months. I have time. I have the ability to leave the house alone for short periods. My response is not what I imagined it would be back in those baby, toddler, little boys tending years. I sort of want to wake them up to play with me. The tables of turned.

I do remember how un-useful it was for me in those early years to hear someone offer up the sort of advice that said exactly what I am feeling to be true now. I wound’t listen in fact I tuned them out. And I try to remember that now when I encounter a sleep deprived mama who feels so caught  up in giving to little people that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Cause really what we are all looking for is someone to simply sit by our side and hear our story to shorten the space between you and I.

So this is my story right now. In the blink of an eye I have two children in double digits and I am not sure my heart can handle the idea that from this moment forward all they are going to do is move farther and farther away from me. It’s put a lot of stuff in to perspective. It’s why the blog may be a little dusty. Cause I am longing to soak up every request for cuddles, snacks and games played together. I am researching super cool things to do that might appeal to young boys, I am steeping myself in game language and culture so that I might have something to add to the conversation and YES I am seeking out youtube videos that might have not been seen yet to add to the mix. While simultaneously standing in the background of people wanting to try being in the world with a bit less mom.

It’s understanding how to be needed in an I am available even when you are not interacting with me sort of thing. I am present and ready to kick in to high gear, even when you are fully okay on your own. It’s such a different availability to the hands on physicalness of the younger children. And I will admit that I likely drop what ever I am doing to engage with my older children now faster then I did when they were little. The endlessness of the days back then made it possible for me to know there would likely be another moment to play hockey outside, just around the corner. But now with endings happening faster then I can catch my breath at, I know that this actually might be the last invitation into the particular activity.

I forgot to notice some endings and I am hoping to catch a few more. Cause if I knew it was the last time he would jump in to the shower with me, I would have paid more attention to the intimacy of that moment. To the space between us. If I had known it would be his last hockey game, I would have taken more photos, documented what he looked like, what we said and in some way marked that ending with some flair instead of letting it pass unnoticed.

So in my quiet morning moments, while I fight the urge to wake them to play with me, I am gathering steam to be present in this new dynamic so that I may mark, if only in my heart space, the preciousness of this time passing now that the days feel shorter.

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.”