Friday, January 2, 2015

"Christmas Vacation" meets "It's a Wonderful Life" or How Christmas Didn't Crash and Burn

Happy New Year!

What's on your heart and mind as the new year begins?

Were your holidays peaceful and loving? Or a chaotic? Or full of family drama? I'd love to hear!

Did you ever see the movie Christmas Vacation with Chevy Chase? There are several scenes where Chevy is very frustrated and upset. He kicks and beats up plastic reindeer from his front yard. He cuts down a tree from his front yard with a chain saw to replace the one burned down by his elderly relative.

Mine wasn't quite that bad, but I was worried for a while. Christmas Eve was so much like my own childhood Christmases, which were a bit like Christmas Vacation. Chaos. Emotional spewings. Blah. This year, things fell apart all over a present my youngest son got from his dad, a boat that he could play with in our pool. It was a hobby remote control speed boat, which apparently had some problems. First minute in the water and it lost a propeller. All the tiny little pieces fell to the bottom of the pool. The pieces were too small to see or to pick up with the net, so my 11 year old had to go into the cold pool and find the tiny pieces in the dark. He insisted. (I suggested a level head, daylight, and some sleep might help, but he didn't like that idea.)

An hour later, he finally found all the pieces and put the boat back together. My older son drove the boat to have a turn and it broke before it made it across the pool once. This is when the screaming started. Everything went downhill from here. No one handled it well. This is the part that reminded me of plastic reindeer flying through the air.

The thing that was so hard for me about this is that I grew up with chaos like this from my two younger brothers. Christmas was like this a lot. And I've worked really hard to have our holidays be very different. I was surrounded by friends and my partner who were there to help support my boys and me. That made all the difference. And our holiday wasn't ruined. In fact, when everyone did calm down, we were all able to reconnect. And Christmas Day was really great. It was a bit more like the ending of, "It's a Wonderful Life." That was a first for me.

Parenting consciously doesn't mean that everything is perfect all the time or that we always handle everything perfectly the first time. It's about recognizing when things are going down an undesired path, reconnecting with yourself and others who can support you so you can reconnect with your kids.

In the past, this would have ruined not only my day, but also my week. Instead, it helped me to see how far I've really come.

Would you like to learn more?

Friday, November 7, 2014

When You're Feeling Disconnected From Your Child- 4 things you can do today to help

"I'm so upset! He's working completely against me. No matter what I do, he continues to speak to me disrespectfully. I've tried punishing him, but he doesn't seem to care. What am I supposed to do? I want a good relationship with my son, but he's making it impossible!"

Maybe you can relate to this mom's struggle. She had tried all the usual suggestions, but things hadn't improved. She had no idea what to do next. Many parents feel this way and find themselves at the end of their rope.

I've been there as a parent myself. I wanted to parent from a loving place, but my kid's behaviors were driving me crazy. Like a really bad kind of crazy. I didn't know what to do.

It took me years to figure it out, but I finally found something that really worked. These suggestions are a bit counterintuitive, but I promise they work to make big shifts in your relationship and in your child's behaviors long-term. I've seen big shifts in families who apply these ideas, even though they're counter to what most of us grew up with or see in our culture.

1. Set the behaviors aside. Yes, I'm serious. Whatever you think should be happening in that moment can't or it would be happening. If you can remember that all behaviors are a communication, it can be helpful to be more curious in the moment. The behaviors let you know how your child is feeling about himself and also how he's feeling about his relationship with you. Focus on the child instead, not what he's doing or not doing. See number 2.

2. What can you do to connect in the relationship right now? We're often so busy worrying about what our child is doing that we don't think about our child having her own experience. It doesn't mean her behaviors are all completely acceptable, but it means that we focus on the connecting part. Slow yourself down. Really look at your child's face. Does she look sad? Would she welcome a hug if it was offered? Can you validate his feelings, even if you don't understand why he's upset? (You look really sad because you can't find your favorite toy?)

3. Make room for the feelings. When you acknowledge how your child is feeling, you may be able to have a little more access to the feelings beneath the surface. Your child may start crying, for example. This is actually a good sign, especially if she was angry or really unreasonable to begin with. This is what was beneath it and you're moving through to the deeper layers. Just be there with your child and try not to say too much. Allow the feeling cycle to move through (this takes about 90 seconds, so do your best to stay with it) and things will begin to shift. Avoid asking your child why questions in these emotional spaces unless you can't listen anymore. Why pulls the child back into the thinking brain. When we do this too early, they don't finish it and it starts over again later, usually stronger.

4. Wait until after the emotional expressions are over before you try to address the behavior. Going back after the upset has ended is far more effective than trying to address what they did wrong and what they can do differently next time. This conversation needs to happen, but when your child is on "green" or in his thinking brain, not the feeling brain. (We lose access to about 25 IQ points when we're in our emotional brains. That isn't the time to bring up changing behaviors.)

What does this look like in real life? A client came to see me because she was concerned about her teenaged son. He wasn't doing well in school and he was lacking motivation for just about everything. She had tried talking about his grades, discussing the long-term consequences of his actions, punishments, bribes. Nothing was working.

Let's shift our paradigm here and focus on the relationship.

1. I suggested that she not mention the school work or what she was seeing that he was doing "wrong."

2. Instead, I asked her what she could do to connect more with him. She decided to meet him after school and do some special things with him, showing an interest in him and what was going on in his life, which she realized she really hadn't been doing. This didn't mean it was OK that he wasn't doing well in school, but it means that the relationship is more important than the school work. When we put the relationship first, the school work will often fall into place (unless there's something else going on that needs attention, which we are more likely to figure out if we listen first).

3. During the time they would spend together, slowly her son began to share his concerns. There was room for his feelings and his experience. The mother just listened.

4. In this situation, the mother brought up grades and school work after about a week by starting to talk about his classes and his goals. But this didn't happen until after they had spent a good amount of time connecting first. His mom showed an interest first so that he felt safe to share.

Just that little bit of extra time and attention without the conversation about his lack made a big difference. In just a couple of weeks, he was spending more time doing his homework and keeping up with assignments. His motivation increased. He knew what he needed to do. He had been feeling disconnected and it was showing up in his school work.

It's all about the relationship. When we put the relationship first, seeking to understand our child's point of view, many of our conflicts have a way of naturally unfolding in a way that helps us all to connect with each other in this very moment.

Want more like this? Check out our Academy content for free below this weekend, Nov 7-9. 

Early Parenting: We speak baby. Learn about Healing Stories for Early Parenting here.
When the Unexpected Happens is an 8 audio series for families experiencing an unexpected event, such as a loss, divorce, illness. It was created because I heard many families were experiencing such events and were looking for resources that would support them. Free listening to the whole series this weekend (included for November with Academy membership after the weekend).

If you join the Academy this weekend, we'll upgrade your membership to the support package, which includes a secret Facebook group, connection with other conscious parents from around the world just like you, and regular support calls.  Join here. (Up to 68% off this weekend only!)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Keeping it together... when we're angry or depressed... for the kids

"I'm scaring my kids," she said as she sat in my office one summer day. "What scares me the most is that I don't know how to make this different for me or for them."

This is a common theme I hear from parents. They're feeling completely spent, whether they're going through a rough patch with their spouse, have just begun the process of separation or divorce, or perhaps there's stress because there simply isn't enough support to parent effectively. (That whole outnumbered thing when we're really wired to outnumber the kids by having a whole tribe of people surrounding us as we parent, which is a far cry from what actually happens in our culture.)

And then I hear about the other ways they're dealing with the stress. The eating. The not eating. The compulsive exercising. The not exercising. Yelling. Drinking a little too much. Throwing things. They're not proud.

But I hear it quite a lot, actually. And I've done many of those things as a way of coping with my own stress because I've been undersupported, exhausted, spent, angry, sad, scared, depressed. And when we're parenting from this place, we're bound to make poor decisions. We're well intentioned, but we can't quite pull off being the parents we know deep down we'd like to be. So what's a parent to do?

The first thing is to recognize that our brain is capable of changing. It isn't stuck this way. We aren't doomed to keep doing the same thing if we want to change it.

Second, we can't always keep it together, so please don't should on yourself. This is why we have apologies. Going back and recognizing that we didn't handle something well and acknowledging it to the other person it effected is the first step in changing your brain. The next part is figuring out what you could do different, often after the fact.

Third, Rewind, Repair, Replay is a great strategy taken from Pam Leo's Connection Parenting. When you realize you have handled something in a way that doesn't feel good for you or your child, allow yourself to back up, apologize, and do it over again. There is something really powerful about those three magical steps. The "doing it over the way you wanted it to go" part actually helps create new neural pathways in your brain. And it models for our children what they can do when they mess up, complete with a heart-felt apology. It's really powerful.

For example, if you yell at your child, you first need to recognize that you handled something in a way that doesn't feel good to you and your child. This part is critical. Without seeing that something needs to be different, you can go no further. You'll keep doing what you've always done because you don't see that there's a problem. This part can be painful, though, because you are looking at something that isn't working. But remember, there's power here because this pain point is also something you can change with some awareness. Try not to get stuck here. This isn't the end.

Once you recognize it, begin by asking yourself what you need right now in this moment. Perhaps it is much later and you've already calmed down. What did you need then? If it is closer to when it happened, what do you need to support yourself? Some fresh air? A little walk? A run? Call a friend?

Hint: When we have big emotional expressions, we have energy that has been mobilized to keep us safe. Looking around the room, we may realize that the only visible threat is our 3 year-old. Our primitive brains can't really tell the difference between a real threat and something we could handle differently (red light), but that's what our thinking brains (green light) is for. Regardless, whether the threat is real or not, our energy is mobilized and needs to go somewhere that doesn't hurt us or anyone else. So one really good question is: "What can I do to move through the energy that just came up?" Emotion = energy in motion. Move your body!

The mom in my office, like so many who have come to see me, was really upset at herself for the way she'd been behaving with her kids. This fed into her feelings about herself and created more stress and more likelihood that the pattern would repeat. But when she began to actively find a way to move through the energy instead of turning it inward on herself, things began to shift.

A spoke with her several months later and she was in a completely different place. She was smiling from ear to ear and talking about what a different place she was in. She wasn't yelling much anymore and had started a regular practice of moving with her kids to head off the stress responses for all of them. And she had started the practice of going outside for a quick walk around the block when she was feeling angry so that the energy could move through her body without hurting anyone. She said the difference in her family was incredible.

What I want you to hear about this story is that there is always hope. We all have the power within us to change what we're doing and to actually use those opportunities to create more connection. Attachment isn't about parenting perfectly. It's about reconnecting after we've disconnected. That means that not only is it ok to "mess up" but that it is necessary to have those messy moments to really bond with each other. That's the strongest glue there is in a family. Try it and let me know how it goes by responding in the comments.

Want more like this? You can join the Consciously Parenting Academy for 3 days for free (no obligation) right now by clicking here. Affordable video and audio parenting classes available 24/7 from the comfort of home.

Monday, November 3, 2014

On the day of candy

I didn't manage to publish this on Halloween as I got wrapped up in work and then costumes. So even though it is late, I figure better late than never. It will be up for next year! Let me know your thoughts about this! What did you do? Did you turn off your lights and hide? Did you send the kids out and have the Sugar Fairy come later that night to trade the candy away? I'd love to hear what you do in your family, so post in the comments!

It's October 31 and here in the US, that means Halloween for many families. I have a love-hate relationship with this particular holiday. I love the costumes. I love watching the kiddos dress up and come to the door. But I don't like all the candy and what that does to our family- the battles, the moodiness from the sugar, the changes in routine, the excitement of the whole thing that overwhelms the little ones. Perhaps you've been there, too?

My youngest at a Waldorf Fall Festival, 2009

My Halloweens past are filled with memories of cute costumes- the year my oldest (now 15) was a puppy (he was about 10 months old). He wouldn't stand up in the costume and I'm pretty sure he was overheated in that plush costume even in the air conditioning that year on that 95 degree day in South Florida. And one year that bordered on ridiculous with the tantrums over wanting candy when my youngest son had horrible dental issues (on a sugar-free diet), followed by the complete disintegration of both of us after he ate some. That was the year I was on red and swore that I wouldn't be doing Halloween ever again. EVER.

So if we do choose to participate in the Halloween thing, how can we move gracefully through this day keeping our relationship intact? I mean, besides wine. Lots and lots of wine.

Figure out what your own limits are for this holiday. Are you going to all dress up? Are you going to go to a movie instead? Are you going to Publix while it is still light outside and calling it an evening? Trunk-or-treating? Having a small party for like-minded families where the kids can dress up, but not actually trick-or-treat? What are YOU ok with doing, even if that's nothing? Make a conscious decision to move into (or out of) this holiday with intention, starting with you.

Explore your options. Some families let their children go trick-or-treating, let them choose a few pieces of candy, then leave the candy for the "sugar fairy" who exchanges the candy for a toy. Some families donate the candy to the troops after it has been enjoyed for a day or two. One or two years, we mailed the extra candy to the boys' uncle as part of an on-going family joke. Some families opt to go with the special treats in exchange for what has been collected, especially those with allergies or other dietary restrictions. It can be a hard holiday when you add any sort of special need. Another family doesn't celebrate the holiday at all and some of her children (who are older) buy 50% off candy tomorrow. The younger ones opt out entirely.

Look at what your child really needs. Some children are completely overwhelmed by this holiday. Respect that. I remember the first year my youngest went trick-or-treating when he was really aware of what was happening. He was 3 or 4. We went out early while it was still light outside, but the first person he saw in a mask flipped him out. We ended up going to about 4 houses and then I took him back home. Done. And that was just fine with me. Your children will tell you what they need. There is no need to push them beyond their comfort zone, especially on Halloween.

Talk about what is going to happen before you leave the house. I can't emphasize this enough, especially with little ones. For sensitive children, trick-or-treating can be a difficult experience, even though it is fun for you. Talk about where you're going to go and what kinds of things they might see. Let your child know that he can let you know when he's finished even if they haven't made it around the whole block yet.

A word about thank you. I was teaching Connection Parenting by Pam Leo several years ago when a dad described how he handled each door when someone gave his child candy. Instead of telling his son to, "Say thank you," this dad simply thanked the person handing out candy himself in a sincere way. There was another dad and son pair walking with them at each door. The other parent was prompting his son at each stop to say thank you. When they got to the end of the block, the prompting parent's son was still being prompted. The other child, whose father had been modeling what he wanted him to do, had taken over half way down the street and was saying a heart-felt thank you to each person and the father wasn't saying anything. Try it and let me know what happens in your family!

Tell me about your experiences! What did you do (or not do)? What worked for you this year? What didn't work? What would you like to try next year? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"I'm here to bring hope," said my 10 year-old

I spent the weekend thinking deeply about my life’s purpose, immersed in Oprah’s Live the Life You Want weekend in Miami. I came home and was sharing some of my experiences with a friend on the phone when I noticed my son was listening intently. He’ll be 11 next month and has always been a deep and sensitive soul, especially with me.  

I was sharing that Oprah began with the words, “Why are you here? What are you here to do in this life?”

My son looked into my eyes and said, “I know why I’m here.”

I stopped my conversation. That’s the kind of thing that completely gets your full attention as a parent.  I paused and said, “You do? Tell me why you are here.”

“I’m here to bring hope.”

 My heart swelled. What a statement for anyone, let alone a 10 year-old. I waited and he continued.

“When Jacob died, you needed hope. And when I was born, I gave you hope. So I know I’m here to bring hope.”

He was right.  He was conceived 5 months after my baby, Jacob, had died from a fatal birth defect. I was ready to try again and I felt confident that things would be ok this time around, yet I was still grieving. My whole world was shaken to the core. I didn’t know how anyone could really recover from such a loss. I felt like there would always be a giant gaping hole in my heart that would never be better. I continued to do my own work before and during (and well after) the pregnancy with him, but he certainly grew in the sadness I was experiencing, along with the waves of fear that things might not be all right.

We’ve talked about his birth. We’ve talked about the baby brother he never knew who came before him.  We’ve talked about how much I wanted to have him and how loved he was and always will be. But I had forgotten the story I had told him about hope. But he hadn’t.

I believe it was Oprah this weekend who said, “Hope is the simple belief that things can change. Despair is that tomorrow will be another version of today.”

I needed things to change. I needed to believe my body could have a healthy baby. I needed to know in my heart that I wouldn’t always be shrouded in a cloud of grief. I needed to see the beauty in every day moments. Honestly, it would have been easy to just have thrown my hands up in the air, curled into a ball and never look up again- except that I had another child already, a little boy who was 3 1/2 who needed me. And so I got up and made breakfast instead of staying in bed on those cold Indiana winter days while it rained or snowed or was just dark and grey outside. And, true to my nature, I searched for answers so that tomorrow wouldn’t be the same as today.

These moments always contain choices. We can be defined by the sadness of the story or the hope. We can allow something that happens to us to be the reason we stop trying or the reason why we must propel ourselves forward. Every situation, no matter how dire it seems, contains the opportunity for defining ourselves and our path forward. And we have the opportunity with our children to help them define their own stories as a hero’s journey, no matter what happened by the stories we tell to them.

We can rewrite those stories so that we are the hero. We can rewrite those stories so that they define us in ways that help us to grow. And we can begin doing that today.

I’m here to bring you hope. Hope for you. Hope for your family. 

"Because it is always darkest before the dawn and the sun always rises." Oprah

Sunrise pictures courtesy from my Facebook friends. Thanks all!

Sunrise in Satellite Beach, FL, courtesy Kim Bannister
Sunrise over Albuquerque, NM, courtesy of Deborah Barkoff
Sunrise in Clearwater (entitled, When You Wake Up on Red!) courtesy of Susan Stroemel Graham
Sunrise in NY from a bus, courtesy Clare Uppenbrink
Sunrise Satellite Beach, FL, courtesy of Kim Bannister
Sunrise Punta Gorda, FL, courtesy of Cecilia Wilhelm
South Nevada in August, courtesy Teresa Lewis Lass

Want to connect more with me:
Phone, Skype or in-person sessions in Palm Harbor, FL (email me at rebecca @ consciouslyparenting (dot) com without spaces and putting a period for the dot to make it a real email address.

You can also join my new Academy, where you can find relationship-focused ways of solving your biggest parenting and relationship challenges, from couples to conception to teens, as well as those other decisions you need to make consciously for your family like alternative health, conscious living- schooling, minimalism, food, etc., and special circumstances, like loss, divorce, etc. Join us here

Consciously Parenting Academy: Real Challenges. Real Relationships. Real Solutions with Heart.
Affordable Classes for Parents 24/7 from the Comfort of Home

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Feeling isolated? We can help!

I’m the only one I know who is parenting this way,” she said on the phone from Boston. Parents are really conservative here and it is hard to find any alternative community.

The same day, a mom in Perth, Western Australia said, I feel really isolated here. We don’t know many other families and those we do know don’t really understand what we’re doing and why.

It happened again the following day talking to a mom in rural Georgia. And then a mom in Kentucky.

This summer, I held a mini-retreat for families in my home and I had a group of dads in a circle talking about dad stuff. Guess what they talked about? Not having anyone to have these real conversations with. Whoa.

I was paying attention. How could it be that all these parents who were talking about similar things regarding their parenting all felt exactly the same way despite living in very different places? What could we do to help us all feel less isolated?

My solution was to create an online community where parents could meet each other, support each other, and learn together. I would love for you to be a part of this community!!

Join us if…

You’re looking for a place to connect with other like-minded parents no matter where you live in the world.

You need something you can access on your own time without having to put anyone in the car.

You love Consciously Parenting’s cutting edge, yet practical resources.

You need some extra support, but one-on-one sessions are out of your budget.

The idea here is that there is strength in numbers (kind of like a Groupon for parenting!). When we have a large group supporting the financial cost of what I’m offering, I can lower the price and still be compensated for my work. I’m offering a special deal for Consciously Parenting’s Membership Community, aka I Heart Parenting.

This is the last time I’ll be offering the community membership at this price(and if you get it now, you’re grandfathered in at the lower price for as long as you’re a part of this community).

If you had one 60-minute session with me per month, it would be over $1000. With all the other bonuses, you're easily getting $300-500 per month of valued content and support. 

For just $97, you get :

-a full year of community and support, including support calls with Rebecca 
-a secret Facebook group (shhhh), 
-monthly calls to ask your questions, 
-special topic calls,
and the Consciously Parenting Academy, which launches this weekend. 

The Academy includes an all access pass to many of the resources here at Consciously Parenting including:

Early Parenting
Emotions and Behavior
Conscious Living
Alternative Health
Special Circumstances (death, divorce, trauma, and more)

We have many collaborators who will be adding content weekly, including short videos and other written content. You’ll be able to join just the Academy tomorrow, but today you’ll also get the community bonuses for less than the cost of the Academy alone. It’s a steal!

(This is pretty crazy to be offering this for such a low price. But I want so much to support you in a cost effective way that as part of my 7th Anniversary specials and in honor of my angel, Jacob, I'd like to offer this special.)

You can learn more and join here:

I really hope you'll join us! All specials for our 7th Anniversary end on Sunday, September 28.

Thank you for being a part of The Consciously Parenting Project. I'm so glad you're here!

Rebecca Thompson, MS, MFT
Founder and Executive Director of The Consciously Parenting Project
P.S. If you know anyone else who would enjoy the community and support of this great deal, please share! You know, that whole GROUPon thing. :-)

P.S.S. I'm behind on responding to my emails, but I am still scheduling the free 30 minute sessions. If you've emailed me, I'll be getting back to you soon!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Gift for YOU as Consciously Parenting Celebrates 7 Years

The Consciously Parenting Project began 7 years ago today.

Consciously Parenting was founded in loving memory of my son, Jacob, who came into the world at 10am on this date 12 years ago and passed away at noon the same day, leaving my world forever changed. Jacob was born with a birth defect incompatible with life. He was born at home by choice and spent his entire life held by those who loved him.

The struggle that followed his death far exceeded my ability to cope, though I really didn’t see that at the time. (I don’t really give up. I’m kind of stubborn when it comes to things like this…) Things went from bad to worse as my son, in his 4 year-old way, tried to bring it to my attention that I really wasn’t present with him anymore. But 4 year-olds don’t tell you nicely. They express their own struggle and hope you pick up on it.

But I didn’t. Not for a long time. I thought he was the problem.

If he would just listen to me, we would be fine. If he would just be a little more calm and patient, things would feel better for all of us.

I didn’t see his fear. I didn’t see that he just needed me to love him and comfort him. I saw no connection between his brother’s death and his current behavior. And I saw no connection between Jacob’s death and my current behavior, which I thought was ok. (ish)

Once I finally figured out that Jacob’s death had spiraled us all (after about 4 years of struggle), I had uncovered some pretty big Truths that needed to be shared. 

I knew this information could completely transform families as it had mine.

My dear friend, Lianne March, web master extraordinaire, held my hand and helped me put together the first version of Consciously Parenting. We launched on September 21, 2007 with the mission of educating families and helping them find hope and support to connect deeply with one another.

I’ve continued to have my own struggles and (luckily) I’ve continued to learn. Now I have developed a vast library of resources on a wide variety of topics, including some incredible interviews with my colleagues, classes, and lots of writing to help guide your journey out of chaos and into connection.

Thank you for being a part of The Consciously Parenting Project. Whether you just found us or you’ve been with us since 2007 when we began, thank you. Without you, we wouldn’t be here. Without your powerful stories of transformation in your families, I might forget how important this work really is for all of us. We really do need each other. I believe that’s what a community is all about.

As a thank you, this week, I’m offering free 30-minute phone or Skype consultations. Sign up this week for a time between now and middle of October by sending me an email. (rebecca @ consciouslyparenting (dot) com without the spaces and replace (dot) with .)

It is my way of saying thank you.

I’d like to hear your story. And I’d like to see what I can do to help your family feel better- more peaceful, more joyful, more connected.

Just title your email "Free 30 min session" and we’ll find a time.

This week, I’m going to be sending out some special offers to my newsletter list. You may not know how many great things we have going on here at The Consciously Parenting Project, so please allow me to share. Make sure you're signed up for my newsletter list to see all the great stuff going on this week! You can sign up below. (You can also sign up and then hit reply to the email welcoming you after you opt in and that goes straight to my inbox.)

Thank you again for being here.

Now you know why I am here. Email me and share with me what brought you here and what you're seeking. Or post in the comments. I'd love to hear.