Monday, May 25, 2009

Risking Love

It has been an emotional weekend here for me after I learned that one of my cousins lost her baby at 20 weeks of pregnancy. I found out early on Sunday morning- one that was particularly busy for me. Normally, I would take news like that and make my world smaller for a little while, but I had to move into my day this time. I found myself crying in the car on the way to church, wondering how I was ever going to make it through the church service. On top of that, I was in the choir and we were performing which meant I'd be right up front. Ironically, this is why I was going. Our choir is very small and they need my voice.

I went up to my minister to say good morning. As she hugged me, I said that I really needed the hug right then and she said that she did, too. I hadn't planned to elaborate, mostly because I didn't want to start crying again, but she stopped me and asked what was going on. I took a deep breath and told her what had happened.

She said that when we become mothers, our heart is then outside of our bodies. Becoming parents is always a risk. We don't know how long we'll have our "babies" with us. But it is worth it. All of the pain. All the uncertainty. It is always a risk, which we take gladly.

Having lost a baby of my own, the news of this loss really hit me hard. It was especially difficult because my cousin's baby was diagnosed with the same fatal condition as my baby was diagnosed with. I knew that I was being pulled back into the vortex of my own pain. Of decisions that I didn't want to have to make. Of knowing that my baby's birth day would also be the end of his life.

The stakes are high when becoming a parent. We risk everything. And it is messy sometimes. And still we show up. And we step outside of our own comfort level to risk love.

This risk can scare us into not stepping out at all. Or it can help us to rise to the occasion and realize how much we really do have in this very moment. I pulled my kids in tighter and embraced this moment- the only moment we ever really have.

I think it is like that for all relationships. There is always a risk. Reaching out to anyone always entails a risk. But not taking the risk means that we miss out on the greatest gifts of all. I simply cannot imagine my life without my children. Has it been hard at times? You bet. I've struggled perhaps more than I would like to admit. Was it worth it? Absolutely. I would not be who I am today without the experiences I have had thanks to my children. All of them.

Risk it all for love. It is worth it!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Time for feelings

I was teaching the Connection Parenting teleclass last night and shared an example from my own life of a time my son wouldn't get in the car seat that happened several years ago. I had tried everything and even ended up forcing my son into the seat because we "needed to go." This felt so wrong on every level, but in that moment I was doing the best I could do. I drove for a few minutes with him screaming and then just stopped the car. I took the time to be with him, to acknowledge his feelings, and apologized to him for making him get in the seat. He calmed down, willingly got back into the car seat and we went on our way peacefully. From that experience, I decided it was better to spend the time connecting than to get my way and have him get into the car seat right that second. Nothing mattered more than the relationship. It didn't matter if I was late, really. Nothing was more important than our relationship. If he needed to have some time for his feelings, I would just plan for it.

Some of the class participants kept saying that they were in a hurry and didn't have time to stop to deal with the feelings. I certainly understand having time limits and outside obligations. And I used to put those things first. I guess some of my willingness to let go comes from my Cuban friend who taught me about "Cuban time." She would say, "I am going to be leaving the house at 7." 7 would come and go. She would be milling around the house, getting a bite to eat... not leaving. And the world didn't fall apart like I thought it would if we didn't leave by 7! I wondered what would happen if I had this attitude with my children? Where did this idea come from that we don't have time for our children because we have to be somewhere? We've made this whole thing up and put all of this external pressure on ourselves and it isn't good for relationship and it isn't good for our children.

I didn't go to the extreme of adopting a "Cuban time" lifestyle, but I let go of the pressure I was putting on myself to be there at that certain time AND I started building extra time into my schedule to allow for those setbacks so that I could still be on time. Most of the time, we were able to handle minor difficulties without it ever getting to the point of actually being late. I drive my son to school each morning and go back and get him in the afternoon. It is important that we are on time. However, we plan to be there 20 minutes early (as my older son likes) and then plan to be in the car an extra 10 minutes early. Is this time I could sleep? Yes. Is it worth it to stay in bed longer? No. Having that extra cushion means that it would take a major catastrophe to end up being late. It means that I can relax and just be present with my children without the need to rush them most of the time. A calm parent helps children to be calm, too.

So one morning recently, my 5 year old was having a very hard time. I had gotten him into the car and he melted down about something else. We didn't have the time that morning to wait any longer, but that didn't mean that I needed to ignore him. I spoke to him in the car, extended my hand into the back seat with him and held his hand, and told him how sorry I was that we weren't able to just stop. After a few minutes, he calmed down and we had a pleasant car ride. We ended up laughing and joking with each other. Amazing how quickly the tide turned. It doesn't mean that we never set limits because we plan on that extra time for feelings. Sometimes we need to say no. Sometimes it can't be what they need in that moment. But we still need to acknowledge our child and his feelings. There is nothing more important than relationship! Nothing.

It is interesting to note after several years of taking this approach that most of the time those things that start out as something that could turn into a huge meltdown don't. By allowing the time and decreasing my own stress, it allows me to be more fully emotionally present with my child because I'm not worrying about what will happen if I don't get him in the car in the next 5 minutes. What my son needs at that time is for me to be fully present with him. When that need is met, he is able to move through it on his own and is then ready to do what we need to do. It is somewhat of a paradox. Let go of the outcome and things will probably work out better than if you struggled to control the outcome.

A little extra time can make all the difference. Try it and let me know how it goes.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

I choose love

I think a lot about where we are parenting from and how we relate to our children. For so many of us who we were parented ourselves from a place of fear and coercion, we find ourselves in our less than ideal parenting moments parenting this way as well. The words may just come out and hang in the air before we even realize it, leaving us feeling awful because this isn't the way we want to parent. We want better for ourselves and better for our children. Yet, there we are with a strong reaction to something our child did or said anyway.

My minister last week at church talked about having a mantra, or a statement that we could say to ourselves when we needed to shift our focus away from fear and back into the present moment, when we were reacting from our past instead of responding in the way we wanted to respond. One suggestion was, "Peace, be still," which is one I've used myself many, many times as a parent to calm my own stress. The other she suggested was, "I choose love." This resonated deeply with me as soon as she said it. Yes, I choose love. I choose to parent from a place of love, not from fear. I choose love.

As often happens with me in my life, I had an opportunity to put this into practice that very afternoon. I found myself reacting to something happening in my family and didn't respond the way that I wanted to respond. I took some nice deep breaths and said to myself, "I choose love." As I let that settle into my body at a deep level, I said it again: "I choose love." That means that I am going to let go of the need to be right, the need to be in control, the need to convince someone else that they are wrong. I choose love. Our children deserve it and so do we.

Have you ever seen Dr. Emoto's Messages from Water? His pictures of water with different words or thoughts on them were then frozen and the crystals were photographed. Nothing brings the point home more than these pictures. My favorite right now are the two pictures of "Do it" and "Let's do it." You can check out his children's book and share it with your own children here.

Release your parenting fears. Fear grows nothing but fear. Love grows more love. As Heather Forbes says, "In mathematics, a negative plus a negative is a positive. In parenting, a negative plus a negative is always a negative." Choose love today and see what amazing things happen in your family!

I choose love!