Wednesday, October 6, 2010

30 Day Challenge: Shifting Expectations

I must confess that when I started September with a focus on taking good care of myself, I was secretly hoping that this month would good.  Fun, even.  Sure, I'd have days that were challenging for me, but going at a slower pace and nurturing myself would really help to off-set the yuck I'd encountered in the past.  I know that I've really needed to nurture myself and I was hoping that if I would just take the time to acknowledge what this month is really like for me, all would be swell.

Reality check.

I had days where I felt totally lost.  Times when I just wanted to sit and cry (and sometimes did).  Moments where I just wanted someone to be with me so that I could tell my story.  Again.  For the millionth time.  Days where I didn't seem to remember what day it was.  Days where I had such high hopes for what I would accomplish with my business when the reality was that all I had really accomplished that day was that I cleaned the front room.  And I don't love cleaning.  But it was easier than trying to focus on words.  Easier than trying to focus on putting together a newsletter.  Or responding to emails.  Or trying to figure out my schedule for the week.

Funny- I've always really prided myself on being fairly balanced between my right brain (creative, intuitive, emotional) and my left brain (analytical, linear- after all, my father is an engineer).  But toward the end of September, I realize that I was living in my right brain.

In the past, I probably would have worked hard to get out of this place.  To "move on" and "get over it," but I suspect there is a reason this happens and a lesson here that still needs to be learned.  So I'm working to allow it.  I'm working to shift my expectations for myself.  And to be gentle with myself.

After my baby Jacob died, my expectation was that I would have a time of mourning and so would the other members of my family.  I expected that Zack, who was almost 4 at the time, would have an adjustment time and would need to talk about what had happened.  But after a few months, at the most, we would be moving on and it would be behind us.  I didn't expect that years later, we would still be trying to move through it.  I didn't fully understand that Zack's grief wasn't going to come out in words, but through his behaviors.  And I didn't understand his behaviors at the time.  I didn't know what he was trying to say to me.

Eventually my expectations shifted.  I needed him to be where he was.  It was only when I slowed down to meet him where he was that we found connection again.  And I realize that, in 2010, I need to allow myself to be where I am.  This is how I can connect with myself again, too.  This doesn't mean that I cannot hold the vision of a future of connection and wholeness, but I must first acknowledge where I actually am in this moment.

So even though September wasn't what I expected- a joyful celebration of taking good care of myself and all would be well- it is just what I needed it to be.  I've enjoyed the slower pace and I've learned a lot about what I really need every day to be happy and healthy.

I think we all have Septembers in our lives- you know, those times when we just want it all to be fine, to "move on" or just "get over it."  But when our feelings doesn't match our expectations, we're disappointed or frustrated with ourselves.  Or our children.  We spend a great deal of time and effort trying to just keep moving forward, when what we really need is to just be where we are.  To slow down or stop.  To have another cup of tea.  To get together with a friend.  To talk about what is really going on with us right now.  Even if it is uncomfortable.  Even if it isn't fun.  We won't be there forever.  Eventually, it will be October.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

30 Day Challenge, Day 21: Finding the Gifts

I don't know how it is for you in your life right now, but I have to say that I am seeing a lot of people having a very hard time right now.  Lots of death, tragedy, and general unsettling news seems to be floating in the air all around us.  And I'm not watching the news or reading the paper.  A neighbor just informed me of her pending divorce.  An elderly friend suddenly died last week.  Someone else I know suffered a massive stroke and didn't make it.  And now, of all things, my kitten has fleas!

Today is the anniversary of my son, Jacob's, death.  He died of anencephaly a few hours after he was born 8 years ago today.  When I was going through the uncertainty of that pregnancy, a book ended up in my hands entitled "In the Flow of Life" by Eric Butterworth (copyright 1982).  The book is yellowed on the spine and stained on the cover- definitely well-loved before it ever came into my hands.  As I was flipping through the book this morning, I opened to a passage I read frequently during the time I knew something might be wrong with my baby:

"If you are faced with a challenge, refuse to be panic-stricken.  Life has not ended for you.  Life flows on.  Declare for yourself: I accept the reality of this situation, but not its permanence.  Certainly there is no point in hiding your head in the sand.  The experience is there to be met. Determine that you will meet it, but on your terms.  Do not let the outer happening squeeze you into its box, but open your mind to the flow of wisdom, love, and good judgment by which you can deal masterfully with it.  Stand tall as you affirm: I meet this circumstance in complete confidence that He who is in me is greater than he who is in the world.  I do not deny its reality, but I deny its permanence.  I know that this, too, shall pass away."

And it was true.  Here I am 8 years later.  I do not deny its reality, but I can see clearly that it wasn't a permanent situation.  And somehow, I did manage to open myself to the flow of wisdom and love to have as many choices as I could regarding his birth.  He was born at home surrounded by loved ones.  And he was held for his entire life.  How many of us are half that lucky?

But even more than navigating through his birth and death, I now understand that this situation was to become the catalyst for me to have a deeper understanding of myself and of my oldest son.  And then my son, Josh, who came 15 months later.  And to understand what happens in a family when something overwhelming happens and how we can all navigate it together to become better and stronger than we were before.  Jacob brought with him many, many lessons.  And those lessons were the hardest ones of my life.  But I am grateful that he was here.  At the time, I marveled how much such a short life could have such a great impact on so many people.  And that was just the beginning.

I founded The Consciously Parenting Project and launched our website 3 years ago today in memory of Jacob.  It seemed like a much better place to put the energy that still remained from that experience to help others and make a difference in the world.  Somehow, I know that Jacob would have wanted it that way.

So if you are facing a challenge today, maybe you'll find some peace in Eric Butterworth's words.  Or maybe you have some ideas of your own that you'd like to share with us.  We all have our losses.  We all have our challenges in parenting and in our lives.  We may not have a choice in what happens, but we always have choices regarding how we handle it.  Is it a tragedy or is it an opportunity?  What story will we tell years from now about this time or this event?  And can we find the strength to find our way from the place of pain (which we have a right to be in for a while) to that place of recognizing the gifts?

Today, I nurtured myself as I remembered Jacob's life and his gifts.  And I am grateful.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

30 Day Challenge: Day 15- Half way mark!

Today is September 15 and that means that September is half over.  How have you done nurturing yourself every day for the first 15 days of the month?  I'm feeling like nurturing myself is becoming more of a habit and I find that I am not needing to think about it as much as I did on days 1-7.  I have enjoyed reading a book while I ate my breakfast (which I never do!), I've been going outside for a walk every morning before it gets too hot, and I've been decluttering my home and letting go of those things and situations that I no longer need in my life.  I'm even thinking about going to see a movie (Eat, Pray, Love) during the day while my family is at school.  Someone I know mentioned doing that yesterday and she was just beaming.  I've already seen the movie (and so had she), but it was something I hadn't even considered doing.  Happy to add that to my list!

I have to confess that this has been the best September that I remember (so far).  I've been much more aware of what nurtures me and what doesn't.  I've also taken the work of Ray Castellino and Mary Jackson and applied it to my life.  They teach slowing down, taking pauses.  When I went to California at the end of June to work with them on a project (watch for our upcoming series on Infant and Toddler Sleep later this month, which is about WAY more than just sleep!), they worked in a way that was very respectful of their own needs.  We took breaks to snack, nap, to go outside to walk, to sing, to just be.  I usually just work and work and work until I'm exhausted, so this was really different for me.  It felt really good.

This month, I'm striving to apply that to my own work life.  I get up in the morning and get my family off to work and school (together to a great school, which I love).  Then I go outside for a walk while it is still cool.  I come back and make myself breakfast, then clean up something in the house (today I tackled the laundry couch).  Then I shower and change before coming into my office to work.  I take breaks for snacks and food as necessary, or just to play with my kitten.  It feels really great to go at a pace that respects my body.  I'm getting a LOT done- way more than I thought I would if I was taking all those breaks!

Try it for yourself and see what happens.  What would happen if you allowed yourself to slow down and to take pauses to take care of yourself throughout the day instead of waiting until you HAD to take a break?  Try it and let me know.  I'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

30 Day Challenge, Day 14: Cleaning Our (Emotional) Closets

Last Friday, as you may recall, I had a dream that suggested my closet was a good place to start with my physical and emotional letting go and to release what was no longer needed in my life.  I hemmed and hawed, but finally managed to get myself into my closet (after thoroughly enjoying a little video on procrastination posted by a friend on Facebook).  It was overwhelming for me, but I knew it just had to be done.  And if I didn't do it, no one was going to do it for me.

I knew I needed to sort through clothing, so I picked an "easy" place to start- clothes that I had already sorted and knew didn't work for me. All I needed to do was pull them out and put them into the bag.  Instant gratification.  I had started!  Feeling slightly more confident now that I had accomplished something, I went in to tackle more stuff.

What I didn't realize was just how right I was about the emotional letting go that needed to happen and that it was going to happen in the closet!  As I pulled out more stuff, I came across reminders of people who were no longer in my life who needed to be released- several shirts, books, gifts, memory boxes.  I thought I was cleaning out my closet, but found that I was literally cleaning out my emotional closet, too.  And not only was I making the conscious decision to release these items (or not), but I was also making a decision about whether or not I was willing to let go of the emotional pain of these situations, people, or circumstances.

As I set aside the things that needed to be released, I realized that I was also letting go of the emotional baggage I had been carrying with me for so long.  I didn't need all of these reminders of people who had hurt me or of the negative events from my past.  I can acknowledge what happened, love each person and situation, and let them go.  I don't need all this stuff holding me down.

As I finished the work in my closet, I realized that I had done way more than tidy it up.  I felt like I was stepping forward into a new reality- one that didn't include all that clutter from the past.  I felt free! 

Have you been able to let go of things you no longer need or that no longer serve you?  I'd love to hear about it!  I'm going to keep going with this project, so I'll let you know how it is going for me!

Friday, September 10, 2010

30 Day Challenge, Day 10: Letting Go

Last night, I dreamed of cleaning.  Now, you have to understand that cleaning is not my forte.  In fact, I often remark that I have read the book Confessions of an Organized Homemaker by Deniece Schofield 22 times.  And I'm not making up that number!  Each time I've read it, I've gotten more great ideas and I'm reminded to compare only to where I've been and not compare to someone else.  However, the author, or some other cleaning fairy, has never shown up at my house to actually do that work.  I work very hard to stay caught up, but I know this isn't one of my...gifts. 

So for me to have a dream of cleaning is more than unusual.  But more than cleaning, I was actually simplifying in my dream.  I went into my closet and it contained only the clothes that I actually wear.  There were fewer things in the house.  The words, "The more you have, the more you have to take care of" from the aforementioned book echoed in my dream.  Seems like a pretty clear sign to me!

So my gift to myself today (and I suspect for the rest of the month, too) is going to be decluttering.  Simplifying.  Letting go.  I think that's perfect for a month that in the past has been defined, at least subconsciously, by loss.  And loss implies that I did not choose it.  Letting go is a shift in my words.  I choose to let go of that which I no longer need in my life.  I suspect that this letting go process will be about more than just the physical stuff that I've collected, but rather also about letting go of resentments, unfulfilled expectations, and the feeling of being a victim with no choice in what happened to me.  Instead, I will embrace forgiveness, acceptance, and peace.

But I know that I cannot simply jump ahead to the forgiveness, the acceptance, and the peace without first doing the work.  Just as the clutter in my closets isn't going to clean out by itself, I need to be an active participant in this process.  I need to be proactive.  As with the physical clutter in my house, so it is with my own personal work: I need to go in and take a look around at what I'm still holding on to so that I can let go of what no longer serves me.  This is a place I have visited many times in the past, but I am ready to go deeper now.  I am ready to let go. 

What are you holding on to?  Physical stuff?  Emotional stuff?  Are you ready to nurture yourself by letting it go?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

30 Day Challenge, Day 7: Finding a Nurturing Community

I have been a full time at-home parent of one or more children non-stop for the past 11 1/2 years.  I have worked at home with my children, I have homeschooled, I have done volunteer jobs that I could do with my children (like La Leche League and my work for Attachment Parenting International), and I have had stretches of time where I have been dedicated only to parenting and keeping up with the children and (trying to keep up with) the house.  I have looked for "my" time in the crevices in those times when I had very little support from others.  Most of the time, I was on my own with my kids while my husband was away at work.

I love my kids dearly.  I wouldn't have traded any of that 11 1/2 years with my kids for anything.  I have no regrets with regards to being home with my kids.  I don't look back wishing that I had been off at work instead or wishing that I had put them down in their beds when they were sleeping so that I could "go get something else done."  When my son went off to 1st grade today for the first time without hesitation, I knew that we had crossed a metaphorical bridge together.  All that time that I was home with them was an investment. All those hours holding and rocking made him ready to go be on his own, rather than it being something that he just had to endure.  There's a real difference when a child is truly ready to do something, as opposed to when an adult has decided it is time.

But if I were to find one regret, it would be that I didn't realize the value and importance of surrounding myself with a nurturing community.  It wasn't that I was a hermit parent who never took the kids out to see the light of day.  In fact, we had lots of friends and I was usually working on creating some sort of parenting group to have someone interesting to talk to who understood my cloth diapering dilemma or a conversation about my latest co-sleeping challenge.  Or someone to just talk about what it was really like to be a parent so that I didn't feel so alone. 

We all need that.  We all need someone who "gets" us.  Who understands that we're going to have good days and we're going to have bad days.  Do you have that for yourself?  Do you use your nurturing community to support you?  How did you find those others who support you as a parent? I'd love to hear!

Today, on my "baby's" first day of 1st grade, I went out to Starbucks with some friends to talk about parenting and what I'd really like to see happen in the world.  It was divine.  How have you chosen to nurture yourself today? 

Monday, September 6, 2010

30 Day Challenge: Day 6- 1-5 minute Nurturing

I think we have the impression that we have to set aside a long period of time to nurture ourselves.  Many of us feel that if I can't go away for a weekend or have a several hour block of time to do what I want, then it isn't worth the effort.  While that longer block of time is important every now and then, we can accomplish quite a bit in just a few minutes.

Several years ago, a friend gave me a CD entitled One Minute Meditations.  They were really short and sweet, but well done.  My first impression was, "What can I really accomplish in just one minute?"  Seriously.  But I decided that I had nothing to lose.  So, I created an intention to listen to one during the day at some point.  I found a quiet place, closed my eyes and listened to the audio.  Yes, it was short, but I did feel just a little more refreshed by taking the time and making the effort.  And it literally only took 1 minute!

Another friend, Carmine Leo, suggested taking time every morning and every evening- just 10 minutes each- and sitting quietly, clearing my mind and breathing normally.  When I did this in the morning, I felt really centered and ready to start my day.  I don't think I ever managed to stay awake for the whole 10 minutes at bedtime.  But even taking 5 minutes in the morning just sitting still made a big difference in my ability to start the day from a positive place.

I've also been using Janet Conner's Writing Down Your Soul process of writing really fast for the past several years, as well.  I am practiced enough at using this technique to get answers in just a few minutes of writing.  This is about accessing the theta brainwave state, which is a very relaxed state. Once you learn how to do it, it can be done in just a few minutes!

No matter what works for you, I'd encourage you to take that couple of minutes no matter when it happens and do something nurturing for yourself.  It does add up and it does make a difference!

So what do you do when you only have a few minutes?  Any suggestions for other parents?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

30 Day Challenge, Day 5: Balancing family and own needs for nurturing

Today is the 5th day that I'm focusing on nurturing myself specifically and intentionally.  It isn't that I don't do things that are nurturing for myself on a regular basis.  It is just that I haven't focused specifically on it, knowing that this is my goal for the next 25 days every day.  That does feel a little daunting, especially when I think about the schedule changes coming right up.

My kids start school on Tuesday and we'll be starting back into our school routine.  I'm guessing it is going to be more challenging once we add in making lunches and coordinating schedules, and driving far, far away.  I'd love to hear how you all manage to find the time to nurture yourself when life is in full swing.  Summer schedule is one thing.  The rest of the year is another thing entirely.  When do you squeeze it in?  Do you get up early?  Stay up late?  Wait until your kids are in school?  Sleeping? 

Today, we're heading over to some friends to let the kids swim while the adults talk.  I may even do some knitting while I'm there!  What a great way to nurture myself on this long weekend!  What do you have planned?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

30 Day Challenge, Day 4: Have You Befriended Alpha?

I'm sure it isn't a surprise for you to hear that we all spend a great deal of our time in the "go, do, hurry" state. Every one of us has a really long to-do list that calls to us when we're trying to relax or do something else that needs to be done, right?  Am I alone in this?  I don't think so!

I was amazed to read about the fact that there are different brainwave states that are important for us to be happy and healthy besides the "go, do, hurry" one.  When we're rushing around, multi-tasking, and trying to get a lot accomplished, our brain is in "beta."  But did you know that there are 4 main brainstates, not just "on" or "off"?  I had a sense that there was more, but really didn't understand it until I read Connection Parenting.  Yes, Connection Parenting, not some book about brain science.  This book by Pam Leo explained it in very simple terms that I could wrap my brain around and embrace.

So, there's delta.  Delta is important for a good night's sleep.  We all need delta.  Regularly.

The next most relaxed state is called theta.  Everyone passes into and out of theta every day twice a day (more if you nurtured yourself with a nap!  Bonus points!!).  We enter theta when we are falling asleep and waking up.  The great thing to know about theta is that we often find the answers to our problems when we're there.  Our inspiration, creative problem solving, and novel solutions are found right here.  Daily.  That's why it can be really effective to think about a challenge you're having right before you go to sleep and you'll often wake with the answers!

If you're familiar with Writing Down Your Soul, the book written by Janet Conner, the writing process she describes tells you how to access the theta brainwave state when you're awake!  I did an interview with her about this process and you can listen to it for free here.

Now, if you're counting along with me, you know there is still one more brainwave state left.  I totally saved the best for last.  I think this last one is the best kept secret.  If we all knew about this as parents and how magical it can be, we would try to spend all our time here.  OK, maybe not ALL our time.  But a lot of it.  Alpha could be considered in between theta (nearly asleep) and beta (go, do, hurry).  It is more relaxed than beta (go, do, hurry), but not as dreamy as theta.  I had no idea how important this state was until I did some experiments with it after I read Connection Parenting. 

Remember the list I wrote out yesterday about the things that nurture me?  Well, turns out that those things are all in the alpha brainwave state.  When we move out of beta (go, do, hurry) and into alpha (slowing down), we completely change the energy of what is happening in our own bodies and also with the people around us.  Pam Leo's book, Connection Parenting, had mentioned that knitting was great to calm everyone.  I laughed to myself, since knitting was about the least relaxing thing I could think of since I was unable to knit without extreme concentration (not alpha!).  But I stuck with it and practiced my knitting until I was able to do it without too much thinking. 

Then one day, I had my opportunity.  Both my boys were really loud and were driving me a little crazy.  I was hearing George Castanza's father on Seinfeld saying, "Serenity Now!" and knew I had to do something!  I pulled out my knitting (which felt like the craziest thing to do at that moment) and started in on my next row.  A miracle happened.  My children quieted down within about 30 seconds.  I'm serious.  One went off to read a book while the other went off to play by himself quietly in his room.  I didn't say a word.  I just began to knit.  I felt more calm and so did they.  Wow!

But what this did for me was just as impressive.  I kept going, tying all those little knots and let the world go for a while.  When I was done knitting and returned to my other tasks, I was able to focus and actually get some real work done.  All because I had stopped to nurture myself a little bit.  Important.  No, vital.

Alpha is another fine way to nurture ourselves.  Find alpha.  Become acquainted.  Befriend alpha, if you haven't already.  Let me know what puts you in alpha and if you have had or have any experiences with alpha or theta that you'd like to share. 

Today, I slept in until I was ready to get out of bed.  I give myself the joy of extra delta AND several more chances at theta, since I woke and decided to let myself go back to sleep!  Ah, the joys of a long weekend!

How's your 30 Day Challenge going so far?  What are you doing to nurture yourself today? 

Friday, September 3, 2010

30 Day Challenge, Day 3

I was thinking this morning that in order to nurture myself, I need to know what that means specifically for me.  What nurtures me might not be nurturing to someone else.  I started thinking about the pressure to come up with something every day for another 28 days, knowing that not every day in September has been a good clear thinking day in the past.  So, I decided that I needed to make a list for myself to have and use as needed.

I'll share mine.  What things nurture you?

Are you joining me yet?  Even if you missed the first day, consider joining me for this challenge for the next 28!

What nurtures me (in no particular order):
Going for a walk outside (which I did this morning)
Painting my toe nails bright colors (painted them bright purple again yesterday)
Taking a bath
Buying flowers for myself
Getting together with friends
Knitting
Going to the beach
Sitting on the front porch swing with my husband and talking about our dreams
Meditating
Writing Down My Soul (from the book Writing Down Your Soul by Janet Conner)
Reading a good book
Looking at pictures or old photo albums
Reading books to my children when we're all excited about a particular book

Those are just a few of the ideas I've come up with.  What ideas come to your mind?  I'd love to hear!  And please let me know what you're doing to join in. 

Thursday, September 2, 2010

30 Day Challenge, Day 2: Defining the Rules

I figure if I'm going to have a 30 day challenge, I should define the rules.  After all, it feels like cheating if I'm doing something that just needs to be done.  But if it is a task that needs to be done and I can come up with a creative way to nurture myself while doing it, it counts. 

If you're playing along on the home game, you can use my rules or make up your own.  Make it fun and meaningful to you!

When something is nourishing, it feeds my body, mind, spirit.  It doesn't hurt me or anyone else.  When I finish with this nourishment, I feel good.  For me, this doesn't mean gorging on sweet, salty or fatty foods (comfort foods).  This isn't actually nourishing for me because I only feel better temporarily and then I actually feel worse.  So, for me, nourishing myself would include juicing.  This takes time and effort, but I always feel really good after I drink my juice.  It might include making myself a beautiful salad (rather than just lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes like I usually do). 

Surrounding myself with beauty also nurtures me.  This might mean buying myself flowers- something I normally don't do.  Or going outside for a nice walk.  Or maybe doing something crafty or creative.

I know that surrounding myself with like-minded friends nurtures me.  This is something that I do on a somewhat regular basis, but I will probably make more of an effort to do that this month.  If I can manage to get to the beach AND see some friends, I think that would be like a doubly nurturing event.  :-)

Do you have any other rules or are you just going free form?  I'd love to hear if you're joining me and what you end up doing.  I'd also love to hear how it is for you to do this!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

30 Day Challenge

In the past, September has been a rough month for me.  I have some really difficult days and have often dreaded the arrival of September 1 and pray for October 1- the day I feel like having a party.  I have lots of losses that happened in the month of September.  My baby, Jacob, who died at birth in 2002, was born on September 21.  I miscarried a baby the year before on September 30.  My cat left unexpectedly last year on September 15.  And that's just a sampling.  This tends to be the month that everything falls apart for some reason.  (Darn cellular memory!)

But this year, I've decided to do something different.  This year, I am going to make this the month that I nurture myself because that's really what I need during this time.  So my challenge to myself is to do one nice thing for myself each day of this month.  30 opportunities to nurture myself is way better than 30 days to get through to make it until October. 

So, that's my challenge.  Who's with me?

Today, I decided it was high time that I repainted my toes.  I haven't been allowing myself to take that time because I've had so many other things to do.  It is simple, but I feel better now that they aren't all chipped and grown out!

What nice thing are you going to do for yourself today?  Care to join me in my challenge?  Let me know how you're doing and what you're doing! 

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Diagnosis: Does it Help or Hurt?


I received an email yesterday talking about yet another “new” disorder. This disorder was for people who fixate on eating healthy. The author was talking about how people who don’t care what they are eating are “healthy” and those who do have a disorder. Hmmmm…. That just didn’t feel right to me. So, after hearing about this “disorder,” I decided it was good to look a little deeper at the highly charged topic of diagnosis. When I was getting my masters degree in marriage and family therapy, I was really good at applying the criteria of different diagnostic codes to behaviors. It felt like a puzzle to look at symptoms and find how they all fit together, as if this now solved the world’s problems- or at least a family’s biggest challenges.


Everywhere we look nowadays, children are being diagnosed and labeled with disorders, with acronyms being placed near their names. “Johnny has ADD, that’s why he can’t sit still.” “Sherry has RAD and that’s why she can’t attach to us.” “Vinny is on the (autism) spectrum.” But how does it help to label our children?


Labels: How are they chosen?


The reality is that labels are usually chosen based upon behavioral checklists filled out by parents and teachers. It is an unscientific process based upon what the adults in a child’s life are seeing. That viewpoint is a creation of what our culture tells us to look at. But what if we aren’t seeing the whole picture? What if we don’t understand the relationship between the behavior and what the child has been through? Perhaps we’re only seeing a small piece of the puzzle and trying to make a decision based upon our view.


Shifting Your Perspective


Consciously Parenting’s first Principle states: All Behavior is a Communication. Let’s look at an example and see what that might mean. We’ll take a hypothetical child who has been diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder. Let’s say that Sherry was adopted at age 4 from a Russian orphanage where no one held her and she spent the first four years of her life in a crib with little interaction with caregivers. Sherry adapted to her environment, which included very little contact with people. Her brain and body adjusted to the lack of input, touch, and connection that her body expected when she was born. When she was adopted by a loving couple, she clearly communicated what she had experienced in the orphanage through her behaviors with her new parents. All her life, touch and human connection had been missing, so when her parents tried to hold her she would just go limp in their arms, refusing to look them in the eyes. She clearly didn’t want to be rocked to sleep and preferred to be on her own making strange noises. Her behaviors are perfectly normal for the environment she spent her first four years living in, but considered maladaptive in the new environment.


In the case of Johnny with ADD, I would wonder who else in the family has difficulty focusing? What is Johnny communicating about what the family needs? How can meeting Johnny’s needs help the whole family? What if no one in the family is really able to focus attention on anything for very long? Who decides when a behavior is really a problem? What is Johnny really communicating?

Does a Label Help?


Some parents feel somewhat crazy when confronted with a child’s different or difficult behaviors. These parents feel better when they understand that what their child is experiencing isn’t unique to their child. It allows parents to find other parents who may be working with similar circumstances. Sherry’s parents connected with a great yahoo group to talk with other adoptive families facing similar issues that they found once they had a label to put into a google search. Certainly, having a diagnosis can take the pressure off and create more room for understanding.


In the case of Johnny, we might find more information about ADD and realize that the family’s diet is really out of balance. They might discover that there is too much time in front of a screen and not enough time to exercise, and that the whole family really needs to get outside more. Or maybe that everyone needs to learn how to just sit and be present with one another.


Can a Label Hurt?


Once a label has been used to refer to a child, we might start talking about it in our everyday descriptions and explanations of the child. “Johnny can’t sit still. He has ADD.” It can easily become a defining trait by which we refer to a child, which leaves no room for a child to shift and grow into something else. When we start to understand why a behavior exists, we can meet the underlying need and release the need for the behavior. (Consciously Parenting’s 2nd Principle: A need when met will go away. A need unmet is here to stay.)


Sometimes when a label is used, we miss the opportunities for the underlying cause. There are no cases of ADD caused by a deficiency of Adderal or other pharmaceutical, even though that is the way the diagnosis is most often treated. Remember that there is no chemical test, brain scan, or other diagnostic testing done- it is only diagnosed by using a behavioral checklist. But behaviors are symptoms to be understood, not eliminated or covered up.

When we decide that our child has a “disorder,” it sets into motion thoughts, words, and actions that reinforce the label. It also stops us from wondering what else could be happening or what else our child is trying to communicate to us. It is when we stop trying to understand that we often stop connecting. The child labeled with Oppositional Defiant (ODD) might really need an outlet for the anger around his parent’s divorce from someone who really understands. Or perhaps he is feeling really disconnected from himself and from his parents. But we won’t find those underlying needs if we stop looking for them.


Our Words and Intentions are Powerful

We are dynamic, rapidly changing individuals, particularly as children. When people believe in us, in our ability to change and grow, we are able to blossom. When we have people limiting us, we will limit ourselves and may not grow into our potential. Our words as parents and teachers have the potential to allow our children to expand, learn, and grow. Or not.


Children are programmed to believe the things we say. They don’t have a choice in this, especially as young children. Bruce Lipton’s research has proven that our children are much more than a pool of genes that are turned on or off. Our expectations, words, and intentions can literally build our children up or break them down.


When we apply a label to a growing child, we may unwittingly limit our own expectation of what the child will do. There are enough obstacles in life without us adding to it. When we put in these obstacles, we may cut ourselves off from the miracle that was around the corner because “it is impossible.”


Everyday Miracles


We used to think that it was impossible to run the mile in under 4 minutes until someone did it. And now many people have run it in under 4 minutes (though not me!). We used to think that children who had poor early experiences were doomed to becoming violent and unproductive members of society. But now we know that it doesn’t need to be that way. I have personally seen children diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder become relatively calm and happy children because the parents were able to let go of the label and connect with the  child beneath the outer behaviors. When we start to see the child as “doing the best she can do” instead of “trying to hurt me,” everything can start to shift. If we expect our child to act a certain way, we will not be disappointed. Underneath a child’s “negative” behaviors is a child who wants to be loved and to love, who needs to connect with others in order to survive and thrive. It is we who need to shift and begin to look at our child with new eyes. It is only then that we can begin to see the miracles.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Consciously Parenting Class Giveaway!


We are excited to announce a new set of On Demand Classes coming soon: Hot Topics in the Infant and Toddler Years! 

The first session, Infant and Toddler Sleep, is available now, and it is FREE to listen to right on our site: Click Here

The next 6 classes are in pre-production.  Rebecca Thompson is teaming up with Ray Castellino and midwife Mary Jackson to share cutting-edge information that brings scientific research to you in ways you can actually use in your parenting.   These classes will cover some of the most popular parenting topics, and we need YOUR help to make sure we share the information you need!

These Classes will include the following topics:
  • Infant and Toddler Sleep
  • High-Need Babies and Sleep
  • Breastfeeding and Sleep
  • Sleep Deprivation
  • Finding Support as a Parent and as a Family
  • Attachment
  • Challenging Birth Experiences
  • Different Roles Within the Family.
When you ask a parenting question, you're automatically entered to win one of our new classes.  We'd love for you to send questions about any topic that pertains to your situation. There are no limits on the number of questions you may submit.  Each question is good for one entry into the drawing.  We'll be giving away 6 individual classes so we'd love for you to send questions about all of the topics that pertain to your situation.

Please fill out the entry form here to submit your questions.  Questions must be received no later than 11:59 PM EDT on Monday, June 28.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Respect

Whenever I ask a group of parents what they want for their children, the topic of respect inevitably comes up.  Parents want their children to be respected, but parents also want to feel respected by their children.  Many parents grew up not feeling respected themselves and most parents, it turns out, grew up having at least one experience (most had many experiences) of not being respected by an adult in their life.

We deeply want the respect of others in our lives, especially those we share space with, physically and/or emotionally.  When we aren't feeling that respect, we may find ourselves feeling angry.  Or scared.  We may react in ways we do not like.

So what is respect anyway?  How do children learn respect? And how do we get more of it in our families?

Traditional parenting, the way many of us grew up, alludes that respect is something that is demanded.  We want our children to look like they're doing what we tell them to do, especially in front of others.  And if we're not feeling respected by our child, we need to get angry at them to have them be respectful of us; We yell, we punish, we get angry.

But what is respect?  Treating someone else in a way we'd like to be treated.  Having patience.  Being gentle.  Speaking softly.  Caring about what someone else says or needs.  Maybe you have some ideas of your own.  When have you felt respected?  What words would you use to describe that experience?  What would it look like for you to respect your child?

How do children learn respect?  Young children learn everything primarily through modeling.  Research and everyday parenting experiences have shown us that if we want our child to learn something, we need to do it.  Most people have experienced a very young child using a swear word.  Often times, it is used correctly in context and even with the right inflection.  This is because children learn by watching and listening to what we do.  Just like they're watching when we behave in ways we don't want our children to imitate, they are also watching and absorbing when we do act in ways that are worthy of modeling.  If we want our children to respect us, we need to respect them.

We want our children to authentically respect us, not just act like they respect us by doing what we have told them to do when we're looking.  Parents I talk to want their children to genuinely respect them.  And that level of respect can only be learned by having someone model that behavior and teach them what respect looks like.

Respect with a newborn means responding to her cries.  Respect for a one year old means giving him limits while still respecting his feelings.  Respect for a two year old means lovingly creating a rhythm to her day so that she knows what to expect.  Respect for a six year old means setting appropriate limits and teaching the child appropriate ways to interact with the world.  And sometimes it is recognizing that his missed attempts at respect are due to a misunderstanding of the situation, rather than being willfully disrespectful.  Respect for an eleven year old means listening to what he has to say without judgment and saving your reaction to the way it was said for a conversation at a later time.

When we can remember what respect feels like and felt like when you were growing up (or what the absence of respect felt like), we can start to make different choices in how we speak and interact with our child.  If you're interested in an in-depth discussion about Respect and the concept of modeling, check out Module #2 in our Connection Parenting on-demand series.  Dive in to discover what respect really means to you in your life and what it can look like in your family now. 

Do you have stories of making a different choice in the face of what could be interpreted as disrespectful behavior from your child?  Have you created a positive response that is different than what your own parents did?  What situations do you find the most challenging when it comes to respect or not showing respect, either from your kids or yourself?  I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Drawing Circles

"He drew a circle that shut me out,
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had wit to win.
We drew a circle that took him in."

I sang a song in church this past Sunday called Circle. I'd never heard it before it was given to me, but I fell in love with it the moment I set my eyes on it. "And this circle goes on and on, it was there before us it will be here when we're gone. And this circle goes on and on and on... connecting our humanity, joining me to you and you to me." It was a great reminder of how connected we all really are- how it does matter when something is going on with one member of our family because it does affect us all.

During the service, my minister shared the poem above and it really struck me. We are constantly drawing circles around ourselves and our children. Are they on the "right" side of the circle? Who is drawing the lines in the sand? Are we on the same team or are we working against one another? What a powerful realization in my own family life it was to realize that I was drawing circles that didn't include my precious children in the name of "teaching" them what they were supposed to learn. I didn't even know I was doing it.

My children's behaviors sometimes feel like personal attacks- like they are drawing a circle around themselves. "See," I reason with myself, "They don't want to be close or connected or they wouldn't act like that. He deserves to be on his own then." I would say to myself. But thankfully- eventually- I was able to see that it was I who was holding the chalk and drawing the circle, and that I had the power to draw a new circle that included him.

Where are you drawing your circles? What would happen if you drew a circle that included someone you're having a challenge with? Not always easy, but it changes lives.
How do we draw a new circle? With our parenting choices! Here are a few suggestions:

-Use time-in instead of time-out when someone is having a hard time

-Go out of your way to show an interest in something your child is interested in

-Spend time with your child "just because" and watch their eyes light up

-Give your child some extra eye-contact and see how they respond (watch your child's response- some children find this too difficult at first)

-Take a deep breath and PAUSE (Pause Before Acting- PBA)

-Go back and apologize when we don't do it the way we know they deserve to be treated!
You're not going to do everything perfectly, so give yourself some grace. It takes time and effort to draw new circles. And remember that there are thousands of families around the world who are on the same path, so you are not alone!

If you'd like some individual family support, our team can support you in making the shift! Let us know how we can help you!

Warmly,
Rebecca

Sunday, May 23, 2010

"Please stay, mom."

Things have been so busy the past few weeks.  I'm just amazed that it is already nearly June and school is going to be out for the year!  This has been a precious year for my two boys- Josh has been in a half day Kindergarten program at our local Waldorf school where he has been playing and learning in other ways.  He hasn't learned to read and I'm happy about that.  He has learned to jump rope, cross the monkey bars forward and backward, climb trees, set the table, and retell a story.  His vocabulary has expanded and his love of school is palpable.  My older son moved to the school in October.  It was a more challenging transition for him, but he has really blossomed in this class.  He has found his artistic side and really enjoys all of the outside playtime they get.  He has taken more responsibility for himself and his projects.  I'm very proud of both of them!

This weekend was a big deal at our house.  My husband took both the boys camping with the Cub Scouts and both of my boys have "crossed over" to a new status in scouts.  My older son became a Boy Scout yesterday, after earning his Arrow of Light.  And Josh, who will be in first grade next year, crossed over into Cub Scouts as a Tiger.  I came to watch the ceremony after I spent the morning doing a workshop, so I hadn't seen them since the previous afternoon. 

Pride welled up as I watched my boys both take their steps across the bridge.  How did this all happen?  How did they both get so big?  How is it possible that my babies are, well, no longer babies?  It has been quite a journey for us and I really feel like I was graduating, too.  This is a new phase of life.

The park was closing at 8PM, so I was planning to leave before that happened.  I bent over to each of my boys to let them know that I was heading out.  I wasn't planning to spend the night and thought I should go before I was locked in!  My 6 year old kissed me goodbye and skipped off to play.  My 11 year old stopped me and said, "Don't go.  Please stay, mom."

I thought about the gate and the long list of things I still needed to get done that night, including some time to just spend by myself relaxing after my day of working.  I was really looking forward to some down time.  But he was asking me to stay.  How long was that going to go on in his life?  How many times in the future was that going to happen?  I can't say, but I just know that it was happening now.  And it was really special. 

I started working on how I would be able to leave the park and asked a little more about how long he wanted me to stay.  I was working it out and feeling good about it.  A few minutes later, he came up and said, "It's OK if you have to go."  I asked if he wanted me to stay and he said, "Yes."  I looked him in the eyes and said, "Zack, if you want me to stay, then there is no other place more important for me to be.  I would love to stay."

I could see him visibly relax.  This is true.  There is nothing more important than being with him now.  Everything else can wait.  And it did.  True, it was more work to leave later.  I had trouble with the locked gate, but even as I worked to figure it out, I was so glad that I had taken the time to just be with him.  There is nothing more important than relationship.  Nothing. 

There will always be a to do list.  There will always be something else that can distract us or take us out of the present moment.  But these times with our children are precious and we can never turn back the hands of time.  Seize the moment and connect.  Let your children know they are as special as they really are through your actions, not just your words. 

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Critical Importance of Community

Two weeks ago, I traveled to Tennessee to support my older son as he competed in a Pentathlon. Trying to make the trip affordable (and doable), I invited another mother from my son's 5th grade class to ride along with me and my 6 year old. I figured that she would be able to hand him the apple I brought when he wanted a snack when I was driving or watch him when I went into the bathroom. We could get to know each other and I would have some company on the 12 hour drive. I didn't expect the level of support that I received, so it got me thinking again about the topic of community and support.

What is community? Perhaps community is the idea that we are not alone in all of this, especially parenting.  We're designed to be in relationship, to reach out to one another, and to work together.  I often think, somewhat longingly, to the idealized villages where everyone works together, where chores are done in community, and it is not a world where each family is alone with one person doing most of the work of organizing the family.  (Of course, the reality of that world is that they need to do those things to survive... but it is something to consider.  How can we bring that kind of community and support into our lives here and now?)


What does it mean to support one another? The realization that I was experiencing support struck me when I realized that she had exceeded my expectations. So what were my unconscious expectations? As I reflected on this questions, I realized that support, to me, means that you're not physically alone. There are other people nearby, perhaps sharing expenses or helping out when asked. But I didn't realize I don't expect others to just jump in- to see what needs to be done and do it with a kind, loving heart.  It was quite an eye-opening moment for me!

I think most of us have challenges with asking for help. We've learned since early childhood that we're supposed to do by ourselves. Most of us haven't had the idea of community modeled for us, like my friend clearly had. How do we create that which we didn't know even existed?

I think it takes having experiences where we feel what it is like. We need to find those people in our lives who can bring this into our awareness so that we can even know (and feel) the possibilities. When I give homework in my on-line classes, asking parents to ask someone else for help with the children or household tasks- since we all need a community- most people come back the next week only having given it a little thought, without taking action. When I ask them to do something nice for another family, they usually manage to do it. We've learned since early childhood that we need to please others, without taking care of ourselves or asking for what we need.

So when my friend volunteered to get up and take my son to breakfast so that I could sleep after the long drive, I was blown away. She played with him, named his feet (Blah Blah is his right foot and Blah Blito is his left foot), and created an adorable caped man with her finger and a paper towel in the car. I watched her pour in the energy she had on reserve into my child the way I used to do when I was a nanny or babysitting for other people's children.

We all need people like that in our lives. Thanks for the reminder, Patricia!

What are your experiences creating community?  Have you had experiences where someone went over and above your expectations?  I'd love to hear about it!

(And if you're looking for an opportunity to experience what it is like to be supported by other like-minded parents, don't miss our retreat coming this fall on the Carnival Inspiration, sailing out of Tampa, FL Sept 30!)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Parenting at 36,000 Feet

I’m traveling with my boys today by myself, flying to the Midwest from chilly Florida in search of snow and to spend time with the grandparents. Amazing how it gets so much easier as they grow older and I grow wiser, more conscious about what I’m doing and the assumptions I make as a parent. I’m so much more mindful than I used to be as a parent and as a person, which really makes everything flow much more smoothly. For instance, it used to be that when someone (anyone!) woke up in a bad mood, I felt like the day was just over and it was going to be awful all day long. And I was right! Now that I have some perspective and some positive experiences with changing the energy in my family, I know that it isn’t necessarily a death sentence for the day. It’s really amazing how much just knowing that it can be different changes things for the better.

As we travel, I’m delighting in the joyous exclamations of my six year-old as he takes in the awe and wonder of what the world looks like from way up high. “Look at those little mountains! They look so small!” And there is real wisdom in those words. So many times, all we see is our perspective, looking up at the mountain of parenting we’re trying to climb. We can’t see the top and the journey can really wear on us. We can’t tell what is most important to focus on and what we can let go of. And even when we make a decision to let something go, we may struggle to change the patterns of interaction that seem hardwired, like it or not. We have our tools from our own childhoods to carry us through, but many of us are searching for a different set of tools than our parents had available to them. We need perspective.

When we can find a way to get some perspective by immersing ourselves in the latest and greatest parenting information, learning from all of the amazing people out there in the world who can teach us more about ourselves and different ways of interacting with our children, suddenly we don’t feel as alone anymore. And the journey doesn’t seem so overwhelming. Take the time and plot out where you’re going and what you want things to look like along the way, as well as when you arrive. In my new class, Consciously Repairing Relationships, we’re each creating our own parenting covenant. It is like getting out a map and compass before you set out on your journey. Then, we’re immersing ourselves in the research and adding new tools and understanding to guide our footsteps.

Every once in a while, it is helpful to stand back and get a new perspective on our lives and our parenting from 36,000 feet. Try it and let me know what you see! Then when we return to the day-to-day decisions, we have some perspective to carry us through!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Consciously Meal Planning?

When I became a parent, I didn't know how to cook.  OK, maybe that's not entirely true.  I could cook bacon, scrambled eggs, toast, and I could make a grilled cheese sandwich.  Oh, and hamburger helper.  I could do that.  My husband, on the other hand, was quite the cook and happily assumed that role for our family.  However, after my first child was born and started showing an interest in solid foods, I became more interested in what I was feeding him.  When we discovered that he had severe food allergies (oh, so that's why he never really slept well?), it became a necessity for me to learn how to cook.

My adventure began when I read the book Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron.  As a non-cook, I found this book very helpful because it walked me through my first scary trip into the health food store produce aisle and told me what I needed to do once there.  I could read all about the different vegetables ahead of time and not look like I was completely and totally lost.  It was a good thing and I began branching out and learning what to do with asparagus (I didn't realize you could get it without the can) and even some leafy greens (spinach didn't just come in the freezer section?). 

My "baby" is now 11 and I have at least 10 good years of learning about healthy eating, learning how to cook, and even planning my meals.  This year, I'm branching out into the world of gardening and have already started a few things in my winter garden (some lettuce and sunflowers so far).  But the nightly surprise of dinner is wearing on me and I am once again in pursuit of healthy, interesting food choices that my family will eat.  And did I mention it needs to be budget-friendly?  And easy to prepare?  And healthy?  And gluten-free? I don't think I'm asking for a lot, but this seems to be a tall order.  After spending the afternoon looking at different meal planners, recipes, and other suggestions, I am feeling less inspired than I was earlier- except now I'm also hungry.  But do I have anything to show for my hours of work?  Uh, no.

Well, I did find this free organizer from Families With Purpose (cool website!) and I've printed them out to see if this can help me get my ducks in a row.  There are blank menus for the different seasons and shopping list templates to help streamline your shopping.  The cool thing is that you just work on one week at a time and save your work in a 3 ring binder.  Once you have 4 weeks planned in a given season (I'm going to start with winter), then I'll have the whole season planned.  So, I'm going to give this one a try!

What else have you found helpful?  Any great places you've found family-friendly, budget-friendly, healthy, easy to prepare meals?  Please share them so we can all benefit!