I wish it were as easy as waving a magic wand and saying a few choice magic words (don't you wish "please" and "thank you" were as powerful as some parents make them seem to be?), but finding our way through parenting is challenging, especially when it wasn't like we thought it would be. Sadly, there actually isn't a parenting manual for our child. And there is no one approach that works for every child and every family. Often, it feels like we're flying blind. We look to outside experts who we hope can give us a formula we can plug into what's happening in our life and "click," the magic will happen.
I remember sitting on the floor near my dining room table with all my parenting books (and I had a LOT of them, hence the floor) trying to find something that made sense of my son's behavior, who was just four at the time. How could someone so small stump me so completely? I remember picking up Peggy O'Mara's book, Natural Family Living, and praying as I opened to the discipline part that there would be SOMETHING in there that would help me reconnect with my son. Peggy was (and is) one of my heroes, but as I read through the book I found there wasn't anything I hadn't already tried. I read Alfie Kohn's Unconditional Parenting and nodded the whole way through. I wanted what he was talking about in the worst way. This was how I wanted to parent. But I closed the book feeling more frustrated than ever because I had no idea how to get there from where I was in that moment with my son. It was nothing more than a dream of some far away land that you could only reach in a flying house picked up by a tornado or with special red ruby slippers or something. And clearly I was without the house, the tornado and the ruby slippers.
But the most valuable resources that I've found are those that help me to look deeply at myself and my family. The ones that help me to better understand myself and what I feel. And what I can do from where I am right now. You see, what I eventually came to realize is that no one's family was just like mine, so how could anyone tell me what to do with my child if they didn't know me? Or if they didn't know what had happened in the previous six months? Or the previous four or five years? How could anyone give helpful guidance if they didn't know our story? I realized that challenging behaviors don't just appear out of the blue, but are part of a larger context from our family's story. Reading something in a book could get me started and help me identify what I wanted, but it actually took understanding my own story deeply and having relationships with other people who could truly hear my story before I could find my way out of the quagmire and back into connection. It was very much an inside job that also required some interdependence on my part- some trust to share my story with others and then with my son. It required that I become the expert of my own family. After all, who else was there as much as me or knew my children as well as I did?
What I've discovered in my own practice is how important it is for everyone to be able to tell their story. From the youngest clients (yes, newborns) to grown-ups, we all need to be seen, heard and felt, as Ray Castellino (http://www.beba.org) reminds us in his soothing voice in our new Story Sharing audio (and transcript). We need someone to see us and to feel our story with us. We need to connect in the sacred space of our stories, to have our stories told as we understand them, and we need to watch and listen for our children to show us their story. I've had the honor of watching deep healing happen in families when we make room for the feelings about our story to emerge.
Connection doesn't happen just in the loving, peaceful, quiet moments when we all snuggle together. Connection can happen when we're real with how we're feeling and we realize that our child is feeling the same way. Connection happens when we both feel the sadness of the way it was or the way it is now together in this moment. We can heal all sorts of misunderstandings by opening up to our feelings- yes, those deep down ugly feelings that are hard to allow sometimes, which aren't just irritating roadblocks on our way to connection. Those uncomfortable feelings are how we start to connect right where we are in this moment, as we really are right now. We can't just click our heels together and magically arrive in a place of connection if that's not where we are. We need to acknowledge where we are and feel where we are and say out loud that this isn't working for us right now before we can begin to create the emotional space for a new kind of relationship to emerge.
I finally stopped wishing for a parenting manual, for someone who could swoop in and give me the right information at just the right moment that would set it all straight for me, or for the magic formula that I could plug in and everything would feel better. I realized that the story of my family held the clues as to why something was happening and for the understanding and empathy for myself and my child that I needed to move through it. I'm not always going to see the whole picture right away, but if I let my heart lead the way I know it is always there. And there's always a way to find connection. Even without a magic wand.
If you're interested in learning more about Ray Castellino's work and the idea of Story Sharing for resolving early trauma and creating more connection in families, check out our new audio and transcript here.