Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Day 266: Inspiration and Direction

I was inspired by this today. I'm inspired every day. Usually by lots of things. And whether it's because I'm easily inspired or because I'm constantly seeking out inspiration I haven't decided yet. Either way, I felt nudged in a specific direction not only on my parenting journey, but for upcoming posts.

This is what really stood out:
"CONNECTION. EXAMPLE. TEACHING. RESPECT. EMPATHY. LOVE. These are your best parenting tools."

Indeed. Well, as I hug it out, I'm practicing love. And this led me to think about specific ways I can move toward the others. So I thought I'd post a series on these tools; what they mean to me, how I can practice them, and what that looks and feels like in the everyday.

I'm hoping to be very specific, very practical, and very intentional with this exercise. Because hopefully that will translate into not only helping myself break through old habits and defaults, but possibly being able to offer something useful for those of you joining me in the quest to find a new and better way to relate to our children.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Day 260: Hug It Out

First, I've got to say that with the new look and feel of the blog, it's a place I actually enjoy coming to. It kinda lifts me up. Whoa. I hope you feel the same way! Anyway, moving on to more important things...

Instead of moving away from the negative, I'm focusing on moving toward the positive. But what exactly does that look like? Because we can talk philosophy and theory all day (trust me, it's my specialty), but if it's not showing itself in application, it's completely useless.

I have to admit, I hadn't realized how few positive alternatives I had really identified for myself until I started really consciously looking at them. No wonder it's been so hard to kick old habits!

It's the reason so many parents resort to coercive, authoritarian, even abusive discipline: If I don't yell, spank, shame, threaten, reward...what do I do?

When you can't answer that question you're forced to choose between domination and subservience. You can be the authoritarian parent focused on harnessing control or the permissive parent who relinquishes all control, nothing in between.

But that's all a lie.

There's another option that doesn't require me or my child to feel controlled or powerless, one that protects my sense of self, my power and his, and allows us both to feel respected and satisfied.

I hate to oversimplify it, because again, in practice it's anything but simple. But it really all comes down to this: Love.

That's it. Love.

You're thinking, Yeah, well, we all love our children. And you're right. But we don't always love them well.

Too many times I've had to remind Jackson that my love for him abides even through my anger, impatience, rudeness and lack of presence. And I'm also quick to assure him that it abides through his tough times too.

But what if I didn't have to remind him. What if I showed him? Every time. No matter how I feel. No matter how he acts. What if I loved him well every time?

When he feels loved above all else, I see cooperation ooze out of him like he can't contain it. When he's loved well, he's more excited about compromises than about getting what only he wants. When we're connected, his greatest joy is my greatest joy and vice verse.

When he is loved well, he loves well. 

So that has been my mission. To love him well. And in practice for me, that means hugging it out.

When I'm so busy he starts to feel like an inconvenience, I hug it out. When I feel like manipulating and coercing to get him to fall in line, I hug it out. Every time I want to scream and yell, I hug it out.

At first it felt really strange, almost inauthentic. But once I gave myself over to it - deciding with my whole heart that what I want is to love, not control - I found that it literally melted all those feelings away along with the anger and impatience.

And he melted into me.
It's so simple and so beautiful. And slowly we're rediscovering the connection we've been missing lately and working our way toward the relationship both of us want to have.

We're still far from the goal and I'm, as always, far from perfection. But we're moving forward.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Day 245: Still Here

If I believed in labeling, I'd call myself a bad blogger, neglectful even. But fortunately this project is as much about accepting my own limitations and setting realistic expectations as it is anything else. So to answer your question, yes, I'm still here.

A peaceful home for us right now requires me to focus my energy elsewhere, despite the fact that this is still where my passion lies. But I'm happy to report that I'm staying present with the spirit of the project, thinking almost daily, "I wish I had time to write about that!" Someday when time allows, I'm excited to catch the blog up with all the great things I'm discovering as I walk through life alongside my boys.

If you're wondering about the dramatically different look of the blog, the reasoning was simple. This project is supposed to be about optimism, lifting myself and others up, seeing the bright side of life even through the dark days. And, well, the drab background was downright depressing! In searching for a new look I noticed that the things I was naturally drawn to were generally subdued, simple, not very lively. So in the spirit of stretching and growing, I chose something a little out of character. A little energetic. Sparkly even. I hope you like it. I have to say it's growing on me...maybe I have more sparkle in me than I thought!

My next post will be back on topic, so don't run away thinking you'll be forced to discuss my taste in blog backgrounds forever. I've been waiting for weeks to share the simple, powerful act of forward motion that has been revitalizing my relationship with Jackson, so hopefully time will allow sooner than later!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Day 212: Forward Motion

In processing my own behavioral patterns I've acknowledged culture, childhood, and worldview. All factors, and significant ones. But lately I've been looking more practically than philosophically at this issue.

For all my good intentions and attempts to respond thoughtfully, it seems the reactions just spill out before I get the chance to think and make a conscious choice about how I'm communicating, verbally and non-verbally.

And this is why. My neurons are firing down well-worn pathways and I can't stop them.

Of course bad habits are broken all the time, and though my neurological physiology plays a role, I'm not its victim. Those neural patterns don't define me. They don't have to anyway.

The problem is that in trying to move away from coercive communication and discipline strategies - the ones ingrained in me through culture, childhood experiences, and an absorbed worldview - I've forgotten to move toward something else.

I can't just shut down neural pathways. Attempting to move backward is as effective as remaining static. I have to re-route them in a positive direction.

I can't focus on restraining coercive communication, I must focus on injecting love and acceptance into my communication.

Avoiding or attacking the negative, only brings more negative energy to my life and my relationships. But welcoming and actively pursuing a positive alternative creates change in a positive way - through forward motion.

As I work toward peaceful and loving words, they will eventually crowd out their judgmental and confrontational counterparts.

So my goal for the upcoming week (and beyond, of course) is to move toward, not away. To let go of the things I want to extinguish and center my attention on what I want to establish. Because the only way I want to move is forward.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Day 208: Refreshed

Ahhhhhh. I feel much better!

Looking at the full July calendar, acknowledging the stress I was feeling, and honoring the commitments I made in an attempt to remedy those things, I decided to take a spontaneous break from blogging last month.

I didn't write, didn't look at it, didn't think about it...just enjoyed sunny days at the park, spent lots of time with family, got caught up on a few major projects, and tried to get a little more organized to reduce the chances of getting behind and overwhelmed again. Only time will tell...

But now that I can look at my to-do list without panicking, I'm excited to get back to writing. And maybe with a little less stress and a little more "free" time, the lessons will sink in a little easier.

And speaking of lessons...

In doing a little more soul-searching on the whys surrounding my backslide into behavior modification and punitive discipline, I came to some difficult conclusions.

Despite how cognitively sure I am that non-punitive discipline "works" is "right" and in all ways superior to the mainstream parenting model, I haven't given myself over to it. I believe it in my head, but not my heart.

My heart is still telling me that I only have power if I have control, that there's always a winner and a loser when we come together with differing desires, that a "good" child always falls in line. I know beyond all doubt that these things are false. And while I've accepted the idea of non-punitive parenting, I haven't committed myself to the reality of it. The reality of surrender and trust.

Relating to my kids in a non-punitive, mutually respectful way is beyond counter-cultural; it's a philosophy that is vehemently opposed by everything I see, hear, read, watch and experience. So not only am I turning from the authoritarian ideals I grew up accepting as right and normal, but I'm trying to do so in the midst of a culture that outspokenly rejects my newly chosen values.

Some days the fight against the current, both internal and external, seems useless. Other days I worry that by the time I finally do get it, it will be too late.

But when I think of how God shattered my inaccurate punitive view of him as he met me continually with grace and forgiveness, I'm reminded that a change of heart is possible for me and that the resulting change in our relationship will ameliorate the pain we experienced along the way.

As I seek a deeper relationship with God, the grace that's missing from my parenting will appear, and the non-punitive approach God takes with me will influence the way I feel about discipline. Until one day I wake up and find that it's so much a part of me it comes naturally to respond with love and acceptance.

But until then, I'm confident I'll have lots to work through and plenty to write about! So back on the wagon we go...

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Day 178: Story Time

Who doesn't love a good story. It's why we go the movies and watch our favorite shows, and it keeps the pages of a good book turning even when our eyelids are heavy.

We're drawn to tales of adventure, romance, fantasy and even danger because they take us to a place where we can live vicariously through the characters. We can feel and do without limitation. We can try on roles and relationships we'd never experience in real life. And all without any of the risk that comes along with actually feeling and doing.

But what happens when we are the characters?

It's sobering to think that I'm the primary author of my boys' beginnings. Because the tale I want them to tell when they look back and the way they're stories are playing out in the present are sometimes two very different things.

Of course there are the good days which could be recounted nostalgically: My mom was so loving and patient. She really cared about how I felt and what I needed, and she was always connected, never too busy. She let me explore and discover, and she encouraged my curiosity and creativity even when it wasn't convenient for her. Our relationship was more important to her than anything else.

And then there are the bad days: My mom was angry a lot. She was impatient with me when I was still learning, and sometimes she would yell even though I didn't know what I had done wrong. She was more concerned about me making a mess or breaking something than about the fun I would have or the amazing things I would learn taking risks and thinking outside the box. I felt like I couldn't do anything quite right.

Being an imperfect person, and an intense one at that, I don't see the former in our future. And I pray that the bad days are few enough that they won't be the only ones that color the boys' impressions of childhood.

But where in the middle we fall is still unknown. Because the rest of their stories are unwritten.

Every day, every interaction, every moment is a chance for me to show them that loving and patient mother...or not. And all those experiences, good and bad, are compiling on the pages of their lives, no matter how badly I want my apologies, tears, hugs, and kisses to erase some of them. And they too, will be unable to change these chapters.

As I write on my own blank pages now, I'm very aware of the effect my beginning still has on me. The positive things written for me as a child far outweigh the negative, but still I find myself longing to go back and dab a little whiteout on the smudges. Just enough so that the struggles I have now are a little less and so the hold those experiences have on me loosens enough for me to escape their repetition.

But as much as it pains the editor in me to admit it, all the chapters written up until this very moment are already printed. For them and for me. The only power I have to change them now is to alter how I let them influence me today. And on the bad days, it's some comfort to know that my boys will have the same opportunity.

As they slowly take over the authoring of their own stories, they'll get to choose to let the negative shape them or guide them toward better things. My only hope is that the positive words I write on their opening pages will make it far easier for them to do just that.

Life is no fairytale, but a happy ending is possible for every one of us if we choose to write it that way. So as I do my best to pen happiness and love into their lives, I'll also remember that they're watching what I do with less-than-perfect. Am I showing them that I can write happiness and love into my own life?

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Day 176: You Know Better!

I commented to a friend the other day that I felt I was a really great mom 0-2, and not as much so far 2-3. Which got me to thinking about why that is.

With Max I'm more patient, more flexible, more compassionate and understanding. And I used to be with Jackson too. But now I too often find myself thinking You know better! which is what leads to impatience, rigidity, and indifference. But does he? And does it matter?

As he has become more capable, my expectations have risen higher, and with them my intolerance for the times when he inevitably falls short.

I know development isn't linear. I know that the fact that he did something yesterday does not mean he's capable of the same today. But still I struggle to adjust my expectations.

And that adjustment is really what it comes down to. Sometimes he really doesn't know better. Sometimes he does, but has the impulse control of a child. Sometimes he does and he's making a last ditch effort to get my attention after his loving and respectful attempts landed on deaf ears and blind eyes. Sometimes it's just the only way he knows how to show me how he feels and what he needs.

But whatever the case, my expectation should be that he is always behaving in a way that is "right." Because "right" when you're two means being connected to your needs and feelings and doing your best to make them known, especially when you need help with them.

He's communicating important things with me through these behaviors that push my buttons, and I only need to change the way I'm interpreting them for it to become positive for both of us.