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Connection does not Always Equate to Happiness

connectionI’m focusing on the word Connection today. I speak a lot here about doing inner work, finding moments of connectedness with your children and trying to remain present and in the moment. And I really wanted to clarify something:

 

Having a connected moment with your child does not always mean that in that moment you are both experiencing calm, happiness or joy.

 

It can, but not always.

 

  • Sometimes being connected means sitting close to your toddler while she cries and thrashes on the floor because you poured her milk in the wrong coloured cup.
  • Sometimes being connected means listening to your baby cry in your arms without shushing or bouncing or patting her, but simply allowing her to release some of the stress and overstimulation from her day.
  • Sometimes being connected means listening to your child express her fear, pain and anger- not replying quickly with a “You’re OK” or “Your sister didn’t mean to…” or a “That’s not fair, I wasn’t…” or “Don’t be scared.” Being connected means simply listening, acknowledging and being present with her suffering.
  • Sometimes being connected means taking a few minutes to truly observe your child’s fear, frustration, anger, boredom and to let it be without acting on the urge to want to change or fix the problem.

 

Dr Aletha Solter is a developmental psychologist who studied under the inspirational Jean Piaget and is the founder The Aware Parenting Movement. From her article, Understanding Tears and Tantrums:

 

“Crying is not the hurt, but the process of becoming unhurt. A child’s tears or tantrums are not an indication of an incompetent parent. On the contrary, crying indicates that the child feels safe enough to bring up painful feelings, and is not afraid of being rejected.”

 

When we were children many of us were either distracted from crying (“Here, watch this TV show” or “Here, take this candy”) or ridiculed for crying (“Big boys don’t cry”) or punished for crying (“If you don’t stop crying, I’ll give your something to cry about”) or dictated to (“Stop your crying!” or “Don’t cry…”). Expressing anger, upset and sadness is not readily accepted in Western culture. We were taught from a young age that these feelings are negative, uncomfortable, undesirable and embarrassing. It is no wonder then that when our own children express suffering, our knee-jerk reaction is to stop it as quickly as possible.

A strong Daily Rhythm decreases the number of frustrations, stresses and disappointments in a child’s day. The sense of predictability and flow provided by a strong rhythm gives a child a sense of confidence that the world is safe and good, but it does not create a utopian bubble that shields your child from all stress and pain (thank goodness- for this is a rich and beautiful part of our diverse human experience!). Natural stressors are a part of everyday life- things such as separation anxiety, accidents, conflict between friends and even happy but overstimulating occasions such as birthday parties, playdates or going to the shops.

Crying and being able to express the entire range of our feelings releases built-up stress from a child’s (and parents’!) body. We listen in loving sympathy and reflect our child’s feelings back to her (“You really wanted the red cup today. Are you feeling disappointed I gave you the blue one?“). We are not giving her the red cup. We are acknowledging that sometimes things happen in life that are not what we wanted and it’s OK to feel disappointed when this happens. As Solther points out, “Children do not cry indefinitely. They stop of their own accord when they are finished. After crying, there is a usually a feeling of relief and wellbeing. The incident that triggered the crying is no longer an issue, and the child usually becomes happy and cooperative.”

With your acknowledgement your child will feel understood and heard. And for me, that is the root of the word connection: con from the latin for ‘together’ and nectere from the latin “to bind”.

Connection: A sense of deep understanding that binds family members together as human beings.

The Parenting Middle Way

middlewayI’ll never forget the day in our beautiful Waldorf playgroup, when the leader expressed to us Mothers, the importance of slowing down, being present and not rushing our children from one thing to the next.

Of course, as mothers, this spoke to us- we were all too familiar with the words, “Come on! We’re going to be late!” and the adrenalin filled mornings rushing from laundry to making beds to lunchboxes to getting dressed.

The leader then went on to give some wonderful and helpful advice, things such as:  try to wake up earlier than the children, prepare for the school run the evening before and find little pockets in the day where you slow down and just be.

But this wise advice, is not what I remember as well as what happened next that morning:

As we all merrily sang our outside song and walked to the benches to put our shoes on, some slower than others, the leader approached us and with the kindest and most patient tone in her voice asked us if we could please try to, “Hurry as best as you can because the children will all be waiting on the carpet outside to say the blessing and start our picnic, and it is very hard for them to wait.”

She went off, and I smiled at the friend next to me and said, coyly as I struggled to hold my baby AND get my toddler’s shoes on, “OK, we’ll hurry, but we’ll try not to rush!”.

We both laughed hysterically and the motherly kinship I felt with my friend at that moment is one that I cherish to this day.

Since then, I have often reflected on the seemingly dualistic challenges that Mothers face daily. The list below is an example of the advice that parents so often wrestle to reconcile:

 

Don’t rush your children.   vs. Please have your children at school on time for morning circle.
Family Dinners are best.  vs. Feed your children at 5:30/5:45 to ensure an early bedtime. 
 Give your children ample time outdoors each day.   vs.  Keep the home environment clean, clutter-free and organized so that it is warm, welcoming and uncomplicated.
 Trust your parenting intuition.  vs. Be aware of your autobiography, triggers and emotional reactions.  
 Endeavor to remain present with your children at all moments.  vs. Make sure to find some alone time for self-care, meditation, exercise and inner work. 
 Remain calm, patient and do not take things personally.  vs. Acknowledge your child’s feelings (even if they are expressing disgust over the healthy meal you spent so much time preparing).
It is important for children to have a stable home life and parents present as much as possible. It is important for children to see that their parents have interests and work outside of the home and that they are not the centre of the universe.

 

As a mother with four young children I could go on and on about the ideals conscientious mothers strive to achieve versus the reality of our everyday lives. There are only so many hours in a day, there are many things to do and so much seems to be in conflict.

How can we do the 3 loads of laundry, clean the kitchen, de-clutter the bedrooms and spend a few hours this morning out in the garden?

How can we have a slow, peaceful and connected morning without little ones if we wake up at 5:15 to meditate yet our three-year-old unexpectedly wakes up at 5:16 and wants breakfast NOW?

How can we come together for a family dinner and get the kids in bed and asleep by 7 if our husband doesn’t arrive home from work until 6:30?

My answer to these questions and so many more is amusingly and somewhat frustratingly dualistic too.

 

You can’t.

BUT

You can strive each and every day to find and follow

the Parenting Middle Way.

 

Buddhism refers to the philosophical Middle Way as “the path that transcends and reconciles the duality that characterizes most thinking”. It is also known as the Eightfold Path, following the precepts of: right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.

I refer to the ‘Parenting Middle Way‘ as the path that transcends and reconciles the duality that characterizes modern day parenting. Through trying to apply the same eightfold ideals to our daily parenting we follow the Parenting Middle Way.

Rhythm Planning is a tool we can use  to visualize, plan and stay on course.

Sitting down and looking at current time commitments you may discover pockets of time that can be protected and cherished or you may decide to cut back on one activity or another. Bringing to consciousness situations or behaviours you feel are stuck may allow you to to creatively come up with ways you can shift or change these patterns.

It is hard work, to be sure. And it is work that, as parents, needs to be reassessed and undone and redone constantly. Our Daily Rhythm changes with the ages of our children, the seasons, our outside commitments and our changing family values.

We will stray and we will get stuck. But it is within these moments of striving that we will find peace and connection.

 

Peace in knowing we are doing our best.

 

Peace in knowing that we are not trying to achieve perfection, but balance.

 

Connecting and responding to our children’s current needs and our own by reassessing, redesigning and reanimating our Daily Rhythm.

 

Each and every day, we animate our Daily Rhythm as best we can, and it helps us to stay on the path of the The Parenting Middle Way.

How to Craft a ‘Healing Story’ for your child

healingstories

fairytaleAn ancient human tradition, oral storytelling has now become a lost art. We once gathered around the fire to listen to the stories of our Grandfather’s Grandfathers, to the quests of great conquerers and the legends of brave Princes and High Priestesses. Now it seems we are increasingly relying upon visual media to sugar-coat, water-down and simplify these once wise stories now presented to our children on a screen that lulls them into a one-dimensional world of little sensory input and moral diversity and nil imagination.

Oral storytelling empowers children (and adults!) to listen deeply and to imagine characters places and things in their own mind’s eye without any outside help or prompting. Oral storytelling lays the foundation for literacy, exposing children to the rhythm of language and rich vocabulary while conveying societal virtues, values and wisdom.

Stories can also be deeply healing. In her book, Healing Stories for Challenging Behaviour, Susan Perrow writes,

“Therapeutic storytelling is a gentle, easy yet often very effective means of addressing difficult topics with children. The story form offers a healing medium that allows children to embark on an imaginative journey, rather than being lectured or directly addressed about their behaviour. By identifying with the main character or characters, the child is empowered as obstacles are overcome and a resolution achieved.”

Each of the seasonally-inspired stories in the Whole Family Rhythms Guides contain characters who face and overcome specific internal and external conflicts. But what if our child is presently facing a specific challenge of his/her own?

 

We as parents can write and tell a personalized therapeutic story which acts as a metaphor for the current challenges our child faces.

 

Below is a loose guide to help you write your child a “healing story”. I encourage you to ‘free write’ (stream of consciousness-writing) your ideas and answers to each of the following questions and then sleep on them. The following day you can reflect back on your answers, create a skeletal plot and start writing.

 

Identify the Challenge that needs to be overcome.

Why are you writing this story?

  • Has there been a death in the family, an act of violence, increased anger or fighting in the family, is the child dealing with a particular behavioural challenge (eg. biting, hitting, pinching)?
  • is the child resisting a specific transition (eg. bedtime, going to school, mealtime & foods)?

 

Identify the Need.

How is the child feeling and what does the child need?

  • Identify what he/she is feeling (scared, alone, angry, frustrated, jealous etc.) and
  • what is needed to counteract this (bravery, sense of support, strength, understanding, adventurousness, clarity, frequent and little reminders, repetition, acceptance etc.)

 

Identify the Course of Action and Resolution.

Is there some way that the situation can empower the child to see the challenge in a new light?

  • Challenges require change of some sort. How can the story inspire unconscious change in the child’s behaviour?  As an example, a resistance to new foods can be reflected in a story as missing out on adventure. The story of a prince who doesn’t want to leave the confines of the castle. Everyone around him leaves and returns with exciting stories and having made discoveries without him until he finally decides to “just try a taste” of the outside world whereupon he learns he loves it!

 

Identify the Characters.

Who will represent the current feelings/challenges the child has and resolve them?

  • A hero or heroine. This may be a plant or animal, a fairy or gnome or prince or princess. Choose something the child loves or admires or a character with similar challenging behaviours (for example a snappy crab).
  • A “protector”, “sage”, “guru” or “confidante. This character is not essential but helpful. It is someone who supports the hero on his/her journey. For example, a best friend, a wise old owl, an angel or fairy godmother.
  • A villain or wrong-doer or a physical or mental challenge. Someone or something who presents challenges the hero/ine must overcome.

 

Outline the plot.

What are the possible storylines and lessons learned?

  • The plot should have an introduction to set the scene, a challenge to overcome and a well resolved solution to the hero/ine’s problem.
  • When writing make sure that the challenge is made very clear and that the character explores all possible resolutions to the problem while considering his/her moral conduct.
  • Make sure the story mirrors the actions the child needs to reflect in his/her own life.
  • Make sure the character’s range of feelings are verbally made clear both before and after the story’s resolution. For example, The Prince felt anxious, scared and slightly angry before he embarked on his Quest and when he returned he felt relieved, self-assured and content.
  • End with a celebration of the character’s triumph and achievements and a acknowledgement of his/her hard work to get there.

 

Tell the Story.

After you have written your story read it over each night before bed fro a few days so that you can make changes if you wish and also to imprint it indoor memory. When you tell the story be sure to find a quiet time with your child when you will be undisturbed. I find lying in bed with them right before lights go out is the best.

What is most magic about writing a story for our own child is that before we have even told our child their story, so much healing has already occurred. In clarifying the problem for ourselves (the parent) we approach it with a newer and more empathetic perspective both consciously and unconsciously and which puts is on a new path towards change.

 

The first story I ever wrote for my eldest didn’t even reach his ears! The moment I put everything to paper the sense of clarity I achieved about the situation at hand enabled me to shift my thoughts and actions enough to clear the “challenge” completely. Other stories I tell to my young ones are personalized favourites. “Jack the Monkey” is a silly little story I made up on the spot for my daughter Juniper before bed one night. I am still not entirely sure why she adores it so much (although I’ve thought long and hard about it) but for months she has consistently begged for that story before bed. Without much thought I created a story that has deep meaning for her.

I encourage you to take the time to try this exercise if you feel your child is struggling with a specific challenge. I highly recommend both of Susan Perrow’s books on the subject for more in-depth information and inspiration including age-appropriate tips and many story samples that you can use yourself for specific behavioural challenges.

Please do come back here and share your experiences with this in the comments section if you(‘ve) try it! The Whole Family Rhythms tribe is a community of like-minded women who love to learn from head other and we truly value your thoughts, ideas and insight!

DISCLOSURE: This journal entry contains a link to Amazon.ca. Meagan from Whole Family Rhythms is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.ca. Thank you for your support.

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