Thursday, July 29, 2010

Pardon me, your Lack is showing...

I've written about children and their feelings of lack. I've written about my own struggle with feelings of lack that are rooted in my childhood. Now I'm going to write about your feelings of lack. I have gotten pretty familiar with your feelings of lack over the last year. They show up when you post on facebook, respond on group lists, and in your comments on blogs. When someone writes something that pushes your lack button you respond from your place of lack. Your lack speaks of your pain, your fear, your childhood, your grasping and your rejecting. Your lack tells others that you reject what they are saying because it makes you feel uncomfortable or judged or angry or insulted. Often when the person wasn't writing to you, and sometimes even when they do not know who you are. Your place of lack is deep inside you and when it takes control you are no longer able to hear what others are saying or respond from a rational place or take a deep breath before you blurt out a harsh and negative response. It clouds your perception of what others are saying. Walls that protected you as a child go back up. You have your feet planted in your personal place of lack, your arms crossed in front of you and you know, you absolutely know, that what the other person is saying does not apply to you or your life, or your children, because you can't have what they have, there isn't enough, you aren't entitled, or it just isn't possible because of all those reasons your mind replays over and over again.

"It must be nice to have (money, time, a husband, a partner, energy, the option, family near by who will help) but I don't so that's not possible for me."

You then seem determined to teach your children that lack is the natural way of life by creating it in their life.

"It's my job to teach my children that they can't have everything they want."
"I have to say no to my child because they can't have (junk food, plastic crap, unlimited screen time, the electronic game they want) because (they'll get cancer, the planet is doomed, they will become addicted, they will not learn the difference between wants and needs.)

Lack parenting says, "I didn't get what I needed and wanted as a child and now my child cannot have what they want and need." Lack parenting sometimes stems from a place of not being willing to admit that maybe we didn't turn out as o.k. as we thought we did, maybe our parents weren't as absolutely perfect as we hold them up to be. Maybe if we admit that our childhood wasn't perfect we will have to admit to the hurt, the injustice, the damage that we have bottled up and hidden in the dark, sad, scared place in our heart.

Do you like living in a place of lack? Do you like filling your children with your fears about the environment and the food they eat and the people around them and the scarcity of everything from love to fossil fuel? People eat junk food and live long lives, people eat healthy food and get cancer. To a young child the connection between the desired toy and toxic chemicals and fossil fuel is sketchy at best. Children who live in freedom, who can play computer games whenever they want, eventually end up playing for however long their personal interest dictates, no addiction involved. In life there are things your child won't be able to have (mine will never have naturally red hair) and we don't need to create scarcity or put road blocks in the way of things they can have if it is really important to them.

In my mind meeting everyone's needs includes meeting the needs of the planet. That's a huge leap, I know. When I am meeting the needs of my children and getting my needs met, we are also in conversation about the world around us. When we decided to get rid of our gas guzzling van and become a one car family again it had to be o.k. with the entire family. Our girls weren't excited about the idea at first. Feelings of lack came to the surface. We talked and more than that we listened. We discussed the oil disaster in the gulf and how getting rid of our van was a gesture of honoring the water and all the living things being affected. We decided that we'd donate it to the Humane Society because that way we were helping animals locally, too. While the couple hundred dollars we might have gotten through selling the van would have helped us, we let go of our feelings of lack and created a lot of positive feelings by donating it and making a symbolic gesture.

Imagine a world where everyone's needs were met. Imagine a world where everyone lived life following their passions and living authentically. Imagine a world where the joy and peace and bliss you feel when you are doing what you were truly meant to do is a common experience. You can live in freedom instead of fear, you can embrace the abundance instead of clinging to lack.

If you are reading this right now and thinking that I'm pointing my finger specifically at you, let me assure you that I am not writing this directed at any one person. The number of people who live in this place of lack that I am writing about, who cling to fear and feel that they have to teach their children to live from a place of lack is, unfortunately, huge. If you are reading this and feeling defensive or uncomfortable or angry then I probably am writing about you, I just didn't have you in mind at the time. Do you really want to raise your children from a place of lack?

Being raised with lack can lead to eating disorders, health issues, compulsive buying, seeking out unhealthy relationships, and addiction, just for starters. Growing up feeling that there is not enough of something can lead to trying to get more of it in the future: control, love, material possessions, food.

Being raised knowing that your needs will be met, that who you are and what you want in life will be respected, that your parents are on your side, have got your back, and are committed to enjoying the adventures along side of you leads to children who grow up feeling secure, confident, capable and understood. These children know how to get their needs met in healthy ways. They also know that everyone has needs and if we all pull together and get creative everyone's needs can be met.

If you are feeling the lack in your life it is time to get creative! Instead of saying "I can't" say "let's figure out how to make this happen." Instead of assuming you can't have the life you want, start looking for all the small ways you can begin to move in that direction. Instead of clinging to fear figure out what makes you feel empowered and start making a difference in ways that matter in your life.

And don't even think about saying "That's easy for you to say because your life is different from mine and I don't have...." Everyone has their challenges. If you come to challenges from a place of lack it is likely you'll feel trapped and defeated. If you come to challenges from a place of "Yes!" the challenge becomes an opportunity for creative problem solving. It becomes a challenge like a sudoku puzzle. The more you work on the puzzles the easier it becomes for your mind to see the paths and patterns that lead to solutions. I am raising my children to be puzzle solvers, capable of getting their needs met and finding solutions to the challenges in life.

Personal Lack

Conflict creeps into our home when we coming from a place of lack. When my children feel that they aren't getting something they need, or that there will not be enough of something, or they don't trust that their needs can be met because of past experience or because the thing they need feels bigger than what they think they can reasonably request, the feeling of lack affects their ability to stay calm or react reasonably or share or be patient. Knowing this I have been focusing on filling their cups to over flowing. I say yes, try to anticipate needs so that I am better able or available to meet them, and support their passions even when neither of us have a clue where following that passion may lead. This takes a concerted effort on my part because there are still patterns in our relationships that were formed in less positive parental moments. Actually, they were formed in less than positive parental years. It takes more effort because we are still working to recreate trust and respect and connection. However, as we get away from those out dated patterns and move farther into the life of a family where everyone's needs get met, the hours of peace and harmony, and crazy silliness, expand. I know that it is absolutely worth pushing through in those moments when I am feeling like it's too hard or too much or I want to say "no" just because it would be easier in that moment. Every "yes" builds trust, every "yes" moves us forward into the life that we have chosen to live. Every "no" is two steps back. It is vital to the life we want to live that I continue to meet the needs of my family so that everyone feels that their cup is full and their needs will be met and they are loved unconditionally. But there's more to it than that, I need to meet their needs with joy in my heart. If I don't want to meet their needs but do it anyway they know. If I grumble about preparing a snack, if I complain about getting up from the computer to give attention to my children, if I snap when they all want to go to the grocery store with me, that is not meeting their needs. Truly meeting their needs involves a certain amount of grace. For me, meeting their needs with a cheerful smile often takes a huge amount of grace.

The truth is that while I've been mulling over lack and its presence in our family, I have come to realize that I am the root of all lack. I am the originator of the feelings of lack in our family. And while I have at times been accused of having an over developed sense of responsibility (we'll get into that some other day) I don't think that is the case here. Deep down I do not believe that my needs can be met. Here I am saying to my children, "Everyone's needs can be met. We will figure this out so that everyone's needs will be met." and I don't believe it for myself. How can they possibly trust that it is true in their own life if it is not true in mine?

As a child I was taught about joy, but we were actually taught about "JOY" which stood for Jesus, Others, You. Put Jesus first, put Others second, put Yourself last and you will have joy. As a middle child who wanted to keep the peace, make everyone happy, meet the needs of her friends and family, I was primed to internalize this message. I don't know if anyone else in my family remembers this, but it is still echoing in my brain 16 years after I stopped believing that Jesus was a real person in history. My needs were not important. I internalized this before I could talk, it was reinforced throughout my life, and here I am, as an adult, trying to prove it isn't true. Constantly meeting everyone else's needs did not bring me joy as a child, and yet I'm trying to joyfully meet the needs of my children as an adult.

I grew up, got married, moved across the country, got divorced and finally started living life according to my needs. For a little over a year I lived my life my way. For one year my needs were all that mattered. That ended when I became pregnant. Fast forward 4 years and two more babies and you'll find me living in 900 square feet with no yard, no garage, a car that left for work every day with my husband, and no friends or family close enough to help. My needs were not only unmet, I stopped admitting they existed. It didn't seem that there was a way for my needs to be met so I gave up trying. My needs weren't important. My children and husband had needs that were important, but even then, I was so depleted that I could not meet their needs adequately and we all learned to live a life of lack. I tried to show them that their needs were important, but I also taught them that they could not trust that their needs would be met. If their needs were met, chances were they would be met while I cursed and grumbled.

This is the past that we are healing from. This is the reason that while other adults may say that my children are "old enough to do things for themselves" they still need me to get them snacks and bring them water. They need to have their simple needs met, they need to know that they can ask and I'll say "yes." We have to repeat that over and over and over so that they relearn that their needs are important and they trust that their needs can and will be met. However, I'm still healing, too. My needs continue to go unmet. I did not learn as a child how to get my needs met. I did not learn to express my needs. Often I can't even identify my needs. For me the patterns of the past are over 40 years old and I do not have anyone else in my life now who is consistently able to say "yes" to my needs. I have to be that person for myself. I have to say "Yes!" to my own needs. Many days my creative solutions fall short and I do not trust that my needs are important and can be met. Sometimes, for a moment, for an hour, I truly believe that everyone's needs can be met, even mine. Now I am trying to cheerfully meet the needs of my children when the behavior of putting the needs of others first caused scars of my past. It comes down to being authentic. As a child I would behave to please other people because it made them happy, because it met their needs. As an adult I can choose to meet the needs of my children because it makes me happy, because it is my gift to them and in choosing to give that gift I am free from obligation, expectation, freed from the patterns of the past. It is my choice. It is authentic to who I am and who I want to be. In that sense, it meets my needs and theirs. Our needs are being met. From that small place I begin to let go of my feelings of lack. I say "yes" to their needs, I say "yes" to who I want to be. Yes, this is the life we choose.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


One of the challenges that comes with making changes in your parenting behaviors, manifesting changes in your parenting philosophy in your relationship with your children, is that both of you have ingrained responses or patterns that are firmly rooted in the history of your relationship. There is a decided lack of trust on the child's part, in the parent's ability to behave in a different way, based on their experiences with that parent in similar situations. And, while we cannot and should not expect our children to simply take us at our word that we are trying to change, or have changed, and that we will be more respectful and worthy of their trust in the future, it makes it that much more challenging to change our behaviors when the behavior of our children mirrors the interactions of our past.

As we are embracing this life of saying "yes" and meeting everyone's needs, as we are learning to live without external controls on food and sleep and behavior, as we are all exploring our passions and reconnecting with who we are instead of who we were told we should be, time and time again we get snagged on the old feelings of lack.

I find "lack" to be an awkward word. It feels rather rude or abrupt when you say it, it feels like it needs a prefix or suffix to make it complete. Perhaps that's as it should be because when someone is coming from a place of lack they feel that they need something to be complete and their interactions are often abrupt or awkward.

The feeling of lack speaks of not trusting that there will be enough ice cream for everyone, that the needs of someone else are going to be made more important, that we will never truly get what we want and that the empty place inside of us will grow larger instead of being filled up with love and comfort and understanding.

Many of us have grown up stuffing our feelings of lack, trying to self sooth in less than healthy ways. Food, alcohol, or drugs may have dulled the pain of our feelings, but they did not fill the needs we had that were unmet, unrecognized, or discounted and dismissed in our childhood. Self-mutilation, recreating unhealthy relationships, or anorexia may have given us some sense of control over the pain, but the lack lived on in our lives.

Food is an easy example of the power of lack. When we control the food that our children eat we give greater value to the foods we withhold. If we say, "You can only have one cookie," we have just given the cookie greater value than the green beans we pile on their plate. In our house we have lifted all controls on food. If you have had strict controls on food you can expect that your children will react to that as soon as the strict controls are lifted. We have found that our children still approach food from a place of lack as soon as they suspect that there might be a limited quantity of any particular food item. For example, our girls love microwaveable Asian soup bowls from Trader Joe's. When we first started buying them there was a great deal of concern about who had eaten how many and how many were still in the pantry. When I assured the girls that there were plenty and we could always go to the store to buy more they did not instantly trust that this was true. They were still responding from a place of lack. When I started buying huge numbers of soup bowls at a time this helped some. However, what has helped the most is months and months of making sure that we always buy soup bowls so that they girls can build up the trust required to let go of their feels of lack.

We have been working on reestablishing the trust and letting go of lack for over a year now. In some areas we have made huge leaps and in others we are still running into conflict that is rooted in years of lack.

Lack is listed as a verb and a noun on the Merriam-Webster online Dictionary. As a verb it means to be deficient or missing, or to have need of something. The definitions that really spoke to me were the ones given for the noun "lack" in the thesaurus at the same website: "the fact or state of being absent", "a falling short of an essential or desirable amount" or " a state of being without something necessary, desirable, or useful."

Synonyms: absence, dearth, want
Related Words: deficiency, deficit, inadequacy, insufficiency, meagerness, paucity, poverty, scantiness, scarceness, scarcity, shortage, skimpiness; deprivation, loss, necessity, need, needfulness, omission; privation; vacuum, void

When I look at the definitions and synonyms I realize why the feeling of lack is so destructive in our relationships with our children and in our own lives. The words leave me feeling empty, bleak, and distressed.

However, the antonyms take care of those unhappy feelings in a heart beat!

Antonyms: presence
Near Antonyms: abundance, amplitude, bounty, plenitude, plenty, wealth; adequacy, sufficiency; excess, overabundance, oversupply, surfeit, surplus; deluge, flood; heap, mountain, peck, pile, pot, quantity, raft, stack, volume, wad; fund, pool, stock, supply; hoard, stockpile

When parents talk about children with "challenging behaviors" or "behavior issues" they are talking about the child's response to a lack in his or her life. When children lack something: food, love, attention, security, acceptance of who they are, sleep, down time, stimulation, they do whatever they can to fill the lack. When you see a child "misbehaving" remind yourself that this child is coming from a place of lack, and try to figure out what it is that the child needs. Simply stopping the behavior does not mean that the child's lack has been filled. Neglecting to meet that child's need and requiring the child to stop the "misbehavior" because it is bothersome to an adult creates an even greater lack in the child. The only way to get rid of lack is to create presence, to meet the need, to support the child.

Our children need our presence, not our absence. They thrive when their cups are filled to over flowing with our love and attention. They feel secure when they know that there is plenty to go around. And the more they live in a place of abundance the easier it will be for them to trust when we have a grumpy day or the path of life gets a bit rocky. As we eradicate lack, through our presence in trusting and respectful relationships with our children, we free up the energy that was spent grasping for what was lacking so that it can be redirected to joyfully exploring life together as a family.

Monday, July 26, 2010

I'm That Mom...

Here's my contribution to an impromptu blog carnival via Ronnie Sundance Maier based on a post by Flo Gascon

I'm that mom, the one who is driving the little charcoal gray Saturn w/ the windows down (the air conditioning no longer works). The license plate holders are pretend barbed wire (a Father's Day gift to my husband) and the bumper stickers read "RU," "Ryan Montbleau Band" and "My unschooler will rescue your honor student from the zombies." Riding in the car with me are four girls between the ages of 9 and 13.75. Our hair colors include teal ends (mine), pink ends, shades of dark blue, flame red w/ bleached bangs, and naturally red (the child who isn't mine.) We are all singing along, loudly, to "Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga, it's the Glee version. It's a beautiful Monday morning in July and we are headed to pick blueberries.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

You won't know until you try....

Some children are natural born risk takers. They seem to start climbing before they crawl, they have no fear of heights, they are happiest when they are pushing themselves to the limit and trying something new. Some children are more conservative by nature. They like to watch before they join in, they are happiest when they are in their comfort zone, they seem to have been born aware of what is "safe" and are quite content staying inside that boundary. Of course most children are a combination of the two: no fear of soccer balls flying at their heads when they play goalie, but unable to sleep alone in a dark room; happy to climb to the top of the tree, but terrified of water; the first one to hold a snake, but reduced to tears when a dog is in the room.

As parents we support our children's interests, provide them with new experiences, and expose them to the broadest possible slice of the world. We need to know our child so that we can take into consideration their comfort level in different situations or when experiencing something new. We also need to respect their decisions regarding their level of involvement in each situation or willingness to try something new.

Have you ever pushed your child to try something? "You won't know until you try." "You'll feel so good about yourself once you've done this." Have you crossed the line from support and encouragement to threatening and demanding? "We are not going home until you...." Or manipulating and bribing, "I'll buy you ice cream if you..."

I have given this a lot of thought because I am not a risk taker. I do not enjoy heights, steep slopes, going fast, feeling out of control, or slimy foods. In my life I have done a lot of things while trying to hold back the tears or hide the panic I was feeling inside. Many times I have done things because I didn't feel that saying "no" was an option. Upon reflection I've realized that doing things others pushed me to do because it would supposedly make me feel proud of myself, or more capable or successful, did not leave me with those feelings. In fact, I was left feeling manipulated, angry at myself, hurt, sad and alone. Not one of the things I did because someone pushed me had a lasting positive impact upon my life. Learning to quiet my own inner wisdom that was telling me what to do, or not do, and listen to someone else's louder, stronger, more powerful voice has not serve me well as as an adult, in relationships or in the workplace.

I am not less of a person because I will happily wait by the stream while you scale the steep climb to the top of the mountain. My life is not any less wonderful because I choose cross country skiing over downhill. My diet is not less fulfilling because I choose to be a vegetarian while you eat oysters and lobster. My appreciation and affection for horses is not inferior because I prefer grooming them to riding. Listening to my inner wisdom I am guided to things that I enjoy. Following my own path leads me deeper in my understanding of who I am and where my passions lie. And I will not be missing out if I never sky dive, bungee jump or eat fugu (puffer fish.)

As parents we need to respect our children's comfort zones. We need to support them when they want to take a risk or try something new. This involves following their lead, letting them tell us how far they want to go and what kind of assistance they want. We can provide them with safe environments to test their limits without ever pushing for them to go farther and do more. Trust your child. When they say that something is too hard, too high or too uncomfortable respect that. If they are willing, discuss with them why they want to stop. Provide them with options for making things safe or more comfortable. Give them empowering information. But do not push them, do not try to coax or manipulate your child. Ask yourself why it is important to you that your child does something. Give your child the freedom to listen to their inner wisdom, to follow their own path, to become the person they are. If they really want to do something they will. If they do it on their own terms, in their own way, at their own pace they will feel capable and strong and successful.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The other side of Trust

Two months ago I wrote about trust from the perspective of parents trusting their children. There is another side of trust: children trusting their parents. If you feel like it's hard to trust your children think about what it's like to be a child. Children are completely dependent on the adults in their life. If your child doesn't trust you they don't have the option of grounding you or punishing you or creating consequences for your behavior. It's daunting to think of all the different areas of life, all the little things, all the possible ways that we can betray our child's trust. And if we screw that up it will affect our child's relationships for a long time, possibly for the rest of their life. Are you worthy of your child's trust?

The development of trust starts at birth. Do the adults turn down the lights for the new born's sensitive eyes? Is this new person nursed when she's hungry, changed when she's wet, burped when she's uncomfortable, and given skin to skin cuddles where she can listen to that familiar heart beat that kept her company for all those months in the womb? The infant learns to trust when her needs are consistently and lovingly met. That doesn't change. Children learn to trust when their needs are consistently and lovingly met. If you respect your children and take their needs seriously you will be worthy of their trust.

You can have a good relationship with your children, you can feel fine about how your family interacts, you can feel great about yourself as a parent and still not really have the trust of your child. Even parents who would say they are people of integrity, honest, righteous and trustworthy fail to treat their children with respect. Parents regularly use bribes, rewards, punishment, and other forms of control to manipulate the behavior of their children, instead of building a strong relationship of free flowing trust. Children have a hard time trusting parents when they have no confidence in the parent's ability to let go of their need for control or being the one with the power.

Your child should be able to trust you, period. They should know that you have their back, you unconditionally love them, you will take them seriously, and you will do everything in your power to support them in following their passions.

Your children should be able to trust you to:
Make them your priority, nothing is more important than your relationship with your child.
Be willing to discuss your reasons for a request.
Be willing to take "no" for an answer.
Be accepting of who they are.
Accept that they may or may not like foods based on flavor, texture or how they feel that day.
Pick them up and drop them off on time.
Take their friendships and romantic relationships seriously.
Tell them the truth.
Cuddle them when they are hurt or scared, no matter what the time of day or night
Be right there for them when they need you.
Give them space when they need time alone.
Help them find answers.
Listen and really hear what they are saying.

They need to be able to trust you to:
Never say, "I told you so."
Never laugh at their expense.
Never tease them about their body, their speech, accidents, behaviors, or anything else.
Never say, "Because I said so, that's why."
Never forget that you invited them into your life, it was your choice, not theirs.
Never hurt them physically.
Never try to control who they are or try to make them more like the person you expected them to be.
Never set them up for failure or make things extra hard to "teach them a lesson."
Never lie to them.

And when you are having a bad day, when you respond harshly, when you say "no" and then realize that you had no reason not to say "Yes!" your children need to be able to trust you to own your behavior. They need to know that you will apologize, make it right if you can, and that you will continue to try and get your own needs met in different ways so that you can better meet the needs of your children.

I have not always been worthy of my children's trust. For far too many years my patience was worn thin and my frustration level was high, and I did not find the resources I needed to parent from a better place. I parented reactively, falling back on ingrained parenting methods. I would avoid supporting my children's interests when it pushed me out of my comfort zone. I would say they had to do things that I could have easily done for them as a gift to make their day a little easier, brighter, more fun. I said "no" as my default answer. I yelled and made my children cry. Here is what I know: it's not too late to for trust. However, it is harder to re-establish trust with a 10 year old who spent years as the focus of my frustration than with a newborn who instinctively turns to a warm breast to suckle.

It takes time and patience (with myself) as old patterns are gradually erased and new patterns are established. It takes unwavering commitment to putting my relationship with my children first. It takes finding new resources, learning new ways, meeting new people, pushing myself past my comfort zone and embracing different perspectives. My children do not always trust that everyone's needs will be met. That is because their needs haven not always been met. My children do trust that I am trying. They know the kind of parent that I want to be and they are patient with me when I fail. They know that I trust them. They know that I respect them as people and that I am trying to making sure everyone's needs are met. Trust does not stand alone, its foundation is in our relationship. We don't try to build trust, we nurture the relationship.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Be Trust Worthy

While writing a nice little blog post about trust going two ways, about how parents need to trust their children and children have to trust their parents, I got derailed. My mind kept going back to the children who have had their trust betrayed. Children who have been deeply hurt by the people who were supposed to love and protect and encourage and support them. Children who were completely dependent on the people who abused that dependency in horrible ways.

No matter who you are or what your relationship is to children in this world, Be Trust Worthy. Be worthy of the trust of children. The children of this world desperately need adults who treat them with respect, who see them as people, who listen to their words, and take their hopes and dreams and fears and view of life seriously. Children need adults who will bear witness to their lives and validate their experiences.

This applies not only to parents but to every adult. If you aren't a parent you have the opportunity to be a respectful adult in the lives of the children you know. This includes the teens who are stereotyped and dis-empowered and subjected to disparaging remarks, often after having already survived childhood years that were anything but idyllic.

Most people parent as they were parented. The patterns of how we will parent start forming from the minute we are born, the way our parents met our needs or did not meet our need. The way our parents responded to our crying, comforted our fears, valued our interests, respected our food preferences, expressed their absolute unconditional love for us or Did Not, affect how we interact with our children. Some people seem to be born with a temperament that softens their interactions with children and helps them leave the parenting patterns of their past behind quite easily. For some it feels like a constant struggle to be the parent they want to be instead of the parent they were raised to be. Some people never realize there's a different way to parent and some can not admit that the way they were raised was hurtful because then they would have to admit how deeply they themselves were hurt.

Some children are trapped in their family's long history of abuse and hurt and shame. These children have no reason to trust anyone, no foundation of trust. These children need respectful, trustworthy adults in their world. The concept of Namaste may help us be mindful of how we should greet all the children we meet. Namaste means I bow to you, or the light in me sees the light in you. We need to let children know that we see them, that we recognize that they are people, too. In passing we can greet them with a smile that tells them we do see their light. If we see them regularly we can build a relationship that lets them know that there are adults in the world who see children as equally important as adults, who will validate their experiences and honor who they are as a person.

Be trustworthy. Do not let the children in your life down. If you say you will be somewhere, be there. If they want to share something with you give them your full attention. Love them simply because they are alive, not because they deserve it or have earned in through some behavior. Accept them for who they are and not because they have conformed to some ideal you have of who they should be. If for some reason you do not have the ability to be the adult they need in their life at that moment be honest about that. Find resources for yourself so that you can better meet their needs and find resources for them so that their needs can be met. If you do let a child down, don't make excuses. Be honest, be respectful, and apologize.

When we raise our children with trust that goes both ways, we trust them and they trust us, an amazing relationship is possible. When we raise our children with a foundation of trust they grow up to be trustworthy adults. Our children will become aware of the broken trust around them. They will recognize that while all children are worthy of respect and trust, not all adults are respectful and trust worthy. Our children need to know that we will be respectful of all children, creating a relationship of trust with every child that comes into our life to the fullest extent possible. We need to be adults that children can trust. We need to model that for the parents who had hurtful childhoods that they are recreating in the lives of their own children. We need to examine every interaction we have with children and make sure that we are coming from a place of integrity, respect and compassion. For children who have grown up in a family where they cannot trust the adults closest to them every interaction with an adult who is worthy of their trust matters. If ever there was a reason to live mindfully, this is reason enough for me: we must be mindful in every interaction with every child to be absolutely worthy of their trust. Parenting patterns can be changed, cycles of hurt can be stopped, we can make a difference in the life of a hurting child one moment of trust at a time. Be worthy.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Parental Practice

The struggles of parenting are mentioned in conversations, facebook posts, and books about parenting. People use words like challenging, hard work, exhausting, demanding, frustrating. The implication is that having children creates the struggles of parenthood and in turn, that the children are responsible.

If you are a parent, almost without exception, your choices brought that child (or children) into your life. Your child didn't choose to move into your house, have lots of needs, go through developmental stages and end up as an adult. Just like you chose to be a parent, and it is your choice to make parenting a struggle. The struggles of parenting only exist inside of your mind. That is to say, the struggles of parenting are a mind state. Pebbles making ripples on the surface of the pond. Clouds that cover up the radiance of your relationship with your child. Mental crap that takes the joy out of your family's life together. Your mind, your choice, not your child's fault.

I struggle with my mind state. When I find myself feeling in conflict with my children, or struggling with my role as a parent, it can be traced to my clinging to something from my past, or my inability to embrace what is in the present, or my fears about the future. My children are not causing the conflict, my children are not causing the struggle. My children are being authentic, doing the best they can to get their needs met with the resources and abilities they have in that moment. It was my choice to be their parent, it is my choice to be the person who supports them in getting their needs met.

As a parent my desire is to joyfully meet the needs of my children. I want to be present for them in such a way that they feel free to express themselves fully, to process their experiences without feeling judged or criticized, so that they feel respected and loved as they are. Some times my mind state gets in the way.

Here's an example: My daughter has an itchy back. This happens a lot. I'm crocheting, or cooking, or washing dishes, and she walks up and says, "My back itches." Well, what she's really saying is, "Please scratch my back." I know what she's really saying but I can get hung up on how she's saying it. I find myself asking, "Are you asking me to scratch your back?" Then I feel annoyed that I'm stopping what I'm doing to scratch her back. I find myself increasingly grumpy as I am instructed to scratch higher and lower and to one side or the other. My mind state is not matching my desire to joyfully meet the needs of my daughter.

It could have gone like this instead: My daughter has an itchy back. "My back itches." I stop what I'm doing and smile and focus on my daughter's needs. I ask "Where would you like me to scratch?" and make sure that I scratch under her shirt because I already know that's what she prefers. I can use the time to connect with my daughter, embracing the moment and the comfort my daughter feels when having her back scratched.

It usually takes less time to meet my daughter's needs by following the second pattern. That's because she's really wanting attention as much as she's wanting her back scratched and when I'm feeling grumpy I'm not meeting that need for attention. When I focus on cheerfully meeting my daughter's needs, it also leaves both of us feeling connected and at peace. The difference between the two ways of responding is all in my mind.

There's a kind of parental enlightenment that we can attain. It is easier for some people than for others, but for most of us it does take practice. When we reach this state of parental enlightenment our day to day life may be the same (though it will probably feel easier and may actually be easier) but our attitude changes. We still spend our days meeting our children's needs, making food, cleaning up messes. The difference is that we now do these same things from a place of joy, as a gift to our children, instead of from a place of resentment and frustration.

As parents who are cultivating parental enlightenment in our lives and in our minds, we need to recognize that this is a practice. When we find ourselves struggling with a negative mind state, grumpy, annoyed, without patience or reactive in some way, we need to figure out how to support ourselves so that we can support our children. Part of the practice is focusing on how we can make sure our needs are met so that we can more joyfully meet the needs of our children. What little things can we do to brighten our own day? What methods work best to help us calm our mind? Who can we turn to when we don't feel like we can get out of a negative mental pattern on our own?

This does not mean that we have to be happy all the time and that nothing bad ever happens in our life. When there are challenges in our lives we can be honest with our children about how we are feeling and why. This means that we say, "I didn't get a lot of sleep last night and I'm feeling a little grumpy right now. I'm going to take a short nap and see if that helps me feel better." or "I'm feeling sad for my friend who is sick." or "Daddy had a frustrating day at work and is feeling the need for a little quiet time before he plays on the computer with you tonight." If we are struggling for a reason we can let our child know. If we are out of sorts and we don't know why we can tell them that, too. By acknowledging what's going on in our life, and how it is affecting us, we show our children that it's normal to feel a variety of different emotions. We also show our children that in our family it is safe to talk about how we feel and to get our needs met. This helps us as parents focus on identifying what is really bothering us so that we are less likely to lash out at our children or treat them in ways that may make them feel that our bad mood or sadness or frustration is their fault.

As parents we can continually look for ways to joyfully meet the needs of our children. We can accept the past, embrace the now, and let go of our fears about the future. Parenting doesn't have to be a struggle. We have a choice.

"Whoever would live well,
Long lasting, bringing bliss-
Let him be generous, be calm
And cultivate the doing of good.
By practicing these three...
The wise one lives without regret
His world infused with happiness."
(from "The Chocolate Cake Sutra: Ingredients for a Sweet Life" by Geri Larkin)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Saying "Yes"

"Don't say no. Always say yes. Or some form of yes. See your role as helping her get what she needs rather than negotiating for what's most convenient for you."
Joyce Fetteroll

What does it look like when we say "yes" to our children?

My youngest daughter wanted a playhouse. Finances are limited and our yard is more hill than flat. She also doesn't like bugs, particularly spiders and things that fly and sting. She's nine and a half years old, so her interest in a playhouse may quickly be outgrown. She tried building a playhouse out of cardboard, but it just wasn't what she wanted. She figured out that what would really work was a real playhouse, in her bedroom.

We talked about different options and we decided to try and find a playhouse that someone else was giving away or perhaps we could find one at a second hand store. Once you start saying yes it can be amazing how things work out. (Perhaps not always, but a really awe inspiring number of times!)

We had friends who had a playhouse that they were considering replacing with a swing. I asked if it was available. My daughter followed up with an e-mail. Less than a week later they delivered it to our house! My daughter's room tends to be a bit chaotic because it's the preferred creative play space in our home. My husband, Jess, and I tag teamed cleaning out the room, w/ our daughter helping her dad for about a 1/2 hour of the process. It was a warm day, we don't have air conditioning, and her room is upstairs. I sorted and recycled and got rid of garbage. I vacuumed.

The girls squealed with delight and danced around the empty room. My daughter gave me a huge hug of appreciation for all the work I did to get her room ready.

Our family worked together to carry the pieces of the house upstairs. Jess screwed the pieces together. I dug out some fake ivy vines and flowers. Jess and I decorated the outside w/ greenery while our daughter started fixing up the inside. We decided it needed lighting, so I got the box of holiday lights out of the attic. The sisters joined in the fun of putting woodland creatures (stuffed animals) in and around the house. We found flower fairies we made years ago to tuck into the flowers and vines. We put a small table and chairs on the "back patio" that has a view of the flower fairy mural on the wall. Upon request I found a tablecloth. The end result was named "The Cottage in the Woods." It's really charming. 11:30 last night I was asked to make toast and iced tea for a tea party at The Cottage in the Woods. After tea was served I headed to bed.

The girls have already spent hours playing in and around The Cottage.

That is what happens when we say "yes." We take our child's desires seriously. We get creative with them to support them in meeting their needs. We do our part to fill in the gaps that they may not be ready or able to handle, in this case clearing out a messy room and putting together the house. We enjoy the process with them, but we don't take ownership.

As parents we can discount our child's desires without giving them much thought. "You don't need a playhouse." "Playhouses belong outside, having one in your bedroom will take up too much space." "We don't have the money to get a playhouse."

As parents we also often forget to listen to what our children want. If we had gotten a playhouse but insisted on putting it in the backyard, spiders would have moved in quite quickly. We would then be tempted to say, "We got you a playhouse like you wanted, but you never play in it!" My daughter had already thought this through and had come up with a solution that met her needs. We just needed to stop and listen.

As parents we tend to put up roadblocks or barriers. "You can have a playhouse but I'm not putting it together for you until you have completely cleaned your room." We can easily create frustration and tears and power struggles. This can last for days and create a lot of unhappiness in a house. In some cases it might even result in the playhouse sitting outside in pieces so long that our child has lost interest. On the other hand, we can choose to clean the room with whatever help our child feels able to provide. When I clean up a child's room because I love them, and I know they prefer to have a tidy space, their appreciation for my work on their behalf is so sweet and real and wonderful. If you've never felt that from your kids, you are really missing out!

When we say "yes" to our children we empower them to follow their passions. They know we are there to support them and that we are willing to express our love for them in actions, not just words. When we say "yes" to our children and support them unconditionally we find that our children are then increasingly able to say "yes" and to support us when we are following our passions, too.

This is what it looks like when we say "yes" to our children:

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Fears - yours, not theirs

What am I afraid of?

I was one question into writing this when I got a text from my 13 year old daughter. She and her 10 year old sister were going to hang out at a park in Portland with some other teens, then go to a friend's house, and some time later in the evening my husband would pick them up again. My response? "O.K. try to avoid sunburns and drink enough fluids. :) I Love You!" What would your response have been?

What are you afraid of?

When it comes to our children, often our fears are based on something that might happen in the future. The future that is so far away we have no idea what it will look like, a future that is ultimately beyond our control. Our fears are based on something that might happen in our children's future, did you notice, it's not your future.

Many parents today parent from a place of fear. The decisions they make about how to parent are based on fears about possible negative outcomes. If I don't do make my child do chores, go to bed on time, and say please and thank you then my child may not grow up to be a socially acceptable, responsible adult." or "If my child doesn't do their homework, get good grades and play a team sport they may not be able to get a good job when they grow up."

Parents control their children in the belief that if they hold onto their kids tightly enough the things they fear the most won't happen. Parents try to protect their children from certain influences while trying to expose them to others. Parents try to make their children behave, teach them lessons, and prepare them for the realities of life.

I'm going to share a truth with you. If it makes you uncomfortable, upset, or defensive, take a moment to ask yourself "What am I afraid of?"

Parenting the conventional way, with rules, punishment, rewards, bribes, chores, bedtimes, getting to school on time and completing homework, playing team sports and taking piano lessons, going to church and singing in the choir does not guarantee anything except that your child will have been parented more or less like the majority of the children they know.

In fact, parenting with all of the above may actually guarantee that your children are more likely to struggle in many different ways through out their life than children who are parented unconditionally with respect and freedom, who don't go to school, and who are supported in following their natural patterns of learning and exploring their interests and passions.

Are you mentally justifying the way you are raising your children? If you're saying "My child is doing fine," or "But you don't know me and my life is complicated," let me assure you that parents of all income levels, married, single, gay, straight, religious and atheist parent their children unconditionally , respectfully, and without requiring their children to go school. They have gotten creative, been brave, stopped making excuses and made a commitment to respecting the person their child is.

What are you afraid of?

Are you afraid that you can't handle having your children home all the time? Are you afraid that people will think you've totally gone off the deep end if you take your kids out of school? Are you afraid you'll be judged if you leave your child in the school system? Everyone has to make the choices that are right for their family. Those choices may look differently in each family and even in the same family during different periods of their life. The most important choice is to listen to your children, be involved in their lives, respect them as people, support them and hear what they are telling you is the best fit for who they are. Working together you can figure out how to meet everyone's needs.

To find out more about how children learn and how school affects children visit Peter Gray's blog, it's a great place to start:

If you are interested in unconditional parenting and how rewards and punishment affect children, visit Alfie Kohn's site and check some of his books out of the library:

"We have nothing to fear but fear itself" Franklin D. Roosevelt

Fear is the parent of cruelty.
- James A. Froude

Sunday, July 4, 2010


A Buddhist will tell you that your attachments cause you suffering. What I've recently realized is that, if you are a parent, there's a good chance that your attachments are causing your children suffering, too. Attachments come in many different forms. We may be attached to relationships, ideals, material possessions, particular outcomes, delusions - anything we cling to mentally, physically or emotionally.

Nothing is more important to me than my relationship with my children. This includes my attachments.

In Buddhism, Nirvana is the mental state reached when someone releases their attachments and is free from suffering.

This quote spoke to me because it reflects the kind of relationship that I want to have with my children. If we parent from a place of compassion, without negative emotions and fears, we can live a life of profound joy with our children.

Sometimes our attachments are obvious, such as wanting our children to look a certain way when we go out in public: brushed hair, clean clothes, clothes that match, hair that is its natural color, socks and shoes.

We may be attached to what our society says is right or good or necessary for our children: going to school, good grades, high test scores, saying please and thank you, extra curricular activities, lessons, chores, what to eat and when it should be eaten.

We may also be attached to expected responses when we do something for our child: gratitude, appreciation, happiness, joy.

We plan an outing that we think our child will enjoy. We tell them about the outing and they say they don't want to go. We get upset. Why? We had expectations, we took the time to plan the outing, we were wrapped up in our anticipation of enjoying the outing with our child, we are hurt that they aren't excited about our plan. We were attached to the idea of the outing and the expected response of the child. If we can let go of that attachment and find a place of compassion we can respond to our child in a positive way. Is our child not feeling well? Is there something about the outing that is scary to the child? Is there something the child was hoping to do instead? Is the child feeling like some down time instead of a big adventure?

What are you holding onto that is causing your child suffering? What attachments are getting in the way of a compassionate relationship with your child?

Nothing is more important than my relationship with my children. If I have an attachment that is causing suffering in my relationship with my children than I need to let go of that attachment. If there is tension or conflict in my relationship with my children I need to examine what I'm holding onto. Releasing my attachments releases that tension. Suffering ends and peace is found.

Living in Nirvana with our children, how cool is that?
Just don't get too attached to the idea....

Friday, July 2, 2010


As a parent I try to be involved in my children's lives in such a way that we are experiencing and exploring life together. I am available to help them get their needs met. I also do my best to meet their needs without being asked because we have spent their entire lives together and I know quite a bit about what they like and dislike, and how they will most likely react to certain situations or environments. I also respect their desire for independence and the fact that they are not static beings. I do my best not to take it personally when my efforts to meet their needs are rejected or fail to fit what they actually need in any given moment. If they don't need or want my help that's really okay with me, but I'm here if they do.

Some parents give their children freedom but fail to be present in their lives. They let their children do whatever they want without any support or resources. In some circles this is referred to as unparenting. At its most extreme it can be a form of neglect.

Unparenting also takes the form of parents failing to provide their children with information or guidance regarding what is appropriate in a given situation. The child is happily running in circles through a room for several minutes and then the parent yells at them and tells them to sit down and be quiet or leave the room. The child reaches for the last cookie on the platter only to have her hand slapped or the plate jerked out of reach. The child goes on an outing and doesn't have appropriate shoes or a jacket and gets scolded for not being prepared. What ever the situation, the child has been innocently doing something, happily engaged, or oblivious to something that others are aware of, and out of the blue they find themselves being yelled at, punished, scolded or shamed. Many times the parent was absorbed in some other activity or conversation and was ignoring their child up until the moment they noticed the child's behavior. They then notice that the child is "misbehaving" and in an instant the parent's negative attention is focused upon the child. To the child this can be scary, confusing, or just plain unfair.

A crucial part of parenting is providing our children with information so that they know what is appropriate or expected in a given situation. As parents we also need to be aware of our children's limits and abilities so that we can help them avoid or navigate situations that may be challenging for them in any way. Having a relationship based on trust and respect, along with having a history of providing our children with accurate factual information, makes it possible for our children to remain open and receptive to information that we provide. This process begins at a very young age. We help our children understand why we are quiet in a library or we wait for our turn to go down the slide. The more we can provide information about the "why" and help our children be prepared before they go into a new situation the easier the experience will be for both parent and child. If we manage to stay connected with our children we will be less likely to look up and react harshly or negatively when a calm and supportive response would better help our child. If we stay with our child we can provide them with information relating to our experience, "The stairs are a bit slippery here so I'm going to hold onto the railing. Would you like to hold my hand or hold onto the railing, too?" We can also help them understand expectations relating to specific public places, "It's polite to be quiet in the library because people are reading or trying to concentrate and loud noises might be distracting." And we have the opportunity to share with them why there are laws and rules about certain behaviors, "There are rules about not picking flowers in this park. We aren't allowed to pick flowers because if everyone who came here picked flowers there wouldn't be anymore flowers for other people to enjoy."

When we become a resource for accurate information our children are able to turn to us for cues as to what might be an appropriate behavior in a new situation. When we are involved in our children's lives we have a better idea of what situations are appropriate for our children and how we can support them so they can enjoy a new experience. When we remain connected with our children in any situation we are aware of what is going on with and around our children which enables us to offer positive support or information as it is needed. When we make our relationship with our children the most important priority in our life we get to have more fun as we explore the world together.

Supporting Our Children's Passions

I have made a commitment to supporting my children as they explore their interests and follow their passions. My children's passions at the very least become my interests as we learn together. I spend time researching to figure out my role as facilitator in relation to any particular passion. Many of the members of this family are still in the early stages of reconnecting with or discovering passions because we have only been focusing on our passions, instead of what outside influences said we should focus on, for about a year now.

In our family we accept that some passions come and go, while others remain for a lifetime. Each person is welcome to invest as much or as little of their time and energy into any particular passion or interest for as long or as short a time as they wish. There is no concern about wasting time with a non-permanent passion. We learn from each interest for as long as it lasts and are comfortable with the possibility that a particular interest may last for an hour or a week or for years. There is no guilt around leaving one interest for another. There are no lectures about finishing what you started or about being a quitter. There is no need to do something because we "should." Authentic engagement and intrinsic motivation determine how long each of us participates in any activity or follows a particular interest.

This commitment to supporting my children's passions involves a great deal of trust. Trust that they really know what is right for them and trust that I am capable when their passions push me out of my comfort zone. This week has had big moments of trust. One of our daughter's heard an ad on the radio about talent scouts who were coming to our area. We went on-line and checked it out as best we could. We talked about what the experience might be like and what the possibilities were that it could actually lead to her ending up with an agent and an acting career. We really didn't know what to expect, but our entire family went with her to the event. We listened, took notes, and when it was her turn she walked up to the table. The scout asked her a few questions. She gave him confident answers. He saw within her the passion, the desire, the confidence that this was what she was meant to be doing. Next thing we knew we were sitting down again listening to the realities of being parents to a child actor. Those realities don't exactly mesh with my comfort zone.

We have an invitation to an event in 2 months to meet with agents. I posted this on facebook and got the expected responses that this was a scam and we should run, not walk, the other direction. Believe me, I had my scam radar turned way up through the entire experience. My daughter and I talked about scams and about how there were no guarantees that she would end up with an agent. This is what my daughter wants to do. If I say no to going, give her a lecture about starting local and working her way up, and give in to my desire to remain within my comfort zone, I am not honoring her passion. She has always been a child full of passion. She's not a start small kind of kid. When she played soccer she wanted to be a forward or the goalie, front line or last defense and nothing in between. She wants to be a film actor, not a community theater actor. Knowing this about her I know that she wants to go to this event, walk on that stage, perform her monologue, meet agents in person and embrace the experience. She may or may not end up with an agent, but she needs to seize the opportunity and see where she ends up. I need to support her by providing her with honest information about what to expect and the possible outcomes, without giving in to my fears or unnecessary negativity. I have to trust her knowledge of herself and of what she needs to do to follow her passion.

Right now I have no way of knowing how long this particular passion will remain a part of our lives. It's possible that this time next year I will be spending a great deal of time in LA getting a lot of crocheting done while accompanying my child actor. That's so far out of my comfort zone, and outside of my knowledge base, that I can only trust that I will learn what I need to know as we go along and that I will handle each new experience with grace. On the other hand, next summer may find our family following a brand new set of passions that are completely unexpected and unknown at this moment.

I am reminded of the Kimya Dawson lyrics Jess has on his blog, "So write and write and keep on writing, Just make sure your life's exciting." A few days ago I was thinking that my life wasn't all that exciting. How wrong I was. We are living the grand adventure of following our passions. It doesn't get more exciting than that!