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.


  1. i, too, love the antonyms for lack - great words to focus on.

    earlier today i was at a park and there was this wee one who was crying - i overhead his mama say 'he'll just cry more if you give him attention' and then she looked at him and told him to 'quit' - it was so painful to witness yet i had absolutely no idea how i might intervene and help offer a different way. that dear wee one was obviously experiencing a lack at that moment - perhaps a lack of comfort - and i just wanted to cuddle him and comfort him till he was done crying on his own :(

  2. I so struggle with that, too. The last two nights I have had to listen to the baby across the street cry. The 7th baby in a "nice family" with what most people would consider "good parents." Knocking on the door and saying "excuse me but your baby is crying" seems useless since I know that they would probably just say "It's time for him to be asleep so he's in his room" or "It doesn't hurt him to cry" or something similar, but I know that it does hurt him to cry unanswered and I know that he's probably already be asleep if someone were cuddling him.... It makes me crazy and short of moving I don't feel there's anything I can do about it...

  3. Excellent, thank you so much for sharing :)