TAO of Parenting

T  is for Time

A  is for Affection

O is for Optimism

                                                                                      Barbara Coloreso

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Questions to ponder:

How was I shown affection as a child?

Who was there for me and would answer my questions with full attention?

What did I know or was told about the future?   How did this affect me?

 

I find this simple nemonic easy to remember and put my focus on while parenting my children.  Somehow it simplifies parenting into what’s really important.  Time.  When my children made a bid for my attention, I (mostly), remembered to stop what I was doing and give them my full attention, really listen and catch their emotion about what they were telling me; when I came home from work, I made sure  to take a deep breath, put whatever had happened during the day outside an imaginary pyramid I visualised around myself and get down on the floor and play with the kids.  Love.  Easy to do when everything is going well.  If I was having to discipline the kids, taking time so I could remain calm and reminding them that even if I did not like their behaviour I still loved them.  I find this is really important for teenagers as they are inclined to take some risks and try some silly things especially in the company of their friends.  I find it easy to say – it doesn’t matter what you do, (give some examples from recent news), I’ll always love you.  Optimism.  I’m so pleased this is the last value (as I may not have thought of it for myself)  but I was able to encourage the kids to use positive mantras for themselves when things went wrong.  When they were at school and a 6.3 earthquake stuck our city, they were both able to keep calm and support others who were very scared.  It has given them grit, when the going got tough with assignments or/and relationships and/or worries about the future.

Thank you Barbara

 

 

 

 

 

Co-Parent

Be compassionate, and take responsibility 

for each other.

If we only learned those lessons,

this world would be so much better a place.

                                                                                                                       Morrie Schwartz

 

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Were you an only child?  How was that for you?

Were you the eldest, youngest, middle?

Were you a twin?

What was the experience like for you and how do you think you were affected by it?

For many years, I worked with a quirky, fun-loving, compassionate colleague.  She would stop her car to herd mother duck and ducklings to safety across the road, (even if she was going to be late), she would chat to anybody in any queue at the cafe, she wore immaculate outfits with interesting jewellery and made us all laugh with her madcap stories of incidents that could only happen to her!  One such story was the time she lost track of time while talking to some people and suddenly realised she was going to be late.  She rushed back to her motel room removing her shirt while coming through the door and apologising profusely to her cousin… until she noticed that she was in fact talking to a reclining man in orange robes who was looking amused.  Mortified, she quickly withdrew to the next floor to hurriedly dress for the reunion dinner.

She loved working with children and always found their strengths and listened to their needs.  Behind her on the wall she had stuck a cartoon which depicted a health professional being asked, ‘What is the most important thing a father can do for his children?’  He answers, ‘Love their mother.’  If you are like me it may take a while for the simplicity of that truth to hit you.

Breathe in, follow your breathe, rise above your thoughts, (imagine the blue sky above the clouds like you are in an aeroplane), up here, you can feel that all you need and give is love. Repeat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good Enough Parenting

If you fail him, it must feel to him as if the wild beasts will

   gobble him up.

                                                                                        Donald Winnicott

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What heating did you have in your house when you were growing up?

What memories does thinking about that bring back to you?

Donald Winnicott was a Child Psychologist who was troubled by the number of parents coming to him, worried that they were somehow letting their children down.  They believed that they weren’t perfect enough.  He developed the idea that children didn’t need perfect parents (as if that were even possible), but that children learnt and grew from realising that their parents weren’t perfect and that they themselves had to develop resilience and strength within themselves.  He wasn’t suggesting simply leaving your children to their own devices, as a laissez-faire or jellyfish parent does, but one who understands, that by allowing children space to make their own decisions and mistakes,  they will grow up to trust their instincts and have agency over their emotions.

Winnicott believed and taught the following about child raising:

Remember that your child is very vulnerable

Let the child be angry

Make sure your child isn’t too compliant

Let your child be

Realise the gravity of your work

A story comes to mind, I am about eight or nine, I have burst into tears for some now forgotten reason and run to my bedroom.  I hide under the bed, feeling confident someone would come to comfort me soon.  Slowly, I realise, I can’t keep up the crying and that no-one is coming.  But I have learned a powerful lesson; I can be upset, I can calm myself and regulate my own emotions.  More importantly, I am loveable, even though no one who loved me came to tell me so.

Further viewing:

Alain de Botton; Psychology,  Donald Winnicott

Bitter-sweet

The art is not one of forgetting but letting go.

And when everything else is gone, you can be rich in loss.

                                                                                    Rebecca Solnit

 

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A sun for Hiroshima – Barry Cleavin

Questions to consider;

Are my thoughts true?

Or just my personal view?

In this moment, do I need anything?  See if you can ask for it…

In 1987, Emily Perl Kingsley described what it was like to have a child with a disability.  In her essay, Welcome to Holland, she writes of the dawning realisation that her baby is not the baby she expected, likening the hopes and dreams of expectant parents as that of planning a trip.  You’re going to Italy and you can’t wait.  You’ve planned this trip for ages and it’s going to be fabulous.  And besides, everyone you know thats been says it’s wonderful.  But when the plane eventually lands you realise, that instead of landing in Italy, you have somehow wound up in Holland.  Slowly and thoughtfully, you realise that being in Holland may just require a different mindset or an acceptance that this journey is going to be different from the one you imagined.

Having a baby brings about change, sometimes not the change we expected or would have wished for.  Who we are, how we live, how we relate are all concepts that can be affected.  Change can cause powerful emotions to rise and fall.  We grow when we don’t deny these feelings but by looking at them fully.  If you can’t discuss your strong feelings with anyone, try writing them down.  I like to use a mantra; ‘All will be well and all will be well and all will be well’,  ‘The best way out is always through’, ‘Everything is working out perfectly.’  I hope you find one that works for you.

A mindfulness technique such as, noticing your lips at different times throughout the day can be interesting.  You don’t have to change anything but the simple act of bringing your attention to one place can lighten your mood.

Further reading:

The Work, Byron Katie

 

 

 

 

Unconditional Love

‘Love is the absence of judgment.’

                                                                                             Dalai Lama

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Rose Quartz – stone of unconditional love

Unconditional love really exists in each of us. It is part of our deep inner being. It is not so much an active emotion as a state of being.  It’s not ‘I love you for this or that reason, not ‘I love you if you love me.’  It’s love for no reason, love without an object.

                                                                                              Ram Dass

 

Questions to consider,

Was I always on my best behaviour as a child?  Why/why not?

What is my earliest memory of being loved?

Discuss with your partner or a friend

 

My friend tells the story of driving her husbands bigger car to take her friends out.  After the event they had driven off and her friend asks, ‘Is this your car, Joyce?’  They all suddenly realise that the car they are in may be the same colour and make but is certainly not the same model as her husbands station wagon!  They have stolen a car!  Well, they are certainly in the wrong vehicle, having not paid enough attention to the sticky key or the empty petrol tank sign as they had driven off.  A quick U-turn, return to the parking spot they see Joyce’s husbands car two parking spaces away, waiting for them where they left it.  How could they not have seen it?  With relief that no harm has been done, they park and spring into the station wagon, laughing and vowing to be more present and conscious, next time.

Loving our children causes us to confront how much we love ourselves.  If we wish to parent well, we will have to examine our own traits and behaviours and seek ways to avoid or change in order to be the parent our children need.  Our children are apt to trigger our own internal unsorted conflicts and it is our responsibility to provide a stable emotional climate for our children and remain calm and relaxed, accepting our children as they are.

Practice daily telling yourself or meditating on the phase, ‘I am loved, I am enough’, because it will help strengthen your resolve to parent well, as a misbehaving or upset child, is simply seeking unconditional love.

 

Further reading/listening;

Parenting, 10 Basics of Conscious Childraising.  Karuna Fedorschak

Why you will marry the wrong person, Alain de Botton

Sleepy – beyond measure

‘What is more gentle than a wind in summer?…

More healthful than the leafiness of dales?

More secret than a nest of nightingales?…

More full of visions than a high romance?

What, but thee, Sleep?  Soft closer of our eyes…

                                            from Sleep and Poetry John Keats

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Artist – Rachel Huston

What were your families views on sleep when you were growing up?  Was it seen as a punishment to go to bed early or did your siblings have different bed times than you and how did you feel about that?

Did your parent/s burn the candle at both ends?

Do you remember a time when you were allowed to stay up late and how did your body respond the next day?

Dr Harvey Karp, author of The Happiest Baby on the Block says, ‘sleep is the primary activity of the brain during early development…lack of sleep impairs a child’s ability to learn, their emotional well-being…’  The American National Sleep Foundation Guidelines state that newborns (0-3 months) need 14-17 hours,  infants (4-11 months) 12-15 hours and toddlers (1-2 years) 11-14 hours – for the full guidelines click on the link.

In her memoir, All Things at Once, Mika Brzezinski tells the story of falling downstairs while carrying her 4 month old baby.   Her baby suffered a broken femur but fortunately not the spinal damage that was suspected.  Mika saw this accident as a wake-up call to just how sleep deprived she actually was and vowed to pace herself and to narrow her focus of what she wanted to achieve.

Short daytime naps support better night-time sleeping for both toddlers and new parents.  Susannah Marriott, suggests this energy-reclamation visualisation, to support you when you are sleep deprived:

‘Think of the energy you expend feeding, bathing, wiping, carrying and empathising.  Imagine gathering back this energy, pulling in shafts of light until you have a pulsating ball of energy inside.  Feel the healing force of this energy and reclaim it.’

Further reading;

Arianna Huffington, The Sleep Revolution

Susannah Marriott, the art of motherhood

 

 

Attachment

“All of us failed to match our dreams of perfection.

So I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure

to do the impossible.”

                                                                                                        William Faulkner

 

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What do you know of the first year of your life?

Did you have one primary caregiver for that time?

What do you know of your family experiences during your first three years of life?

 

My son’s first trip to meet with a group of mother’s and their babies resulted in loud crying when the mother’s crowded around him.  Instinctively, I knew he needed lots of reassurance and my immediate impulse was to protect him.   Clearly this situation had distressed him so perhaps it would be better if he and I stayed away from the mother’s and babies group.  But deep down I also knew, that to build both his confidence and  resilience, I had to continue to gently encourage outings and meeting others.  I comforted when loud noises scared him.  I would make eye contact and smile while gently talking, if others wanted to hold him.  If ever he continued crying, I would hold him close and walk away from the source of his anxiety.  The close bond we had helped my son feel more secure in unusual or busy environments and gradually his confidence grew.  I read that when your baby can sit up by themselves, playing games which involved half-scary activities like; being thrown in the air and quickly caught or bouncing on your lap and pretending to drop baby through your legs, then quickly pulling them up onto your lap again, can teach babies that they can trust and rely on people.

It was fortunate that I was able to be a full-time mum for the first year of my son’s life developing a secure attachment with him and his sister.

Further reading:

Colby Pearce, A Short Introduction to Attachment and Attachment Disorder

Brainwave Trust How are the Children Doing? 

 

Baby Baby

“Your children are not your children.  They are the sons and daughters

of Life’s longing for itself.  

They come through you but not from you and though they are with you

yet they belong not to you.’

                                                                                                          Khilil  Gibran

 

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Start with the end in mind –

What kind of adult do you want your child to grow up to be?

Picture them now as a young man or woman – what qualities and skills do you want them to have?

What will you need to teach them so they will be capable of stepping into adulthood?

If you are co-parenting get on the same side with each other, value each others strengths and remind each other of the values you want to model as these are what your child will learn.  Speaking respectfully to each other and your child now, will have a pay off in the teenage years!

I heard a researcher on the radio say, that although baby orang-utans are capable of crying, he has never seen or heard one cry.   It turns out that orang-utans are such proactive mothers they sense their baby’s needs before they get a chance to cry.

A crying baby is never being naughty!  They may be hungry, tired, thirsty, have wind or pain, are too hot or cold, have a wet or dirty nappy or are feeling unwell.

The first drive with your baby will be a heightened experience now you are travelling with such precious cargo and everyone on the road seems to be driving far too fast, completely unaware that your vehicle contains… new life.

 

Further reading:

Barbara Coloroso:kids are worth it!

 

 

Birth

‘The opportunity to experience yourself 

differently is always available.’

                                                                                                              Rinpoche

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Question the thoughts that come up for you when you think about the upcoming birth, as often the brain throws up negative and unhelpful thoughts when you are struggling with situations that are new or out of your control.

Is this thought true?

Is this thought helpful and will it mean I remain relaxed and positive about the birthing experience?

What do I need to focus on in order to have a positive experience

Focus on that.  And breathe…

I am lucky enough to have seen some amazing places and events in my 20’s; the Taj Mahal at sunrise, a flock of stunning pink flamingoes glide in to feed on a lake in Kenya, the Mona Lisa, gorillas in Rwanda, but nothing could prepare me for the incredible experience of my friend giving birth to her first daughter.  It was mind-blowing and unforgettable.   Unfortunately  we don’t really experience our own babies births like that but if you have a partner, make sure they are in position for the actual moment of birth.  Awe inspiring.

My own pregnancy ended in an emergency ceasaean.  I had laboured all day but it was after midnight when I was wheeled into theatre.  I was in tears as my dream of a ‘normal’ birth was suddenly taken away, along with my partner, who was whipped away to be gowned up for the surgery suite.  The emotional pain lasted longer than the physical as I struggled with, not quite guilt but regret, until one day it didn’t matter anymore, there were plenty of other mistakes I had made with my parenting that were more within my control.

My partner tells the story of driving home alone from the hospital after I had given birth, with the window wound down and opera loud on the stereo, trying to block out the enormity of there’s no going back, we had a baby to care for, for eternity or so it seems.

I went a little stir-crazy the first days after the birth, luckily my midwife advised me to step outside at least once everyday even if just to look up at the sky and let my thoughts drift like the clouds, hear the wind in the trees or smell the air.

Further reading:

Finding Calm for the Expectant Mom   Alice Domar

A Good Birth  Anne Drapkin Lyerly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pregnant

“The births of all things are weak and tender, and therefore

we should have our eyes intent on beginnings.”

                                                                                                         Montaigne

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Questions to consider

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?

If I am not for others, what am I?”    Hillel

 

Do you know the fish story by David Foster Wallace?

‘There are two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning, boys, How’s the water?’

And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘what the hell is water?’

Wallace continues, ‘How do we keep from going through adult life unconsciously…we have to remind ourselves over and over, this is the water, this is the water.’

Breathe in – think, enjoy life now, breathe out – think, enjoy life now

My older friends delighted in my pregnancy, it bought back wonderful memories for them and they showered me with love. One told of the tiny butterfly kisses of the first kicks to look out for and another recommended a book I’m so glad I read before I had children, Brainy Babies by Robyn Fancourt.