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(12) Parents & Kids






Instead of punishing our children by sending them into isolation, let’s offer ourselves time-out to discover our own needs, our own true selves. You cannot give to your child until you give to yourself.

-Cheri Huber

 Your Self-Regard Matters

There is nothing like parenting to show you your shortcomings and less than-perfect places. There is no one like your own child to test your relationship ability and agility in the moment, over and over and over again. And to let you know when your walk does not match your talk.

With so many mirrors held up to your humanness, there is the possibility for great learning. However, much depends on what you do when you see your less-than-compassionate thoughts and your less-than-perfect actions. Will you judge and berate and punish yourself? Or will you observe your imperfections with compassion, take stumbles in stride, and learn from mistakes while keeping self-respect?

Since there is always something new to learn-about yourself, about your kids, about your relationships-you can’t expect a perfect performance.

In fact, any thoughts about being a perfect parent or a good parent will add an extra degree of difficulty. If, instead, you will approach parenting practice as seriously and reverentially as professional golfers approach practicing golf swings, or professional musicians approach practicing their instruments, you will avoid the huge handicap of entertaining self-demanding, self-criticizing thoughts. You will want to have all of your energy and attention available for the task at hand: taking good care of your own needs and caring for the needs of your children.

 Learn from Mistakes with Compassion

The way you handle things you wish you had done differently is powerful modeling for your kids. These practices begin with an understanding that you are always doing the best you can to meet your human needs. It is not out of evil or ill-intent that you might lash out at your spouse or yell at your child. Beneath each action, as beneath every action

a child takes, are human needs-whether you are conscious of them or not. Reminding yourself of this will steer you away from self-judgment and toward self-empathy instead, providing you with positive energy and motivation to practice new habits.

 What Takes the Co-Out of Co-operation?

 We invite you to take a closer look at what keeps conflict going and may be getting in the way of co-operation flowing in your home: limited time to connect, labels and comparisons, rewards and punishments, and unproductive ways to communicate. For each of these habits that fuel conflict, we suggest effective alternatives to help you eliminate conflict and lay the ground for respect and co-operation.

A word of caution: Focusing on sources of conflict may stir up feelings of sadness, disappointment, or discouragement. We hope you will have patience and understanding for the learning process you are going through. If you read these papers and do the exercises with a focus on the future and on what you want to create (rather than dwelling on the past and what hasn’t worked well) you will be able to learn faster and more joyfully.

 If a child is to keep his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share . . .

-Rachel Carson

 Limited Time to Connect

There is much about the daily life of today’s parent that can fuel conflict and get in the way of co-operating with kids. Chronically overfull schedules and hurried days add an extra load to parents’ already difficult job. However, there is absolutely no way around the necessity to make and take time on a regular basis to connect with your kids-to just hang out together. Many parents tell us they spend a lot of time with their kids. However, when they take a closer look, they realize that most of that time is spent getting them ready for school or some other event, driving them to soccer practice or any number of other places kids want to be and parents feel obliged to take them, or trying to get them to do things they are supposed to do. Keeping older kids active in school and social life involves parents in homework, hobbies, computer games, television, and many other activities. Parents find themselves facilitating their children’s lives and often feel sad that there seems to be little time to talk about the things that matter most or to just have fun together. A CEO of a successful company said, I wish I had spent more time with my kids when they were younger, especially ages nine to thirteen. I did spend time with them doing things but I wish I had spent much more time just listening to them and talking with them. I thought I’d have a lot more opportunity to do this, but once they became teenagers, they were caught up with their peers and were not as open to me. I now tell my employees with young children to do whatever they need to do to spend lots of time with their young children.

 Not causing harm requires staying awake. Part of being awake is slowing down enough to notice what we say and do.

-Pema Chodron

What You Can Do: Find Time to Connect

While your children are still young, get in the habit of simply enjoying each other through playing games, singing, dancing, drawing, taking walks, talking about hopes and dreams, laughing, and snuggling together. Dedicate time each week to being a family. Weekly family meetings are a tried and true way to nurture a lifeline of connection. They are a great way to practice co-operation. A combination of fun activities and time to talk about what’s up for everyone and how family life is working provides a balance that all family members can enjoy. These meetings need to be scheduled and prioritized or they won’t happen.

 Labels, Comparisons, and Fault-Finding

Labels are for boxes and files. They work to categorize nonliving things but they don’t accurately describe or tell the truth about the alive, changing nature of moms, dads, and kids. Unfortunately, most of us grew up learning to label people. We say, without thinking, She is so nosy. He is obnoxious. She was very inappropriate. You’re rude. I’m too sensitive. Infants are routinely characterized by parents and relatives as good when they are asleep or not bothering anyone and as bad when they are upset. By the time we are toddlers, we know that when parents say be good! They usually mean be quiet and do what you’re told. Don’t do anything to bother anyone!

Labeling people as if they were a thing rather than a living, growing, changing being becomes so habitual that you might not notice when you or others are doing it. If you sit at a mall for an hour listening to conversations, or tune into most any television show, you will hear how often people summarize the behavior of other people and categorize them by using labels.

As well as being inaccurate and hurtful, labels can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies. If you repeatedly call your child lazy because she hasn’t done her chores the way you wanted them done, your child can come to believe she is lazy and to act accordingly. Why bother trying? Since that is how I’m seen, that’s probably how I am. The child is also learning to give others (in this case, parents) the power to tell them what they are. They will likely transfer this power to their peers and to our ever-present advertising industry, which thrives on people giving it power to tell them they are deficient in some way and need products to make them something more than they are. Looking outside oneself for validation and identity undermines a sense of self-worth and self-confidence in people of all ages. Any comparisons you make between your child and others deliver an added blow to their self-esteem: Why can’t you share like your brother does?

He is so generous. I wish you could live up to your sister’s standards at school. She is the smartest in her class. Comparisons, rather than turning on a light bulb of self-recognition and changing children’s behavior, actually trigger hostility, jealousy, separation, discouragement, or rebellion because children’s needs to be seen, to be respected, and to be accepted just the way they are, are not being met.




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