Wednesday, January 28, 2015

There and Back Again

I'm glad The Hobbit decided against using this title. It's a good blog post title, don't you think?

When I first became a mother 8 years ago, it was all about the love. 

Just love.

As I held my baby close, rocked him, looked at his sleeping baby face and marveled at this little human being I had brought into this world, there was this fierce, wild, amazing love. And that's where we started. Right there in that beautiful place where love is all we needed. Where love was enough.

But you know all the things they say about children. Those things - those wild accusations - they had a way of changing how I looked at my little love.

"He'll walk all over you if you let him by with things." As though this beautiful, small child had come here with bad intentions. As though he had it out for me. As though he was plotting against his own mother. 

"Kids need discipline!" Yeah, well who doesn't? I mean, what is discipline, anyway? Basically the ability to control oneself. I got cussed out many, many times in my decade-long banking career by grown people who had overdrawn their accounts or had to stand in line a little too long.They needed discipline. Like that time I had just about had it up to my eyeballs with the person on the other end of the phone, so I hung up and then threw it against the wall. I needed discipline, too. Or take the person in front of me yelling at the cashier because there aren't enough lanes open. Needs discipline. So yes, kids sure do need discipline. And so do adults. I  needed it when my face turned red and my voice got too loud while locked in the struggle for power with a three year old child. Yet, he's the one who went to the corner. Not the grown up. Not me.

"He'll be a disrespectful, self-centered brat!" Oh no! Not the ever-dreaded brat. Better not let that happen. Gotta keep control. Reign him in. After all, he's out to get me. He's plotting my demise this very moment, this 36 month old child. Plotting, I tell you! Better make sure I have the upper hand.

And so, suddenly love couldn't possibly be enough anymore. I had to show him who's boss, goshdarnit! So, I did. How dare he try to step over my many boundaries! This was clearly part of his plot. I didn't let him by with it, though. No, sir. I wasn't going to raise a brat. Off to time-out he went. You sit there for 3 minutes, mister, and think about what you've done. 

42 put-back-in-the-chairs later, he'd finally served his 3 minutes. VICTORY! I sure showed him.

I showed him again. And again. And again. Multiple times a day, every single day. Keeping a tyrant in line is exhausting. 

Then, there's that day I realized that maybe, just maybe, I was looking at him all wrong. 

What if he didn't cry to manipulate me, but he cried because he was just plain sad? 

What if he didn't go straight to bed because he had missed me that day and wanted to be with me?

Maybe my sweet little love wasn't plotting to overthrow me. Maybe he was just trying to find that fierce, wild, amazing love again.

I think he missed it as much as I did. 

Finally, when the days were miserable and the nights were filled with regrets, I decided enough was enough. 

Five years of intensive research led me on a long, winding road. I learned an incredible amount of information from some of the greatest minds out there. In a passionate attempt to free all children from the misconceptions surrounding them, I raised my fist in the air and spoke out against the injustices that children have to suffer daily because of our fearful delusions.

Eventually I realized I wasn't really the fist in the air type. It made me anxious and kept me up at night. I'm grateful for those who stand against the injustices because somebody needs to, but I wasn't made for that. I took a bit of time away to think about what I really wanted to say to my growing readership. What is it that parents need to hear?

I think we need to hear that's it's okay to listen to our hearts. It's okay to let go of control and embrace love.

Unconditional love. Radical love. Courageous love. 

I learned I could correct with love. I learned I could lead with love. I learned I could teach with love.

As I traveled down that long road, I had to re-learn love. It's easy to give a baby unconditional love. They haven't yet been dragged into the negative muck. They're still "innocent." Unconditionally loving someone now more than half my size who sometimes has a bad mood or rolls his eyes at me or argues with his brother, that takes something more. I like to call that courageous love. It's courageous to put away all those negative perceptions and open my heart completely, without fear that he'll walk all over me and turn into a disrespectful brat. 

The most amazing thing happened, though. The more I loved courageously, the less problems we had. What a freeing revelation. 

So, after 5 years of traveling that winding road, I've ended up right back where I started. Right here in that beautiful place where love is all we need. Where love is enough.

It turns out he never did try to walk all over me. Neither one of them. 

Tender love doesn't open the door for a child to walk all over you. It opens the door for him to walk alongside you. And when he's walking alongside you, it's easier to hear him and to guide him.

My oldest son gave his little brother a big chunk of his birthday money. He said, "I have enough stuff. I just want my brother to be happy." So self-centered is this gently parented boy.

This past Christmas, upon seeing that I had filled all their stockings but mine was empty, they secretly stuffed it full of love notes and left-over Halloween candy and brought me downstairs to show me that they couldn't let mine go unfilled. I mean, how disrespectful was that? 

The big question isn't whether or not you should use time out. The big question isn't if you should take away the iPad or make a get-along shirt or a ransom box. The big question is this - did you love them enough today?

When you lay your head on your pillow at night, ask yourself this one simple question – did my people go to sleep tonight feeling loved and valued? If the answer is no, get up and do something about it. Or at least resolve to make tomorrow night a different story. If the answer is yes –
yes my people went to sleep tonight feeling loved and valued – then rest easy, sweet parent. You're doing all right.


If you'd like a daily wearable reminder to love courageously, order this reminder band and get free shipping. 

Get my best-selling book, The Newbie's Guide to Positive Parenting, for more tips on letting go of control and embracing courageous love.

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Monday, January 26, 2015

How to Be the Positive Leader Your Child Needs

Our children naturally look to us for leadership. As a proponent for positive parenting, I have been asked how we can hold authority without ruling with an iron fist. How can we be the gentle, positive, effective leaders our children need?

Here are 10 Tips:

1. Set clear boundaries. Helping children to understand and stay within the boundaries we set makes them feel safe and secure - like the yellow lines on the road. Without those yellow lines, driving would be scary. Without boundaries, life is scary. Boundaries are necessary; it's the way we enforce those boundaries that determine whether we are being positive leaders. Make sure the boundaries are fair and age-appropriate, and hold them lovingly, providing empathy and understanding when children get upset about the rules. Be consistent and kind.

2. Be intentional. Effective leaders know what they want to accomplish, and they keep their eyes on the goal. Make a detailed plan of action, and renew your mind to your goal constantly.

3. Learn how to communicate well. Using positive communication skills elicits cooperation while negative communication invites rebellion. Learn positive communication and teach it to everyone in the home.

4. Be empowering. Remember the goal is ultimately to raise competent, confident human beings, and that is done in millions of small, empowering moments over childhood. From trusting them enough to take off the training wheels to handing them the keys to get behind the wheel, positive leaders help their children to feel capable.

5. Be inspiring. Leaders foster a positive environment which allows their children to flourish. They look for the light in each of their children and reflect that light back to them so that they see it, too. Positive leaders know how to bring out the best in everyone.

6. Have integrity. Positive leaders practice what they preach. Rulers tell others what to do. Leaders show others what to do by example. True authority is not gained through an iron fist but through excellent character.

7. Show support. Good leaders are supportive and encouraging. They understand that people make mistakes, and these are opportunities to learn.

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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Own Your Feelings and Actions

The following is adapted from a chapter in The Newbie's Guide to Positive Parenting Second Edition, available here.

Own Your Feelings and Actions

"Learning to effectively manage our own emotions and actions is crucial. We simply cannot guide our children to self-discipline if we do not possess self-discipline ourselves. If we cannot control our anger outbursts, our anxiety, our fearfulness, and our reactivity, how are we going to teach our children how to do these things?

Many of us never learned how to properly manage our own emotions. As children, we were taught to either stuff them down or blame them on someone else, or probably both. As a result, few parents take ownership of their feelings and actions.

When we say, “You're going to make me spank you if you keep acting like this!” or “you're making me so angry right now! Go to your room!” we are admitting that we don't have control over our own feelings and actions, that our child has control over us. This is a double-edged sword. First, this makes children feel responsible for our emotions, and that is a big burden to bear for a child. Second, we're teaching them to play the blame game and not take ownership of their emotions and behaviors as well. “She made me do it!” “I didn't want to get in a fight at school, but he made me so mad!” This is a cycle that needs to end with us.

The first step to learning how to manage ourselves is to take ownership for our own emotional reactions. Instead of, “You're making me so angry,” try “I'm feeling angry right now, and I need to calm down.” Don't blame your feelings on anyone else; they are your own. Your child is not responsible for your triggers. You are responsible for understanding why certain things trigger you and then disabling that trigger." -excerpt from The Newbie's Guide to Positive Parenting Second Edition 

Learning to own my own feelings and actions has been the most difficult thing I've encountered in my journey of self-growth to be a better parent and person. I am still a work in progress, but I'm certainly better than I used to be.

Here are the steps I took in dealing with my own triggers and learning to control my actions. I hope they help you, too.

1. Journal about your triggers. I find writing to be extremely therapeutic, and journaling helps me to unravel my jumbled thoughts and make sense of them. Whenever I would get angry or fearful or frustrated, I would write it down, describing the events that surrounded my emotion. Then, I would think about why those particular events brought up that emotion in me. Most often, my children were not to blame at all, but rather some ridiculous ideal of perfection I was holding or some skewed perception. 

2. Avoid the things that trigger you. If you know rushed mornings make you upset, change the morning routine. Once you know what typically triggers heavy emotion for you by journaling them, you can learn to avoid a lot of frustration.

3. Not everything can be avoided, however, and so it's important to learn self-discipline. There is a space between every action and reaction. Usually, it is a small space because we react quickly, but if we can learn to harness that space and expand it, we then have time to make a thoughtful choice on how to respond. I used to place my hand over my heart, close my eyes, take several deep breaths, and acknowledge the space. Mantras are helpful to repeat when you are in this space, such as "I have a choice" or "This is not an emergency."

4. When you are emotionally charged, get physical to release the energy. Jumping jacks, push ups, running in place - these all release that built up energy that make you want to scream. Bonus: You'll be in better shape!

5. When you react too quickly and get it wrong, offer self-compassion, apologize to your child, reconnect, and move on. You don't have to be perfect. You're showing up and trying your best, and that's good enough.

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