control

12 Ideas for Rebuilding Connection

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It happens every once in a while that I find myself at odds with my children after several months of getting on so well.  Somehow we lose our connection and end up trying to control each other in some way or another.  We fall into the trap of making our lack of connection about ourselves rather than recognizing it as relational.  When undesirable behaviours amplify and begin to take a front seat in our home, I know it’s time to take a step back and look for a way out.  It is in these times where we’re all feeling tight and frustrated that we need to revisit how we are exerting our power.  We need to refocus from ‘power over’ to ‘power with.’

Every time I find myself in one of these phases of disconnection, I try to think back to the previous time, thinking hard about how I managed to resolve it.  But I am never quite sure how it was that I got out of it the last time.  It seems that simply drawing attention to the problem as a lack of intimacy and placing some conscious effort on rebuilding it seems to do the trick…with slow but steady results.

I feel like restoring connection is rather like a slow cooking stew.  I know some good ingredients to put in the pot, but almost never follow a recipe.  Sometimes it turns out great while other times it ends up a mediocre meal.  But at the end of the day, no matter how stellar the meal turned out, we have all eaten.  Not only that, we can cook up a new stew the next day and hope for a winning combination.  Once we get the hang of it again, we seem to be able to knock out great tasting food day after day…that is until we’re missing some essential ingredients one day and find ourselves needing to revisit the recipe.

I find myself just on the far side of one of these disconnected states now…on the heels of birthday week – my three children were born on April 6, 8, and 9 – which throws us all for a loop.  So I have been reflecting on how it is that we are steadily climbing our way up out of the darkness.  After some reflection, I realized these strategies are great for parents, but can work for any relationship in need of more intimacy.

So here are some ideas I’ve thrown into my stewing pot of re-connection:

-spending lots of time outdoors together, especially in unstructured environments.  We took a lot of hikes in the woods this past week!

-spending a day (as often as possible) doing what they want to do.  If my children can’t agree, thy each get one choice.  Yesterday we baked muffins, made a huge outdoor fort, had a picnic and spent some time creating with Play Dough.

-giving more hugs, kisses and snuggles.

-going out of my way to notice and respond to positive interactions that are happening in our home.  For example, my sons were trying the comfort the baby while she was upset during dinner.  They came up with many creative ideas and games to help her through it.  They ended up calming her down and helping her through the meal.  I made a point of telling each one separately just how helpful that had been and how grateful I was for their creativity and compassion.

-looking forward to things yet to come by talking about them in advance.  For example, we have been making a plan for the coming day at bedtime, each telling something that we are looking forward to the next day.

-taking genuine interest in what they’re working on.  I get them to tell me about what’s interesting them, encouraging the conversation with probing questions to deepen it.  This includes making space for just that child, including eye contact and physical contact if possible.

-play with my children by joining into their games.  This week I’ve been building Lego creations alongside them on the floor.

-roughhousing.  This is more my husband’s forte, but I’m pretty good at instigating tickle fights!  A note on this – it is key that everyone involved is enjoying themselves.  Consent is a huge part of feeling connected.  We stop all roughhousing and tickles at the first ‘no.’  Teaching consent, even at a young age, is imperative learning for all relationships that happen outside of our home.

-being mindful of making connection a priority.  This commitment changes my body language, tone of voice and general response to my children.  It also reminds me to slow down and patiently wait for the storm to blow over.  We are not a family who uses computers/cell phones/etc. while the children are present, but during disconnected times I make extra effort to further reduce all use of technology.   For example, my blogging time during rest time is reduced to ensure the children do not see me using the computer at all.  This really brings the focus back to the people, and they can feel it.

-remembering it is more important to listen to understand than to respond.  Releasing my need to ‘fix it’ allows me to roll with the waves of emotion a lot easier.

-taking time for myself.  I let go of things I think I should do in order to pursue things that feed my soul and try reduce my own use of technology which I find allows me to ‘escape’ but doesn’t actually refuel myself.  If I can treat myself with compassion, I will have more of it to give my children.  In order to be mindful, I need to be connected to myself.  To make space for this, I re-prioritize how I use the times where I am not normally with my children, like rest time and after they’re in bed.

-lighten up!  I look for ways to focus on joy.  I look for ways to have fun, laugh and find opportunities to turn a situation around.  I share statements of gratitude, and encourage my children to do the same.  Life always offers more than one perspective.

 

What ideas do you use for re-connection?

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Grocery Store Meltdown

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Today is birthday week at our house.  My daughter, now 2, was born on April 6th.  Today is my eldest son’s birthday, he is now 6 and tomorrow, April 9th my second son turns 4.  Needless to say, birthday week is a crazy one around here.  I try to make each child’s birthday special for them, doing whatever it is that they choose for the whole day (within reason of course!) The children have not been sleeping well because they’re so excited!  Then factor in the cake and ice cream, increased levels of sugars in their diet – I let them eat cereal for breakfast and parfait with store bought granola for snack.  Add to that jealousy the children feel as they watch their sibling enjoy their special day.  Needless to say we’re a bit out of sorts.

Yesterday was our day off from birthday celebrations, so we headed to the grocery store to stock up on the things the boys wanted to have for their birthday meals.  The children, excited at the prospect of getting to choose their menu were having difficulty containing their excitement.  I usually have the littlest two ride together in the car.  But as they grow it is getting harder and harder for them to share the middle leg hole space!  My middle son was feeling uncomfortable and asked to come out of the cart.  Ensuring I had his attention, I confirmed that he had to stay near me and not touch things on the shelves in order to be able to stay out of the cart.

The two boys did a decent job of containing themselves in the aisles, but things started to unravel when they started playing horse and rider in front of the supplement shelves, lined with tiny bottles.  When I asked them to stop, pointing out the density of products on the shelves as well as the dirty floor, my younger son began to spin instead.  Dizzy, he knocked into the elbow height bottles, knocking every over.  Bless my eldest, who helped him to line them back up with careful precision.  Now spinning again, I had to remind my middle child to help with the mess.  He helped as much as he was able.

Shortly after, the boys decided it would be funny to play a game on me and head to the next aisle over on their own.  My eldest was gone only a few seconds before he thought better of the plan and came back to find me.  My younger son held out until I could maneuver the now heavy cart around the end cap to find him.  Reminding him what I had told him when I lifted him out of the cart, I placed him back in the seat.  He was not a willing participant, but I got him into the seat without too much commotion.  He continued to protest in new ways, clearly not wanting to be at the store any more.  His disdain turned into bothering his sister by squishing her leg and leaning over to compress her body.  I asked him to stop several times, but was unable to think of an alternative to him sitting in the cart…and taking the 2 year old out was not an option!  Despite my attempts to use sportscasting and non-violent communication by the time we reached the check out line she had grown tired of his antics and began hitting him in an effort to get him to stop.  He was quick to join the party, adding a chorus of cries to the mix.  I wanted to leave for the sake of my children.  But with three small children to manage by myself, a cart full of unpaid-for groceries and no other time to accomplish this errand, we had to find a way to move though the last of this shopping trip as gracefully as possible.

To maintain the limit, I stopped their hands gently, saying “I won’t let you hit each other.”  When my daughter tried to start the fight again, moments later, I held her hands firmly but gently, saying, “I won’t let you hit your brother.”  I asked her to tell me when she was ready to stop hitting.  It didn’t take long.  Once I released her hands, the hitting stopped.  For a time.  I tried entertaining them all with a game of ‘I Spy’ while we waited.  Participation was waning when my middle child decided he would like to get out of the cart.  I set another limit…”It is not safe for you to stand in the cart.  You must stay sitting down or I will have to put the buckle on.”  Cheekily he tried again as I was distracted with loading the groceries onto the conveyor belt.  On went the buckles.  Then the cries of protest erupted.   It didn’t take long for my son to begin the hitting again.  Again, I maintained the limit, “I will not let you hit your sister,” holding his hands gently to stop him.  When he was finished trying to hit again, I released his hands.  He continued to cry for the duration of the check out process.

Once we finished, my eldest needed to use the bathroom.  I stood there and talked to my middle son about what had happened.  He expressed how angry he had been because I made him sit in the cart and put his buckles on.  I listened.  Then I asked if I could tell him my dies of the story…how I needed him to be safe by being near me in the store and staying seated in the cart.  Also by not hitting or being hit.  He understood, ending with, “I love you mommy.”  We hugged, rejoined with my eldest, and headed out of the store.

It was the first time I haven’t felt embarrassed at this type of misbehaviour.  I was able to keep my temper under control for the whole thing…an remarkably, I didn’t even have to think about it!  For the first time, in the moment, I felt like I knew what to do to help my children.  For the first time I wasn’t worried about what other people thought of my children, my parenting style, me.

After the whole thing was over, and we were heading home, I pondered what was different.  Nothing really.  That was probably the worst behaviour we’ve had at the grocery store.  The difference was in myself.  My ability to keep calm despite the fact that my children weren’t was new.  Detachment from my children’s behaviour was new.  Usually I feel like the way they are behaving is a reflection of myself…but not this time.

Ironically, this day, this one day where I felt like I nailed it given the circumstances, having confidence in the way I had handled it, a woman stopped me on the way out of the store saying:

“We’ve all been there.  And if people say they haven’t they’re lying.  You’re doing a great job.  Don’t worry about it!”

I uttered a quick “Thank you,” with as much of a smile as I could muster, feeling pulled from my disconnection from judgement and proud that I didn’t really need any congratulations this day.  I knew that I was doing right by my children.  Yes, they had a loud and unsavoury emotional experience at the store.  But people have big and difficult emotions and as a culture we hide them away all to often.  Perhaps we created a disturbance for other people who were shopping there, but really, that is their problem.  My problem is to figure out how to support my children through their emotional turbulence the best way I am able.  I am building confidence because I see that my efforts to be a mindful and respectful parent are working.  I am beginning to more consistently access my ability to be vulnerable, and in doing so I am finding that I am more connected to my children…and myself.  The difficult moments aren’t what matter…connection does.

 

Thanks to Janet Lansbury for her post which inspired me to share this story.

 

Open House

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I can understand why people find it so stressful to move.  My inner perfectionist has been awakened by the need to have the house looking spotless for prospective buyers.  We have decided to list our house ourselves for a short time to try and sell it to someone who is like minded.  As a result, we hosted an open house this past weekend.  Getting ready for it made me realize just how comfortable I am now with a bit of mess.  Feeling the need to ‘impress’ other people gets my dander up every time.  My poor children had to suffer through my demands to keep toys put away, keep their hands off the freshly painted walls, and not dig holes in the back yard (which I think was the hardest for them, since we’re experiencing an unseasonably early Spring).

I can also see how my attempts to control the state of our space has pushed my children away.  The effects of attempting to micro-manage them can be seen so clearly in this time when we push up against a new (unhealthy) way of being.  Actually, it’s more like returning to an old way of being, one I hadn’t realized just how glad I was to let go of!  My inner landscape isn’t as calm, and neither is my children’s.  The work, the chores, and the state of the house has taken priority over our relationships.  This doesn’t feel good.  What has been lost is our connection, which I am now having to work hard to recover.  The process is difficult because my inner resources are depleted due to my own emotional processing over leaving this home.  We have been working hard to ready ourselves for this transition.  Now that we’re living at the edge of public and private life, I want this process to be over quickly so that we can move on with our lives in the way that is meaningful to us…to be with each other again.

Creating illusions is not what we’re about.  We have had to put our values on hold for a while to meet the values of the world at large.  In fact, I feel like I’m a hypocrite for creating the consumer driven illusion of  perfection.  This has not been an easy task, since I take my decisions and my integrity very seriously.  Life doesn’t stop just so that you can sell your house, but the expectation is that it should, since a home needs to appear as though it is easy to always maintain unsustainable levels of cleanliness and order.  In effect we are commodifying our lifestyle in an effort to sell this home.

The people who came through our home didn’t see us scrambling to wash the windows on Saturday morning, or compromising our integrity by throwing out the paint rollers to save time over washing them thoroughly for reuse.  They also couldn’t see me feel the void of not having the volume of my children fill the space or the starkness at seeing all of their books neatly lining the shelves rather than the surface of our sofa.  Homes are meant for living in.  Selling a home is a prime example of how our culture thrives on the outward appearance of perfection as an attainable and desirable goal.  But what this experience has made so very clear for me is that there is always an expense.

Weed Whacking

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How may things are needlessly judged as weeds?  What makes some things less worthy to be considered as the indicators of a need?  Isn’t it the weeds that show us where we need to plant more of what we do desire?  But our culture is expert at sussing out ‘weeds.’   The trouble is that sometimes problems deemed ‘undesirable’ have been inappropriately condemned.  Goldenrod is a wonderful medicinal plant, but is frequently confused with ragweed for causing allergic reactions.  Consulting Google Images for photos of ‘ragweed’ turns up numerous pictures of Goldenrod.

‘Weeds’ we embrace in our home include: crying, anger, mess, mistakes, sadness, defiance…and there are many more!  These behaviours are generally not well accepted in society, for children or adults.  Our culture tries to fix them and keep them under control in an effort to create a visage of perfection.  But it is in fact these darker emotions and undesirable things that are the indicators of need.  Crying can be a release of pent up emotion.  Anger an indicator that things are out of balance.  Mess is evidence of creativity.  Mistakes are the best way to grow and learn.  Sadness is a cry for connection.  Defiance demonstrates a need for control.  Although I have simplified these greatly, there is always an underlying cause for difficult ‘unwanted’ behaviours. But it takes courage to have presence with difficult situations.  Apart from fear of being judged for not keeping in line with the general populous, sitting with uncomfortable feelings and situations reveals how little control we actually have and indicates the depth of real work that needs to be done to resolve the issue.

If you want to grow fewer ‘weeds,’ consider planting more of what you do want.  For example, if a child is often defiant, what are ways to give them more opportunities for control in appropriate ways?  Could they be choosing their own clothes?  What to have for lunch?  What about engaging in play that is directed by the child and allows them to ‘boss’ around the adult?  Or an extra curricular interest that allows them to control the full outcome of a long term project?

What I see happening is the removal of weeds at first sight of them.  Our culture rips them out, squashes them and stifles them before they have time to be fully expressed.  Many plants are considered ‘weeds’ are in fact the most useful and potent plants we can grow!  In our effort to judge and keep things under control we hack down that which has potential.  What opportunities are missed because we lack acceptance?

How to Step Into the Darkness

We are blessed to live in Canada, with four seasons.  The season of autumn signals the beginning of turning inward.  A time for dreaming and planning while cozy indoors for the winter months.  But it doesn’t seem so enticing as the days are growing shorter and we are losing the time in daylight to wrap up the loose ends of summer.  Why is it that we are so afraid to head into the darkness?

It is out of the darkest times that the most growth happens.  it is in the darkness that we are at our edge.  People don’t like to be pushed to their edge.  That place within ourselves where we feel if we were to go any further we’d never find our way back.  But if we keep back from our edges, we would be missing out on those places from which the most growth happens.  For it is at the edge where two habitats intermingle and create something beautiful, abundant and new.  It is at the edge of ourselves where old meets new.  It is at this edge where the possibility of freedom exists.  Where the pressures of labels and expectations can be blurred.

Heading into the winter months, I feel resistance.  Although I am craving a slower time and rhythm, if it weren’t for the leaves falling and the looming frosts, I would not concede to more hours indoors, less light, and the abundant heap of clothing that adorns my entryway.  Although I know winter brings with it a beauty unique to the cold darkness, it doesn’t help me stop resisting its presence.  Likewise, it is difficult to make the choice to go into emotional darkness.  It feels unsafe and not to be trusted.  Why do we not trust ourselves enough to know we will come back out into the light?

We trust that spring will come again.  We trust that the sun will rise again tomorrow.  But we do not trust that we will again be happy if we choose to enter into periods of personal darkness.  But like the seasons and the days, it will pass.  Unlike natural cycles, our voyages into and out of darkness come without warning and recede without announcement.  They ease in and out slowly, as to confuse us as to where it came from and when it left.

Perhaps it is because we have not been well equipped with the skills to weather the storm.  We are not taught we can accept the deep and dark emotions.  We are taught instead to keep everything under control.  Our culture likes to pretend that everything is alright. We teach our children not to cry, saying ‘you’re alright’ to cherubim faces streaked with tears.  We have been taught to not trust ourselves by having our forms of personal expression muzzled.  We are schooled to believe that our interests aren’t as important as what the curriculum dictates.  Every time our inner desires were redirected, we were given a the message that what we valued was not worthy, and our inner voice was not to be trusted.  Think of the number of times we have received the message that what we feel doesn’t matter.

What can we do to regain the skills we need to trust ourselves?  How can we learn to trust those times when we need to head into the darkness and towards our edge?  Having had many experiences with sitting in darkness recently, I know that practice helps!  Watching myself fall in and out of dark periods has been building my courage and confidence to accept the darkness when it comes.  Framing my periods of darkness as storms that will blow over gives me the perspective I need sometimes.  It has also shown me that the more I can accept and perhaps even embrace my dark emotions and welcome them in with self-compassion, the easier the storm will be to weather.  When I am calm through the emotional turmoil, letting the waves of emotional burden crash upon a serene shoreline, the clouds blow over much quicker.

Knowing where to look for the light has also been something I use to come back from my edge.  For me, I find light in small things.  A smile on my child’s face, light dancing across the living room floor, the way the leaves flutter to the ground in the breeze, the sound and warmth of a crackling fire.  When I am able to notice moments of natural beauty, it brings me back to the present moment.  Presence brings me back.  Finding my moments of light allows the darkness to fade and the sun to come out again.

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” — Haruki Murakami

Needing a Break ≠ Failure

We had a crazy hour around lunchtime yesterday.  Over the summer we have fallen out of the rhythm of tidying up before lunch and dinner, which has put us right back into power struggles over the issue as we try to reestablish our routine.  The children did not want to begin tidy-up time, despite several warnings it was coming.  They began running around getting out more things and generally getting into mischief.  I cleaned for what would usually be our tidy-time then shifted to make the children’s lunches in order to get the baby eating (and stop getting more toys out!).  I returned to tidying up, encouraging the older children to help, as it would take much less time to get to eating our lunches should we all work together.  This was generally not accepted, although they did help with a few things.  As we finished, the final task was for my three year old to put away the costume he had just taken off that was now on the floor.  The request threw him into complete melt-down that ended in a fight with is brother and a broken bowl.  When I got that cleaned up (I would normally have them clean their own messes, but in the case of broken dishes, I will do it for them) and people settled, my five year old asked for some crackers.  I decided to oblige for fear of creating another eruption…the children were clearly very hungry!  I put the crackers on his plate, which threw him into meltdown.  He didn’t want them to be wet by touching his pickle, and proceeded to throw them all over the kitchen.  My response was to leave, saying, “I need to leave because I feel like I’m going to yell at my children, and I don’t want to.”  I went into the next room, sat down and took some deep breaths.  What I heard from the kitchen was a return to happy conversation and the noises of children enjoying their lunches.  I could have chosen to address the behaviours right then and there, enforcing their need to clean up after themselves, but I didn’t. I chose to leave the situation rather than escalating it.  When I went back into the kitchen, everyone was fine again.  The food was being eaten, including the crackers that had since been picked up.  It is really hard to leave conflict in the heat of the moment.  For some reason the fight instinct is much stronger than the one for flight.  I ask my children to do this all the time – in the middle of conflict, I suggest they leave before they get into a fight.  This time I was able to model it, and more importantly experience what it feels like to leave in the heat of the moment.

The past couple of months have been very stressful for me for a number of reasons.  There has been a lot going on.  As a result, I have been stretched, pushed, and generally stressed out.  There was not time or space to properly process all that was happening due to the pace of life with three littles and the circumstances of the situation.  I am finally feeling like I’m recovering from what has been a very dark period in my life.

In the middle of it all, I didn’t know what to do to help myself.  I felt lost, and frustrated.  I was not parenting the way I wanted to be, or how I knew I was capable of.  But I had no way to be any different.  There was not space to make it so.  But what I didn’t think of in the throes of the chaos was to ask for help.  What I really needed was an opportunity to walk away, to have a break from the conflict.  In retrospect, I now realize that if I had asked for a day off, there are many people in my life who would have stepped up to provide the relief I so desperately needed.  I am so blessed with loving family and friends!  But what held me back was an inability to care for myself, rooted in my pride.  I didn’t want to admit that I was finding it all to be too much.  Our culture has such disdain for people who ask for what they need.  We suffer silently, afraid to ask for help.  But a break, even if it were just for a few hours would have helped me to return home to myself!

This past weekend I had a full day away from the family.  The yield from being apart for even just a day has been amazing. The past three days have been much more enjoyable for everyone in the family.  I have been able to restore my inner calm so I no longer feel the need to nag the children.  I now have more capacity for patience and compassion for myself and my children.  Although I hate to admit it, my children have benefited from the break as well.  Since we spend all of our time together, it is helpful to clear the air every once in a while.  The result of taking time apart has been that this week we have been much more respectful, more loving, more cuddly, and generally it has been more enjoyable to be around each other.  Now that I’m beginning to see the light at the other side of the darkness.  I can honestly say that I have learned an insurmountable lesson from this journey.  I know now that what is best for everyone is for me to have self-compassion.  Allowing myself to recognize that the journey can be difficult sometimes is alright.

I have been learning in many ways that sometimes the best conflict resolution is to walk away.  A break can bring such clarity.  Time away offers the space to stop reacting to it.  Asking for help does not speak of failure, but in fact the opposite.  When I ask for the support I need, I have in fact succeeded.  Having the courage to take time for myself allowed me to gain perspective about the ways in which I was trying to grasp at the illusion of control.  Without that oppressive old paradigm thinking, I have been able to reacquaint myself with what’s really important to me…my family.

Pushed and Pulled by Change

Pushed or pulled, either way I move.  Does it matter what force caused the change when the end result is movement?  How comfortable it seems to remain still.  But like water, if I’m not circulating, flowing, moving, I will stagnate.  Change is inevitable.  It is what sustains life.  Without embracing adaptation, I might as well consider myself next in line to be consumed.

Nature models change with such ease and beauty.  She shows effortlessly how to tumble through periods of turmoil.  Like trees that exude grace as they bounteously bloom into leaf, offering gifts of shade and oxygen by their mere existence.  When this season of giving is done they shed their leaves in another offering, regenerating the soil with their castoffs.  It is then that they fall into rest.  As spring returns, the tree will fearlessly bloom again embracing a cycle of change that is innate.

Are the trees conscious of their cycle?  Pondering when to send forth a first bud, or drop their first leaf?  How deep does their knowing run?  Are there unheard languages spoken in the forest?  Does their version of consciousness elude humans because it is created too pure, generous, and unassuming for us to understand?  If trees feared which of them had the tinniest trunk or prettiest leaves, natural cycles would surely go awry.  Existential trees could be even more problematic.  Instead, they grow.  They don’t resist or question their own growth.  By some internal guide, they find the strength to push through oppressions like concrete in order to expand.  Or perhaps it is a set of external forces that pulls them into change?  Nature’s bidding that calls them to action.  They listen and respond.  I’d like to believe they exist through change being both pushed and pulled.

I have a lot to learn from the trees who wind wildly through all the seasons of change.  Growth.  Joy,  Decay.  Stillness.  Each beautiful in its own right, offering up different aspects of what it means to be alive.  A full spectrum of experience.  The constraints of my humanness remain, but by trying to embrace my cycles of change I hope to make progress nonetheless.  Change is what keeps me in line with nature’s cycles.  Pushing and pulling me through the often ugly beginnings of spring, the beauty and wonderment of summer’s bounty, the decay of old ideas and into dormant rest to recuperate for the inevitable return of spring.