Emily works with families helping them decode and understand their children’s behaviors so that they can have a happier and more fulfilling home life. She teaches parents new skills, often including mindfulness training, so that they can approach all different types of situations with knowledge and ease.
As I have said before parents need so much more than love to be effective. They need some hard skills that are directly related to the “work” of parenting like how to change a diaper, how to organize a kids bedroom (anyone want to help me with this?!!), and how to meal prep and plan. But maybe even more important (and difficult!) are the soft skills or personal attibutes that allow parents to work with their children. Here are what I consider the 7 most important soft skills for parents, based on my experience as a coach, counselor and mother.
Beginners Mind: Have you ever experienced this exact moment with this exact child? No, of course not! Humans, especially children, are constantly maturing so the parent-child relationship has to be dynamic, flexible, and willing to start over again. Over and over and over again.
Non-striving: We have to let go of any ideas of “achieving” a certain type of child. Yes we raise them with intention, but we also have to let go of trying to make them into something that they are not. Would you ever yell at a flower for not blooming at the right time? That would be rediculous. But that is what we do to our children when we are disappointed they don’t meet our unchecked expectations about their development on our timeline.
Letting go: What does your ideal child/parent look like? The only one you have before you and within you. There is no perfect child. There is no perfect parent. We are all humans with messy human lives. We must let go of the stories we have about how this should look.
Non-judgement: Judging implies criticism that is not constructive. And while yes, we should always want to improve, we should not constantly be comparing our kids and ourselves against others or even a higher standard lest we want to make this journey as miserable and mental as possible. We need to find acceptance the as-is of any situation we are in with our kids without adding unhelpful labels and stories to the trials of parenting.
Acceptance: Recognizing and accepting your child and your parenting/life realities is paramount to choosing how to respond. When you choose not to fight the way life is, you enter a state of abundance and notice that you already have everything you need.
Trust: Parenting is a process that requires so much belief that everything will be OK. Do you have evidence? No. But trust is the best anti-anxiety medicine I have found and cultivating it for this journey is integral.
Patience: The capacity to accept pain/stress/uncertainty without getting angry or upset–that is the task of parenting. We simply need tons and tons of patience. We need to be able to produce more rope when we are at the end of our lines. Without patience we just hurt ourseleves and teach non-adapative skills in the inevitably messy process of raising kids and life.
Parenting as I have always believed is the most important job many of us are lucky to enough to do in our lives. We literally get to raise humans into the change we want to see in the world. The way we parent can be a spiritually rejuvenating, politically inspired, an act of social justice, and so much more. Implementing these 7 soft skills has the ability to transcend the daily parenting tasks from something we have to get through to a mindful presence that supports both parent’s and child’s growth.
I was talking to a friend the other day about a difficult situation with my kiddos and realized I could use some mantras in my life to help me stay calm and centered admits the chaos. Here’s what I came up with (& do you have a mantra???):
“I don’t need to attend to every argument I’m invited to”
“The past does not have power over the present moment”
“I am breathing to take space to collect to this moment”
“I can be okay in discomfort”
“I will define me”
“I am (you are) already whole”
“I am (you are) light”
“I forgive myself (you)”
“I honor the divine in you and I honor the divine in me”
“Both light and shadow are a part of me/you and that’s OK”
“There is a crack in everything and that’s how the light gets in”(leonard cohen)
“The less I seek my source for some definitive the closer I am to fine” (indigo girls)
“I am what I attend to”
“My kid is not the problem. The problem is the problem”
“I am my child’s home base despite the chaos”
“I am teaching my child about the way infinite love works in every moment”
“Be gentle to yourself”
“You/I am still learning”
Do you have any parenting mantras that help you get through rough moments?
Q: Looking for experience and advice helping my daughter, Maya (5.5), through her frustration in learning new skills. We usually wait for her to ask to learn to do something, especially physical skills (ride a scooter, do a somersault, etc.) and shoe tying wasn’t really on our radar because her two favorite pairs of shoes don’t have laces. But her K teacher has declared a challenge to her class that whoever can learn to tie shoes by Jan. 11 will “win” a special lunch in the classroom with the teacher.
Maya is BOUND and determined to learn to do this to win the lunch. Even with skills she asks to learn, she is very easily frustrated in learning them. She tends to be a perfectionist (for lack of a better word) and wants things to come easily. She will almost immediately declare defeat, cry out, give up–or not give up, but half-heartedly keep “trying” even when I ask if she’d like to take a break and remind her that it won’t happen immediately, but everything takes a bit of practice.
Generally, I remind her of prior skills she’s learned (like a somersault) and say “Remember how hard that was the first time you tried it? And then you practiced and practiced, and now you can do them easily!” Along those lines.
I will admit I can get frustrated with her frustration, because I just simply don’t know what to say to make it better. And I know I can’t make it better for her, but can I help her through this so she doesn’t immediately feel defeated when she doesn’t get something on the first try?
A: Thank you for your question–tying your shoelaces is one of those developmental milestones that we all had to go through as children. It can be very stressful and difficult because it takes a lot of fine-motor dexterity, of which your daughter may just not be ready for at this time. My son is in first grade and his teacher puts “practice tying shoes” on the homework sheet twice a week so clearly a lot of kids are still working on it.
I would try scaffolding the shoe-tying learning. Scaffolding means simple to start with the basic first part and let her master that then add on the next part. But before you start I would get a quick gauge on her fine motor development (fine motor means strength and dexterity of small movements like fingers): is she able play with play-doh and make small things with it? Can she wrap rubber bands around something easily? Can she do buttons on her shirt? Once you have an idea of the scope of her abilities, the first step for her to master would be to simply cross the laces. Don’t forget to really show her the basics: proper hand position, which lace goes on top, etc. Then give her ample time to practice this first step. Once she is doing that well, then show her which lace goes through the hole and from what direction. Then practice that over and over again. Keep going like that until she’s tying laces on her own. Like everything else, she will do it when she’s ready all you can do is be patient, present, and set the conditions for her to rise to the occasion.
In terms of her frustration, I would try just letting her vent and not inserting a kind but misplaced “its ok” or “it doesn’t really matter” or anything. Silence and your physical presence will give her a safe container for her to feel her feelings and you want her to know that you are her safe space to be frustrated (or any emotion). Just stay near her and offer to give her space if she needs it (you can ask: “do you want me to stay here or do you want a little space?”). I’m sure just you near will be comforting enough. Often adult words just add to the intensity of the stressful situation. When she does start ‘getting it’ I would simply acknowledge that she got that part, not with any emphasis on your emotions (likely proud) so that your feelings about the shoe-tying don’t become part of her stress, even if they are “positive”. That little kindergartener has enough on her plate with all this shoe-tying business, managing your ups and downs should not be her job.
Either way, my final thought is how messed up it is for the teacher to make this into a competition? I don’t think it would be out of line to say something to the teacher especially with the prize being attention from an adult. The kids who tie early will be proud enough and don’t need a prize–in fact, it is likely the ones who don’t tie early who would benefit with some extra encouragement and attention from an adult.
The other day my son was screaming about how unfair it was that he didn’t get a toy at the store like his older brother did. The four of us were in the car and his intense scream was piercing our ears and putting us all on edge, especially because we physically could not distance ourselves. It was unfair that one kid got a toy and the other didn’t, on the surface and to a 4-year old, but we had our reason for not getting him one. We tried to tell him to quiet down and take a breath…and explain to this little guy why he didn’t get anything but he went on crying. He was unable to listen to his reasonable, calm, doting parents who were just trying to help.
But four-year-olds don’t have the cognitive reasoning skills that adults do. Fairness is a huge part of their lives because morality develops from a more concrete (black and white) thinking to more a more abstract way (many shades of gray) of understanding the world. When an injustice has happened, especially involving coveted objects such as toys, they react. Instead of trying to use adult reasoning on our child, we decided to try a different approach. We let him scream. We let him own the intensity of the moment: his his fists were clenched, his jaw was tight, and his throat was probably burning. Instead of trying to reason with him and instead of trying to silence him we just let him go on like we would have if he were a toddler throwing a tantrum (this basically was a slightly more advanced version of that, was it not?).
Both a little skeptical but having no other good options, we let him go on. We held a safe space for him to let out his feelings by staying near him (this was easy because we were in the car), acknowledging his big feelings without judgement, and staying silent so as not to inject our agenda into his emotional process that really just needed to be felt. The staying silent part is CRITICAL because that is where the safety is really created. Without punishment, threat, coercion, or judgement we let him feel his anger to get through the anger. And you know what? By holding this emotional container for my son, the screaming stopped almost immediately and didn’t say another word about it…ever.
Us parents are so well intentioned to have our kids see the other side of a story and it feels harmless to interject our life experience to the matter at hand, but in fact it can be a very selfish attempt to get them quiet. Silencing our kids pain is detrimental to them. Our kids need to feel anger, sadness, and discomfort and learn to travel through those emotions so that they can learn to move beyond those emotions.
What if we instead approached our children’s “bad” feelings with a gentle curiosity to help them explore these feelings? What if we don’t even see this feelings as “bad” anymore but just as they are: sadness, anger, discomfort without the label of “bad” (and therefore miserable) and instead welcomed the range of emotions as tools of learning and growth? Imagine the courage we could show our kids by letting them feel the full spectrum of human experience and knowing that they are OK during those feelings and that we are OK with them during those feelings. Imagine the intense safety we adults would feel if we could experience all emotions without judgement?
We want our children no matter their age to feel their emotions, all of their emotions, not just the ones we “like” or are comfortable with. Squelching our child’s feelings would have given him the underlying message that 1. we cannot tolerate his big feelings 2. big feelings are bad he should ignore and/or repress them and 3. our love is conditional to his “good” behavior. Certainly none of these are messages we want our children to learn, even if it means short-term compliance to behavior we like.
So the next time your child is expressing their big emotions stay close, stay curious, and stay silent and surly keep your arms ready for when they collapse towards you for a great big hug full of warmth, connection, and safety.
Contact Emily for a free parent coaching consultation to see if she can help your family become a safe haven for peace and connectivity.
Back from 5 nights away from the family. In the spirit of mindful awareness, I came to the Mindful Schools annual retreat at the Garrison Institute in the Hudson Valley (across the river from West Point!) with a playful curiosity. I was interested in the content of the two seminar days, but not totally sure what the first 2 days OF SILENCE really meant and even if I really wanted that. What I got from the experience was something magnificent.
The Garrison Institute–where we stayed and learned…surrounded by beautiful hikes, a labrynith made out of bushes, and bamboo groves!
“Welcome to silence”
When I heard those three words, I was scared. I was walking into the unknown and, as new experiences are, I was feeling uncomfortable, weird, and stressed. We alternated between sitting guided meditations (focusing on our breath, our bodies, compassion, self-compassion, letting go of thought for 30-45min) and walking meditations (walking back and forth between 20 feet or so for 30-45m in a clip). I was surprised at how exhausting the sitting and walking was–by afternoon I was tired and by evening I was downright exhausted. Meals were incredible, vegetarian and healthy–a la the famous Moosewood restaurant in Ithaca. We made little eye contact with each other and did not even worry about normal social norms like holding doors for eachother. The experience was designed for each of us to go completely into our own bodies for 2 days without distraction. Each evening we had a talk about our mindfulness practice.
During the silence I practiced staying in the moment without judgement over and over and over again (read: Intro to Mindfulness). It was hard. Our minds have so much practice swinging from thought to thought like a monkey that stilling those thoughts is usually very difficult. It takes a lot of practice to get good at quieting your mind and it is completely dependent on practice. You can not read about it and be good at it, much like swimming or riding a bike. You have to do it. Instead of thinking through every thought or attaching a story to every emotion, I tried to just notice it and let it float on like a leaf on a stream. It was very comforting to allow myself the space to practice this because so often I can get caught in a story that eventually turns into a rumination, which eventually makes my jaw tight, which eventually gives me headaches, which eventually make me tired or cranky, which eventually make me not very nice to be around.
I found the silence to be:
mundane and profound
boring and fulfilling
painful and peaceful (physically and mentally)
…and so much more
The hardest times of the silence were when I was physically uncomfortable which made focusing on breath very difficult. I also found interesting to note that I really dislike boredom. I would go up to my room and just hear the call of my book to read, or my body to offer going for a walk in the woods, and especially not surprisingly, my phone to call home and hear the voices of my loved ones.
During silence, I can legitimately say I never tasted food quite like what I ate while my sense of hearing didn’t have as much input. My grilled cheese that day was a type of magic I will never forget. As I ate slower than ever before (and everyone else did, too) I got to first notice, then appreciate, than savor every single bite. It was something I had never experienced before and while some moments went faster than others it gave me a deep sense of gratitude I had never had before for a simple sweet potato let alone a veggie burger, bread, or bean salad.
The Tao Te Ching (ancient Chinese text that is referred to as “The Way”) says “We shape clay into a pot, but is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.” This simple truth is what I got from the silence, the gift of finding space within myself to hold whatever is dearest to my heart.
With humble gratitude and boundless joy,
PS. I had nothing to worry about: The kids and my husband went camping and had an amazing few days without me.
Next week I am going away on a 5 day mindfulness retreat through an amazing organization called Mindful Schools. I took their Mindfulness Fundamentals course and their Mindfulness Educator Essentials courses last fall/winter and loved them. They were 100% online, self-guided courses with weekly practice and reflections and were the perfect combination of information and guided practice to start a more formal mindfulness/meditation habit. They offer a 5 day retreat for graduates of those courses so next week I leave for the Garrison Institute in upstate NY and I am SCARED–in a good way, I must add, but also a little in the stressed way. Here’s why:
Leaving the kids and husband for 5 days. I know my husband is an amazing dad and he will hold down the fort, but managing two kids (and their summer schedules as referenced above) for 5 days will be a lot. He has prepped with help from a friend on camp pickups and my parents for the kids to have an overnight one night but still….its a lot of shelpping and prepping. Deep bow to all the single parents who have to do this daily.
The other thing about leaving the family is that I also am just goingtomiss them. There are days my kid comes off the camp bus that I think he looks older…and thats just a day camp! Thank goodness for FaceTime, but I am going to miss their huge hugs and little bodies SO MUCH. I am also going to miss my husband, I must add (love you, hun!)
I am vowing not to beat myself up or feel guilty for taking this time for myself, but I probably still will have those feelings. My renewal and growth as a human is vitally important to me, but even more importantly to everyone around me. If I am feeling defeated, down, or depressed I simply cannot take care of those around me the way I want to. So while it is a long time to be away, I am trying to keep it in perspective–this is not a month, a half a year or sometime frame that is really life-altering, this is 5 nights which have been planned for months. Deep breaths.
The retreat consists of 2 days of silence (and other days of workshops and seminars). Yup, you read that right. 2 days of not talking AT ALL. What exactly does this mean? I honestly don’t really know. I am sort of anticipatory anxious/excited about this. On one hand, I can totally see how blissful this could be, on the other hand….2 freaking days. That’s a lot of not talking. Am I going to be able to sink into the silence and enjoy it….or will I be in my head screaming for 2 straight days? My gut is that the first few hours may be challenging and then I am hoping to get to the sweet peace of it. But who knows?!
So, finally, I must apologize for the two months of silence since my last blog post…summer break got me like whoahhhhhh and I honestly needed sometime away to reflect and renew on my purpose here in the blogosphere. The silence, in that regard, has helped immensely. I am ready to get down to business and create a community of parents who are trying to be more conscious of their parenting and mindful of their living. By coming together through facilitated groups, classes, and private coaching we are stronger, we are wiser, and we are calmer. And this task ahead of us–the raising of our kids, matters. A lot.
So 5 days away starting next Wednesday. I am planning on blogging about it so that everyone can know what goes into a mindfulness retreat and how the silence goes! Have you ever done a retreat with some days of silence? How did it go?
(c) 2017. Nurture: Family Education & Guidance, Emily R.Rittenberg, firstname.lastname@example.org
The other night my 6 year-old son was having trouble sleeping. I got up to his bedroom and he just couldn’t calm himself down. “Honey, do you want to try some mindfulness?” I asked and waited for him to laugh and say no-way. But he didn’t. I had taught him some basic skills (mindfulness of breath) a few weeks earlier and practiced a few times and as soon as I asked, he knew it was just what he needed. We did a short practice–listening to our singing bowl 3 times and then noticing our breaths go in like we are smelling a flower and our like we are blowing out a candle. When he calmed down, I simply said “I am going to ring the bell one more time and then I am going to leave the room”. Then I did. As I was leaving his room he said “Mom, turn my music on” and then he cut himself off “….no, no, never-mind” and he literally rolled over and went to sleep.
I am not perfect (by far!) and my kids are not saints (also by far!) but this mindfulness stuff is really working for our family. For one, it has made me more patient and present with my kids and able to modulate my strong emotions better. For my kids, they have started to really notice their own emotional states more and become more aware of their needs within those high’s and low’s which is an amazing life skill.
Truth be told, very young kids are the experts on mindfulness. They are the masters of living without judgement or attachment but exposure to culture and unconsciousness teaches kids to care more about doing and achieving than being attuned and grateful of the present moment. Adults in their life may want to teach them a different way: the way of mindful awareness. Being on this path with your child, and in alliance with them on their journey through the highs and lows of life, will be a divinely gratifying and nourishing to you as their parent and greatest teacher. But it is important to go on this journey with intention but also of awareness of these basic tenants so that the pendulum does not end up swinging back into more frustration, anger, or control for you or your child.
1. Start with parent. The first step to bringing mindfulness into your home is to ask yourself what motivates your interest? If your authentic answer is to change your child, it will not work. Mindfulness is a way of paying attention, non-judgmentally, to the current moment and if your child does not want to do that it will not work. Instead of forcing it on them, invite them to participate with you and be ok with them not being ready to learn it at this point in their life.
2. Learn basic techniques. It is important for adults to have a basic understanding of mindfulness before you start sharing it with your child or you are setting yourself up for failure and frustration. Learn about how to have a mindful body, how to listen mindfully, how to bring your focus back to your breath, and how to integrate heartfeltness into your moment-to-moment interactions.
3. Choose a time of day to insert mindfulness. Think about your daily routine. Is there a time of day when behavior is generally good and your kids are ready to listen? If your answer is like most parents, that may be hard to identify. Try talking them in the car when everyone is contained. But again, be mindful of your agenda, and willing to drop it if they are not interested.
4. Give them ownership of their practice and let children lead mindfulness. Allow them to ring a special bell to practice listening, cueing you to focus on your breath, or leading you through a body scan.
5. Don’t use it as a consequence. Being aware of your present moment and your breath is not a punishment–it is the sweetest gift you could give a child. Don’t allow it to be associated with anything bad or your child will resent it. That being said, if you want to use it as an intervention for behavior, make sure a practice is established.
6. Be consistent. You can not do a mindfulness activity and expect it to be suddenly integrated into your child’s brain. Like all learning, practice it regularly to strengthen the neural pathways in your child’s brain so that it becomes more and more natural for him to use it.
7. Institute short moments of awareness many times throughout the day for yourself and invite them to participate. Simply asking them to “notice how you are feeling” is a good starting point.
8. Integrate simple rituals. Taking some deep breaths before starting a meal or putting your fork down between bites during a meal is a good way to fold mindfulness into your regular life.
9. Let them teach you what they know. Listen with attunement and presence–exactly how you would want them to listen to you if you were explaining something new to them. Ask questions and look for answers, together, if your child stumbles over their explanation.
10. There is no one-sized fits all approach to mindfulness. Kids of different temperaments, ages, and abilities will need different approaches to learning mindfulness. Some kids might be interested in learning about the brain, others maybe interested in learning during a peaceful hike, and yet others in totally different ways. There are so many directions to try.
We will be sharing more mindfulness resources in the coming weeks so please follow us on FB/IG @NurtureFamilyEducation
Your essence is the most authentic, honest, real version of you. Over years of development it often gets built over with other’s stories of who you are (or who they want/need you to be)–good or bad–but not essential truths of who you are on the most elemental level. Eroding those stories we were told were your identity is a difficult but essential part of raising one’s own conscious awareness.
You don’t want to look ‘there’. Maybe you tell yourself it doesn’t matter. It’s in the past. Let’s just forget it. Or maybe you were told to ‘accept it and move on’ or ‘life is painful’ or ‘life is unfair’. Sure you heard those words as a child, but who was telling you? Why were you asked to put your essential questions aside and let others articulate truth for you?
Your parents greatest flaw was their own unconsciousness. Their own unawareness of their raw vulnerabilities and how that affected them. Hurt them. How they felt betrayed. Scared. Alone. They chose to candy coat those events–make them seem like sad but OK parts of who they are. But they are not. There are stories in them. Unarticulated truths of existence that could lead them to their own divinity. And get you closer to yours. Proof of a life that means so much more than what it seems like on the surface. How could one not be affected by the horrific truths that have been woven into the story lines they were a part of? How could that generational trauma not affect you?
With that bundle of perfection that you coddle with the warmest love, your are scraped into acknowledging your rawest essence–beyond your culture and your parents unconsciousness– and forced to look in the mirror and see–really see–who is looking back. When we acknowledge our true being and remove the false layers of who we were told we were or who we “should” become, then we honor our unique way of being, and as a parent traversing the spiritual journey of raising humans.
So you’re an adult now, a ‘grown up’. It doesn’t always feel that way. When you find yourself lashing out at a child you know there is more–has to be more–from where those automatic stories you tell yourself are coming from. How do you figure out where?
In the solitude of the breath.
What artifacts do you need to unearth from your past to analyze, understand, and refile in your emotional database with a story that actually makes sense? That gets to the heart of the matter?
On the breath.
What nuggets of truths can you uncover when you scuff off the layers of pretend and posing? Will you be able to confront the pain of your family’s skeletons?
The truth is when you get closer the buried treasure might seem like bomb. It may scare you and make you wonder who you are and why are you here? How did you get layered into this mess. It will make you question the stories–you may now call them lies–that you once owned as truth. But be brave.
It may take time–maybe even a lifetime–of digging, sifting, and triangulating the data points to where they line up and make sense. You may have to reach out to other willing family members (aunts and uncles) to unearth the real story of what happened to your parents. You may not find anything for a long while.
Until you do.
Let go on the exhale.
The truth is the only way and making meaning of that is all you can do.
And you may realize all you have is emptiness. Nothingness. This is not bad. This is the starting point to rebuild a new civilization based in consciousness. Reality. Essence. Pure joy. With the emptiness there is wholeness. The ability to be. Anything. Your choice.
These days are the longest you’ve ever experienced, but you can’t get a thing done. You nurse until your nipples bleed and lie on your bed in a moment of comatose to the new reality, and the baby cries again. You look at the calendar and have a guilty moment of thinking about going back to work–a physical representation of your old life. You think “maybe I was made without a maternal instinct like all the other moms.” Your body will be fragile from the birth, the exhaustion of a newborn, the insanity of taking care of an entirely new human life. And you will be permanently different.
But look around for signs of normalcy. The way your creamer billows in your cup of coffee to the most beautiful swirl the world has ever made. How the warm water drip drops off your finger tips after you clean the bottles for the third time in the day. The forever hum of the lights as you numbly embrace your freedom to go to the grocery store anytime of the day. And in those moments, you can find a peaceful magic no one teaches you about in birthing classes or doctors appointments. An alchemy of awareness. A clarity of your tired senses, a calmness to your thoughts that are about the most basic of needs, and ok-ness to the new normal.
Be gentle to yourself. The only thing your tiny human needs is you–fully, authentically, essentially you.
Let go of the imaginary stories you tell yourself about how this should be, it will be what it will be.
Let go of your need to control how this will unfold, it will blossom at exactly the right moment.
Let go for your desire to capture this perfect moment on camera, succumb to the perfection of the present.
Let go of your attachment to the story of who you were–or should be, you are new again in every moment of this journey.
Let go of the schedule that tells you that your new human is already doing it wrong, make up your own version of right.
No one will tell on you.
And in this dissolution of the self you once knew, you get back to how you started: perfect. Exactly what the universe needs you to be and exactly who your baby came to for guidance on this planet. Embrace the chaos because in this stimulus you can chose how you will respond. Live your wisdom–it is infinite, it is powerful, and it is forever present waiting for you to trust.
With light and love,
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A large part of becoming awakened and growing up as our children need us to has to do with letting go of our attachment to, need of, and dependency on our own parents….By binding ourselves to our own parents for approval, permission, a sense of belonging, and love, we keep ourselves small and childlike. This symbiosis of selves ultimately leaves little room for each to grow and thrive. It then gets projected onto our children, enslaving them to our parental fold beyond what’s healthy”
-Dr. Shefali Tsabary “The Awakened Family”
When you birth a child, you birth two new people. Your baby and you. You are never the same, never disconnected to this life that came of you. It even feels like you could never be independent from that soul–the one in front of you and the one within you. But you were once a new life in front of doting parents, and so were they. What age is it time to let them be free again (are we ever?) and who decides?
Everyone grows up with some level of attachment to our parents–in some cultures and some families, that attachment is stronger than others. Initial attachment is our emotional bond to our parents that gives them the desire to take care of our primary needs (eating, sleeping, safety) and eventually becomes the “engine of subsequent social, emotional, and cognitive development.” The confusing reality of this is that in order to be able to have a healthy attachment to your child-which has multitudes of short term and long term health benefits to you both, one must be able to honestly assess their own emotional bond to their parents. One must ask, how did my parents do at keeping me safe, seen, secure and soothed?
Many of us do not want to assess our attachment to our parents in any sort of negative light because we were told to “honor thy mother and father.” But honor does not mean cover up, sideline, or perverse the truth. Honor means telling the truth (sometimes to ourselves, first) about them, and their journey through life–because, whether they understood this or not, they were your first iteration of the universe’s expression of wholeness. If that iteration had a facade of wholeness and perfection, or at least a good-enough version, we may still trust them to be the truth in our lives. And if not your life, than in the life of your child. So many of us turn to our parents in our own parenthood looking for answers, truths, affirmation of how we are doing. Someone to say ‘you are ok. You are doing a good job.” Mostly that is okay, until you allow that fine line of affirmation to be blurred into an outright acceptance of truth and you end up trusting your parents more than you trust yourself. It is not a parent’s job to set your boundaries in an adult child’s way of being with their child, that is your job. It is a hard part, maybe the hardest, of growing up. Letting go.
You let them in as much as you need or want them there, but honestly assess whether you are giving them this power over your parenting because you need them or because you want them. Confronting your own independence takes maturity, trust, consciousness and vulnerability. Maturity to acknowledge that you are a grown up (even if you don’t always feel that way when you feel like you got lured into an argument with a child). Trust to allow this process of unfolding your children to happen naturally with the good and bad. Consciousness to awaken out of your blind acceptance of enculturation–of your parents and yourself. And finally, vulnerability to admit you may have been wrong and will be wrong in the future.
Setting parents free is different than kicking them out; it is a gift to you- and to them- and a way of stating that “you did a good job here but your job here is done, I’ll take full responsibility for my development from here.” It is a mature way of accepting your own adulthood and relieving them from any unintended damage they may have unconsciously done while raising you. It is freeing both of you from dependence, codependence, and enmeshment and gives you the chance to have a mature adult relationship, as intimate as your boundaries allow, with your parents.
Not from our culture and not from our parents will we learn to parent. We will learn only when we are willing to accept ourselves as unfolding on a perfect timeline for our evolution and that of our children.
Conscious Parenting series will be starting again soon! Details at: “Upcoming Events.”