Monday, October 27, 2014

Be That We

Yesterday I wrote about a current parenting struggle for me.  I've been using my typical parenting strategies to STOP the behavior that's triggering me.  And now, I want to head towards the situation with the intent to Accept my child for exactly where she's at.

A few questions have come my way!!!  I've been having an exciting dialogue in my own head about them and finally realized others might want to hear and/or join in:

Does this mean you're going to just let the awful behavior continue?
In this situation, I cannot STOP it; that's not within my control. I could create consequences so dire that she was externally motivated (fear of my disapproval, fear of what might happen, etc.) to stop herself. But that doesn't work for me.

I CAN notice that my previous attempts to acknowledge were flooded with
* My own projections (e.g. I feel pressure, especially because I parent differently and because this is my career, to have what I do work; when my child behaves poorly, sometimes I let fears that other people will use that as an argument against my choices instead of simply understanding that ALL children test and explore boundaries and make poor choices) and
* My strong urge to STOP the behavior because I'm really freaking annoyed by it.

The alternative that I'm aiming for is to use the same skills (Janet talks about: observe, acknowledge, wait, accept; the Amy version: Invest, Listen, Acknowledge, Invite, Accept) while
* Letting go of my own projections and fear and instead sitting in my trust that my child is perfect as-is AND on an inevitable path of growth, and
* Listening and acknowledging with curiosity, without pressure to Stop or Fix but instead a calm presence that says, It's ok that you're feeling strongly! It's ok that you don't have the skills right now for this to go smoothly! You're not Too Much, and this isn't Too Much for me. We can figure this out, and I will be here and ready for you if you want my help.

Does this mean that she gets “her way”? That she'll learn that screaming an awful song “works”? That she'll think this behavior is ok?

First of all, trust me: a five year old knows that screaming is not ideal behavior. At this point, they're not grounded. They're triggered. They're likely flooded with strong emotions that are preventing logical thinking. They need exactly what we need when we get to that point: compassion. Compassion, contrary to our fears, does NOT breed misbehavior! Creating a safe space for feeling emotions does make for many challenges:  a safe space for feeling means those feelings come out instead of staying in!  But letting those feelings out is healing.  In contrast to what we may fear, compassion paired with consistent limits supports the development of emotional regulation, healthy attachments, and internally-motivated growth.  

Secondly, my acceptance that I can't force her to stop screaming is simply acceptance of the truth; that doesn't mean that screaming “works,” it means that I am refusing to let myself get all worked up over a power struggle for something that I don't actually have power over (and the same is true of eating, sleeping, pooping, peeing, etc.).

Thirdly, I can still have limits! Does her screaming get her to have her turn first? Nope. Does her screaming get us to stop at Salt and Straw? Nope. Do I send the message that screaming is ok by acknowledging that something is clearly not working for her and gently inviting her to identify feelings and needs and make a request? Nope.

So when I say that I don't know what my plan is today, it's because I want to stay open and simply experience the shifts that will trickle down from simply seeing the situation differently. There are times when having a strategy and ideas about figuring out what's up for her is useful! But at this point, I've done some damage by having an attitude that shows that my efforts have been to control and STOP the behavior. Instead of stressing myself out with a bunch of brainstorming about how I need to fix it, I want to shift back to a place of curiosity.  NOW, I want to simply change my mindset and trust both W and myself to move forward with the skills we have right now. I want to Let Go of my intent to affect outcomes. I want to prioritize Being Present, Listening Closely, and Accepting and simply be curious about how that will affect us.

Why? Why not just force my kid to obey me? Why let her screaming be a process for my own growth and reflection? 
Because all of this isn't about the “NAAAAH! NAAAAH!” song. It's not about the misbehavior because as soon as this one goes, another one will come.
It is about how we work as a family. It's about me trying to reprogram all those brain pathways to go from FEAR! CONTROL! MAKE IT BETTER! to compassion, love, and acceptance. It's about a belief that we are whole, beautiful humans who are exactly who we should be right now; that when we are open to listening closely and compassionately to those around us, growth is inevitable. We don't always need a specific plan! We don't always need to know the why's and how's! Sometimes we can simply set an intention to be the best We we can be, and BE THAT WE.