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Mmmmm….has parent changed me?

Do you want the short answer or the long one?

Based on a gloriously harmonious day or on a –stressed out, exhausted, I feel like a rag and I want to throttle you- days? …

Parenthood has defiantly thrown me to these extremes as well as everything that falls in between. So the short answer is yes, parenting has changed me tremendously from reacting with fear to responding with love. It has been the most challenging experience I have ever undertaken as well as given me a hearty dose of humility, empathy, and resilience. It has spiritually, emotional, mentally, and physically healed me.

The long answer: I was born hardwired for fear and hyper-sensitive. Experiencing or even witnessing violence, especially during the crucial period of brain development under age of five significantly affects brain development and can make a child feel scared, anxious, worried, confused, angry, and insecure. This list of feelings sums up my battles in life to a “T” and parenting triggered every one of these vulnerabilities.

You see, even with extensive experience working with children and degrees in elementary education, psychology, human development & family studies and marriage and family therapy, I still felt inadequate and unprepared for parenthood. I even had a self-imposed rule to wait till I was married for 5 years before having children. I began joking with my partner that we needed to have kids so I could have more credentials for my practice as I specialized in children and parenting issues.

After a snowball effect of interventions and traumatic labor, my first son was born 5 months shy of my 5th wedding anniversary, yet I was too tired and hungry to hold him. The natural concoction of bonding hormones was disturbed and my predisposition lead to post-partum depression. I spent a large part of his first year just going through the motions, feeling like a failure and even resentful. Then the anxiety and shame over what I thought I should be doing kicked into overdrive and robbed much of my joy.

During this time, I also worked with families involved with Department of Family Services providing in-home, intensive family therapy. After a couple miscarriages and another pregnancy, I took part in intensive therapeutic and parenting trainings that introduced me to how trauma affects brain development and regulation abilities in children. The light bulbs went off in my head like a fireworks display. So much of my life made sense and new connections made. Then I had another traumatic labor, this time ending with a stillbirth.

WOW…talk about turning your life upside down…try holding a dead baby…your baby.

Althou1935_1079097454232_8939_ngh this was extremely painful, the perspective it gave me toward life and parenting was astounding. You can read more about my processing of the stillbirth here. It encouraged me to truly process my grief, to dig deeper, try harder, and keep learning. I took more trainings on understanding brain development and healing trauma. Having a child actually gave me more compassion and understanding for the 24/7 demands of parenting and complexities of the parent/child relationship.

I chose to put my relationship with my child first and take responsibility for getting my own and his vital needs met.  I chose not to conceive again till I had no fears about the pregnancy and accepted the reality that I may never have another live birth. I did eventually go onto to have a positive and empowering birth experience with my daughter who I had a home, water birth with. I had to consciously filter out other’s opinions and outside influences to tune into my mind/body/soul connections and innate intelligence. I was better able to parent from my heart and less from my trauma.

My relationship with my children has been a mirror to my soul. The reflection is not always pretty, yet I can easily see when my intention, thoughts, feelings, and actions do not match and align them. I am blessed to have 4 angels, 2 children, a supportive partner, and a peacefully chaotic family. As the more I focus my energy on the integrity of my relationships, the more I have of the gloriously harmonious days. Now don’t get me wrong, I am human and still have those other days yet they have shortened into moments, happen less often, and are easily remedied with a hug, silly face, or a happy song. I can truly feel how every day is a gift.

This has been more like my medium answer because honestly, I could go on and on about how evolutionary principles, attachment science, quantum physics, and a love-based paradigm shift could maximize human potential and heal the world…But I’ll just leave you with my poetic version of how parenthood changed me:

lessons from my son meme

“Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, its about learning how to dance in the rain.”

My son and I were playing outside when a storm blew in and he started to dance in the rain. No words could capture the peace and joy that exuded from my son as he danced. The harder the rain and the louder the thunder, the freer he became. His exuberance was so contagious that it lured me from my self-conscious, over-concerned lull to dance. Yet a twinge of guilt and negativity jolted through me like lightning. You see even in this moment of extreme happiness, there were loved ones gripped by fear, and possibly perceiving our actions as defiant and careless. Yet many are oblivious to the fact that I am well aware of the havoc violent storms can bring. I have lived through emotionally, physically, and sexually abusive ones. I know the extremes of dying babies. I know firsthand the feeling of being trapped in a pit so deep that death appears as a friend. I also know how precious this moment is for my son as he inherited my hyper-sensitivity to stormy thoughts. It doesn’t take much to trigger us to despair and panic. I have suffered too long under the guise of fears, anxiety, and depression. I have thoroughly assessed the risks and I realized that by letting go of attachment to outcomes, to fear less, and love more, I open my life up to peace and joy. Dancing in the rain are some of my happiest childhood memories and I wrap those moments around me like a security blanket and blessed to share with my son. I make the conscious choice to dance in the rain.

I had moments of dysregulation and anxiety over giving a presentation. My son nonchalantly says, “Mom don’t worry. Everyone loves you. God Loves you.”…

His words helped me  instantly feel blessed, relieved and positively focused.

Yet later, on the way to the presentation, my brain kept getting triggered to self-doubt, worry, “am I good enough” jargon. I caught my negative self-talk and remembered my son’s words. An internal dialogue began…

I tend to be my worst enemy and critique. I work so hard to give unconditional love, compassion, and kindness to all, yet I am still the hardest on myself and fall into judgmental thinking. Then I was reminded of one of the aspects of organized religion that traumatized me the most…religious people going around calling people sinners and condemning them to hell; one cannot get more judgmental than that. According to the faith I was raised up in, I was going to hell before I turned 15. People wonder why I battled depression and anxiety…what’s the point to keep living when it seems you only fail and let others down?… My mind wanders to a statement I heard that constantly worrying what other’s are thinking of you is living in hell. That definitely describes much of my life, a self fulfilling prophecy as such. I begin to feel angry. I am sick of paying for other’s transgressions: the peers who harassed me, the neighbor who molested me, the friends who slapped and back stabbed me, the boys who used me, the adults who looked the other way or drank and abused too much…

I stopped at a red light and my eyes begin to well. I become cognizant that I am close to my office building and what would people think of red eyes. I chose to redirect my thoughts to my son’s words, “Mom don’t worry. Everyone loves you. God Loves you.”…Then I picture my partner who whenever he hears my children share a brilliant reflection, he smiles at me at says, “That is you.”  You see, my partner and my children have taught me more about faith that no religion could touch and surpasses what any holy book could depict. It is in you, in me and everywhere in between. A wisdom and love that runs so deep that my ancestors and future generations dance and weep as one.

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Would you purposely hit your car’s engine with a hammer?

Would you throw your Ipad out the window?

Would you shake your working TV till it breaks?

Would you rip up your holy books?

We have all probably hit (or at the very least clenched our fists to) some inanimate object.  Whether it be the vending machine that ate our money, or the car because it stopped working, or the classic “punching the wall” scenario for just about anything.

There is a common denominator in all these situations: something did not work the way we expected it to. This disappointment quickly turns to fear that this will never work again or give us what we need, then frustration hits us, anger settles, rage takes over and flooding the rational part of our brain. We the unconsciously react with a fight response, as if our livelihood is being threatened.

It is against the law to destroy the American Flag and blasphemous to destroy the Bible. If you strike another human being you are arrested for an assault. Yet parents have the right to hit their child, our most vulnerable and precious gift, from God none the less. People even cite the Bible to defend this so-called disciplinarian approach.

I guess if the definition of discipline is to teach like Jesus did to his disciples, “spanking,” is teaching children. It is teaching them…teaching that when you feel out of control (i.e. people not behaving how you want them to or think they should be) that you can hit them to do what you want them to do.  Then magically they are supposed to learn not to hit, or they will get punished for hitting the person who has more power and control. Ironically, “hitting” is the lack of control of one’s physical, mental, and emotional capabilities.

I can see how spanking seems to “work” as the child will eventually submit and comply out of fear and desperation. Yet spanking destroys so much more than eyes can see as well as significantly impacts brain development and relational integrity. I also understand that anyone who spanks is really doing the best they can with the resources they have. We must consider the resources that were given (or beat in-) to them, and so on. If we react with blame, shame, and punishment, then we continue to strengthen the fear-based brain connections. We must find more resources to respond with love and trust as well as reduce toxic stress for all humankind to transcend the grips of fear and violence. Fortunately, the easiest and most effective tools are free to everyone: DEEP BREATHS, ears to LISTEN, arms to HUG.

Now, I can barely scratch the surface of this issue in this post but hopefully, empathy, compassion, and love will prevail.  If you are interested in some non-violent information or research on how physical punishment harms, here are some links:

http://acestoohigh.com/

stopspanking.org/research

https://www.cnvc.org/

http://www.childtrauma.org/index.php/articles

http://www.beyondconsequences.com/

http://www.nopunish.net/pwp-ch1.htm

http://www.wavetrust.org/

http://alvaradoconsultinggroup.com/

http://www.teach-through-love.com/

http://www.nospank.net/

http://www.kindredcommunity.com/2006/11/how-culture-shapes-the-developing-brain-and-the-future-of-humanity/

Oh, and my hunch is no one one would purposely (consciously) hit or break their working technological devices nor destroy their patriotic and religious artifacts they believe in.  We lose control when we are under stress and do not know what to do. Maybe we can empathize with children’s stress when they are acting out.  What are we really afraid of…our children’s future?… failing as a parent?…losing control?

Would you please be open to seeing life through your child’s’ eyes or remember how you felt when you were a child?

Would you please become conscious of your reactions and learn some new resources or skills so our children can learn respectful, healthy ways to communicate needs and process negativity or stress?

Would you please let go of fears and control for how you think things should be and just BE (a) PRESENT?

Our children’s minds, bodies, and souls are always working, very hard in fact. Would you please believe in and nurture them?

 “I have never met a person whose greatest need was anything other than real, unconditional love. You can find it in a simple act of kindness toward someone who needs help. There is no mistaking love. You feel it in your heart. It is the common fiber of life, the flame that heals our soul, energizes our spirit and supplies passion to our lives. It is our connection to God and to each other.”          ~ Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

My son was feeling very badly about not living up to his potential: not being a good enough son, not listening, being lazy, stupid, playing too many video games, mean brother etc. were some of the negative thoughts he expressed. No matter how much we told him we love him and highlighted all the good things he does, he could not hear us and resisted. As a therapist, I know too well that our attempts were invalidating and actually making him feel worse. That one must first truly listen, accept, validate the speaker’s feelings and expressions so they may be able to process their pain and move on. Yet being a parent, feeling so responsible and sad for hearing your magnificent child feel so bad is hard to accept and cope with.

After becoming conscious of my own insecurities, I then chose to respond by cuddling with him and remaining silent as he cried and vented. I agreed how painful this must feel. I apologized for the times my actions have led him to feel this way and that I will keep working on improving myself. I then shared a story of how I woke up early yesterday and caught a glimpse of the intense orange from the sunrise.  I was reminded how blessed we are that *god gives a beautiful new horizon to awake and go to sleep with every day. I thought about Easter approaching and how many are celebrating how Jesus rose from the dead. I told my son that holidays are really just symbols of the gifts god gives us every day. We have been given the gift to rise every day and try again, to be more kind and helpful.

My son immediately said thank you, gave me a kiss and popped up exuberantly. He began to hug and say thank you to all the many items on his bed: his books; his new big, blue, soft blanket; his giant stuffed elephant, his fan, his light.  I then read him some stories, the last one was: I Believe In Me. (https://www.facebook.com/I.Believe.In.Me.Affirmations)

I wish everyone to see the beauty and miracles given every day and when you don’t, forgive yourself and others, and rise again.

Deep breaths and baby steps

*I believe god is universal and defined by what you conceive it to be, plural or singular ( Universe, Tao, Mother Nature, deities etc).

I have inherited some devastating messages:

When anything goes wrong, I believe It’s all my fault.

When I break something or make a mess, I believe I am a complete failure and utterly stupid.

Sadly, I have passed this same negative tape to my son. It has grown more apparent the more I expand my awareness for it.

As we were getting ready to leave one day, he boistrously bounced into the wall and a picture frame crashed to the floor. As I am aware that things breaking is one of my triggers, my body viscerally reacted negatively. Almost simultaneously, my son hung his head down saying  “I’m so stupid.” As soon as possible, I told myself out loud to let it go and move onto to next step. Unexpectedly, he went back to the frame to try to fix it and I reacted negatively again as I was afraid he’d get hurt from glass and we were under a time crunch.

His head hung in shame again, he stammered toward the door, muttering “Its all my fault.”

The next feelings and thoughts poured through me in a matter of milliseconds….At first I was filled with anger and dissapointment of how could he feel so bad of himself; how I don’t have the time to deal with this now; how many times do we have to go through this…then feelings of guilt and shame came of  how could I have let this self-hatred seep into my son’s self consciousness and how come I cannot heal us both and get over it…

I cought the negtive tape going wild in my mind and chose to give myself and my son the same love and compassion I wish to give everyone.

As my son turned the door handle to escape outside, I told myself I must not let him start his special day this way. I ran to him as boistrouly as he bounced into the wall just moments before, pulled his head up and bellowed “Raise your head.” As this was happening so quickly, I could still feel the tension in my hands.  His look instantly told me to get my body, tone, and words to match the message of love I wanted to give. I hugged him and began singing,

I love you no matter what glass breaks.

I kissed him in tune to my melody on his neck and I looked at his eyes as they began to well up. I continued to sing:

I love you no matter what breaks.

again I repeatedly kissed him on his neck and as I saw tears beginning to fall, I sang:

You could knock the house down and all I would care is that you were safe and sound.

followed with more kisses, he tearfully said,

“That is the kindest thing I have ever heard.”

I responded that every word of it was true and we hugged. His younger sister who was watching the whole thing then joyfully pleaded, “I want kisses on the neck too.” We went on to have a great day and I believe some of those negative messages have healed. I now sing the same song to myself when I make a mess or break something;-)

The energy we choose to direct at our children (and all living things) will be absorbed and reflect back out. This process is dynamics and rapid especially when you consider the following:

  • Children are processing most information using theta and alpha brain waves which allows all data coming into all senses to enter the brain unconsciously like in an hypnotic trance see http://www.renewal.ca/nlp55.html
  • Our bodies our comprised of 75-85% water and water has been shone to crystallized into beautiful flowing shapes when messages of love are expressed toward it or disjointed and darkened when messages of hate are expressed  http://www.spiritofmaat.com/archive/aug1/consciouswater.html
The saddest part for me is that much of  our systems (e.g. schools, legal, medical, families) are based on fear and power to negatively control individuals to obey a higher, authoritarian figure (hence not God/Tao/Spirit i.e.). The punishments, deprivations, and negative labels create victims, abusers, dis-ease, and conflict whilst inhibiting our innate resources and unique talents.
Many of the so called negative behaviors we are trying to stop are actually qualities we would want in our leaders, our bosses, our partners, or of by-standers of a crime…don’t we want people to share their feelings and stand up for what they believe in? If we believe in humanity, our country, our family, our selves then wouldn’t we be standing up for each other? Wouldn’t shining a light on everyone’s behaviors cultivate positivity and prosperity for all?
Look at the positive side of a negative behavior
                                                   * Believe good intentions * Avoid criticism and blame * Appreciate something, anything

 You’ will be amazed what shines.

Here’s an awesome list to get you started:

Thank you DARE to be You and Dr David MacPhee for giving me this handout a decade ago before I had kids;-)

“The first step to take is to recognize that ALLemotions are healthy. In our culture, feelings such as joy, peace, and courage are seen as good feelings, yet feelings such as sad, mad, and scared are seen as bad feelings. Let’s rethink this to understand that it is not the feeling itself that creates negativity; it is the lack of expression of the feeling that creates negativity.   And in children, this negativity is often expressed through poor behaviors.” ~ Heather T Forbes

I was truly blessed to read Heather’s book and see her live. She gave me the permission I was unconsciously seeking to parent my child from a place of unconditional love and acceptance…

“Children need unconditional love and unconditional acceptance from their parents; we all know this and believe this. However, do we ever stop to consider how so many of the traditional parenting techniques accepted in our culture work contrary to this primal goal? Traditional parenting techniques that involve consequences, controlling directives, and punishment are fear-based and fear-driven. They have the ability to undermine the parentchild relationship and because they are tied into behavior, children easily interpret these actions to mean, “If I’m not good, I am not lovable.” Thus, children often build a subconscious foundation that says that love and approval is based off of performance…

So the next time your child becomes defiant, talks back, or is simply “ugly” to you, work to be in a place not to react to the behavior, but respond to your child. Respond to your child in an open way—open to meeting him in his heart and helping him understand the overload of feelings that are driving the behaviors. He doesn’t need a consequence or another parental directive at that moment; he just needs you to be present with him. As your children learn to respond back to you through the parent-child relationship, they won’t have the need to communicate through negative behaviors anymore. You’ll both have more energy for each other, building a relationship that will last a lifetime.”

Please click the link to read the full article Feelings, Behaviors, and Relationships by Heather:  http://www.beyondconsequences.com/feelings.pdf

It always amazes me how a genuine and simple acknowledgement of one’s feelings will almost instantly relieve the tension and transform to positive energy. This often leads to feeling understood, accepted and normal. Being receptive, sensitive, and in tuned to other’s needs and unique qualities often shows respect and gives them confidence to move on. And even though I have witnessed this beautiful transformation time and time again, I still get caught up in the moment and react, especially when I am under stress. I have been blessed to have been introduced to the work of Heather Forbes which really help me learn to accept my children’s as well as my own negative feelings and that we all need a safe place to process those big feelings. I discovered that my own negative reactions to their behaviors were a symptom of me needing to nurture myself.

I have learned that the most gratifying and sustaining form of motivation comes from within, intrinsically. Sadly, much of our world is built on a punitive or reward based system. Most of us are doing things only to avoid pain and gain a reward.

There are countless thoughts, feelings, and variables influencing a persons’ action and self-worth. Much of these go ignored, unappreciated, refuted, shamed, criticized, rejected, etc. Our self-worth deteriorates into a distorted picture of what others think and by how we are treated. We focus on external things to not only judge our own wellbeing and value but to also make us feel better.

I have an extensive history of being successful: captain, honor roll student, summa cum laude, job promotions, Masters of Science, business owner, happily married, brilliant children, yet whenever anything goes slightly off, all I can see is a big fat “F” and feeling terrified of what other’s reactions may be. Most often people’s attempts to comfort feel dismissive or insulting. When I am in this depressive, stressed state and one exuberantly points out everything I have to be grateful for or even what I did right, it sadly only highlights my inadequacy. I even fail at being grateful and seeing my strengths. This may seem extreme yet this has been one my realities I have to face.

Now I am well aware of where this all come from as I have dedicated my life to finding peace. Fortunately, I have many more moments in peace and joy yet I am human and still get triggered.  I have a history of abuse, shame, and guilt to heal. Accepting pain and negativity was the only way to survive and still be next to the people I loved and needed the most. I know from the bottom of my heart that the cast of people in my childhood were truly doing the best they could with the resources given to them. You only know what you know and can’t give what you have never received.

I vow every day to give everyone the unconditional love and support they need to be honest, free and process their pain. Our universe, body, mind, and soul have a highly intelligent and sensitive communication system that regulates beautifully when innate resources are given time and space to do so.  It is amazing what the one’s will manifests when trusted and nurtured from beginning to end.  Love and connection is the ultimate inherent reward.

Here is a link for deeper exploration into this dynamic in a parent/child relationship:

When a Parent’s ‘I Love You’ Means ‘Do as I Say’ http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/15/health/15mind.html?_r=2


Whilst my son and I worked on a Christmas gift for his dad, I had to take a break to help my daughter to sleep. My son waited patiently and his mind began to reflect in the silence. I heard him start to cry and whimpered, “I’m afraid of what will happen to me when I die…I hope I die in my sleep.” I began to cry with him as I validated his worries and explained that up til a few years ago, I was afraid of dying too and that most people have the same fear. I described that the death of his sister really helped me to face my fears as well as realise that my greatest fear was leaving him and his sister in a world of pain and misery, that they’d be robbed of a mother’s unconditional love. It was during this awareness that I decided to dedicate my life to creating peace and love in the world so in the time of my death, my children would be surrounded in the love and light I had cultivated.

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Symbolically, on the same day of this conversation with my son, we received word that our dear friend on the other side of the world had chosen to end his life. The waves of grief were upon my family that holiday. A picture, a memory, a song triggered a wave. Sometimes the waves came fast and others slow.  Sometimes the wave felt in the hue of disbelief, or in sadness, and even in anger. All the waves validate the loss of a life source; the giddy laugh and bear hugs we miss.

Even more symbolically, about 2 months before this loss, my son was starting a new adventure: an experiential bio-dynamic farming and life learning group atop the island we live on. It had 360 degree views of the ocean, seemingly endless fields and bush country.  It is a Maori custom to give a gift to the land that you will work. This is done by choosing a treasured item and burying it in the land.  On separate occasions, both my partner and I thought of giving one of the heart-shaped, rose-quartz stones our dear friend gave to us as a wedding gift in 1999. When the day came to bury the stone, I felt a bit of sadness separating the hearts. I had read another Maori tradition is to hold a specific stone, put all your worries into it and bury it. My son and I held the heart stone and unloaded our worries. I wept as I handed my son stone to take.

When the waves of grief hit, parts of me wished I would have called our friend to share the story of the stone so just maybe we could have given his worries to the stone and buried his pain instead of him…What if his landlord would have allowed dogs so my sweet dog could have been his best friend…What if we connected with him when I ran across the envelope he sent 7 music CDs in… I know as the what if’s go on and on, that this fate was already dealt into the cards and his poker face we enjoyed too much. I have learned another painful lesson of how important it is to listen to my gut and risk reaching out, no matter how far or disconnected you may be.

I understand that an accumulation of many toxins played together to fuse this tragedy. Having personally considered this same end many times, I can also see that sadly this could have be the most “gratifying” end from his perspective as it ended the pain, the mental and emotional torment and he could feel in control, his fate in his hands. May he finally be able to see his brilliant reflection in all the tears and thoughtful actions of his loved ones. May everyone with breath left find the courage to share the pain, discover the inherent value we all have regardless of what life gives us, and use our  power to chose love instead of fear.

I am grateful my son is sharing his fears with me and continually processing his thoughts on pain and death. Every painful exchange with my children is a gift and opportunity to practice sharing negative feelings and grow together.

On Pain from The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.

source http://www.katsandogz.com/onpain.html

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Here are some links of grief:

http://helpguide.org/mental/grief_loss.htm

http://www.childrensgrief.net/info%20-%20helping%20children%20with%20grief%20issues.htm

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