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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

Enlightenment

Here’s a link to a biographical talk I gave on what “Light” means to me https://soundcloud.com/waitalks-1/light

These ideas listed below is my first attempt of a handout that goes along with an interactive workshop for families where I live.  The title “Be Happens” is the phrase my 2yr old coined from all the times I say “it happens” when we spill, and me playing “Don’t Worry, Be happy” to relieve my stress. She started to sweetly say “Be happens” whenever we made a mess.

Be Happens*: Enriching Resiliency & Connections between Caregivers & Children

*Tuning into senses, thoughts, feelings, and actions that happen

in any moment within our bodies, minds, & hearts.

Resilience: the ability to cope effectively in the face of stress, adversity, and potentially traumatic experiences.

Stress: anything emotional, mental, physical, or chemical that is prolonged, unpredictable, and overwhelming => Any stress can become traumatic if it continues on unexpressed, unprocessed, and/or misunderstood

Dysregulation: being in a state of STRESS beyond our threshold of tolerance resulting in changes of the chemistry and functioning of our brain/body connection.  Dysregulation => dysfunctional survival behaviours => creates unconscious emotions of fear =>activates flight/flight/freeze mode of reactions.

All negative behavior comes from a state of STRESS andor unmet need.

Emotional Regulation: the ability to experience a feeling, know that the feeling signals a need and then know how to get that need met.

Inconsistent amounts or quality (unique to each individual) of the following vital needs may trigger Stress/Dysregulation:

  1. Nutrition/Hydration
  2. Temperature
  3. Sleep
  4. Level of stimulation (from all senses)
  5. Connection/respectful touch
  6. processing negative thoughts, feelings, toxins

Be Detectives as a family and spy around for what might be triggering you to act out…

Get regulated together by doing the following:

  1. Take Deep breaths
  2. Eat/Drink water
  3. Rest/Sleep/Meditate
  4. Reduce or change stimulation (i.e. adjust temp, turn off electronics, lower noise level, get fresh air and sunlight)
  5. In crease production of happy, calming hormones by doing fun, interactive activities  such as smiling, silly faces, singing, music, hugging, playing games, tickling, dancing., exercising, attend social events, spending special one-on-one with each other
  6. Process negative feelings/thoughts by drawing, acting out, playing, reflective listening, asking open ended questions, identifying/labeling possible feelings, empathize

 Making healthy habits that meet your vital needs will help regulate your body, mind, & heart connections as well as harmonize your thoughts, feelings, actions, and RELATIONSHIPS.

View these links for more info on children’s resilience and stress:

http://www.pbs.org/thisemotionallife/blogs/attachment-and-development-resilience

http://brainwave.org.nz/wp-content/uploads//Stress-Article-2010.pdf

This is also a synopsis of some highlights I have learned from these amazing people and have peacefully weaved into my life:

Barbara Wetzel http://www.theergonomiccouple.com/

Juli Alvarado http://www.coaching-forlife.com/

Heather Forbes http://www.beyondconsequences.com/

Bryan Post http://www.postinstitute.com/

Bruce Perry http://childtrauma.org/

Randal and Sarah Farrant http://vital-wellbeing.com/ http://vitalmoms.com/

When my son was nearly four, he had a small snow globe with Pluto the dog in it. Every time he’d touch it, I would say, “Be careful, it is glass so if it falls it will break.” Last night, he played with it intensely, not heeding my warnings.  It shattered. My initial response was one of exasperation, and quickly removed him from the area. I fought back the impulse to say, “I told you so; you didn’t listen.” but I am sure he still felt that negative energy as he broke down in tears and was inconsolable.  My husband and I both hugged him, and I stated, “It is my fault because I should have taken it away from you. I knew better.” I calmly suggested he go play with his miniature sandbox and he agreed that would make him feel better.

I think many would be taken back that I took responsibility in this situation (and I do this in most parenting situations). I frequently get comments about how will he learn responsibility? How will he learn if there are no consequences? I was first exposed to this response in a training for regulatory parenting*. The presenter gave numerous examples of “taking responsibility” topping with a story about her standing before a judge for a foster child and stating that she will take responsibility for his actions. These stories surprised me because they were counterintuitive to what I was raised to think, but her reasoning, and better yet the progress, sold me.

So I will apply the reasoning to the situation with my son. First off, let me stress that I did not take responsibility for him; I took responsibility for my behaviors. In the end, the parent is ideally the one with more knowledge, more experience, more skills, more resources and is responsible for meeting a child’s needs. I once read that when a child is born, the parent is in debt to the child because you chose to bring them into the world. The child is a gift.

By me taking responsibility, I decreased the negative energy (i.e. blame, disappointment, shame) being absorbed by my son as well as calmed myself down. All negative behavior comes from a state of stress (see Stress Model by Dr Bryan Post http://www.postinstitute.com/resources/the-stress-model.html ). When we are stressed, we usually react negatively and inappropriately. Scolding, raising my voice, or punishing would only add more stress, which a child (and most humans) can’t handle as well as escalate the situation. It also causes the child to focus on and retain negative feelings about the parent as well as lessen their ability to internalize the actual event and subsequent lesson. When we are calm, we are able to respond gently by becoming aware of as many variable as possible and problem solve effectively.

I was also role-modeling for my son how to take responsibility. There are complaints that there is not enough discipline and kids have no respect anymore. I think we need more positive and respectful role models.  I can’t tell you how many times I hear a parent or adult say “Don’t you raise your voice to me!” in an elevated and harsh tone, and the countless other times that same parent raises their voice to that same child or to a person driving by or to their partner. Or “Don’t bite your nails! Where are my cigarettes?” Or “Don’t you hit your sister!…I’ll spank you if…(later that night dad hits mom, or vice versa).

Dr. Bruce Perry commented once that if you speak English, you learn English; if speak rudeness, violence, anger, etc., then you learn rudeness, violence, anger, etc. How is one able to learn respect and empathy when they are rarely given any? Or only given when certain conditions are met depending on someone else’s mood?

I really wish adults could notice all the things they complain about or demand of their child or partner. Then really think about how many times you have committed a similar offense. I continue to do this experiment and I have yet to find a time I have NOT behaved or reacted in a similar way. I then choose to hold my complaint until I have successfully worked on changing my own behavior.  By then, I have gained enough insight and empathy for the person that the original complaint seems a bit unreasonable and even petty.

A child will learn more positive skills and values from a vulnerable and calm adult who changes their behavior to reflect their requests, than a defensive and angry person who threatens consequences. I know threats and punishments seem to work, but they work for the wrong reasons and promote more destruction than you can imagine, at so many levels.

So back to my son and the broken snow globe…after about 15 minutes, my son called to me. He said he felt better now and asked if I would help put his sand box away to keep it safe. I did and we went to his room for story time. He immediately went to the spot where he broke the globe and calmly said, “I am sorry mommy for breaking it.” I accepted his sincere apology and we got back to our bed time ritual.

teaching responsibility = role-modeling the ability to respond  appropriately

*The training I went to was by Juli Alvarado from http://www.coaching-forlife.com/

*Link to Dr Bryan Post’s Website http://postinstitute.com/hope.php?p=DW1&w=home

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