Living More Intentionally

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You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do. – C.G.Jung

A good friend recently told us that she is proud of us for living out our dreams. After pausing to be grateful that we have such supportive friends, my next thought was, “Are we really living out our dreams?”

Last summer, my husband and I packed up our family and moved to Myanmar. Since then, we have been living abroad with our family, fulfilling a dream we have shared since we moved back to the US with our seven-month-old daughter in 2010. It was a difficult adjustment at first, but now we have built a routine, connections, happy memories and a sense of home, in a place that, just 10 months ago was “foreign” and unfamiliar.

But are we really living our dreams?

Living abroad was our dream, but not just living abroad. Living abroad and being involved in the community; giving back; connecting with local people; setting out on regular adventures; learning and growing from our experiences.

Yet living abroad – and living abroad with small children – we have learned over the past six months, are two different things.

Often when small children are involved, naptimes, bedtimes, familiar food, familiar places, and short attention spans take precedence over adventure and connecting with the community in real and meaningful ways. So we’ve fallen into a comfortable, somewhat lazy, kid-friendly routine and insulated ourselves a bit from the regular comfort-zone-stretching often involved in living abroad. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t go back and remember why we moved here in the first place; reassess our values and work to live more intentionally in the future.

And so, I have been inspired to live, or at least to try to begin to live, more intentionally in May, by minimizing distractions, creating an intentional morning routine, practicing mindful intentionality and creating an intentional life plan.

Week 1: Minimize Distractions

In modern society, there are a multitude of people and things bidding for our attention – family members, friends, work, cell phones, social media, radio, television, not to mention our own mental chatter. Living intentionally, doing what you intend to do when you intend to do it, can be difficult amid such a myriad of distractions. While a regular mindfulness practice can help us to resist these distractions, there are some proactive steps we can take to make it a little easier on ourselves to live more intentionally.

• If possible, refrain from checking email, social media or other electronic devices first thing in the morning. Allow yourself to wake up slow and prioritize yourself and the other people, if any, you see first thing in the morning.

• If possible, limit the times you check email, social media or other electronic devices to a few, specified times a day (in this post from Dr. Christine Carter of the Greater Good Science Center, she explains how multi-tasking – even when checking email – leads to a loss of productivity and less ability to focus; so when checking email, just check email).

• If you often find your evenings lost to television or computers, before turning on the television or computer in the evening, choose one intentional task or activity to complete before getting turning on or logging on.

Week 2: Create (and Follow) an Intentional Morning Routine

In his post, The Helpful Guide to Living an Intentional Life, becoming minimalist blogger reminds us that life is made up of choices. He says, “Every morning is a new day full of decisions and opportunity. You get to pick your attitude and your decisions. You don’t have to let the circumstances of your past negatively determine the pattern of your life in the future. You have a choice in the matter. You do not need to be stuck in the same pattern of living that you have been for years… realize that every morning is a new opportunity.”

In many religious, spiritual and cultural traditions, the dawn of a new day is significant. It is a new beginning, a chance to start again with a renewed spirit. The beginning of your day can be a sacred space in which you intentionally set the tone for your days or it can be a whirlwind of action and reaction. The importance of an intentional morning routine is not that it involves a specific agenda of practices, but rather that it is something that works for you, something that replenishes you and gives you what you need to start your day intentionally (check back for a follow-up post on Intentional Morning Routines).

Some examples of ideas for intentional mornings are:

Journaling;

Mindfully Drinking a Cup or Coffee or Tea;

Creating Time for “Your Bliss;” or simply

Setting an Intention for the day.

Week 3: Practice Mindfulness and Mindful Intentionality

Practicing an intentional morning routine is a wonderful way to start your day, but what happens when life gets in the way of your intention to be kind to yourself and others, or otherwise throws off your plans? That is when the practice of mindful intentionality can help.

In his post, An Intentional Life, Leo Babauta of Zen Habits describes this practice of intentionally: “Before you do the next action online or at work, pause a moment, close your eyes, and mentally say your intention. Why are you doing this? Is it out of compassion for others, or yourself? Is it to make someone happier? To improve the world? Out of gratitude for the work and kindness of others? And then, as you do the action, be mindful of your intention. This is a small step, but in those few moments, you will be living an Intentional Life.”

Week 4: Create an Intentional Life Plan

In her post, What Does It Mean to Live Intentionally, Mandi Ehman, blogger at Life Your Way explains that “Living intentionally means defining your values and making choices that reflect those values. …(and) being willing to evaluate those decisions as you go rather than just making a decision once and sticking to it no matter what.

Living intentionally and living consciously may seem to be one in the same, but for me, intentionality adds an even greater dimension of purpose to everything you do. Having, and regularly reviewing a “strategic” plan for your life can be a great way to make sure that the life you are living is in line with your values and, if it isn’t, allow you a space to plan incremental changes to move in that direction.

To create an intentional life plan:

Take an opportunity when you have a block of time to yourself (or with your partner) and make a list of the values you most hold dear. If this initial list doesn’t come easily, simply begin listing all of the people, places, activities that are important to you. Then from this list, glean more values to add to your list (e.g. if your favorite activities are hiking, swimming and camping with friends; you may place a strong value on communing with nature, physical exercise, a healthy lifestyle and close friendships).

Once you have your list of values, take time to consider each one, and whether or not the life you are living today is true to that value. If it is, take a moment to appreciate yourself for living this value intentionally; if it isn’t, brainstorm some ways that you can make small or incremental changes (toward a larger change) to live more inline with each value. Or, if your current life circumstances make it impossible, simply make a note to re-evaluate in the future. For example, both my husband and I value community service, but in our current life circumstances, it isn’t feasible for us to volunteer either as individuals or as a family, but it is something we want to prioritize when our children are older.

If you find, like us, that your current life situation isn’t as in line with your values (or life dreams) as you would like, write a detailed vision of your ideal future, and an action list of things you can begin to do, to move in that direction*. (*Note – An important piece of this future planning is to acknowledge the importance of including it in your Intentional Life Plan, but to continue to be mindful of, and grateful, for the life you are currently living, as continuously daydreaming about your Tiki Bar on the beach in paradise can seriously derail your attempts to live more conscoiusly in the present!)

For this month, my goal in trying to live more intentionally is to train myself, and my brain, to slow down and focus more on the things that matter, ultimately, as the author of 5 Ways to Live Intentionally Today writes, to live authentically and celebrate life.

For a fun guide to living more intentionally, check out Abundant Mama’s Project 52.

What about you? Do you have any tips or ideas on how to live more intentionally? If so, I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for Reading!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook

Conscious Parenting Inspirations – April 2015

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“Let us keep reminding each other to breathe, to smile, to treat ourselves and one another with kindness.” – Denise Roy

I am one of two siblings; the youngest of a small, quiet family. As such, my childhood fantasies of my future family involved three children, their spouses and children, all filling up a festive, loving home, while the snow fell picturesquely outside our home (I also grew up in South Florida without snow…). I wanted a large family to fill our house with laughter, to provide friendship in times of plenty and support in times of want. I dreamt that my children would have strong, loving connections that they could rely on throughout their lives.

My dream family began when my daughter was born, and continued to grow when my son was born two-and-a-half-years-later.

But then fighting began.

I have read that things that trigger you come from unresolved issues in childhood, so somewhere in my psyche there must be some unresolved issues around sibling fighting. Or perhaps, it is simply that I, like many other parents, am easily frustrated by the broken peace and intentional irritants that are thrown back and forth between my children. Whatever it is, my dream of loving, supportive siblings is not my family’s current reality and I have decided that the change has to start with me.

If I want a peaceful, loving family, I need to build a peaceful, loving family culture. And so this month’s Conscious Parenting Inspiration touches on consciously addressing sibling issues, ways to begin choosing conscious responses, and ways to reconnect when we don’t act as loving as we’d like to.

Consciously Addressing Sibling Issues

Sibling issues – fighting, rivalry, general discord – have been featured a lot in my blog feeds and newsletters lately and what keeps coming up is the importance, not of just stopping the fighting, but of helping siblings work through conflict and creating an environment of peace.

My go-to advice for sibling issues is Dr. Laura of Aha! Parenting, who is awash with advice on sibling issues from her recent book Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings. In her post 21 Tips to Prevent Sibling Flighting, she provides information on valuable parenting tools from proactive steps like creating an intentional family culture; bringing awareness to how you talk to, and about, your children; and providing lots of one-on-one time (when possible); to tools to use after conflict has occurred, such as empathizing, modelling emotional intelligence and involving kids in conflict resolution. While Dr. Laura’s step-by-step conversations may not be practical for every family, or every situation, I’ve found that using the underlying wisdom – approaching the conflict without judgement, giving each child a chance to feel heard and involving them in resolving the conflict – in a more abbreviated form, has worked for us.

The bloggers over at A Fine Parent has put together a really helpful Sibling Rivalry infographic based on Dr. Layra’s new book and are currently offering a free printable download.

For more inspiration, Dr. Laura is currently on a virtual Happy Siblings Blog Tour in which she talks with, and shares the resources, of other great parenting professionals and bloggers.

Choosing a Conscious Response

Given the amount of advice available for parents on how to best address sibling issues, it seems safe to say that many parents of multiple children struggle with responding positively and effectively in such situations. In her post on the Empowering Parents blog, author and licensed mental health counselor Debbie Pincus describes why parents often feel powerlessness (which can lead to anger) when interacting with their children.

She explains that, when triggered, many parents believe that the only way to calm themselves is to “get their children to behave the way they want them to.” She goes on to explain that in thinking this way, parents put the power to calm themselves in the hands of their children. She says that when parents begin statements with the phrase, “I need you to…,” as in, “I need you to stop bothering your sister. I need you to speak kindly. I need you to be more respectful,” the implicit message is, “I need you to calm me, validate me, reassure me because I don’t know what to do.”

Debbie then talks about the following the feedback loop that often results from unconscious reactions:

Child/Children are “Acting Out” ——-> Parent Feels Overwhelmed and Powerless ——> Sense of Powerlessness Leads to Anxiety —–> Parent Attempts to Control Children in an Attempt to Regain Sense of Power and Calm ——-> Children Fight Back Against Attempts to Control Them (“Act Out”) ——> Parent Feels Overwhelmed and Powerless

Debbie explains that in these situations, both parent and children are reacting from a place of anxiety, rather than responding from a place of calm. And this loop often happens faster than it took you to read about it, leaving parents wondering how things got so bad so fast.

In her post, The 5 Main Tenets of Mindful Parenting, mindfulness educator Lisa Kring privdes describes how the use of the acronym, S.T.O.P, as a conscious reminder can help parents break this loop by changing a reaction to a response in tense moments:

S – STOP

Whenever you notice stress or imbalance, simply pause in awareness.

T – TAKE A BREATH

Bring your awareness to your breath.

O – OBSERVE

Internally – observe how the breath begins to calm your nerves. Externally – observe what is really happening, in the moment.

P – PROCEED

Having shifted to a more mindfully responsive mode, respond in a thoughtful way to the situation, even if it means explaining that you need a break to calm yourself and returning to address the situation at a later time.

In her post, On the Hard Days, Remember, the author provides beautifully describes her habit of intentionally focusing on positive memories from the past, using the mantra “Remember,” to bring more clarity and perspective to stressful situations.

In her post, 4 Mommy Mantras for Being a More Mindful Parent, Stephanie Morgan of Modern Parents, Messy Kids, explains that remembering the quote, “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory,” by Dr. Seuss, helps her to remember that how we act as parents will become our children’s memories, for better or for worse, as inspiration to choose more conscious responses.

Consciously Reconnecting

As we are all human, we will never respond to our children intentionally and lovingly 100% of the time. Many of us, myself included, might be happy if we are able to respond intentionally and lovingly even 50% of the time. But even when we find ourselves reacting, it is still possible to parent consciously, after the fact.

In her post, Five Ways to Reconnect with Your Child When You are Having a Bad Day, Dr. Laura of Aha! Parenting provides five strategies to reconnect by helping them feel safe, clarifying your opposing needs, physically reconnecting, playing and empathizing with their feelings.

In her post on Positive Parenting Connection, The Most Important Question to Ask After Yelling, Dr Andra Brill, founder of Mindful Happy Families, describes the importance of having a ritual to reconnect after you lose your temper with your children. She shares her family’s question, “What do you need?” which helps her to get to the root of the problems in order to avoid stressful situations in the future and helps family members feel heard and participate in the problem solving.

What about you? Have you found anything new that works for your family this month or come across any Conscious Parenting Resources to share? If so, I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for Reading!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook

Conscious Mental Clarity (or How to Regain Your Positive Outlook When You Misplace It)

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If you truly want to change your life, you must first change your mind. – Unknown

I hit a rough patch last week. I was in what seemed like an endless loop of conflict with my children. I was overcome by anger, self-pity, guilt, shame and powerlessness over my parenting decisions, my past behaviors, even the choices that have led me to where I am today. I found myself turning more and more to distractions – sweets, television, internet – to avoid dealing with everything that was swirling around in my head. And on top of it all, I was disgusted with myself for not being true to my desire to live more consciously. I was a mess.

In my state, I turned to supportive online parenting communities for help (sometimes it is easier to reveal your messy insides to people who can’t actually see you), and while they were tremendously supportive, I realized that by addressing one issue at a time, I was missing the bigger picture. I was feeling bad for actions from my past, feeling guilt over their repercussions in the present, and not knowing how to atone for them in the future. I was trying to clean up small messes, not realizing that my whole house was a disaster.

Luckily, I finally opened up to my husband about what was going on and having all my messy insides seen and accepted, helped me to realize that things really weren’t as bad as I’d been making them out to be. And if my partner could still love me despite how awful I felt, then maybe I could, too. Talking things out didn’t make everything better in an instant, but it allowed me to crawl out from under the massive pile of garbage I’d been piling on myself for the past week and breathe a little fresh air. Feel some sunshine on my face. And come up with a plan to throw out the trash.

I’ve always loved new beginnings, fresh slates, opportunities to wipe away the old mistakes and start anew. Usually, my new beginnings coincided with some other external beginning – a new year, a new home, a new term at school, a new job, or even the start of a new week – but it occurred to me that I don’t need an external beginning to start fresh. All I need to to recognize the need for change.

I have a program on my laptop, a cleaner, that periodically reminds me that I need to clean my computer. When I run it, it erases all my browsing history, it empties my recycle bin, cleans out temporary files, goes deep into those files I don’t even know how to access to clean out bits and pieces of code or fragments of files that impede optimal functioning; it even performs something called a memory dump. I love running this program because it helps me feel like I am taking good care of my computer, helping it run at its highest capacity.

It was this image that gave me the idea for how to clear out my own mental junk. And when I started research it, it turns out that I am not the first to think of something like this.

If you ever find, or have ever found, yourself in a deep hole, under a black cloud or buried under a pile of your own mental negativity, try the following techniques to help get you back to a better place.

Open Yourself to a Fresh Perspective

For me, the first step was to feel heard and accepted. I’m sure I would have eventually come out of my negative state one way or another, but reaching out and allowing myself to be vulnerable (which wasn’t easy – I actually had to make a bulleted list on a napkin and pass it across the table for him to read – such is my aversion to vulnerability and outside inspection), gave me a different, more accepting and realistic, perspective on my situation than the one I’d been feeding myself for days.

I don’t have any clinical training, but just knowing how good it feels to share feelings of guilt and shame with my best friends and hear that they have felt the same way or done the same things, or accept and love me regardless, proves to me that there is healing power in this type of vulnerability and connection. The most important part of this is that the person from whom you are seeking support, acceptance or a new perspective, is someone who will provide genuine support and acceptance, be it a friend, family member or mental health professional.

Perform a Mental Cleanse

Of the sources I read on this topic, the most common suggestion was to somehow get as much as you can out of your head and on to paper. Outstanding things to do; feelings of guilt, shame, anger, sadness; old memories; current anxieties; sources of frustration; even positive feelings that may be buried somewhere under everything else. This can be done through stream of consciousness writing in a journal, a notepad, a computer; over one session or multiple days. The important thing to get it out of your head. As the author in Quick Brain Detox and Mental Reboot, states, the first time you do this, there may be a lot to process, but once this becomes a regular habit (assuming you want it make it one), successive detoxification yields a bit less over time.

For some, this stream of consciousness writing (or typing) may come easy, but others, like me, may need more structure. A long time ago a friend of mine shared a therapeutic technique that she liked to use when she felt stuck and using a somewhat modified version of her method, helped me to detox in a more structured way.

To clean your mental closet, figuratively gather a list of empty boxes labeled with the most important facets of your life, e.g. Physical Health, Mental Health, Spiritual/Emotional Health, Family, Friends, Romantic Relationship(s), Children, Home, Work, Pets, Recreation, Outstanding Tasks, etc. (everyone’s boxes will be unique) and give each box a line, half a page, or a whole page, depending on how much room you need. Then write down whatever thoughts some up for you as you consider each facet of your life, one box at a time. Once you have considered each box, check to make sure there isn’t anything you have missed (or put whatever doesn’t fit into a Misc. box).

Once you have all of your boxes from your detox, you can now take the time to sort through them, label them, and decide whether they are still serving you or whether you can take steps to get rid of them.

Other Resources for a Regular Mental Cleanse

In A New Kind of Cleanse, author Karolyn Gazella lists five inspiring action steps to take at the end of each day to “clear away space to make room for the positive.”

In the post, Reboot Your Life: 20 Mental Barriers You Should Let Go Of, the author lists 20 labels of things that, should you find them swirling in your brain, it would best serve you to dispose of.

In his post 7 Tips for Renewal, Dr. David Simon, Ayurvedic practitioner and author of Free to Love, Free to Heal, provides seven tips to help when you feel you need some rejuvenation, from physical suggestions regarding diet and exercise, to meditation and journaling.

In Spring Cleaning for Your Psyche (one of a series of posts on the topic), Dr. Laura of Aha! Parenting provides insight, advice and practical exercises for parents trapped in reactivity and negativity.

In Detox Your Mind in 5-Minutes: The Power of Quantum Cleansing, Dr. Alejandor Junger, provides instructions and a guided meditation for a quick five-minute mental cleanse.

In her post, Spring Cleaning for the Soul: Tidying Up Our Personal Closet, the author suggests creating a virtual vault for positive memories, because while a mental detox and rebook are important to clear out things that are holding you back, creating a store of positive memories (and their associated thoughts and feelings) can help keep the dark clouds at bay the next time they start gathering in your mind.

How about you? Have you ever felt stuck in negativity or reactivity? Have you found ways that help you break through and reclaim a more positive outlook? If so I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for Reading!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook

Conscious Flexibility

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A tree that is unbending is easily broken. – Lao Tzu

I am not the most flexible person.

When I am in the middle of something, I like to finish what I’m doing before moving on to something else.

If I have plans and they go awry, it takes time for me to recommit to Plan B.

If I ask my children to do something, kindly and respectfully, like the authoritarian parents of previous generations, I expect them to do it and when they don’t, I tend to use power plays to “get my way.” (Read Encouraging Children to Listen for a better way.).

And I used to be even worse.

When my daughter, our first child, was young, I thought I could control things that were out of my control – her behavior, her sleep habits, her expressions of emotion. When her spirited personality clashed with my introverted one, and I had used up all of my reserves of patience and motherly affection, I would fall back into more authoritarian parenting tactics. Not every time. Not all the time. But enough. Enough for me to remember and hope she doesn’t.

These days, I am more aware of what falls under my sphere of control (partially from repeating, “You can’t make other people do things; the only person you can control is yourself” to my daughter for years). Through my journey to live a more conscious life, I have become more flexible in some areas. I have learned to accept things as they are and not force them to bend to my will. I have learned not to react so dramatically to things that would previously have caused me upset. I have learned to catch myself in knee-jerk reactions and pause to choose a more thoughtful response.

Sometimes.

But not always.

I still sometimes give in to frustration and disappointment when my carefully laid plans are threatened by an inconvenient melt-down. I still find myself trying to control situations outside my control. I still feel a distinct sense of unease when I feel powerless in my parenting.

But I realize that this need for control and lack of flexibility is a detriment. It is a detriment to my relationship with my children. It is a detriment to a growth-oriented mindset. It is a detriment to my desire to live a more conscious life.

But the worst part of it is that my four-year-old has turned into a mini-dictator who appears to feel actual, physical pain when asked to say something nicely, and who has heaps of pre-school control issues, and I’m just a little bit afraid that she might have gotten some of that from me.

And so, in April of my More Conscious Year, I am going to work on being more flexible, less rigid, in my everyday life.

Control vs. a Sense of Control

A sense of control, if not actual control, is a deep psychological need, not just for me, but for people in general. A sense of control allows people to feel safe and secure; it allows them to move forward in their lives with predictability.

Feeling out-of-control, or in a situation that is out-of-control, can lead to feelings of helplessness, powerlessness and fear. According to social scientists, this aversion to feelings of helplessness and powerlessness and desire for control is so strong, that people will make things up or find patterns where there are none, in order to regain a sense of control.

Our need for a sense of control can be traced back to our evolutionary roots when our survival depended on a sense of control over our environment. When we feel in control, we are at less risk of danger. When we feel in control, we feel safe. When we feel out-of-control, our mental and physical health can suffer.

And yet, a sense of control over our lives and the desire to control everything in our lives are very different things.

A sense of control over the things we can actually control – our own behavior, our reactions to others behavior, how, and with whom, we choose to spend our time and energy – is positive. But attempts to control other people and other things outside of our actual control, more often than not leads to unhappiness, rather than the security (and following happiness) we are hoping to attain by maintaining control (according to Psychology Today Article, Let Go, Be Happy).

Effects of Controlling Parenting

This need for control, or a sense of control, can also enter our parenting. According to the author of Five Things You Can and Can’t Control as a Parent, many parents attempt to control their children’s behaviors because of societal pressure or their own fear. Denny Hagel, founder of Awakened Parenting, explains that perceived lack of control is a common cause of parental frustration. Parents can become so focused on their child’s behavior that they are unable to see the larger picture and only feel the need to win the power struggle.

In her post, Let’s Stop Controlling and Start Listing to Children, Parent Coach Shelly Birger Phillips says that when parents force children to submit to their authority, they send the message that they are the more powerful ones and their children’s ideas, thoughts, and desires don’t matter. By controlling, parents teach children to submit to another’s will and not think for themselves. Authoritarian, or overly powerful, parenting robs children of their psychological autonomy, by telling children what to do, what to think and how they should feel. Kids parented in this manner may be relatively well-behaved, but they also tend to be less resourceful, have poorer social skills, and lower self esteem.

While I don’t consider myself a controlling parent in a lot of ways, I have realized that it is my fall-back parenting strategy when I am over-tired, stressed or overwhelmed, and all of the above is motivation enough to want to make a change.

Ways to Practice More Flexible (Respectful) Parenting

Week 1: Awareness of the Bigger Picture

Following the adage that our children are mirrors of ourselves, I want to use my daughters controlling behavior as a wake-up call to be more conscious of my own words and actions towards my children (and my spouse) when I am under stress. I want to bring awareness to these moments when I use power inappropriately, to see the bigger picture of the unintentional example I may be setting.

For any of you who may be practicing your own flexibility, bringing awareness to your use, or misuse of power, in all areas of your life is a good start to affecting change. Additionally, noting the areas of your life for which you actually have control and reflecting on them in these moments can help to shift your perspective. In her article, How to Let Go of Control Issues, the author suggests making a conscious list of the things in life that you have control over, and later when you find yourself trying to exert control over something, she suggests returning to the list (mentally) to hep bring your focus to what you can control.

Week 2: Be Proactive

Making self-care a priority is key to a sense of control over your life. When we are rested, exercised, relaxed, we are more likely to feel in control and to be in control of our responses.

Additionally, working on my relationship with my daughter to prevent power struggles, may help prevent the occasions where we find ourselves in a power struggle. In her article on power struggles, Denny Hagel advises parents to work to convey to their children that they are a resource for help, guidance and support from an early age, to foster a teamwork mentality, rather than a “you against them” mentality. She explains that parents can do this by reacting consciously and supportively when children make mistakes; she states, when children make mistakes, how you react will determine your child’s perception of you as supporter or opponent.

This week I am going to work on meeting my goals for self-care and work to consciously build a less adversarial relationship with my daughter.

Week 3: Choose a Conscious Response

In her article Let Go of Control: How to Learn the Art of Surrender, psychologist Amy Johnson notes that sometimes it can be as easy as noticing that you are in control mode and choosing to let go, consciously surrendering to the moment. She describes how when she finds herself in a situation where she is trying to impose her will, she imagines that she is in a canoe paddling upstream, against the current. She then pictures the boat turning around, dropping the oars, and floating downstream, or simply reminding herself to “let go of the oars,” to shift her perspective.

This week, I am going to try to use Amy’s technique, or simply ask myself “Where is the power?” when I find myself trying to exert control, to reminding myself that my job is to help my children feel powerful not powerless.

Week 4: Practicing Surrender

When dealing with more difficult situations, Amy Johnson, recommends asking yourself the following questions, “What am I afraid will happen if I let go of control?” “Could this really happen? And if it could, how bad could it actually be?” Parent Coach Shelly Birger Phillips recommends taking a step back and watching what happens when we stop trying to control things (situations, people, children) and see what happens; to get in the habit of following the lead of others and surrendering to the moment.

Following this combined advice, this week, I am going to try “surrendering to the moment,” facing my fears of “what could happen,” and seeing if I can’t let the reality of what unfolds help me to become a more flexible parent.

(For more on letting go of control for parents see Control Less, Trust More).

What about you? Do you have issues with power and control that you would like to work through? Do you notice yourself falling back into a certain, less, conscious way of parenting or being when you are over-tired or over-stressed? Do you have any techniques that have helped you make a more positive shift in these times? If so, I’d love to hear from you!

I’d love to hear if you find anything in this series helpful. I am writing a lot that I want to do personally, but I am hoping that some of the situations might resonate with readers and some of the links may be helpful. If you find the A More Conscious Year series helpful (or don’t think it is helpful at all), I’d love to hear from you. 

Thanks for reading!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook

Conscious Parenting Inspirations – March 2015

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Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” – Mother Theresa

This month was rough. The theme this month for my More Conscious Year was “Empathy” but I didn’t do so well. Mostly, we experienced a lot of struggles, conflicts and regression (my own…) and so this month’s inspirations are, perhaps, less inspiring, but more of a resource round-up – posts and advice that I found helpful in my parenting struggles this month. But the great thing about parenting struggles is that they are opportunities for learning and growth, as well as opportunities to find new resources for support (like this one on How to Be an Empathetic Parent Even When It Feels Hard).

I hope the following resources – on proactive planning for stressful times, positive parenting alternatives to knee-jerk reactions and some motivation and inspiration for those times you find yourself acting in less-than-positive ways – will be as helpful to you as they have been for me.

Proactive Strategies for Strong Emotions (Yours and Theirs)

In this great post, 6 Peaceful Solutions for Hitting and Anger, the author provides a few novel (at least to me) ways for children to safely express their big emotions. A few times since we talked about these, my daughter has voluntarily gone to her safe place or worked out her emotions through angry art without any prompting from me.

In Positive Parenting Connection’s post Making A Win-Win Parenting Plan, the author provides steps for making a proactive plan for stressful times, but also reminds us that most conflicts between parents and children come down to a battle of needs, rather than a battle of wills, and sometimes simply seeing both of these needs and trying to find a way to compromise and meet them both, can help more easily resolve the conflict.

I also love the advice and the visual Calm Down plan in Yummy Mummy’s post Steps To Help Calm Yourself Down When Emotions Rise Up.

If you are looking for resources to help your children with anger, this video, Just Breathe, might resonate with young viewers. In it kindergarteners talk about their experiences with emotions, breathing and mindfulness.

Positive Discipline Alternatives

52 Positive Discipline Tools from Positive Discipline

22 Alternatives to Punishment from the Natural Child Project

Positive Parenting Websites and Blogs from Force Free Parenting

5 Tricks to Help Create a Positive Relationship with Your Child from Natural Parents Network

Motivation and Inspiration for Difficult Days

Positive Parenting Connection’s post, Positive Parenting Isn’t Perfect Parenting and That’s OK is a great reminder for those challenging days.

This one is a classic, but if you haven’t read it already, it is a great motivator – Orange Rhino’s post, 10 Things I Learned When I Stopped Yelling at My Kids and Started Loving More.

Or for a side of humor with your supportive post, check out the Actual Pastor’s post, To parents of small children: Let me be the one who says it out loud.

And for any of you who may be stay-at-home-parents, here is a great newsletter read from Heather Forbes of Beyond Consequences, for those days when you feel like throwing in the towel.

More Conscious Parenting Resources

Doctor Laura of Aha! Parenting is offering her audio course Peaceful Parenting: How to Stop Punishing, Start Connecting & Raise a High EQ Child free (normally $59) when you pre-order her book, Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings.

In, 4 Mindfulness Practices to Move from Surviving to Thriving in Parenting, the author gives us a nice reminder of how the practice of mindfulness can positively affect our parenting.

What about you? Do you have any go-to resources for conscious parenting in difficult times? If so, I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook

A More Empathetic March

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Empathy is about standing in someone else’s shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes. ..it makes the world a better place. – Daniel H. Pink
My husband and I, as many parents, want to raise children who are kind, open and accepting of other people. We also want our children to have a strong sense of themselves and the ability to be true to themselves and their values in the face of whatever life throws at them. Empathy, or the ability to understand and share another person is feeling, plays a strong part in raising children with these values.

According to psychiatrist Dr. David Sack in his post, From Mine to Ours, Nurturing Empathy in Children, Children with a strong sense of empathy are kinder and more resilient against peer pressure. They are the children more likely to attract friendships, to have more diverse groups of friends and to feel secure enough to stand alone rather than blindly follow the group.

There are many books, articles, and posts with information on how to raise more empathetic children, but one thing they all seem to have in common an emphasis on parenting that emphases connection and communication. In her article Teaching Empathy, Dr. Gwen Dewar references studies that suggest kids are more likely to develop a strong sense of empathy when their own emotional needs are met at home. Empathy is a cornerstone of positive, conscious, responsive, attached parenting (as many other areas of life). Showing children empathy for all of the challenges of trails the face as they move through life, helps them to be kinder to themselves and to others.

And although I know this on a theoretical and practical level, oftentimes in the moment I need it most, empathy evades me.

As a practicing social worker for years before I became a mom, I have had the privilege of working with, and getting to know, people from many diverse economic, social, cultural and ethnic backgrounds. I prided myself on my ability to connect with even the most resistant client through our shared humanity. Yet as a parent, I find this empathy harder to express.

One reason for this may be the emotions involved in family interactions that are not involved in professional interactions. As Dr. Dewar explains (in the above referenced article), the expression of, or ability to express, empathy is only possible when one is able to regulate one’s own emotional responses. And it can be challenging to feel empathy when we feel threatened, stressed or emotionally triggered, which is often the case when overstressed parents are faced with overstressed children (see How to be Truly Empathetic for more).

What is Empathy?

In his article Six Habits of Highly Empathic People, Roman Krznaric, author of Empathy: Why it Matters, and How to Get It, defines empathy as the ability to step into the shoes of another person, aiming to understand their feelings and perspectives, and to use that understanding to guide our actions. (For a more detailed explanation, watch this short video clip from a Ted Talk by Brené Brown).

When something happens that I understand, a physical pain, a fight over toys, a bid for my attention, I am more easily able to respond empathetically. But when my highly sensitive daughter is triggered into an intense display of emotion over a misplaced cup, a younger brother who does not do exactly as she says, or something not going according to her exact expectations multiple times a day, I find it harder to truly empathize.

I have practiced responses, “Wow. It looks like you’re having a really hard time right now!” or “You seem really angry right now,” but I don’t often FEEL empathy because, my initial reaction is more often one of annoyance, aggravation or anger.

But I want to change this.

And so in March, I will work to be more empathetic, and even if I only get as far as stopping, sitting down at her level and opening my arms for a hug, without uttering a word, this will be a great improvement over the present!

Week 1– Practice Listening, Reflecting and Taking the Opposing Perspective

How often as parents, have we heard ourselves saying, “She’s just tired,” or “He’s just hungry,” or some other statement that tells our children what they are feeling when their behavior is less-than-stellar? I know I am guilty of it and can hear my daughter in my head yelling, “I’m NOT TIRED!” And maybe she is, maybe she’s not, but it isn’t for me to tell, but to ask.

In his article I Don’t Feel Your Pain: Overcoming Roadblocks to Empathy, the author advises the practice of attentive listening and using empathetic responses,  such as, “I’m sorry that happened to you,” instead of assuming we know how someone feels or rushing in to make things better. In Time Magazine’s Article, 5 Ways to be More Empathetic, Krznaric advises, to step back for a moment in the midst of an argument and try to see what the other person is feeling and consider what they need. He suggests giving them a chance to express their feelings and needs, and then to reflect back what they’ve said. A phrase often used in positive parenting circles is, “What I hear you say is ___________, or what your body is telling me is ____________? Am I right?

This week, instead of assuming I know how my daughter is feeling, I will try to practice checking in with her, practicing active listening and reflecting her feelings back to her to see if she feels more heard.

Week 2 – Practice Restraint (of the Desire to Try to Make Things Better)

I remember reading years ago, that between men and women, women are more likely to listen and empathize, while men are more likely to feel the need to jump in and provide assistance, or to fix the situation. This has stuck with me because I have always been more like the men in this description when friends or family members came to me with problems or concerns. In my professional life, I could empathize; in my personal life, I feel the need to do something. Just empathizing never felt like enough.

Yet in a portion of Brené Brown’s Ted Talk on empathy, referenced above, she states, “Rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection (through empathy).” Instead of trying to “fix” a situation, she suggests saying, “I don’t even know what to say right now, I’m just so glad you told me.”

This week, I am going to practice restraining my desire to try to make things better in conversations with friends and family members and let empathy be enough.

Week 3 – Practice Restraint (of Judgement)

Whenever I’ve read the quote that begins, “Please Mom and Dad, my hands are small. I don’t mean to spill my milk…” and goes on to ask for understanding from parents from the perspective of a small child, I have always teared up, envisioning an innocent child punished for simply being small. But once my daughter was born and developed into the head-strong, spirited child that she is, my vision of this small, innocent child has vanished, replaced instead by the picture of a little person deliberately determined to reject any and all positive influence I try to have on her and to drive me mad in the process.

It is this image that often clouds my vision when looking at my daughter’s scowling face, leading me to see willful defiance rather than a child struggling. And it is this judgement that so often keeps me from empathizing with her plight.

In her Ted Talk, Brené Brown, includes the added element of “reserving judgement,” as a necessary ingredient to empathy. This week, I will try to use my mindfulness cue of a rising level of frustration, to notice any judgements in response to my daughter’s behavior and to replace them with a more loving, understanding, empathetic perspective before responding.

Week 4 – Practice Developing a New Perspective

My closest friend has a very clear memory of her childhood. She not only remembers people and events; she also remembers feelings. She can recall how it felt when her mother left her, for even short amounts of time. She can recall feelings of joy, sadness and fear. She remembers what it feels like to be a child. And because she can do this, she is more easily able to understand how her children are feeling and empathize authentically.

I do not have such memories. I remember bits and pieces. Stories that were told to me. Snippets of my younger years. But I have no memories (or access to memories) of what it feels like to be a child.

In her article 4 Unexpected (and Science Backed) Ways to Develop Empathy, the author suggests reading literary fiction to immerse yourself in the lives of fictional characters to develop empathy for others. While there may not be a lot of literary fiction written by children, this week, I will seek out stories, articles and quotes on childhood and incorporate them into my reading for the day to help me better understand and empathize with my own children.

Note on Empathy on a Larger Scale

I realize that so much of this post focuses on empathizing with children as parents, whereas some readers may not be parents or may want to practice empathy in different areas. For resources on developing empathy in other areas, Roman Krznaric’s Empathy: Why it Matters, and How to Get It, or any of the other links in this post.

What about you? Do you struggle to empathize with your children or others in stressful moments, or have you found ways to practice empathy that work for you? Either way, I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks for Reading!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook

Conscious Parenting Inspirations – February 2015

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He who knows patience knows peace.” – Chinese proverb

I began practicing patience this month as part of my More Mindful Year, and although I have struggled with it, I have also learned a few things along the way. In my moments of silence and space, when I would otherwise have been worrying about being late or making someone wait, repeatedly reminding my children or family that it was “time to go,” or thinking about something else I “should” be doing, I found that I was able to turn moments of impatience into moments of learning or joy. By pausing and consciously shifting my mindset to one of patience, rather than impatiently trying to rush the moments by, I was able to make space in my day to listen to myself, listen to my children and take little joyful breaks throughout the day.

Listen to Yourself

Bedtimes and early mornings are, I’ve realized, when I am at my least patient. As a parent of two under five, I have had few nights when I’ve actually gone to bed in the evening and woken up naturally in the morning, with a complete night’s rest in-between. Nor do I, as most parents of young children, have much time to myself. So when I am in “danger” of losing either of those precious commodities, I can be a bit impatient and rigid.

But this month, since I’ve been practicing mindfulness and patience, I had the experience of listening to my thoughts before I opened my mouth when my daughter fought sleep and roused me out of mine, and one day, what I heard was, “Be the mom.”

It was, at once, both revelational and embarrassing. I realized that so often at these times, I am putting my own needs, for sleep or time to myself, above the immediate needs of my daughter. And while my own needs are important and should be honored, a reminder to myself to “be the mom,” helped me to respond to her, patiently, in the moment, rather than focusing on my own irritation. I realized that, sometimes, I reverse our roles and expect her to meet my needs, rather than me “being the mom” and meeting hers. This reminder, which has now become a mantra, helps me to act with patience and love, much like my own mother did, hopefully building similar memories for my daughter of her mom. Without pausing to shift to a patient mindset, I might not have heard that reminder or made the change that followed. (It could also work as “Be the Dad!”)

Sometimes, if we just stop and listen, rather than rushing through a moment, we make space for our own inner wisdom to be heard.

Listen to Your Children

Another thing I’ve learned by practicing patience is that by waiting, you open up space for your children (or others) to talk and share their feelings.

I’ve started my daughter’s bedtime routine a little earlier in the past few days, to give her sufficient time to wind down before I run off to tend to her little brother’s bedtime needs (something that is often hard for her). During this time, I’ve started the practice of “checking-in” with her, asking how she’s feeling or if she has anything she wants to talk about. During one of these conversations, she asked why I spend so much time getting her little brother to bed, which led to a conversation about how she wishes she was still a little baby and how we could meet her needs for more “babying.” After this conversation, I was able to make some small changes in our daily interactions to help meet these needs, something I never would have thought to do if I had not made more space in our evening routine, rather than impatiently rushing through it each night.

If your children are older, in this post, How to Build a Great Relationship in 15 Minutes a Day, the author describes how consciously setting aside small amounts of time to regularly connect with, and listen to, older children can have a real positive impact.

Take Joyful Breaks

Another thing I learned, in practicing mindfulness and patience, is that when you do, life slows down. You find time in between things that you never knew was there. You begin to enjoy things you never took the time to enjoy before. And you give yourself the gift of little moments of joy every day that you might otherwise have rushed through or not have noticed at all.

As parents, we have a never-ending list of things to-do for our families, for our jobs, for our homes, for ourselves. But in the course of checking things off of this list, if you try to remember to practice each one mindfully (when you remember), focusing on the task at hand, rather than the thoughts in your head, you can create little moments of peace and joy that can keep you renewed throughout even the busiest of days.

Links and Resources

In her article 11 Things Parents of Empty Nesters Want Kids to Know, Shelley Emilling provides a list of small things to help parents savor their children’s childhoods (with more in the comments if you have a lot of time on your hands!) – Thank you Geneva!

In this great article 12 Tips to Transition to Peaceful Parenting from Aha! Parenting, Dr. Laura Markham provides a compact overview of Peaceful Parenting strategies and tips for dialogues to have with your children in different situations. A great first read if you are new to Peaceful or Conscious Parenting or a great refresher even if you currently parent in this way.

What about you? Have you had any conscious parenting insights this month or new or inspiring resources to share (to be included in next month’s Conscious Parenting Inspirations)? If so, I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for Reading!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook (Now only $5.99!)

Consciously Connecting (with your partner)

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“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” —African proverb

My husband and I just celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary. In his card, I printed out a message from an email he had sent to me ten years ago, detailing his own personal vision for the marriage and family he wanted to have. Today, while we are not a mirror image of his vision, we are pretty close, and it was a wonderful thing to recognize and celebrate.

Over our 10 year relationship, we have had many ups and downs, like most couples, but when it finally came down to hitting our stride and learning what we need to keep our relationship healthy, we found it is all about connection.

When we take the time to connect with each other, we take the time

to listen,

to talk,

to share,

to problem solve,

to commiserate,

to plan,

to remember,

to laugh,

and to enjoy each other’s company.

When we make time to connect on a daily basis, we both feel more loved, supported and understood. We feel like a team, facing life together.

But it takes a conscious effort, and it isn’t always easy.

Sometimes, I’ll pause during the day and realize that I miss him. The feeling comes with a sensation of not having seen him in a while, when in reality, I saw him only that morning and all evening the evening before, but we were both busy with personal projects and didn’t take the time to consciously connect. And, if days go by like this, I feel a distinct sense of unease – less loving, more guarded – until we’re back on track.

But it takes work. It takes time. It takes prioritizing our relationship, over other things we may need to do. Something that isn’t always easy for busy couples, long-distance couples, parents of newborn or small children or couples who don’t understand the importance of regular, daily, conscious connection.

In her article, Five Hours to a Better Relationship (part of a four part series on improving relationships), Christine Carter of the Greater Good Science Center talks about the importance of regular connection with your partner. In the article, she introduces John and Julie Gottman’s “magic five hours a week, ” in which they recommend connecting for:

  • two minutes every weekday morning to share your plan for the day,
  • twenty minutes each day when you arrive home,
  • five minutes throughout the day to express gratitude for one another,
  • (at least) five minutes of daily physical affection;
  • and two hours a week to get to know each other better.

Putting this advice into practice as often as we can, my husband and I make sure to greet each other, mindfully, each morning as we pass in the kitchen. We take time to say hello and goodbye with eye-contact and a kiss. We connect during the day via email or text when we can.

And each evening, we have tea.

Having tea together, each evening, has become the cornerstone of our relationship, a wonderful way for us to consciously connect each day; something we both enjoy and prioritize.

Our evening “tea,” (which doesn’t always involve tea, although it typically does for other health benefits), involves a set time when we turn off the television and our computers and sit down for a cup of tea. We use this time to check-in with each other, talk about our days and look ahead to the week ahead.

The most important thing about tea is that all electronic devices are turned off and we focus on creating a conscious connection. And of course, taking time to connect doesn’t have to involve tea or be in the evenings. It should be a time, place and environment that work best for your relationship; one you are able to commit to on a daily basis (as much as possible).

Ideas for Creating Conscious Connection

Checking-in with each other, telling stories about your day and sharing anything you have on your mind, is important for daily connection, but if you still have time afterwards, or find you need ideas to spark conversation to create a stronger connection, the following links offer some ideas.

  •  A recent New York Times Article lists the 36 Questions that lead to love discussed in Mandy Len Catron’s Modern Love Essay, “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This. While you have already be (or were once) in love with your partner, the questions might still spark some interesting conversation.

Resources for Building Conscious Connection

 If you aren’t feeling connected to your partner and feel that you need some intervention before beginning to build in daily time for connection, Love and Life Toolbox, offers some practical advice in 8 Ways to Spring Clean Your Marriage (or long-term relationship).

Additionally, on February 12 and 13, Relationship Coach Monika Hoyt is hosting a free virtual Authentic Relationship Telesummit with interviews with experts in the field of relationship psychology covering topics on the science behind lasting love, tips for an authentic relationship, healthy communication tools, tips for enhanced connecting and intimacy and more. You have to call in to listen, but Monika shares an event schedule, so you can plan to call in to the topics you are most interested in.

What about you? Do you have any habits, rituals or advice for maintain a conscious connection in your relationship? If so, I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for Reading!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook