August 31, 2016

The Challenges and Gifts of Long Summer Days

This is our last week of summer before school begins. No more summer camps. No more sitters. Full-on mom and daughter time.

As I’ve been reading The Awakened Family, by Dr. Shefali Tsabary, these long summer days have offered me opportunities to practice some parenting techniques.  While Dr. Shefali’s mindful parenting resonates deeply with me, putting it to practice is not always easy.  In some cases, it’s more difficult.

For example, when Ainsley walked off in a huff and slammed the bathroom door in my face, it was extremely difficult not to erupt in anger and try to control her outburst.  My first inclination was to meet my child’s outburst with an outburst of my own. 

Taking a moment to breathe and walk away from the slammed door, I tried re-programming and let us both sit in this experience for a bit longer than I normally would have.  Eventually I offered, “Ainsley, please come out and speak with me about what just happened.  When you slammed the door, I felt very angry and disrespected.  Can you tell me what was going on with you when you did that?”  We talked and determined that her outburst came from an earlier interaction, and she wanted me to understand her feelings.  As we processed together, we both agreed to be more attentive to one another, and Ainsley agreed it was not respectful behavior to act as she had.

I get that some parents think that an “awakened” parenting approach is a no-discipline approach.  But I assure you, in the slammed door situation, Ainsley still received the message that slamming doors in mom’s face is disrespectful behavior.  What we both gained from the more mindful approach (rather than me screaming that slamming doors is unacceptable and causing her more tears and anger) was connecting on a deeper level and understanding each other’s intentions and reactions. 

Dr. Shefali guides parents to look inward at our own self-talk, our expectations’ programming, and our familial emotional blueprints. This is not unlike what many social workers, therapists, and spiritual gurus offer.  It is powerful stuff and transformative.

After one morning of her whining and disinterest in any of the activities I suggested, I calmly told Ainsley we were going on a hike.  She remained disgruntled, but I kept quiet and turned on the car radio as we made our way to the park trail.  As we hiked, she opened up, relaxed, and we both started laughing about her grumpiness.  Rather than getting frustrated with her for her emotional state, I went through it with her and got out of her way.  It wasn’t easy – I was annoyed, but I breathed, and I went inward and did my best to hold space for her to be grumpy.  Later that day as she worked on a sewing project and unrolled reams of tinfoil to make Barbie runway ensembles, I chuckled that this was the same kid from the morning.  

I’m sure that if I hadn’t allowed her to be grumpy, an afternoon of messy tinfoil and sewing projects wouldn’t have been the pleasant experience it was for us. What a difference it can make to be present and let our children’s emotions unfold. 

Dr. Shefali writes in The Awakened Family:

“Our children need us to contain them, but not control them.  Their true self knows they require this, and it needs to happen on both a behavioral and emotional level.  Even though our children need to feel secure in the knowledge that we will contain them if their behavior goes too far afield, and they practically beg for such containment, we can do this for them only if we have addressed our own fear of conflict and need for boundaries.” 

How do we go about addressing our own fear of conflict and need for boundaries?

For me it’s been a mix of centering, mindfulness, meditation, and finding a supportive community of people who help me understand and affirm my true self.  This helps me see our daughter clearly and detach from her behavior.  It’s a work in progress for sure, yet worthwhile as it has incredibly positive outcomes for me, our daughter, and our larger family unit.

I offer this final reflection from Dr. Shefali:

“Our children automatically sense our acceptance or lack thereof.  When they feel that we understand their basic temperament, they release the energy they had stored to protect themselves from our criticism.  This release of energy brings about a renewed commitment to their own growth and expansion.  When we understand the power of our role as our children’s spiritual mentor, we honor the throbbing spirit within them that longs for actualization.”

As always, I’m eager to hear from you about whether or not and/or how this resonates for you and your family~

I italicized control and allowed earlier because both are illusions....