Sunday, December 2, 2012

Stay tuned

Gosh, I've missed writing here. I wish I could just jump right in and go, but I still have some constraints to work out. Soon, soon, I'll be back with more posts of substance. And posts of more substance J

In the meantime, I wanted to assure my readers that when I’m up and running again, you can expect more of what MaMammalia has offered in the past. I may take some bigger risks with my writing because, well, that’s how you get better at anything worth doing. I also have a few small changes in mind.

I’m planning to monetize my site again. Sadly, during my hiatus I lost my BlogHer support. I’ll be replacing it with AdSense, Amazon links, and hopefully a few affiliate ads. Eventually I’ll be back on board with BlogHer as well. Don’t worry, I’m not going to sell out. I won’t try to sell you anything and if I do I will be very up front about what’s in it for me. I’ll make sure there’s something in it for my readers, too!  A website plastered with ads is not a part of my vision. My priority is to write and to share my parenting journey with you, yet I would be a fool to pass up the opportunity to earn a few bucks along the way. Hopefully we won’t have to look at too many tampon ads in the process!

Finally, I’ve wanted to make some aesthetic changes to MaMammalia for a looong time. My blogging budget is exactly $0 so I’ll make do with what Blogger has to offer. As with anything else here, I’m open to feedback! If you show up on this page one day and it’s hot pink with turquoise font, rest assured that I just hit the wrong button while testing out different templates. Not that I’m opposed to those colors, I just prefer a muted look. If only blogging were just research and writing!

Alrighty then. Thanks for standing by, everyone. Stay tuned…

Monday, April 16, 2012

In Case You Were Wondering

In case you were wondering, yes, I'm still here.

Bloggers, like everyone else, have lives that occasionally become complicated. They disappear from the scene for days, weeks, or even months, without so much as a word. I've seen this several times and wondered, "What happened? Did someone die? Is she OK??"

So let me share at least a few words with you.

No, no one died (recently). And yes, I'm (mostly) OK. My life, however, is complicated these days and I need to cut out some of the peripherals until things settle down. Sadly, that means blogging for me. I'll still be around, reading and following my tribe. I'll still respond to comments and emails. I'll still nurture this little spot in cyberspace. I may even do some writing and perhaps I will share some of it later on. For now, however, my life - and particularly my son - needs my full and undivided attention. In the flesh, not the screen.

But never fear, I have all intentions of returning. I hope you'll come back later because will MaMammalia, too!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Dear Special Needs Mama

Welcome to the March 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting With Special Needs
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how we parent despite and because of challenges thrown our way. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

I'm taking another break from my series on Unconditional Parenting to join this month's Natural Parenting Blog Carnival. This month's theme touches on something rather personal: parenting a child with special needs.

It's a hard and lonely road to parent a high needs child who was also born premature. To some, a child like this may not even qualify as "special needs."

Premature births are almost normalized these days, so it's easy for people to take them for granted. If the child turns out physically healthy, then everything is just fine, right? Unless you've been through it, it's hard to recognize the depth, severity, and lasting effects of the emotional trauma a family experiences when a baby is born premature.

Unless you have a high needs child, it's hard to recognize how isolating and exhausting it is. Because all infants and children are needy, it's also hard to find support or validation for parenting a "high-needs" child. The risk of blaming yourself for the hardship is high. It doesn't matter that your child's intense needs may arise from innate characteristics or be exacerbated by a traumatic birth experience.

If a child has special needs, you can bet that a mama does, too. After twenty-seven sleepless months, I'm still integrating and learning to accept our reality. I'm still working out the how-to's. The upshot is that I'm learning lessons in self-love through this process. Whether or not your child has special needs, I think all mothers deserve a lot more self-love.

So when I thought about this post, I thought about what I would most want to hear from someone on the other side. I decided to write a letter to myself -- and all special needs mamas. Here's what I came up with:

Dear Sylvia,

Be kind and patient with yourself. Coming to terms with a birth experience quite opposite from what you'd hoped, then learning to be a mother for the first time to a baby in the NICU, and then mothering a high needs child without much support are really, really hard things to do. Keep that in perspective.

Give yourself as much time to heal as you need. You have intensely emotional experiences to reconcile, grieving to do, and new found wisdom to plough. Let the process unfold as it will.

Don't compare yourself to others. Each birth story is as unique as the child that came of it. Each child has his own strengths and weaknesses that makes him easier or harder to parent in different ways. What looks easier or more fulfilling for someone else may only be part of the story.

Follow your maternal heart, that guarded and secure place, deep within your soul, that place where the two of you were once connected physically, that place where you and your son return to bond. It will guide you in your decisions and it will help you find peace.

Take care of yourself. It's easy to get lost in the extreme and constant neediness of a high needs child who still feels those pangs of loss and separation. But you are the parent, the guide, and the role model. Your well-being is critical to the process of acceptance, for yourself and your child. Nurture yourself as you do him.

Learn to see your son's strengths in his neediness and heightened sensitivity. You've been given an amazing child with keen insight and perception. Focus on those qualities. Let them lead you out of the funky pits of self-pity, resentment, and exasperation.

Know that your love matters. Although you might not feel strong or patient enough for this journey, know that you are. You're already doing it and doing it well. At the end of the day, whether it's been a good one or hard one, it's your love that matters most.

Your dearest friend and biggest fan,



Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon March 13 with all the carnival links.)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Leaving the playground

In this series of posts, I explore my personal challenges with each of the principles of unconditional parenting. In this post I discuss using my long-term parenting goals to find short-term solutions to a common parenting issue. These personal accounts run in parallel with a series of information-based posts where I explain each of the 13 basic principles of unconditional parenting as described in Kohn's book, Unconditional Parenting. Want to start from the beginning? Click here for the Introduction to Unconditional Parenting with links to all posts in the series.

I've seen it way too many times. The parents are ready to leave playground, but the kid isn't. This is the point at which I see many parents break out the promise of something great to follow, like ice-cream. When the child doesn't jump for the bait, they quickly renege on that promise. OK, no ice-cream then. Of course, the kid gets angry and hurt and is even less likely to follow the people who are toying with his emotions. Then the threat escalates to taking away other privileges, and when that doesn't work they throw in the threat of an actual punishment. They might even toss in some begging and pleading along with this deal making.

This process boggles my mind. It's kind of like watching someone shoot themselves in the foot and I often feel sad for both parent and child. Really, it's just so much easier to not use rewards or punishments to get a kid to stop having fun.  It's a lot easier to work together and to learn to cope with each other's disappointments and conflicting desires. It's a lot easier to be honest and creative.

I think about the process of leaving the park, or any fun time, in terms of long-term parenting goals. One of my goals is to have a good relationship with my son. I want Munchkin to trust that I will do my best to meet his needs and to fulfill his desires. I want him to respect my needs and desires and to trust my decisions. Broken promises and false negotiations would interfere with these ideals.

I'd also like to show him that losses and goodbyes are difficult, yet normal, parts of life. Ending a good time is hard enough. It's not a process that should be tainted with ultimatums or false hopes. Life will throw him plenty of those without me imposing them. I'd rather help Munchkin work through the feelings of loss and disappointment early on so he can learn to deal with them later...and learn to have faith that good times are sure to return.

Considering my long-term goals, what can I do in the short-term? How can I get a two year-old to leave the playground?  Here's a look at how I use my long-term vision to guide my actions in getting a toddler to leave the park.

I don't use punishment in general, but it's still important to point out that I never use the threat of "going home" to stop unwanted behavior. If leaving the playground is ever used as a punishment, it's likely that a child will come to view leaving as, well, a punishment. That definitely runs counter to my long-term vision of resilience after loss.

Before I even announce the prospect of going to the park, I make sure I plan ahead. Believe it or not, there is a time when a kid is ready to leave the park, often based on hunger, thirst, fatigue, and their threshold for stimulation. Figuring out how long that is makes it easier for everyone. My son takes up to an hour to settle in to a new environment, so I try to plan at least that long at any new spot. Even at our regular parks, I make sure we have ample time. If I try to leave after a half hour, he will undoubtedly get upset because his needs haven't been met.  Considering that the whole point of taking him to a playground is for him to play, the least I can do is allow that to happen on his terms, not mine. If we're short on time, we might go for a walk in the neighborhood instead. I also go equipped with snacks, water, and extra clothes depending on weather. Those extra few minutes of preparation can buy us a lot of extra fun time.

Once we've been at the park long enough, I start my exit strategy. First, I make sure that I connect and engage in play before leaving.  As I wrote about in one of my other posts, taking a moment to connect with your child can have a big effect on how willing he is to go along with your request. Intruding on a kid's fun to say "Let's go home now" is not likely to be well received! If I've been standing nearby just watching, I make sure to climb the ladder or throw the ball before I even mention that we're leaving.

As leaving time approaches, I give a heads-up a few minutes before it's time to go. We're leaving in a few minutes. Go ahead and finish up your game/climbing/sliding. I'm going to get our things ready and then we'll leave. I often hear parents give a five-minute warning at the playground, but I prefer to say a few minutes. "Five more minutes" sounds threatening to me (especially coming from yap dog parents) because it places too much emphasis on the clock and not enough on helping the child transition away from a good time. The point of giving a warning is to give the child some time to prepare for the transition. I view it as an opportunity for my son to wrap up his playtime (physically and emotionally), which may take five minutes, ten minutes, or even thirty seconds.  I use that time to pack up the bagful of snacks and extra clothes or get my transition activity ready (see below).

When I'm ready to go, I announce that it's time to leave. I wait for the right moment to step in with the expected  We're going to leave now. If he's still actively engaged in something, I'll say "after this next time down the slide" or "one more time." After that, it's time to go.

Of course, Munchkin often resists at that point, even if he really is ready to leave -- and especially if he's over-stimulated, tired, or hungry. If I need to reconnect with Munchkin again after the final announcement, I use a goodbye game. I like to use hide-and-seek to herd Munchkin from point A to point B (read more about it here). I also like to play chase with him, where I give him a few goes of getting away from me, then I swoop in and scoop him up.  He may let out a few cries of resistance, but if I stick with the playful attitude, he tends to settle into my arms or walk willingly next to me. It's amazing how much time and effort I save by creating a joint venture in the departure process.

Then, to help him focus on moving in the we're-leaving-now-direction,  I offer a transition activity that I've kept in the car, stroller, or backpack.  I don't like to refer to activities that can't be done immediately because then it's not really a transition. I often use a favorite snack that we only eat on the go, a toy he hasn't played with in awhile, or some item he picked up along the way to the park. Sounds like a bribe, I hear you thinking. Trust me, I struggled for awhile with whether I was bribing him or not and finally decided it's not a bribe. The difference between bribe and transition activity is a pretty fine line that has a lot to do with attitude and approach. I do not offer the transition activity as a reward for leaving the playground. Nor do I deny giving it to him if he throws a fit or puts up resistance. It's an option of what to do next now that we're leaving the park. I try to set it up so that it makes sense to move away from the playground to this new activity. Do you want to go eat a fruit bar with me? Are you ready for your snack? Hey, do you remember the red tractor we left in the car? Guess what I have in my bag? And so on.

Finally, I provide the chance for closure by asking him if he'd like to say goodbye. Saying goodbye to new or old friends, to trees, toys or play structures can help him process that this is the end. Plus, it's a nice way for a toddler to learn about cultural norms of bidding farewell. I model the phrase then ask if Munchkin would like to say goodbye (it's always his choice). Bye green ball. Bye bucket and shovel.

Usually, that's enough for us to leave the park peacefully. Sometimes, it's not. Sometimes there's whining and crying, even kicking and thrashing.  From what I've noticed, it usually has very little to do with not wanting to leave the playground. Did something upsetting happen recently? Have I been distant or cranky lately? Is he over-tired and beyond his limits? It is precisely during those emotionally wrought partings that he needs me to follow through. He needs me to be calm and assertive, yet gentle. I see you're upset. I hear that you want to stay, but we're leaving now. I'm really sorry but we have to go now. I pick him up if he runs away, but inevitably, he asks to get down after a moment...and comes with me anyway.  

In many ways, ending good times has brought us closer.  We become more connected because I'm there to guide him through the process, authentically. He's grown to trust my decision to leave, and I've learned to be more flexible about how and when we do that. I'm sure as he grows older I'll have to come up with new and better tricks to get him to leave, but I'm also sure I won't be using rewards or punishment to do so. Because really, love is a lot easier.

Do you have some good leaving the playground tricks? Please share them, I'd love to try them, too!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

An Eye On Long-Term Parenting Goals (Unconditional Parenting Principle #3)

In this series of posts, I summarize the 13 basic principles of unconditional parenting as described in Kohn's book, Unconditional Parenting. I include insights and interpretations gleaned from other resources. The information-based posts run in parallel with a series of personal accounts of how I attempt to apply these principles in my own mothering. Want to start from the beginning? Click here for the Introduction to Unconditional Parenting and for links to all posts in the series.

When it comes to raising children, we're most often concerned with short-term parenting issues. to get out the door on time, maintain a household, and have our kids eat their veggies and do well in school.

In Unconditional Parenting, Kohn warns us about placing too much emphasis on short-term parenting issues. In fact, the book centers around a simple question posed to parents: what are your long-term goals for your children? He didn't mean whether you want your kid to go to Harvard or be a trash collector. He meant, what kind of person do you hope to raise? When you think about your child all grown up, what do you hope for her? Affluence? Education? Manners? Obedience? Conformity? Independence? Happiness? Inner peace? Decency? Compassion? Responsibility? Creativity?

This question of long-term parenting goals is central to unconditional parenting because the answers help inform our short-term parenting choices. We have to consider what the possible long-term effects are of our most commonly used parenting strategies.

Kohn also warns us that the most commonly used parenting strategies may not be in line with most parents' long-term goals for their kids. Typically, those strategies involve a system of rewards and punishment that are hallmarks of conditional parenting. This system is easily adopted by parents because it's so common (we learn to parent by example) and because it seems to work in the short-term. Bribes and rewards get the kids to bed faster and make getting out the door easier. And withdrawing privileges - or threatening to do so- often works to stop unwanted behaviors.

However, reliance on the system of rewards and punishment in the short-term may actually interfere with the long-term goals we have for our kids. What numerous studies have shown is that the habitual use of rewards and punishments leads a child to think about immediate consequences to themselves, rather than the overall effects of their actions. I can do it as long as I don't get caught. I want that cookie, so I'll just do whatever my mom asks. So if empathy and self-regulation are part of the long-term goals for your child, it's worth considering whether you're actually instilling those qualities or just modifying your child's outward behavior.

Think about it. If you want your child to be intrinsically motivated, does it make sense to use the carrot and stick? If you want your child to feel unconditionally loved by her caregivers, does it makes sense to ignore her when she's sad or angry (i.e. put her in a time out or punish acting out behaviors)?  If you want your child to feel confident in taking on new endeavors, does it makes sense to label her as smart rather than highlighting her efforts? If you want your child to be considerate, does it makes sense to enforce good manners instead of talking to her about empathy? Again, taking time to consider questions like these can provide the most powerful guidance for navigating short-term parenting issues.

Fortunately, thinking about our long-term parenting goals doesn't have to be methodical or painstaking. Nor do we have to get hung-up on every short-term decision. The point is to keep an eye on the big picture and not get lost in the details of today.  Whether or not your child cleans her room this week isn't as important as how you show her to be a respectful, contributing member of a household. Deciding whether or not to allow your child to eat Goldfish for dinner isn't as important as the attitude you teach towards healthy eating. Whether or not your toddler says "I'm sorry" after hitting her sister doesn't matter as much as helping her learn that others have feelings and that she can learn to manage her own, too. Even using the occasional reward or punishment isn't going to create an insecure miscreant if you're also making efforts to connect with your child and honor her feelings. With unconditional parenting, the challenge is to provide unconditional support and guidance, even through those short-term struggles.

With long-term goals in mind, we still need tools for dealing with the short-term goals. Next time, I'll share some of my own short-term strategies that don't include rewards or punishment.

For further reading:
Common long-term goals of effective parents A no-frills piece from Break the Cycle.
Tools for creating your parenting philosophy An informative and insightful post from Code Name: Mama, with useful exercises for defining your goals.
My starter kit for unconditional parenting A list of parenting practices (from yours truly) I use that are in line with my long-term goals for raising a compassionate and autonomous boy.
Long term, not short term goals A great article about how short-term solutions to discipline can interfere with long-term goals for our children.

photo credit: mlhradio via photopin cc

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Respectful Parenting As a Way of Life

Welcome to the February 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Respectful Interactions With Other Parents
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have focused on how we can communicate with other parents compassionately.
NOTE: I'm taking a short detour from my Unconditional Parenting series to take part in this blog carnival. Finding respectful ways of interacting with other parents is such an important topic, particularly for anyone interested in unconventional parenting styles.I invite my readers to explore the other posts listed at the bottom. 

I live in one of the most progressive and multicultural metropolitan areas in the United States. Oddly enough, unconditional parenting (or attachment, natural, or conscious parenting) isn't very common, at least in my particular suburb. Almost every day I interact with other parents who do not share my parenting choices. I've made some mistakes during some of these interactions, but I've also learned some valuable lessons.

First of all, I've come to realize that respect for self, others, and planet is central to my parenting philosophy. That means I have to model respect if I ever hope my son to exhibit it. While I may disagree with other parent's choices, I still have to respect their right to make choices...even if I find them distasteful, offensive or hurtful.  I'm sure some of them feel the same about some of my choices.

Furthermore, it takes much more than a comment here or there to fully inform others about my parenting choices. Most of what I do runs so counter to mainstream parenting culture that it warrants thorough discussion and explanation (think: no rewards or punishment, no TV, breastfeeding a 2 year-old, doing EC, and I'm even thinking about homeschooling; check out my latest blog series for "thorough explanations"). My choices are often misunderstood but I will only engage in discussions about them if the other party is genuinely interested. Parenting raises so many personal issues that people can become defensive unless they are open to hearing information that runs counter to their world view. So, I keep my ideas to myself. And my blog.

Secondly, I can inform and reach many more people if I do so with compassion. I don't want to argue, I want to share and learn. Although I do have very strong opinions, I avoid sharing them with parents I don't know well. Strong opinions have a way of turning people off and people stop listening if they don't immediately agree. Instead, I focus on sharing the information that has led me to form the opinions I do have. Some people will become inspired and make the same choices I do. Others simply won't get it and will go on doing what everyone else does. Either way, it's their choice and I respect their right to make those choices.

I've also started looking at parents as individuals with their own struggles to overcome. I think every parent wishes better for their child than they had it. Whether that's more stuff, more love, more freedom, or whatever, we're all just trying to make the next generation a little better. Maybe that family comes from a culture where cloth diapering is considered low-class, so using disposables feels like financial freedom.  Maybe the helicopter mom is showing all the love she never received from absent, neglectful parents. Maybe the parents trying to get their kid away from the playground with promises of sweets and threats of no ice-cream have never even heard of unconditional parenting. Maybe the father dragging his kid by the arm out of the park is exercising considerable restraint compared to the beatings he once received.

I'm not saying I think all parenting choices are justifiable, I'm just saying those parents don't need my contempt or unsolicited advice. They need my support, my empathy, and access to the same information I have. The most respectful thing I can do is model the choices I'm making and be willing to peacefully share the reasons why.

Finally, I've come to learn that parents with different approaches have valuable information to offer. That means I also have to be willing to listen to what other parents have to say. They might know a trick or coping strategy I wouldn't have thought of. They may have a way of navigating parenthood that can bring new insights to my own. They can also teach me to be more compassionate when I realize how much we share in common. Because parenting is hard work, no matter what approach you take.

So while I have dreams of changing the world through peaceful parenting, I've come to accept that the only way we can get better as parents is by supporting each other and exchanging information, with open minds and open hearts.  If we begin with a little respect, we might just change the world, together.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be live and updated by afternoon February 14 with all the carnival links.)
  • How to Respond Respectfully to Unwanted Parenting Advice and Judgment — At Natural Parents Network, Amy (of Peace 4 Parents) offers some ways to deal with parenting advice and criticism, whether it's from your mom or the grocery store clerk.
  • Judgement is Natural - Just Don't Condemn — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shared her views on why judgment is unavoidable and why the bigger issue is condemnation.
  • Four Ways To Share Your Parenting Philosophy Gently — Valerie at Momma in Progress shares tips for communicating with fellow parents in a positive, peaceful manner.
  • When Other Parents Disagree With You — Being an attachment parent is hard enough, but when you are Lily, aka Witch Mom, someone who does not enforce gender roles on her kid, who devalues capitalism and materialism, and instead prefers homeschooling and homesteading — you are bound to disagree with someone, somewhere!
  • Mama Bashing — Lucy at Dreaming Aloud reflects on the hurt caused on the blogosphere by mama bashing and pleads for a more mindful way of dealing with differences.
  • Accentuate the Positive — Joella at Fine and Fair shares how she manages interactions with the parents she encounters in her work as a Parent Coach and Substance Abuse Counselor by building trusting relationships and affirming strengths.
  • The politics of mothers – keys to respectful interactions with other parents — Tara from MUMmedia offers great tips for handling the inevitable conflict of ideas and personalities in parenting/mother's groups, etc.
  • Trying to build our village — Sheila at A Gift Universe tells how she went from knowing no other moms in her new town to building a real community of mothers.
  • Internet Etiquette in the Mommy Wars — Shannon at The Artful Mama discusses how she handles heated topics in the "Mommy-space" online.
  • Parenting with Convictions — Sarah at Parenting God's Children encourages love and support for fellow parents and their convictions.
  • How To Be Respectful Despite Disagreeing On Parenting Styles... — Jenny at I'm a Full-Time Mummy shares her two cents' worth on how to have respectful interactions with other parents despite disagreeing on parenting styles.
  • Public RelationsMomma Jorje touches on keeping the peace when discussing parenting styles.
  • Navigating Parenting Politics — Since choosing an alternative parenting style means rejecting the mainstream, Miriam at The Other Baby Book shares a few simple tips that can help avoid hurt feelings.
  • Hiding in my grace cave — Lauren at Hobo Mama wants to forget that not all parents are as respectful and tolerant as the people with whom she now surrounds herself.
  • Carnival of Natural Parenting - Respectful Interactions with Other Parents — Wolfmother at Fabulous Mama Chronicles explores how her attitude has changed regarding sharing information and opinions with others and how she now chooses to keep the peace during social outings.
  • Empathy and respect — Helen at zen mummy tries to find her zen in the midst of the Mummy Wars.
  • Not Holier Than Thou — Amyables at Toddler in Tow muses about how she's learned to love all parents, despite differences, disagreements, and awkward conversations.
  • Nonviolent Communication and Unconditional Love — Wendylori at High Needs Attachment reflects on the choice to not take offense as the key to honest and open communication.
  • Respectful Parenting As a Way of Life — Sylvia at MaMammalia writes about using her parenting philosophy as a guide to dealing with other parents who make very different choices from her.
  • Homeschooling: Why Not? — Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling shares how parents can often make homeschooling work for their family even if, at first glance, it may seem daunting.
  • If You Can’t Say Something Nice… — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells her philosophy for online and offline interactions … a philosophy based primarily on a children’s movie.
  • Different Rules for Different Families — Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children discusses how differences between families affect our children, and how that can be a good thing.
  • Respectful Interaction With Other Parents — Luschka at Diary of a First Child shares the ways she surrounds herself with a like-minded support network, so that she can gently advocate in her dealings with those whose opinions on parenting differ vastly from her own.
  • Parenting as a mirror — Rather than discrediting others' parenting styles, Kate Wicker discusses why she tries to focus on doing right rather than being right — and why she’s also not afraid to show others that she’s a heartfelt but imperfect mama just trying to be the best mom for her family.
  • The One Thing {Most} Parents Have In Common: They Try Their Best — Christine at African Babies Don't Cry finds interacting with other parents easier once she accepts that they are all just trying their best, just like her.
  • Finding your mama-groove: 5 ways to eliminate judge/be judged metalityMudpieMama reveals 5 ways of thinking that have helped her find her mama-groove and better navigate tricky parenting discussions.
  • Speaking Up For Those Who Can't — We've all had those moments when someone said something hurtful or insensitive, or downright rude that just shocks you to your core, and you're stunned into silence. Afterwards, you go home and think "Gosh, I wish I said…" This post by Arpita at Up Down, And Natural is for all the breastfeeding mamas who have thought "Gosh, I wish I said…"
  • Thank you for your opinion — Gaby at Tmuffin shares her go-to comment when she feels like others are judging her parenting style.
  • Mending — A playground conversation about jeans veers off course until a little mending by Kenna at Million Tiny Things is needed.
  • The Thing You Don't Know — Kelly at Becoming Crunchy talks about what she believes is one of the most important things you can consider when it comes to compassionate communication with other parents.
  • 3 Tips for Interacting with Other Parents Respectfully When You Disagree with Them — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama shares what she has learned about respectful interactions on her parenting journey.
  • Peacefully Keeping My Cool: Quotes from Ana — How do you keep your cool? Ana from Pandamoly shares some of her favorite retorts and conversation starters when her Parenting Ethos comes into question.
  • Kind Matters — Carrie at Love Notes Mama discusses how she strives to be the type of person she'd want to meet.
  • Doing it my way but respecting your highway. — Terri from Child of the Nature Isle is determined to walk with her family on the road less travelled whether you like it or not!
  • Saying "I'm Right and You're Wrong" Seldom Does Much To Improve Your Cause... — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment writes about how living by example motivates her actions and interactions with others.
  • Have another kid and you won't care — Cassie of There's a Pickle in My Life, after having her second child, knows exactly how to respond to opposing advice.
  • Ten Tips to Communicate Respectfully, Even When You Disagree — What if disagreements with our partners, our children or even complete strangers ultimately led to more harmony and deeper connections? They can! Dionna at Code Name: Mama shares ten tips to strengthen our relationships in the midst of conflict.
  • A Little Light Conversation — Zoie at TouchstoneZ explains why respect needs to be given to every parent unconditionally.
  • Why I used to hide the formula box — Laura at Pug in the Kitchen finally talks about how judgement between parents changed her views on how she handles differences in parenting.
  • Assumptions — Nada at minimomist discusses how not everyone is able to nurse, physically, mentally, or emotionally.
  • Shushing Your Inner Judgey McJudgerson — Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction knows that judging others is easy to do, but recognizing that we all parent from different perspectives takes work.
  • Respectfully Interacting with Others Online — Lani at Boobie Time Blog discusses the importance of remaining respectful behind the disguise of the internet.
  • Presumption of Good Will — Why — and how — Crunchy Con Mommy is going to try to assume the best of people she disagrees with on important issues.
  • Being Gracious with Parenting Advice — Tips for giving and receiving parenting advice with grace from Lisa at My World Edenwild.
  • Explain, Smile, Escape — Don't know what to do when you're confronted by another parent who disagrees with you? Amy at Anktangle shares a story from her life along with a helpful method for navigating these types of tricky situations (complete with a handy flow chart!).
  • Balancing Cultures and ChoicesDulce de leche discusses the challenges of walking the tightrope between generations while balancing cultural and family ties.
  • Linky - Parenting Peacefully with Social MediaHannabert's Mom discusses parenting in a social media world.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Say What You Mean and Ask For What You Want

In this series of posts, I explore my personal challenges with each of the principles of unconditional parenting. These personal accounts run in parallel with a series of information-based posts where I explain each of the 13 basic principles of unconditional parenting as described in Kohn's book, Unconditional Parenting. Want to start from the beginning? Click here for the Introduction to Unconditional Parenting and for links to all posts in the series.

When my son and I do laundry together, he likes to help push the laundry cart. He also likes to climb up on the rack under the laundry bags, a rack made of rather flimsy metal.  The cart isn't strong enough to support a bouncing two-year old so his climbing feat isn't all that cool. I've asked him not to stand on the cart many times, but the temptation still arises, especially if I'm busy folding clothes.

I could forcefully order him No, don't do that. I could weakly imply that "We" don't climb on that. But neither of those requesting tactics work because neither is rooted in respect. Using forceful words is controlling and creates a power struggle (do you like to be talked to that way?). On the other hand, being indirect muddles the message so the child doesn't know what you really want. The popular "we don't" isn't a request, it's an untrue statement (note that he's already climbing).

I could also take the middle ground by being both compassionate and assertive: Please don't climb on that. Usually, that's the general approach I take, along with a number of other gentle strategies I've written about (check them out: Toddler Compliance, Toddler Defiance, and Speaking Respectfully to a Toddler).

Recently, and with some inspiration from nonviolent communication, I've started phrasing my requests in terms of what I want and need. It's a subtle change in words, but the results are rather dramatic. I feel empowered when I ask my son to do or not do something because I express my desires honestly. And I think he feels empowered because the approach is so honest. Instead of making a demand from dominant figure to submissive figure, I respectfully state my request, from human to human:

"Munchkin, I don't want you to climb on the laundry cart. Do you see the how the metal bends when you climb up there? I'm afraid the cart will break and I would be very sad if it broke. Will you please get down from there?"

He did, in fact, get down without a fuss. Did I mention he's two years old? Yeah, wow.

The same strategy works for getting him to do something he doesn't want to, like put on his diaper before bedtime:

"I don't like it when you say 'no' and run away," I said this with genuine sadness in my voice while looking him in the eye. "I want you to come over here and put on your diaper. I like it when you help me put on your diaper. I like it when you cooperate and we do it together. I like to be close to you because then we can play together, too."    

He responded by coming over to me. He sat down on top of the diaper and we played one of our little games while I fastened the diaper.

I think part of the trick is in the "I statement:"

I want you to...
I don't want you to....
I don't like it when....
I like it when...
*I feel scared when....
*I feel angry when...
*I feel happy when....

Switching requests from pronoun-free directives to "I statements" is a liberating shift. I feel calmer and freer, regardless of outcome. I'm not going to argue that it works every time, but it certainly does most of the time. It also works a whole lot better if the parent-child relationship is in good condition because it underscores the mutual respect in the relationship. If I get into power struggle mode or am too afraid to be forthright with my requests, I lose my son's trust and respect. Then he's not likely to do anything I ask, no matter how I request it.

I'll talk more about the importance of the parent-child relationship later in this series. Next time, we'll begin to explore the topic by considering  long-term goals. For now, I'll just keep practicing this new way of asking for what I really want.

*Use of feeling words can be tricky. Check out the comment below from Issa and my response to it for a discussion of the concerns in using feelings when making requests.

How do you ask for what you want from your kids? Have you noticed when it's more or less likely to work?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Reconsider Your Requests (Unconditional Parenting Principle #2)

In this series of posts, I summarize the 13 basic principles of unconditional parenting as described in Kohn's book, Unconditional Parenting. I include insights and interpretations gleaned from other resources. The information-based posts run in parallel with a series of personal accounts of how I attempt to apply these principles in my own mothering. Want to start from the beginning? Click here for the Introduction to Unconditional Parenting and links to all posts in the series.
"...any time it’s our objective to get another person to behave in a certain way, people are likely to resist no matter what it is we’re asking for. This seems to be true whether the other person is 2 or 92 years of age." - Marshall Rosenberg, in Raising Children Compassionately

A basic precept in unconditional parenting is to give up trying to control children and instead focus on working with them to meet mutual goals. Alfie Kohn calls this a "working with" as opposed to a "doing to" style of parenting.  A prime example of how we can begin to work with our children comes from the second principle of unconditional parenting: reconsider your requests. 

Unfortunately, the "working with" idea isn't a very common approach to making requests of children. Advice about how to get your kid to do this or that includes strategies that vary from forceful to gentle, but most rest on the untested assumption that the parents' request is inherently valid. The underlying message is that parental authority justifies whatever it is we are asking. From this perspective, solutions to parent-child problems must lie in finding ways to change (read: control and manipulate) children's behavior. Not surprisingly, this parenting mindset leads to a battle of wills, a battle in which parents continually try new and different tactics to get their kids to pick that up, do chores, and not do drugs.

In contrast, the unconditional parenting approach asks us to change ourselves. When conflicts arise, we need to consider if the real problem might actually be that we're making unreasonable requests. Is the request an honest reflection of a need? Or is it just our preference or a way to fulfill the need for control? Why should the child comply? Is the request age appropriate? Are we asking for something that we want for our children without checking to see if it's what they want? Is it really that important? What's the worst that could happen if we let it slide, honestly?

Certainly, there are plenty of things we ask of our kids that are reasonable and necessary. What those are will differ from family to family. Still, if we are to gain the respect and compliance of our kids, we will have a lot better luck if we start by being reflective about our requests.

It also helps to be flexible. Traditional parenting advice will tell us to "be consistent" and not "give in" when our child won't fulfill our demands (for an example of some really atrocious, anti-unconditional parenting advice, see this article). However, if you have a "working with" attitude, an adamant refusal from your child might be a clue that there's a problem with your request. If so, it's OK to change your mind once you're reconsidered (more on this topic later when we visit the unconditional parenting principle on not being rigid). This won't thwart authority. Rather, it will show your child that you're human, fallible, compassionate and fair enough to make the right decision after you've made a mistake. Genuine respect goes a lot further than fear.

Another critical aspect of making requests to our children comes from the way in which we ask.  If we are stuck in the mindset that only the parents' needs or desires matter ("because I'm the mom and I said so!"), we are bound to encounter conflict with children. Then we are back to controlling rather than working with.

Fortunately, Nonviolent Communication (NVC) offers a powerful, effective, and incredibly compassionate way to ask for what we need, from children or anyone else. With NVC, the focus in on how to satisfy the needs of both parties. Requests are met because of trust, compassion, and respect that flows between parent and child. Consider the difference between "Your room is such a mess! I told you to clean it. Do it now or I'll..." versus  "I see that you haven't cleaned your room and I feel very frustrated. I really need some help in keeping the house tidy. Will you please pick up your room?"

The flip side is that occasionally the child will not be able to fulfill that request because she has her own needs. But just think, does your spouse or friend always do what you ask? Would you punish them if they didn't, especially if the reason was valid? If we truly respect our children as human beings, we should extend them the same courtesy. We should be willing to live with them not always doing what we ask. We can let go of the power struggle and instead think in terms of mutual respect. The upshot is that refusals will happen less often because a person who feels respected instead of controlled is a lot more willing to comply in the first place.

So imagine... your child cleaning up her room, brushing her teeth, or doing her chores because she trusts your decisions and respects your need for cleanliness -- not because she doesn't want to get grounded. Imagine asking only for things that really matter. Imagine rethinking your request if you don't get what you ask for. Then imagine that you can sometimes accept her not doing what you ask because she has her own needs and you care about them. Imagine the conversation that takes place each time, without struggle, blame, criticism, or threats. That's unconditional parenting.

For further reading
Nonviolent Communication:
Examples of using NVC with children, based on an excerpt from Rosenberg's Raising Children Compassionately

Making requests to children under five (from yours truly):

Listening and Asking:
Teaching Children to Listen, from Simplicity Parenting
Any other thoughts about making requests to kids? Please share your ideas or ask anything!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Uncovering Sources of Angry Reactions: Using Reflection and Unconditional Parenting for Lasting Change

English: A metaphorical visualization of the w...
English: A metaphorical visualization of the word Anger. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In this series of posts, I explore my personal challenges with each of the principles of unconditional parenting. These personal accounts run in parallel with a series of information-based posts where I explain each of the 13 basic principles of unconditional parenting as described in Kohn's book, Unconditional Parenting. Want to start from the beginning? Click here for the Introduction to Unconditional Parenting.

As I mentioned in my previous post on being reflective, part of the challenge in unconditional parenting is to examine the roots of our own parenting practices. This can be an especially daunting and scary endeavor for those of us who were raised in dysfunctional homes.  Even for people raised in healthy, supportive environments, taking a hard look in the mirror isn't always easy. As Alfie Kohn puts it, "raising kids is not for wimps."

Despite the difficulty of parenting unconditionally, I'm committed to this gentle, compassionate approach. I'm driven to provide more emotional support for my son than I ever received.  To do so, I have embraced reflection as a way of life. Without reflection, I risk falling victim to my own bad habits, habits I learned from a family with different values than my own.  For the most part, I'm pleased with my parenting choices. But there are plenty of situations in which I still need to build my emotional intelligence, where I want to be more responsive than reactive.

Like those loooong, seemingly unending stretches of intense neediness that my toddler goes through.  You know... during illness, second molars doing plate tectonics under the gums, a shift in the routine, or some other random infraction upon the fragile toddler world. And with it, the whining, the crying, the clinging, and the asking for something 17 times, even if I've already replied with a yes. Hoo boy, do those days test me!

Most of the time, I handle these situations without getting too rattled. When I'm rested, well-fed, exercised, have had ample personal time, and life hasn't thrown me any recent hiccups, I cope fine with Munchkin's needy fits. But life isn't always that smooth so neither am I. On hard days, I carry my own emotional baggage that adds fuel to any present day fire. On those days, that whining and crying really just make me want to SCREAM. I'm ashamed to admit it, but on occasion I have. If I'm not paying attention, my whole body gets tense and the only emotion I can connect with is anger.

Anger? Yes, anger, the master cover-up of all emotions. It protects us from feeling despair, loss, hopelessness, anguish, weakness and fear. And that must be what I'm feeling underneath the extreme irritation. Because the real me - the person I am today, the mother I am when I'm my best - feels only compassion and concern when I hear my child cry. No matter what's going on in my life.

Typically, when I get overwhelmed by Munchkin's needs my strategy is to take a break. I go to my chair and breathe. I remind myself that it's not his fault he's upset, he's not trying to annoy me, and that I'm just having an emotional reaction of my own. I watch myself feel angry, I hear my racing heart, and I listen intently to my breath until it slows down. I re-center. Then I get up, return to my son, and thank him for giving me a moment. I apologize if I have been harsh before taking my break. We hug and he seems to forgive me and understand. Then I tend to his needs.

But what about MY needs?!!! The fact that I have to keep repeating this process indicates that I have some unmet needs of my own. The feelings I'm having aren't just from dealing with a needy toddler. Yes, toddlers can be incredibly aggravating, but the anger-covering-other-feelings comes from me, not a two year-old. It's deeper.

If I'm brave enough to consider why I feel angry during my son's needy fits, I have a chance of stopping the cycle. I have a chance to heal my hurt feelings, forgive transgressions, and let go of the anger. Then,  I can tend to my son the way I normally do, the way I do when I'm not burdened with feelings outside of here and now.  Because what I want is to provide consistent support for him, not just when I'm my best self. I want to let go of that tension that takes over so I can take over the situation with compassion and grace.  Even on hard days.

So I've started to reflect on the source of this parenting practice, or rather, parenting reaction. Where are these crazy feelings coming from? Why do I sometimes have this intense emotional reaction to something that is really just plain irritating?

Certainly part of it is that I can take better care of myself. Get more rest. Eat before my blood sugar starts running low. Stick to my regular exercise routine. Nurture my interests and passions outside of motherhood. Make time for myself. Focus on being mindful. OK, sure, fine, I'll work on doing all that more consistently. Yet it still feels like that's just the surface layer, the maintenance layer. I still need to peel back the outer coating and get down to the pit. I need to reflect upon myself as a child in order to access the source of this angry feeling.

One clue comes from a memory I have when I was about four years-old. I was in the bath and I was very upset. Something terrible had just happened to me because I was in physical and emotional pain. My mother was washing me off, hissing viciously at me to shut up and stop crying. She was angry at me, seemingly because I was crying, in pain, and in distress.

This memory sits vaguely in the back of my mind when I hear Munchkin's persistent shrieks. Usually, I can push it away, back down to the caverns where I was taught to keep it. Yet on days when my emotional threshold is low, the memory seeps up through the cracks. It leaks into my muscles and invades my body. The pained fury holds me tightly in its merciless hand.

But the anger is not mine. I just internalized it when I was four because... well, that's how four year-olds cope. I took that anger as my own even though I didn't create it and didn't deserve it. It's not my anger and it certainly isn't for me to share with my son. I'm quite sure it wasn't even my mother's to begin with.

So it's time. Time to let go of that anger. Time to give it back. Time to forgive. Time to listen to my own pitiful wails, openly, without criticism or judgment. Time to comfort that sorrow with unconditional love. Time to heal. Time to come back to the present.

Now, I have a different vision when I arise from my breathing chair. I take one last deep breath. I open my eyes and see Munchkin watching me with concern. I go through the regular spiel (I'm sorry, I'm not upset at you, I feel better now, etc. etc.). I take him in my arms and imagine pulling the crying little girl out of the bathtub. I wrap her in a huge, warm, oversized, fair-trade, organic bamboo towel (I love the endless possibilities with imagery). I draw her up close and nestle her securely between me and Munchkin.  I listen to her screams subside to wimpers  as we hold her close. She is cradled safely there, protected from harm, soothed, comforted, loved. When I release Munchkin from my embrace, we smile at each other.

The little girl smiles, too.

For ideas on staying mindful, check out: When Stress Interferes with Mindful Parenting

Do you have parenting reactions you'd like to change? Does any of this resonate with you? Feel free to leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you!

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Be Reflective (Unconditional Parenting Principle #1)

Portrait of Socrates. Marble, Roman artwork (1...
Photo credit: Wikipedia
In this series of posts, I summarize the 13 basic principles of unconditional parenting as described in Kohn's book, Unconditional Parenting. I include insights and interpretations gleaned from other resources. The information-based posts run in parallel with a series of personal accounts of how I attempt to apply these principles in my own mothering. Want to start from the beginning? Click here for the Introduction to Unconditional Parenting.

"The unexamined life is not worth living" - Socrates, The Apology

Being reflective is a great starting point for unconditional parenting, or any life endeavor for that matter. Out of mindfulness and introspection comes insight, righteousness, and occasionally, wisdom.

What it means to be reflective
Being reflective, simply put, means thinking consciously about what you are doing -- or have done. When it comes to parenting, this can be a big challenge. We often have knee-jerk reactions or do things because that's how we were raised or how mainstream society tells us to parent. When practicing unconditional parenting, the trick is to be conscious and reflective about what you are doing and why.

Be mindful and self aware. Be present when you are with your child. Watch your own thoughts, words, and actions. Speak and act consciously. Notice your tone of voice, your words, your body movements. Avoid judging yourself. Kindly allow yourself to gradually learn mindfulness. It takes practice!

Critique your own parenting without lingering on harsh criticism or guilt. Consider your strengths and weaknesses. What would you like to do more of? What's working? What do you feel really good about that you do as a parent? On the flip side, what doesn't feel right? Which practices are difficult or not working? When are you less patient, understanding or mindful? When are you more controlling or harsh? Take a good look and decide what you can or are willing to change. But don't berate yourself. The guilt will tell you what you really want to change, but change will happen more easily when you let go of it. Focus on solutions and acceptance.

Search for the roots of your own parenting practices. Are your parenting  behaviors, expectations, and rules in line with who you truly are and what you believe? Or did you pick them up from your own parents or cultural messages, even though they don't necessarily fit into your value system?  Do you react to your child(ren) or respond?

As Dr. Markham from Aha!Parenting puts it, the buttons that your kids push were installed in your own childhood. Something that sets you off may have no effect on the next mama. Often, your reactions have less to do with your child's 'annoying' behavior and more to do with how you may have been treated as child. Get -- and keep -- in touch with that inner child, help her heal, and give her the parenting she and your child deserve. Then, you can decide which practices you'd like to keep and which you can do without.

Avoid rationalizing a behavior or practice that feels wrong. If you've done something (or want to do something) that doesn't feel right, notice that unsettling sensation, however unwelcome it is.  There may be an urge to rationalize your own behavior in order to justify it or to avoid guilt and deep-seated emotions. Don't. It's OK to make mistakes (really it IS!), but the path to change will evade you if you convince yourself they aren't mistakes. Instead of rationalizing, accept yourself. Let go of the guilt. Love yourself unconditionally.

"Be honest with yourself and your motives" (Unconditional Parenting, p.121) Being reflective is also a way of being candid. The more you are willing to face yourself and be sincere about your own parenting choices, the easier it will be to honestly express unconditional love to your child.

For some great ideas and inspiration on becoming more reflective, check out:

What does being reflective mean to you? Are there particular aspects of self-reflection that resonate for you? Go ahead....leave a comment and share your thoughts. I'd love to hear from you! 
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