On motivation and ego

Photo courtesy of flickr user JasonUnbound

Photo courtesy of flickr user JasonUnbound

Yesterday I met with two moms who are going through the process of becoming Attachment Parenting International leaders and will soon be co-leading the Skylands API New Jersey group with me. (Hooray!!) We spent a lovely couple of hours at the county library chatting about all things AP while three of the kids played and the infant slept.

Together we laughed about how we give babies voices, like when he is crying and we try this and that and the other thing and finally get the crying to stop, and we say something like, “Finally! I thought you’d never figure it out! Just because you’re cold when it’s 75 degrees doesn’t mean I need to be dressed like an Inuit!” We mused about whether or not there is a word for that.

If anthropomorphism is attributing human characteristics to a non-human animal or entity, what is the term for an adult putting words into a baby’s mouth?

Because I have nothing better to do, or because the nerd in me loves an entomological challenge, I gave this a fair amount of thought. I think the term would be pedomorphism, or the retention by an adult of juvenile characteristics. But I’m open to suggestion.

So then I started to think, what would the word be for describing the reverse situation, attributing adult characteristics or motivations to a child? After all, it happens all the time so we really should have a word for it. A baby cries and we describe her as being impatient. A toddler has a tantrum and we describe him as manipulative. A preschooler wants to wear a bathing suit to school in February and we describe her as stubborn. The second we sit down to read our child asks for a snack and we describe him as inconsiderate.

Of course, none of these things is true. They are simply being children, driven by ego.

But we tell ourselves these stories, and it puts distance between us and our children. We interpret their age-appropriate behavior through the lens of adult emotions and motivations, and we get angry and frustrated. That’s not to say that we aren’t responsible to teach them consideration, honesty, patience and flexibility. Of course we introduce these characteristics in an appropriate way over time so that eventually they grow to be adults who are kind and pleasant to be around. But words like “manipulative” and “inconsiderate” are loaded, and they make a lot of assumptions.

Children are simply trying to get their needs met. Nothing more, nothing less.*

I wonder what would happen if, when we see these judgements arise, we do a little rephrasing. Instead of “She is being manipulative”, we tell ourselves “I feel manipulated.” What is that about for me? What is the story? Maybe I am thinking something like, “She doesn’t trust me to meet her needs, and that’s why she is manipulating me instead of being honest. I’m a bad mother.” Or maybe it’s something like, “She does not care about me at all. I do so much for her, and all she cares about is what she wants.” I could be, “Everything has to be a struggle with her all the time. Why can’t she just take no for an answer?”

Try it, and let me know how it goes.

*Of course, this is true of everyone! But ideally with age comes maturity and consideration….

What we’re reading: The Forgiveness Garden

There is a hard law…When an injury is done to us, we never recover until we forgive. ~Alan Paton

forgivenessgardenOn a recent trip to the library one of the books on display was The Forgiveness Garden by Lauren Thompson, illustrated by Christy Hale.  I don’t know how the librarians choose which books to put on display, as they rarely seem related to the season or even to each other.  In the adult stacks, I tend to look at all the titles on the shelves, but in the children’s section I almost always choose from the books on display.  I don’t know if the volume of picture books is too overwhelming or if the spines are too small to read, but unless I am doing research or looking for something specific I simply don’t bother.

While the cover art wasn’t that enticing for me, I couldn’t pass up a book with that title.  After a quick look, I wasn’t planning to read the book to my kids because it seemed more violent than what I would ordinarily choose for them, especially as a bedtime story.  But I decided to go for it, and I’m glad I did.

The Forgiveness Garden is the story of two feuding families.  During one of their disputes, a boy threw a rock and hit a girl from the other family, and tempers flared.

But when presented with the opportunity for revenge, she chose empathy and forgiveness.  

She encouraged her attacker to join her in planting a garden for both families to enjoy and remind them of their shared humanity.

The book was inspired by two gardens of forgiveness, one in Beirut Lebanon and one at Ground Zero in New York City.  A movement towards planting these gardens has sprung up, and there are now over a dozen such gardens around the world.  The organization spearheading this effort, Forgive to Give, describes its mission:

“to create a world beyond violence, with gardens as venues for conflict transformation and healing in communities around the world as well as vehicles through which [they] raise awareness about the power of forgiveness.”

I am intrigued by the idea of creating a Virtual Garden of Forgiveness.  It would be amazing to have an accessible and safe online space where people could explore their wounding and work through their struggles.  Another project for another day…..

Any web developers out there interested in working on something like this?

1MM4NV

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Elvert Barnes

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Elvert Barnes

In the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings nearly two months ago, we are still in shock and looking for answers.  Who is at fault?  Parents?  The mental health system?  Weak gun control laws?  What can we do to prevent something like this from happening again?

Naturally, the issues of gun control and gun violence is front and center in the conversation.  The organization One Million Moms for Gun Control has gained huge popularity, and based on the numbers turning out at rallies and marches across the country, their message has struck a chord.  I’ve been watching the news of their influence and growth with great interest.  What can I say?

I’m a sucker for stories about moms on a mission making waves.

I can’t say that I am in favor of gun ownership.  I can’t fathom any legitimate reasons for a civilian to possess an assault rifle.  I would not knowingly allow my children to play in a home where there are guns.  I just don’t get the fun in shooting another living thing.  I don’t like it when Harry pretends to use a gun (though the fact that he continues to do so despite the decidedly anti-firearm culture in our home is a topic for another post, or maybe a book….)

I understand the immense appeal of the idea that passing laws regulating gun ownership would make our children safer.

 I wish it were so easy, except guns aren’t the problem and stricter gun control laws aren’t the solution.  As they say, guns don’t kill people, people kill people.  Admittedly, a gun makes the difference between killing one or two people and killing 28, but people have been committing murder since time immemorial with fists, rocks, knives, fire, water, and all sorts of other implements.

Improving the mental health system in our country gets much closer to the heart of the issue.    Certainly, efforts to keep guns away from clearly unstable people couldn’t hurt.  However, the vast majority of gun crimes are not committed by people who would be identified as mentally ill, never mind the hundreds of accidental gun deaths that occur in the US each year.

Where does that leave us?  Do we just sit back and wait for another Sandy Hook, Jonesboro, Virginia Tech or Columbine?

Obviously not.  But the question begs to be asked:

What is up with Americans and their guns?

Our per capita gun ownership almost double that of the next country.  Americans own almost six times as many guns as Indians (second on the list of total civilian gun ownership), despite the fact that the Indian population is nearly four times that of the US.  A look at the twenty-five nations with the highest gun violence rates shows the United States right up there with South Africa, El Salvador and Albania.

In a 2005 Gallup Poll, 67% of gun owners cited self-defense as their motivation.  Granted, people gave multiple reasons and there was some overlap.  But seriously – 35 million Americans trust their neighbors that little?  Is it just me, or is that outrageous?

Why are we so afraid of each other?

Focusing on gun control is like giving someone with a broken leg an Advil.  It might help a bit, but it doesn’t even begin to address the real problem, and it creates yet another division between right and left, red and blue.  So I propose a new mother’s movement:  ONE MILLION MOMS FOR NON-VIOLENCE.  Instead of lobbying our representatives for new legislation, we go into our homes, our schools, and our communities and treat each other with love and respect.

Instead of fear and fighting, we can choose trust and love.  

We can all commit to finding solutions to our problems that may not be ideal, but that respect everyone’s needs.  This will not be easy.  We do not live in a culture of cooperation.  Maybe it’s the spirit of rugged American individualism, but most of us operate from a worldview of scarcity and competition.  But we need to recognize that this is a choice we make, and we can make another choice.

Who is with me?

My personal war on “Attachment Parenting”

Image courtesy of Flickr user christyscherrer

Image courtesy of Flickr user christyscherrer

I am an Attachment Parenting International leader.  I’ve read the books.  I’ve studied the research.  I believe wholeheartedly in Bowlby’s theory that a baby human needs to have her primary attachment figure(s) nearby in order to ensure survival, and the extent to which she is able to accomplish this goal defines, to a large degree, her ability to have stable relationships throughout her lifetime.

I just don’t like the term “Attachment Parenting”.

Only recently did I figure out why it bugs me so much.  One clue came from a recent article in the Huffington Post, “Why I Am a Detachment Parent”.  While the article is riddled with hyperbole, the description of attachment parenting as “masochism” really struck me.

I have found AP to be the easy way.  Who wants to be tied down to the house during nap time every day when your kid could just sleep in a wrap while you go about your business?  Why deal with a baby screaming for a lost pacifier when you could pop in a boob?  If some parents are over the top, that is less about Attachment Parenting and more about the parent.  AP is about meeting the needs of all family members – including, but not limited to, the children.  Parents’ needs are important too, they are just not more important than the needs of the child.  I am baffled by the proud assertion of parental detachment.

It all became clear to me when I read a quote from the Dalai Lama:

“Attachment is the origin, the root of suffering; hence it is the cause of suffering.”

When most people hear the word “attachment”, they don’t think of Attachment Theory.  Most people  I’ve met, even those who identify themselves as AP,  have no idea what that is.  “Attachment” connotes codependency, clinging, smothering, and that is a big turnoff for many people.

But there is a third choice in between attachment and detachment, and that is equanimity.

I think it’s obvious that all healthy parent-child relationships involve some degree of attachment.  Otherwise, why bother?  But instead of being attached to a particular outcome for the child or the relationship, we accept what is true now for this child in this place and time.  I want certain things for my children but I work to accept, to the best of my deeply flawed ability, that they are their own people with their own lives to live.  I hope to have close relationships with them as adults, but all I can do for them is offer them my unconditional love and presence and tell them that they are fundamentally valued and cherished, and then let go.

When Bess was a baby, she wanted me and only me all the time.  She would not take a bottle, she would not sleep for more than 90 minutes at a stretch, and she cried frequently at high volume.

Yes, I lost sleep.  Yes, it was outrageously stressful.  But you know what?  It passed.

Now we have a great relationship where she is willing to talk to me, and I am able to help her.  (We shall see what happens during the teen years…)  She trusts that I am there for her even when the timing is inconvenient or she has ugly things to say. Would we have had the same kind of relationship if I were a 7 am to 7 pm parent?  Maybe, but I doubt it.  And Harry, who was parented the same way, is totally different.  It’s just the way they came into this world.

This begs the question: if not “Attachment Parenting”, then what?

Equanimous Parenting is really hard to spell.  Respectful Parenting?  Peaceful Parenting?  They’ve been used.  Mindful Parenting?  I think Humane Parenting comes close.

I’m currently leaning toward “Nonviolent Parenting”.

I like “Nonviolent Parenting” because it goes so much deeper and speaks to a fundamental starting point of a deep and abiding love for all beings without judgement.

Do you have a good alternative to the term “Attachment Parenting”?  Do you think we need one?

You are already perfect

Photo courtesy of Flickr user AlicePopkorn

Photo courtesy of Flickr user AlicePopkorn

During last week’s dharma talk, the sensei at the zendo I have been attending shared a quote.  I wish I could remember it exactly, but it was something like, “We do not sit zazen to attain enlightenment.  We sit zazen to express our innate enlightenment.”  In other words, the purpose of sitting zazen is simply to discover the perfection, the spark of wisdom and compassion, that is already within all of us.

You know how sometimes words come together in just the right way, so that something you’ve heard a million times suddenly makes sense?  This was one of those moments.

I grew up in the Lutheran church, and I’m sure it’s no different from other Christian traditions in that it teaches Original Sin. We are born sinners and we need to work to overcome our sinful nature.  In the words of Martin Luther himself:

But what, then, is original sin? According to the Apostle it is not only the lack of a good quality in the will, nor merely the loss of man’s righteousness and ability. It is rather the loss of all his powers of body and soul, of his whole outward and inward perfections. In addition to this, it is his inclination to all that is evil, his aversion against that which is good, his antipathy against light and wisdom, his love for error and darkness, his flight from and his loathing of good works, and his seeking after that which is sinful.

Yikes!

But what if we replaced Original Sin with Innate Perfection?  What if we are actually good people trying to find ways to express our goodness?  How would it change the way we see ourselves, the way we see other people, the way we relate to each other, the way we operate in the world?  How would it change the way we raise our children?  What if we saw our jobs as parents not to break our children of their tendency towards badness, but to nurture the expression of their inherent goodness?

It would be an interesting experiment to notice how often in one day we chose to operate from a different paradigm.  What would that kind of day look like?

  • When we get cut off in traffic, instead of thinking, “What a jerk!” we think, “Wow, that person is really in a hurry!  I hope everything is okay.”
  • When we feel taken for granted by our children, instead of thinking, “They don’t appreciate all the work I do for them!” we think, “I’m so glad that my kids feel like they can count on me to take care of them.  I guess I’m doing something right.”
  • When someone at work snaps at us for no reason, instead of getting defensive and snapping back, we say, “It seems like something is bothering you.  Do you want to talk?”
  • When we meet someone new and he starts listing his credentials and accomplishments, instead of thinking, “Egomaniac!” we think, “It sounds like he’s looking for some respect.”
  • When we are feeling manipulated by a friend, instead of thinking, “Does she think I don’t see what she’s doing?  I’m not an idiot!” we think, “It seems like she feels like she can’t trust me enough to be honest with me.  I wonder what that’s about for her.”
  • When someone bumps into us on the street, instead of thinking, “Hellooooo!  There are other people on this planet, you know!” we think, “Wow, it looks like she has a lot on her mind.”

Try it.  I dare you.  Take one day, and assume positive intent and inherent goodness in everyone you meet.  Let me know how it goes.

2013 – Bring It! and, Word of the Year

Image courtesy of Flickr user kaseycole

Image courtesy of Flickr user kaseycole

So, 12/21/12 has come and gone, and here we still are!  Phew!

These past few months have been tiring, complicated, sad, and full of opportunities for growth.  My energies have been focused on healing and introspection as we try as a family to find the new normal, over and over again.  We are still scrambling a bit to find our footing, but I think we are well on our way.

I am grateful for the arrival of 2013, and the new beginnings it represents.  I have never been one for resolutions, but this year I do feel that we are in the perfect place to push the reset button and make a fresh start.  The chaos of Hurricane Sandy and the holidays and the flu has passed, and we are finally settling back into a routine.

Last year, in lieu of a resolution I decided to pick a word of the year.  My inner geek loves the challenge of picking one word to embody my aspirations for the coming months.  Merriam-Webster picked two words for 2012 – “capitalism” and “socialism”; Oxford American Dictionary chose “gif” (pronounced “jif”, FYI); Dictionary.com chose “bluster”; and the American Dialect Society gave the honors to “hashtag”.  Personally, I don’t find any of these words particularly compelling, but whatever.

As for my personal Word of the Year for 2013:  NOW.  My challenge to myself is to cultivate mindfulness and presence – to be here now, to attend to what is true now.  Now.  And….now.

I am reading Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh, and in it he describes the nature of life as a Buddhist monastic: we sit, we walk, we eat.  But doesn’t everyone do those things?  Yes, says the Zen master, but when we sit we know we are sitting, when we walk we know we are walking, and when we eat we know we are eating.

How often do we perform a task while our minds are in another place altogether?  I know I’m not the only one who gets in the car and starts driving only to arrive at my destination with no recollection whatsoever of how I got there.  Instead of attending to what is in front of me, I’m worrying about the past (which I cannot change) or the future (which I cannot control).  And I miss a lot along the way, not to mention the fact that this is not the surest road to mood stability.

I’ve started meditating regularly, and while it is often a struggle to just keep my body on the cushion – never mind cultivating a still mind full of concentration and focus – I have definitely noticed that I am much calmer and more able to meet difficult people and situations with compassion, patience, and attention.  I am a better parent, a better friend, and an all-around better person when I can stop the monkey mind for a moment and just do what I need to be doing NOW, whether that be listening to a story my kids want to tell, having a productive conversation with someone at work, understanding what a friend needs from me, or even paying attention to what I’m putting into my body instead of just shoveling in whatever food is convenient at the time.

So there you have it.  What about you?  What is your resolution or word for the coming year?

Phew! It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?

Our focus this summer is on FAMILY FUN TIME!

My goodness!  It’s been so long….(I know you’re not supposed to call attention to the fact when you’ve been neglecting your blog, but I can’t help it!)

Things have been rough here.  This is one of those situations where I have to consider my daughter’s right to privacy, and so I can’t share too many details, but suffice to say she has struggled with the school year in general, and the ending of the school year in particular, and it has taken all my time and energy to keep the family afloat these past few months.  Now that school has ended, my attention and intention has shifted to creating a relaxing, fun, family-centric summer for us all.

I feel like I’ve not only been neglecting my blog, but also my efforts to record the goings-on in our family and in our lives.  So much has gone on, so much time has passed….and I won’t remember any of it, because I’m so focused on simply getting through the days!!!

I don’t know that much is going to change by way of my ability to take some concentrated time to myself to post here in the foreseeable future, but I do want to make an effort to document our summer.  I’ve decided that I am going to try to build a Summer Fun! plog, or Pinterest log – I don’t know if I’m coining the term, though I’d like to take credit for it.  I will make every effort to check in here, but in case I don’t, please follow me over at Pinterest and see what we are up to!

Scary moments in parenting

anaphylaxis in young children

Image courtesy of Flickr user Rolf Larsen

Hello all!  It’s been awhile…life has gotten crazy busy these last few weeks, but I’m looking forward to things slowing down a bit in the next week or so.

In the meantime, please check out my essay that was posted over at The Momoir Project:

[Bess] was playing with blocks on the living room floor while I loaded the dishwasher in the next room. Her piercing shriek brought me running. I found my daughter lying on the ground, face swollen beyond recognition, desperately clawing at her sausage tongue. With that inner calm that people find in moments like this, I picked up the phone. I dialed 911.

“What is your emergency?” I was the picture of composure.

“My daughter appears to be having an allergic reaction and is not breathing.”

Read the whole thing here.

Kids say the funniest things

kids say the funniest things

At a birthday party recently, Harry took a moment out of the action to pose for a photo op. He thinks he's awfully cute.

So busy!  We were in Washington, D.C. for almost a week, and work has been crazy, and Bess has been sick…and I’ve had no time to write!

And there’s so much I want to write about, too.  Our trip to D.C. provided much food for non-violent parenting thought, I’ve finished two books I want to review (both novels, unusual for me), there have been some interesting articles and blog posts that beg commentary, and I also read Seth Godin’s Stop Stealing Dreams (it’s free, you can download it in every format imaginable here).  Alas, all those things will have to wait for another day when I have some free moments to put together a coherent thought.

In the meantime…more funny things my kids have said recently:

  • John: “Harry, have you brushed your teeth yet?”  Harry: “I brush my teeth on Thursday, Tuesday and Sunday.  Is it one of those days?”
  • Harry has had a cold, and whenever he sneezes he runs around the house saying “Snot alert!” which sounds like “Snot aloit!”  And then, usually, he wipes his snot on my shirt.
  • The other day, my mom put Harry in the bath and then went home.  When I started taking the toys out of the bath so I could wash him and get him out of the tub, he reprimanded me: “No, Mommy!  Oma (pronounced Oooh-ma) put those in here for FUN!”
  • Bess wanted Harry to get out of her bed, so she said: “Here’s the rule, no boys allowed in my bed!”  I thought this to be a most excellent rule.  But then she amended it to “No boys allowed in my bed except Daddy and Evan”.  Evan is her friend across the street.  This is a significantly less excellent version of the rule.  I suspect that we will have to revisit that rule in approximately ten years, specifically as it relates to Evan.
  • Harry asked me the other day: “Remember when the police came and Bessie was a little bit arrested?”  I still have no idea what he was talking about; I do not recall Bess ever having been arrested, a little bit or otherwise.
  • Over the weekend, Harry was supremely uncooperative and I may have become uncharacteristically impatient at a few points in time.  After he lay in bed for an hour chatting me up and I was desperate to go to sleep, I may have asked him in a less-than-pleasant tone to stop talking and go to sleep; the next morning, when I needed to go to work and he refused to put his shoes on after approximately seven hundred billion requests, I may have made my request a bit louder.  So Sunday night he had one of his epic meltdowns, spearing me with a hockey stick and throwing toys at my head.  When I finally got him to calm down, he said: “Mommy, remember when you yelled at me last night?  I didn’t like that.  And remember when you yelled at me this morning?  I didn’t like that either.  Now that we’ve had this little talk, I feel much better and now I am sleepy.”  And he rolled over.  And he went to sleep.