It all began when I knit my 14 year old daughter a sweater. She’d accompanied me to the store to choose a soft, washable yarn in a neutral color she’d actually wear. During Covid I’ve picked up knitting again and found a healthy distraction in searching for patterns and scrumptious yarns. Because my grandmother taught me to knit when I was young, knitting sent a gentle signal to my brain, “Everything’s okay.”
A couple of weeks ago when I completed the sweater, I laid it on her bed so she’d see it when she got home. I imagined she’d try it on and show me how it fit. Over the past month I’d measured the length of her arms, inquired about how cropped she’d like it as that’s the current fashion and worked to tailor it just for her.
Because she never mentioned the sweater, I checked in with her in the afternoon, “Did you see the sweater? Please try it on — I’d love to see how it fits.”
She answered, “Not right now.”
Later I asked her again and she explained that she’d already changed into her pj’s but that she’d do it the next time she got dressed. The next day I decided to mention it one last time. My heart felt heavy. I didn’t want to get entangled in a power struggle with her over the sweater I’d made for her because I adore her. Needless to say, I never saw it on her.
Part II – The Pile
My daughter had recently cleaned out her room, placing all outgrown and unwanted items into a huge bag in the hall. Beside the bag was a loose pile of papers with a blue glue gun resting on top.
After a few days of watching the pile collect dust, I took a closer look and saw under the glue gun a photo storybook I’d created and given to her for her birthday some years ago.
This project, with a closeup of her soft two year old face on the cover looked to have seen better days. I picked it up and brought it into her room asking, “What’s happened to this?” She confirmed that she’d found it spoiled, likely because last fall she’d placed a little pumpkin from our garden on top of it, in a drawer. The pumpkin decomposed over the course of months.
I felt an anger rise in me and said, ‘You clearly don’t care about it.”
She answered, “I do care.”
I said, “If you cared you’d have come to me when you found it and asked what we could do.” I swore, “Just f***ing get rid of it then, but don’t leave it on the floor for me to take care of.”
Heart pounding, I retreated to my bedroom across the hall where I stood motionless, a little shocked that I’d spoken to her so harshly. Being the youngest child she was adept at avoiding conflict.
For a split second I thought, I’m going to ignore her, give her the cold shoulder. A memory flashed from the recesses of my mind of my dad ignoring me for two weeks after his feelings had been hurt because I’d been spending weekends at my friend Sharon’s house. I can remember him scolding me as we stood inside our front door, “You care more about her family than you do your own!” I was in 5th grade at the time and it was two weeks before he looked at or spoke to me again.
I decided I wasn’t going to ignore her, even though to hurt her back felt like the “natural” response.
Returning to her room, disintegrating storybook in hand I said, “I realize the reason I’m so upset is that my feelings are hurt. It’s becoming clear to me that you don’t care about things I’ve made for you.”
I was of course thinking about the unadorned sweater.
I repeated myself, “It’s becoming clear to me, and I’m speaking to myself now, that I need to focus less on you and more on myself.”
I felt my voice catch and tears well in my eyes.
Unlike 8 years ago, this time she said nothing. Through the uncared for storybook and forgotten sweater I was getting a message loud and clear, “Mom, get a life. While I need you to be there for me, I don’t need you the same way I used to and I’m not going to act in ways to please you. You haven’t trained me to take care of you and I’m not going to start now. My main concern right now is my friends and all the changes I’m going through. You can’t use me to feel good about yourself.”
I felt grounded when I turned to leave her room, closing the door quietly behind me.
I haven’t figured it all out yet.
It felt valuable to write about and share with you because it’s not spit spat all settled in me and tied up with a bow and maybe you’re having your own messy parenting moments. I’m sitting with a real life collision between my daughter’s age appropriate growth and what I’m gently naming my age appropriate stuckness, a slice of difficult wisdom.
It’s not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it, myself.
If you’re like me, you’re struggling right now to wrap your head around all that’s been going on in the world.
I don’t pretend to have the answers, but from my perspective it seems like disconnection is at the root of so much of the insanity and violence.
I believe that deepening and strengthening our connections — to each other, to the planet, to our families — is our path to healing.
It might seem simplistic, but I’m convinced that our collective well being and health begins with the health of our families.
And where better to start than with the holidays?
We all crave warm, loving connections with our family and children, this time of year more than ever. Bring on the dark storm so that we can be snug together, play a game, listen to music, and share a meal.
And while there may be heated moments of competition or disagreement, it’s all good because we’re together, making time for each other.
The following gift ideas may help you with this goal.
The list is organized into four categories:
Dinner Bell. This is so simple yet almost daily I’m reminded of the power of our dinner bell. Whether I make breakfast, a snack, lunch on the weekends, or dinner, I often notice a wee bit of tension building when my child isn’t eagerly awaiting my labor of love. Then I see the bell and it dawns on me: “Just ring the bell.” I can feel my expectations melting away with that simple action. Message delivered. I can breath and move on.
Mobilhome. Our devices get in the way of real connection. The Mobilhome is a super cool way to — without making a stink — let your friends and family know that when socializing in your home, you encourage a device free zone. By establishing a place for everyone’s phones, you’re acknowledging the value of spending undistracted time together. The Mobilhome is an original artisan project created by Yvonne O’Hare (we met at a writing workshop). When ordering one, use the code “holiday2015” until December 15 for an extra 10% discount with free shipping. If it’s out of your price range simply find a basket for phones to call home.
“Passing the Squeeze,” a ritual shared by my friend Catherine, will help you slow down and mindfully connect before meal time. You begin each family lunch or dinner with “passing the squeeze.” Everyone holds hands (people may choose to close their eyes if they wish). The person who cooked starts a hand squeeze in one direction and it gets passed around. When the squeeze gets back to the person who started it, she squeezes hands in both directions and then everyone squeezes hands. For extra credit meditation kudos, the person who cooked rings a meditation chime. Everyone listens for as long as possible before picking up cutlery and chowing down (I’ll let you know how that goes over at our house:).
Build closeness by creating a sense of significance and belonging for all.
Give children and their parents a place and time to practice leadership, responsibility, problem solving, empathy and love.
Establish a forum for communication that becomes increasingly significant as children mature.
Once you begin to hold family meetings you’ll experience even more tangible and intangible benefits for your family!
Join my list to download: Unlock the Power of Family Meetings: Your Free 7-Step Guide.
Qwirkle. I love this game! Using six unique colors and shapes your mind is challenged to find configurations that conform to the rules (no repeating) and give you the most points. It takes 30 – 60 minutes to play depending on how much conversation and silliness you enjoy. Recommended for ages 6 and up.
Sorry. Be sure to get the original version. What can I say? This is simple and fun. My son warned me against recommending Sorry because he said it gets people too riled up 🙂 That said, it’s most fun when everyone gets invested, regardless if you’re 7 or 70! It’s equal parts skill and luck… maybe more luck. Old school fun!
Hunt the Thimble. My friend Anna loves to play this one on Sunday evenings after their family dinner at her mother in-law’s house. Try it when you’ve got friends over or with the extended family. All ages! Here’re the steps to play:
Find a thimble
Choose someone to be “it”
Tell that person to leave the room
Choose another person to be the hider
Call in the seeker to start looking (it should be hidden within eyesight, not under or in anything)
The whole group can yell out “colder!”…”warmer…” Until the thimble is discovered.
Let the last hider now become the seeker, and so forth until someone rings the dinner bell 😉
Side note to parents of teens… it’s more important than ever to make the time to play games and simply find ways to be together. Don’t rely on your kids to come to you and ask for this time — if they do, consider yourself lucky! When your teen resists family time, I suggest persistence. Let them know that being with them is important to you. Here are general tips from Aha! Parenting for keeping connected to your teen.
My grandfather used to read stories aloud and even when I was too young to understand the content, I have warm memories of sitting on the floor next to him as he read while the entire family listened. The tone of his voice and response of those listening was enough for me. Here are some of my favorites to read to my children.
All About Alfie by Shirley Hughes. I received this as a gift when my second son was born (thanks Mark and Kelly). I love these old school stories, set in London, about Alfie and his little sister Annie Rose. For ages 3+.
Belinda lived in a little white house, with a little black kitten and a little gray mouse, and a little yellow dog and a little red wagon, and a realio, trulio little pet dragon…. Custard the dragon had big sharp teeth, and spikes on top of him and scales underneath, mouth like a fireplace, chimney for a nose, and realio, trulio daggers on his toes.
Sarah’s Unicorn by Bruce Coville. While this is great for early readers, I read it over and over to my children when they were 4 to 8 years old. We’re talking pages falling out. It was the hands down favorite for my son who struggled most with reading and finding interest in books. It’s out of print but you can find it used.
Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and Trumpet and the Swanby E.B. White. What I love about E.B. White is his spaciousness – these stories are told at a human pace and scale. And what could be better than a mouse and a pig for main characters. The Trumpet and the Swan was harder for my daughter to relate to… maybe because she’d been immersed in the Harry Potter series and the change of pace was too dramatic? For ages 6+.
The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown. This one is for YOU to bolster your connection with yourself!! I come back to this book again and again as I find its message continually challenging and interesting. There are 10 guideposts for living our most excellent imperfect life. Take this a step further by gathering your most curious friends, and meet monthly to explore each guidepost.
Cultivate those activities that feed your connection to self and others.
Relax and be present. That’s what your kids want from you more than anything.
To increase the likelihood that you can relax and slow down, focus on activities like these:
Take a bath
Exercise, take walks
Cook or take out foods that make you feel good
Make time to read a good book
Go to bed early
Do something creative
In general, try to keep it simple, focus on the inside, notice the hilarity and joy of spending time with kids… generally BE KIND TO YOURSELF. That’s it.
Practice Scripts for Parents: So you can stop unwittingly contributing to your children’s fighting
In Part One we looked at the tremendous learning that results from sibling relationships.
In Part Two we looked at the importance of staying out of your kids’ fights after establishing — and repeatedly reminding kids of — family rules and expectations. (Here’s the index with all of the resources.)
Here in Part Three we’ll explore what you do, unintentionally, to increase sibling acrimony and what you can specifically, say or do instead.
Scenario 1: You’re at a work meeting with your colleague (Joe) and your boss (Big Cheese). You and Joe present what you’ve been working on for the last month at which time Big Cheese looks Joe in the eye and says, “Joe what you’ve done here is outstanding work— you’re exceptional, you really are.”
Be with that. What runs through your mind, your heart?
Scenario 2: You come home after what’s been a bad day and share with your spouse what happened at work, “I just finished this huge project. Joe and I presented it to the Big Cheese, and well, you had to be there, but I felt really unappreciated. It made me feel like crap actually. I put so much of myself into that project, but he didn’t recognize me at all.”
Then your spouse replies, “You know you make a difference — the work couldn’t have been done without you. You need to remember you’re good enough whether someone tells you or not.”
Be with that. What runs through your mind, your heart?
While these are adult scenarios, what they illustrate are common mistakes we make with our children. Sometimes, daily.
How did you feel when you imagined yourself in the scenario?
In parenting class we role-play a parent praising one child but not the other. The volunteer playing the sibling not receiving praise — without exception — feels badly about themselves and usually resentful of their praise worthy sibling.
The un-praised sibling goes on to assume that the accolades lavished on sister or brother mean they’re destined to fall short… big time. Right or wrong this is a predictable human response.
In scenario 2, I’ve put the spotlight on how the denial of feelings, while well intentioned (like praise), is in fact discouraging because it communicates that we’re wrong when what we crave is to feel understood.
Below are four parent behaviors that hurt sibling relationships, followed specific examples of what they sound like and what you could say instead.
PRAISE ➜ ENCOURAGE
Wow — you’re the fastest swimmer out there! ➜ I love to watch you swim!
You’re such a good boy! ➜I appreciate your help, you made my day easier.
With more work, you’ll get it right. ➜ Look how far you’ve come, you can do it.
DENY FEELINGS ➜ ACKNOWLEDGE FEELINGS
Just get along — she’s your sister! ➜ It sounds like you’re feeling really sad and hurt.
Don’t say you hate your brother — that’s not nice. ➜It looks like you guys aren’t getting along right now and could use some time away from each other.
COMPARISON ➜ DESCRIBE BEHAVIOR (put kids in the same boat)
Why can’t you just be nice like your sister!? ➜ I can see you’re really cranky right now… come find me when you decide you’re ready to talk.
Why do you always make things so difficult? ➜ Kids, I have faith that the two of you can work this out together. Come find me if you need help.
LABEL ➜ DESCRIBE WHAT YOU SEE, FEEL OR THE PROBLEM
You’re the family artist. ➜ You really love to create!
Why are you always such a bully? ➜ I see that the blocks are all over the floor, what can you do to help the situation?
I can’t take it — you’re such a slob! ➜ Milk is all over the floor — what do you need to clean it up?
When spelled out like this, it’s crystal clear to me that [tweetthis] conscious parenting is a practice, not the default for any of us.[/tweetthis]
So it’s time to practice!
I know how hard it is so I created this Script to make it a bit easier.
Download it — print the pages you find helpful and PRACTICE.
We want our kids to be happy and feel good about themselves — knowing they’re struggling can feel unbearable.
Today’s post is about how to deal with your emotions around your child’s disappointment — a question that Michelle so eloquently asked last time. Here’s my own poignant parenting story….
Years ago when my son, I’ll call him Sunny, was 11 or 12, baseball season had ended and he wanted, with all his heart, to make the all-star team so that he could continue to play. He’d been chosen in years past but knew it was competitive. Being Sunny, he was optimistic and it was clear that playing more baseball was the most important thing in the world to him — hands down. A perfect recipe for parental anxiety.
Each day he’d come home and ask, mom, did the coach call? A look of hopeful anticipation in his eyes.
My heart broke as I had to tell him, 3 or 4 days in a row that no one had called. Silence. Are you sure? Ouch.
Sunny was the kid who went through life, like a duck, letting harsh things that happened to him roll right off. So when he uncharacteristically invested himself in this outcome, it was all the more painful to witness.
At the time I knew that a rescue attempt was ill advised. I felt helpless and didn’t know what to do. While it sounds like a minor letdown now, this disappointment was HUGE in his life, and I was at a loss for how to support him.
Looking back I think his dad or I could have shared our own painful experience if only to join him in that dark space.
I doubt it would have made him feel better but company always helps.
As the parent, I needed to also take a stance that would help me better cope with the urge to jump in and make things better.
As a coach, I often help clients find alternate points of view on an area of their life where they feel stuck.
Below is an example of different perspectives you can step into to shift YOUR experience when your child goes through their inevitable disappointments.
GRITTY VIEW: The research is clear that children who’re able to persevere through trials and tribulations have an essential characteristic for success – grit.
While they’ll remember epic disappointments, if they’re able to weather them with a sense of grounded security, your kids will more likely learn to forge ahead, a quality that will undoubtedly serve them well in life.
Parental fixing (or on the flip-side, shaming) blocks your child from learning this valuable lesson. Fixing and shaming, while they look different, convey the same message to your kid — I don’t believe in you.
[tweetthis hidden_hashtags=”#parenting”]Don’t treat your son like a prince unless his father’s the King, if you do, life will be a rude awakening.[/tweetthis]
I don’t remember where I heard this but I love its clear wisdom.
POETIC VIEW:“For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain.” ―Henry W. Longfellow
Broadening your perspective through poetry and philosophy can be just the tonic you need to pull you out of the painful, cramped feeling of “not enough” that tends to overwhelm you when your child feels badly.
MINDFUL VIEW: Practicing mindfulness strengthens your ability to have boundaries.
The Quick Calm Technique created by Andy Smithson of truparenting.net is a tool that when practiced can move you from heated to less heated 🙂
Here it is in a nutshell:
Click above to learn more about the entire Quick Calm Toolkit
Use this technique to bring yourself down from anger, anxiety, sadness… these steps enable you to respond more proactively — more mindfully — to any situation you find yourself caught up in. You have power over how you feel.
PASSIONATE VIEW: When you take time to nurture your own passions, you get less tied up in knots about the minutiae of your child’s life. This helps you avoid the unwitting substitution of your child’s experiences for your own.
Here are some examples of activities (outside of work and parenting) that parents have shared with me that bring meaning and passion to their lives:
join an adult sports team
volunteer in an underserved school
write a blog or novel
coach a team (outside of your child’s)
volunteer at a hospital
train for a triathlon
If you don’t want to do it for yourself, then you’ve got to do it for the sake of your kid. Only when you nourish yourself and cultivate your own interests will your child see a way to do this for herself.
MY VIEW: One of the gifts I’ve found through using Positive Discipline is a path to keep things simple.
If I’m bending over backward to make something happen for my kid, I hear that voice inside warning me something’s off or as Michelle put it — “THAT’s INSANITY — DON’T DO IT!”
Still the impulse and overwhelming sadness remains.
Don’t push it away. Rather, let yourself feel sad and have a chance to heal from your own old wound. When you get triggered by your child’s disappointments — take that step back from your kid and look inside — work on your own or with a therapist to experience your not so buried feelings so that you can move on rather than continuing to stuff it down or overreact to events in your child’s life. Be real and feel your feelings.
When you feel stuck in your own or your child’s disappointment, try one of these perspectives or cultivate a view of your own. Standing in a different place could be just the reset you need to reorient yourself and move forward in the direction you want to go.
If you haven’t already done so, join me on this journey!
Until recently I thought I was really good at empathy. This was something I didn’t need to work at – heck, it came naturally! If someone was feeling pain, I was right there with them. My challenge as a young woman working in social work was to turn down my empathy so that I could be of use and make it through the day.
What I’ve become aware of through understanding and playing around with Brené Browns explanation of empathy, is that for me to be genuinely empathetic, particularly with those I’m closest to, I need to be conscious and act against my “natural” reaction to their pain.
Here’s a story from last week to illustrate. My daughter – singing bird – has been through a rough patch this fall which began with her breaking her arm. She got a cast and after two days of the weepies, was up and running. Then a week or so later I got a call from her school informing me she’d taken a bad fall, her body colliding with the concrete playground. Singing bird doesn’t cry easily so when I arrived at the school office to find her in a wimpering ball, I knew it was bad.
What I’d advise a client or friend to do in this situation:When you get your daughter home, ice pack in hand, find a quiet comfortable place where you can simply be together. Create a nest of coziness. Give your child a chance to feel all that she’s been holding in at school, her fear, her pain, her embarrassment…. Without expectations simply spend time with her. By giving her a chance to experience her emotions you’re allowing an important opportunity for her to heal, emotionally and physically. What you’ll be providing is a gift because so often we aren’t permitted our feelings. We’re told, through words and/or actions, to act appropriately. Translation: don’t express feelings of sadness, anger, disappointment, jealousy and even pain.
What I did: When we got home, I helped her out of the car and made her comfy on the couch. I got an ice pack for her head, band aides for her hip, some pain medication and a tasty melt in your mouth homeopathic remedy too. To make sure all of her senses were “soothed”, I found a television show for her to watch to further distract her from her feelings – I mean to make her feel better – heck isn’t it the same thing?
Even as I write this I’m cringing. I missed a rich opportunity to connect with her and more importantly to simply be with her – keep her company through a hard and healing time. Empathy. I avoided it. No doubt, it felt instinctual to go into fix it mode – to make her all better – to put the pain behind her.
Later that afternoon it dawned on me what I’d done. I called my sister and described the incident and how I’d missed a real opportunity for empathy. She thanked me because she was taking her daughter to the dentist for multiple tooth extraction the next day and was encouraged by the reminder.
We don’t have to fix pain or make it go away and it’s actually better if we can find a place within ourselves that allows us to be present.
Wouldn’t it be great to have a “before” and “after” parenting show?
Last month I traveled on swanky Virgin America and enjoyed the guilty pleasure of watching “What Not to Wear”. Are you like me? Loving the transformation of the frumpy working gal into the self-confident put together chick? (Hint: I’m a great candidate – waiting to be nominated).
I’m drawn to the details of improvement – the way a crowded, gloomy living room, rearranged with better light, pillows, and plants becomes a welcoming space for activity and life. Powerful.
Let’s bring this analogy home to my role as parent. Here’s a situation I’m sure you’ll relate to. Notice the before and after scenes – I’m the same, loving mom in each. The difference is, in the second scene, I have a deeper understanding of Positive Discipline and with a few tweaks, the interaction with my daughter is transformed at the core.
The scene: I’m putting my 6 year-old, S, to bed and have just finished reading her a bedtime story.
S: Mom, I’m afraid.
Me: What are you afraid of? (a bit annoyed and really thinking “what could you possibly be afraid of?!”)
S: I’m scared to go to bed.
Me: There’s nothing to be scared of – you’re in your cozy bed and your family is home with you. (My annoyance is building.)
S: I’m still afraid.
Me: That’s silly cause you are perfectly safe. (I’m determined to leave and stop this conversation.)
As I leave the room a jumble of thoughts go through my mind:
What have I done to make her so insecure?
What’s wrong with her that she can’t simply go to sleep?
What’s her fear going to become as she gets older?
It’s simple, she hasn’t had enough hardship in her life – if she’d had more trials, like me, then she’d know what fear really is!
S: I’m afraid to go to sleep. I’m afraid of all the normal stuff that people are afraid of.
Me: Where do you feel that in your body?
S: My heart. It’s like I have butterflies fluttering in my heart and frogs jumping in my stomach.
Me: Oh, that doesn’t sound good. (I place my hand on her heart).
S: Do you ever get scared?
Me: Yes. Remember last week when we were on the airplane and it was really bumpy and you were laughing and whooping it up? I was really afraid – I didn’t like how that felt AT ALL.
S: I was scared too but it was also fun and funny.
Me: People get scared of different things – I LOVE GOING TO BED.
I left the room, my daughter fell asleep. I wasn’t worried about her future. I felt close and connected to her.
Let’s look at some of the obvious differences in how I felt and acted in the two scenes.
Stuck in limited “role” of mom
Focus on how I’ve failed as a mom
Interested in our shared human experience
Willing to share my vulnerability
In the present
Faith in my daughter to figure it out
While there’s no perfect way to parent, we can make small, subtle shifts that bring in the light to reveal our higher self. When we allow this to happen, we truly sparkle. The end result? An intimate moment of precious connection with our child. There’s nothing more beautiful than that.
We have much to learn from each other.
In the comments below share what motivates you to go from scene 1 to 2? What helps you sparkle?
Next time you’re in that #1 scenario, stop, breath, connect, wait. Let us know what happens.