From where are, and where we’ve come, we are all connected, here, on level ground.
I read an article today on Elephant Journal, of which I’ve linked below. The author is a mum of a young girl, who while endeavoring to support fellow parents and children, came into her own moment of awakening recently. This gained insight not only opened her eyes, but reaffirmed much of her intention to parent gently, with respect, and in reverence of the little person in her care.
It’s not too often I come across a truly kindred spirit in the world of parenting, living with children, nonviolence, empathic connection, etc., but when I do, the smile doesn’t leave my face for days. Today, Shonnie Lavender has brought me such a smile, and my gratitude is spilling out.
Recently, with my pregnancy, the continued work on the house renovations, travel, holiday events and activities, and the general sense of such “a lot”, we’ve had more of a challenge remaining connected than is the usual flow. Life is about change, movement, growth, expansion, and experiencing. Sometimes we get caught up in the whirlwind of all of it and forget to choose our actions and reactions thoughtfully and with intent to benefit. This article speaks to this for me, as well as reaffirms the beauty and value of revering our little ones, and their incredible journey of childhood.
“Mentally, it’s much easier to parent by merely replicating what we experienced as children. It’s what we know and it comes “naturally” to us. But I’m not content to do things because they’re easy. I intend to build a relationship that is mutually-respectful, no matter what. A year after I first discovered my habit of usurping my daughter’s power, my belief in my own superiority still shows up on occasion. Whenever I notice that I’ve treated my daughter’s authoritative voice as less valid than my own, I look for ways to restore the balance of power in our relationship.
When I wrote vows to my daughter a few weeks after she was born, I promised to take a conscious path as her mother. I committed to do what I could to allow her to stay in touch with her true self, to trust herself and to live as she was meant to live, not just the way I thought she should live.”
I have an issue with Barbie. Now, if we manufactured barbies that looked like actual humans, of all different shapes and sizes, I’d be much more interested in my daughter having them to play with. There was a time in my childhood when, in my innocence, I thought surely I’d grow up to look just like one of my favorite Barbies, and that I’d find a man to connect with that looked just like Ken. My daughter has exactly three barbie like dolls: Merida (Brave), Tiana (Frog), and Anna (Frozen). The bodies are all the same, though at least skin and hair and eyes are different. I know one can order custom poured dolls from Jakks, but has anyone found a source out there for male and female human replicas that we could provide for her, as she seems interested lately.
Delving deeper… the logic behind my rant and search
As I matured, I realized that my preference for the male physique sort of wandered a bit from the proverbial Ken, but somewhere deep in there, I still thought I should look like Barbie. At 12 years old, I was 86lbs and 4’11” and was convinced I’d shoot up a foot (or almost) and somehow only gain 15-20lbs, while developing bouncing, softball sized breasts, not developing an ass, and somehow my powerful soccer legs would suddenly resemble pencils. At 13, I increased my height to 5’1″ and instead of gaining that 15-20lbs, puberty hit and well, I gained 40.. putting me at 125-135lbs at 5’1″. I wasn’t fat, my muscles grew with me, as did my ass, but the breasts, not so much. BUT I FELT FAT, and as I HAD AN ASS, was told by the only boy I thought I wanted anything to do with (a fellow soccer fiend), that my ass was fat. Oh, if only he’d kept his mouth shut, the naive idiot. Who knows, maybe after growing up, he still prefers an ass made of only bone – to each their own I guess.
I grew a lot when I was pregnant, out and up. I’m 5’3″ish now, and I don’t know what I weigh anymore because it changes so often that I only pay attention if I start to feel sluggish for days at a time. I imagine I’m somewhere around 120lbs, which according to the THEY, qualifies me as overweight. I wear a size zero. Maybe a one on bloated days. I am not overweight, I am healthy. My breasts fill an A – so I attained SuperBounce Ball status, not softball… And when my milk came in, they still barely filled a B, and I don’t have to wear a bra unless I want to.
I still have an ass. I still have powerful legs that are not spindles, and a powerful back and upper body and ribcage that requires me to look for bras in the all too commonly needed 38A (everyone is this size, that’s why I can’t ever find any I say). My butt looks like that Barbie on the right.. not the left. So do my thighs. My calves don’t fit into most jeans because the muscle is too pronounced. Oh, and I have stretch marks on my stomach and thighs from growing a healthy human, nurturing and sustaining the life of that little human and, gasp, being a grown woman.
I don’t want my daughter to think she SHOULD look like anything other than exactly what she looks like, at any point in her life. I want her to know that she is beautiful and to care that she is healthy and vibrant and thriving.
I can prevent a lot of incoming messages via the media for a while still, and I can gently discourage Barbie and the like, with explanations that my kid can somewhat grasp at her age.
I can build her up and infuse her with esteem and positive self image.
And I’d like to be able to give her the option of imaginative play with human replicas. http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/07/03/barbie-nickolay-lamm
The image shown below is floating around FB. The obvious topic is gender based behavioral conditioning imposed by society’s stereotypes, and I imagine that is what the majority of the conversations surrounding the image/message will be about.
When I saw this, and read through the captions, I was able to simply go through the first three paragraphs, with what might be considered appropriate acknowledgement and compassion, but then when I reached the final paragraph, my perspective shifted greatly.
The final statement reads as follows: “What does it say about society when a group of adults could stand to take a lesson in humanity from a class of preschoolers?”
It says, if they listen with humility and are open to growth, that they are wise.
There is great value and worth in adults paying attention and restoring the gentleness and wisdom in acceptance and equal value in one another that children are often inherently given to (before they are conditioned by adults to think otherwise). Young children are no less intelligent or inferior in any way to an adult. We can, if we open our eyes and our minds, learn great things from one another. Universally.
A significant aspect of the concept of truly admiring and acknowledging our children, while in their childhood, is to inherently and intuitively know that children are wise, and able to offer perspective that often reaches far beyond and is much more thorough than adults often find themselves capable of. Why is this? I think it comes from simplicity found within a child’s mind, untainted, unconditioned, unscarred. My ultimate aspiration is to raise my daughter without conditioning her, tainting her, or influencing her to associate anything negative with that which is neutral. I hope to help her develop her discernment. Her ability to see clearly and discern what is beneficial from what isn’t is already very apparent and is demonstrated in her actions, words, and body language.
A child who has not yet been influenced to think otherwise, will see every creature as valuable, equal of worth, and worthy of acknowledgement and consideration. Children see differences because their minds are attuned to seeking out patterns. However, those differences are simply differences, that serve to assist the mind in categorization and recognition, not bigotry.
I received a comment from a reader today that relayed their concern over how shielded and protected our ‘parenting’ approach might seem to be. The concern was primarily that providing such a regulated environment for a young child could be a disservice in that the child would be rendered unprepared when the harshness of reality came knocking on their door.
I wanted to address this reader’s genuine concern because it is one that I am presented with frequently from those who do not have the benefit of seeing what it’s like to spend “A Day in the Life of… Us”. 🙂
The gist of the comment offered is as follows:
“…in an ideal world, no child would ever feel any stress, but the world is far from ideal… I am worried, you seem to be obsessed with making everything just wonderful for them. Not that there is anything wrong with that as such, but I am a bit worried about how you will react when something terrible happens to them, that you cannot do anything about? Say when a boyfriend/girlfriend dumps them, or a pet/relative/friend dies.
Children are naturally resilient, they have to be as they have to learn that bad things sometimes happen that cannot be avoided…. I am NOT saying that suffering is good… But perhaps some gentle adversity as they grow up might help them to withstand something really bad when life sometimes really hurts?…”
I very much appreciate opportunities to talk with others who can see why the approach my partner and I have chosen to employ in creating the environment for our daughter’s childhood can be so wonderful and beneficial, while questioning whether it is realistic.Many have inquired, and some have outright informed us that our refusal to punish, and refusal to diminish, will lead to a child that is full of her own importance, doesn’t care about others, and doesn’t think authority is anything worth considering submitting to. We run into similar concerns when others discover how we educate our children. Our curiosity driven, child-led environment, unconcerned with expectations or requirements to be part of the “norm” really seems to rattle some people. Our focus is in the full development of the whole human, without expectation of a set timeline or specific outcome. Cheerfully, every once in a while we run into those who genuinely understand the benefit of a peaceful, respect giving, upholding home that honors one another as equals, and reveres our children’s childhoods, yet they still worry children from these homes won’t be able to cope in the ‘real world’.
There is a simple quote, reiterated and slightly shifted from one person to the next, but the idea is that rather than accept that which is not beneficial to life and living things, and force the mind to learn to cope and manage, insteaddemonstrate through one’s own behaviors and choices, a reality that abandons that which harms, and reinforces that which is universally beneficial. ~ In other words, be the change instead of the victim of circumstance: go and create the world we want to live in.
Granted, this way of thinking is one that is full of ability, proactive thought, action, and empowerment. It isn’t for those who feel they have no real capacity to impact the world around them. Well, maybe it should be for them the most, but such a way of thinking has to be developed. In our home, I think we choose to live the way we want life to be, as much as we can. In our case, it is an intentional and conscious choice much of the time, but I think maybe it’s become sort of second nature because living with these truths for us is what provides harmony and peace, where otherwise difficulty and negative experiences would overwhelm and take us under.
Recently, and throughout our history as a species, some humans have known intuitively that it is harmful to cause a newly formed mind to cope with that which surpasses the presence of connections necessary to support such experiences. Those that don’t seem to have an inherent sense of this concept have observed and chosen to become educated in understanding that the human child’s mind is “under development” and that causing it to deal with experiences it is not yet equipped to grasp causes development that is inevitably malformed as a result of the cocktail of negative chemicals overwhelming the neurological environment in which the connections are forged.
– There are many articles that discuss this understanding, and I want to encourage you to educate yourself if you are interested.
One thing that many adults do not seem to realize, especially in Academia, is that children by nature do not need many of the “lessons” we give them, but would gain and develop so much more thoroughly and effectively if we got out of the way and let them explore, discover, and adapt in their own time and space. This method is espeially successful if we walk along side them, providing them insight and security on their journey of developing Self. One example that is relevant in our home currently is the concept of bigotry and racism, as well as religious discrimination and indoctrination. My 6 year old has no concept of there even being anything out there when it comes to humans of a different skin color, gender, or class, any more than she does of a dog having white, black, brown, tan, red or yellow fur. In fact, she has so little awareness of anything negative along these lines (our differences) that any time we have seen her exposed to retellings related to any of these concepts, she simply responds to the ideas of cruelty, injustice, and inequality; she has no concept of there being an external human rational for the harmful behaviors.
Slavery, oppression, punishment, torture, war… These things are not something we prefer to have her exposed to yet, but much like religion, it’s inevitable it will come NOT on our timeline, a timeline dictated by her demonstrating she has attained an emotional and intellectual development to be able to think through things without a resulting negative or damaging impact on her whole perspective of her world. And so, when they come before she is able to really grasp them in a beneficial manner, we sort through them the best we can, offering encouragement to her to ask questions and think out loud as much as she feels like doing so. We don’t say much in these instances, we absorb her experience and do our best to get out of the way of her thoughts, and allow her to form these most valuable connections in a safe environment.
My hope is to encourage adults to recognize that children are constantly observing and absorbing everything around them, and the input stream is a continual source of information their minds use to form thoughts and responses that shape their existence and who they are.
In our home, our focus is harmony and security, respect and consideration, integrity and gentleness. We all have difficult days, moods that are just not helpful to self or others, and struggles, but when we demonstrate concern for one another, a concern that comes from a genuine appreciation and mutual, equal value, those emotional struggles (often a result of physical or logistical challenges) become opportunities to grow and gain, instead of feeling defeated or ineffective and powerless. When shame, guilt, manipulation, and false consequence are not part of the equation, in their place can be honor, integrity, compassion, empathy, consideration, and kindness.
So, how does this work? How do we know it will work?
Well, we’ve seen the outcome to some degree already in our own home as well as others, but honestly what it comes down to is trust. It takes a rooted and renewable trust… Trust in the process, trust in the science, trust in the knowledge, and trust in the child and their mind’s natural course of development. It takes trusting that they will gain and obtain throughout their life all that they specifically need to live their life, not that which is necessary to live the life of others.
If a child is allowed to obtain in his or her childhood that which they will naturally absorb and integrate into their being, these experiences will shape their mind in such a way that it will cause them to have what they need to navigate their existence, from the first moments of consciousness to the last. Again, knowing this, trusting this, and getting out of the way to allow the natural course of this development to occur is something that doesn’t come to many of us easily. We worry because of what we have been through and how our minds have managed those experiences – we are tainted, and justifiably so. The deepest challenge is to override our own mental conditioning (sometimes at a very deep and integral level) and not allow our own challenges to become those of our children. Instead, we work to empower them to build their own world, and build a world where benefit and compassion are far more common than self serving and violence.
To address the specific concerns of the original comment, and to tie in the concept of “trusting the process”, I will share a bit about what my 6 year old specifically (only discussing her life here, not any other children that have been a part of our home) has experienced and sorted through so far in her 6 years with us. None of these experiences were manufactured by us intentionally, each of them has forced us all to grow, and quite some percentage of them we did our best to shield her from the full blow of because her mind is not yet developed enough to be able to manage them in a way that causes her healthy growth.
At two years of age, my daughter was required to adapt to losing her big sister while simultaneously being moved to a new home, which for months was in a state of transition and change (literally, location change – new surroundings). Her father and I remained the only constant, along with her dog and some of her most important possessions. The result? Monsters… They came to our house, lurking around every corner it seemed. We watched a little girl, previously unafraid of anything and totally calm and secure, suddenly exhibit great fear, dread, threat, and anger.
After a few weeks of this, her father devised a solution. He walked along side her through that which she had to face (in spite of our efforts to protect her from having to cope with things beyond her developmental abilities). He walked along with her, and when she saw those monsters start coming for them, she told her Papa and, after getting the full descriptive run down of each one from his little girl, he simply ate them. With peanut butter, ketchup, mustard, cheese, and salt and pepper on top. Eventually, she decided she could do the job sometimes herself when her Papa was not available… that happened about the same time we made a very hard decision and chose a home to stabilize us in, even though a good option had yet to present itself.
At four years of age, our daughter was exposed to the idea of us adopting a sibling for her and bringing an addition to our family. She experienced the whole process, from interviews, to exams, to training, to our private conversations. It took 18 months, but finally a young boy joined us. 6 weeks later, after we had all started to attach, especially our daughter, we had to disrupt the adoption and could no longer be a home for this boy. The primary reason? Somehow, in spite of the highly involved social workers and their expertise, they missed something crucial: this boy was entirely not capable of being in a family with another child, especially one younger than he. Not only were his behaviors threatening and his volatility damaging to our daughter and to our home, but him having to witness our positive and supportive, gentle treatment of our daughter (which was a stark contrast to his own experiences through his childhood) caused him so much pain, and at such a deep level, that the exposure was determined harmful to him (and to us). The adoption was canceled. And so, my then 5 year old had, at that point, had effectively lost two siblings, one that had been there since her birth, and one that had come from great intention, effort, and hopefulness.
Simultaneously, my daughter was presented with another intriguing challenge: her father was diagnosed with a stage 4 Melanoma, unknown initially whether it had spread to his Lymphatic system, unknown whether it could be resolved, unknown whether it would (or ever might) return, or if his life might be in jeopardy. She watched as we grieved, as fear consumed us, as we denied, raged, ran, scheduled exams and surgeries, and went through an emotionally charged experience such that our union was ripped apart and our life as we knew it was literally smashed to pieces. She watched while we did our very best to not allow fear to fill her mind, and did our very best to keep the full extent of the concern from becoming her burden to bear.
She then watched us rebuild, return, restore, and renew. She’s still watching this process.
Now, at 6, she is contemplating the impending loss of her Nana, her canine companion that has been by her side from the moment she was born in our bedroom. This sweet soul, and member of our family, still tries desperately to play with her 6 year old charge, in spite of a lack of mobility and loss of sensory function. We are all here, supporting and loving her, as she finishes her time with us and makes her way to her place of rest.
In the last 5 months, I have become pregnant twice, and twice have been presented with a situation where for one reason or another, the pregnancy did not continue beyond barely knowing about it. My daughter was aware each time, as symptoms were impossible to cover – she is empathic, as well as empathetic… she knew something was up when Mama stopped playing with her while simultaneously renovating our house. (Yes, I am renovating our entire house, myself, on top of everything. This is why the choice I mentioned to “stabilize” in a home, in effort to put an end to the monsters, was such a challenging one. Three years later, I’m about 70% done with the renovations that were supposed to be cosmetic and have become everything from structural to plumbing and electrical, to finishing, and without a reliable pool of professionals or local materials source to rely upon). We still are not entirely certain of the full reach of these losses for our family, particularly our 6 year old. However, signs that it impacted her more negatively than we desperately hoped against, appear now and then, mostly in the form of her stating she doesn’t think she’ll “ever have a sibling because there is no way for her to have one that seems to work”. She’s now resorted to sometimes informing us she doesn’t ever want a sibling, while other days begging for one, and still other days being outright angry with us for yet having provided her a brother or sister (that is still a part of our family anyway).
Along the way, my daughter has grappled with unkind children, children who have been abused and therefore harm others, unkind adults who diminish, witnessed children and animals being poorly treated, attempted to understand the benefit of the relinquishment of her fish, the death of family members, and most recently the continued absence of her father, as he struggles to balance work with living. You know that move I mentioned we chose to make a few years back? We made that choice out of necessity for career reasons, in order to provide us with a quality of life we thought to be impossible without the relocation and career shift. That very decision now renders me a single parent most of the time, and my child and her father, as well as he and I, find ourselves scrambling to make the most of every single second we have together because there are so few (not to mention the additional awareness of the fragility of life that greatly impacts this desire for togetherness).
So, now my daughter, at 6 and half years earthside, is intimately observing the strain and stress her parents are experiencing, facing her own grief and continued dread of her father’s absence, trying to grasp and deal with the impending death of her cherished canine companion, and somehow stave off resentment in the shadow of the loneliness the absence of a sibling has cast, as we work to better our life. So much for protecting her from having to cope with anything before she is really ready.
Or maybe not…
She now observes and absorbs our actions and conversations as we once again open our minds and commence our search, and resume our journey. For now, we are generating the life we want to live, instead of living the circumstances that . She is now taking her own steps, no longer being in our arms all the time, and we are all walking side by side, together, arm in arm.
This is real life.
**** When we force children to cope, we cause defensive and non-productive mental connections to be made. The neurological science that explains this phenomenon is actually very clear and simple to grasp. In the place of children having to figure out how to cope, instead we walk along with them through what comes, and protect them from that which is more complex than they’ve developed neurological processes to comprehend. In so doing, we allow them the natural environment necessary for their minds to make the connections in a timeline and course of development that doesn’t harm or cause fear or threat. When those positive and effective connections solidify, instead of a defensive, protective response generated by a replaying of threat and negative chemicals being released in the body, the mind provides a proactive and beneficial alternative. That alternative empowers our children to seek positive options, and advance and improve their world. The result is an empowered mind that will change our world in ways that lead to universal benefit.
Such a simple sentence, yet so profound, it has permanently changed me.
Punishment is retaliation.
Discipline is a choice from within, rooted in integrity, awareness, and purpose.
Management of self and one’s emotions is necessary to provide a stable, reliable, harmonic environment for relationship and the beneficial growth of children’s minds.
Sometimes we just need to look at our world through their viewing portal… What a generation of empathic, aware, and respected humans we could grow.
I will begin a series on the value of guidance vs consequence delivering/punishing (what our society so often labels, “discipline), including punishment vs simple result over the coming weeks. I have not had the ability to devote the amount of time and focus here that I have hoped this past year, but with a bit of luck, our conversations will inspire and much thought will follow.
Welcoming a year of blessing, benefit, and reverence.
Yes, you heard me right. Last night, my little one came to me with all the sincerity and gentleness she could muster (I’ve been sick, she knew I was exhausted), and asked if I would be willing to get her “princesses” (Polly Pocket collection) out for her. She wanted to play with them with her Papa before she went to sleep.
I collected this, um, collection about two months ago and put them up because there are so many pieces that she was having an impossible time managing them. Everything was consistently strewn, which just caused her and me frustration. (Not to mention the pairs of shoes that were no longer pairs.)
I think Polly Pockets are intended for kids about 6 and up. My Bugz inherited these about a year ago and she seemed to dig them, even if they drove her nuts not being able to dress the dolls and such without assistance. But eventually, it just got overwhelming, so I put them away for a while.
Last night, she presented this request, and instead of heaving a big sigh (which, I try not to do because well, it doesn’t feel good to have someone sigh or roll their eyes in exasperation at me… so why do it to my little person), I smiled. I looked at her for a moment, to determine if she was serious or just grasping for something to stall the sleep sequence (she’s recently become reluctant to go to sleep – something I’ll address in another post).
She was serious. She’d already spoken to her Papa to get his agreement to play the activity with her, and she a scenario going in her head for the princesses to play out. Though I knew she was tired, I saw a chance to honor her choice to genuinely request (instead of whine), and respect and grant her desires. Even though I thought there might be better uses of time, it didn’t matter, she is her own person and this is what she felt was valuable at that moment… I had the pleasure of saying “yes”.
There was one caveat, however. Her room was rather untidy (like, the floor had gone missing) and I knew that if we tried to add anything to it, it would just frustrate and ruin the experience. I have been meaning to get to her room for a week or two now, but with all the traveling and randomness of our present life, and my excellent ability to selectively procrastinate, I hadn’t worked with her on it. So, what a great opportunity (I hoped) to give her exactly her little heart’s desire, AND get her room cleaned… at 10pm, while hacking up a lung. – This is when I laugh, the kind of laugh that warms the entire room.
I told her, and I quote, “I would be happy to get your princesses out for you, however I think your room has to be clean first, or you won’t be able to find a place to play with them. Would you be willing to work with me (note: “work with me”, not, “help me”) to pick things up to make room for the princesses?”
And she did. She found it tough at the beginning, not knowing what to do and quickly becoming overwhelmed. (How many times have you told your older kids to clean their room, a power struggle ensues, and nothing gets cleaned? There is likely a really good reason…)Rather than run her out, tell her to just keep trying (which is defeating in a situation like this), or enter a battle, I have found it very successful to simply give her a task. In our case, I asked her to start by rounding up all the shoes and putting them in her closet. Later, I asked her to organize them in the closet by shoving them to one side, but initially just getting them in there was a step she could manage with confidence and success.
As I worked on the various miscellaneous stuff that would overwhelm any kid, I continued to make little piles and ask her to do certain actions with each. She continued to help, then yawned a bit and sat down. I asked her if she was tired. Yes. Did she still want to play princesses tonight? Yes.
Now, here is where some parents would respond with, “Well then, you have to keep cleaning.” In our home, bribery and coercion are tactics that are avoided as much as possible. So, instead of saying something like this, I simply acknowledged her fatigue, and I continued cleaning and organizing while she relaxed. No expectation of her, no shame imposed on her need for rest, and no resentment coming from me.
Within a few moments, she happily resumed working with me; she saw something that sparked her interest, that she knew she could succeed at, and she jumped right in. Within 10 minutes we had completed the task together, one that would have taken her hours alone, one that she would not have succeeded at because of her current neurological development. And one that, had I insisted she do alone (after all, she did make the mess alone), would have diminished her and left her feeling a failure (sometimes parents force the issue believing they are teaching responsibility… that’s not the lesson that is received however, and the child does not come out the other side with more self esteem or confidence).
Her room was spectacular! She was beaming with pride, accomplishment, and self satisfaction. She was also exhibiting gratitude, as was I.
Papa came, princesses were unearthed, and I went to relax with my lungs.
I don’t know when they finally drifted off to sleep, but I don’t care either; thankfully our schedule allows for this. More importantly, I trust that she will now forever have the memory of being safe enough to ask Mama for something that really mattered to her, being valued enough by Mama to be granted her request, being capable enough to work with Mama to complete an important task, being cherished enough by Papa to be played with (even when we’re all tired), and being unconditionally loved so much, that her sleep could come gently.
Instead of a command or demand, (how often do you see parents barking orders at their kids, big and small, and becoming very irritated and resorting to punishment when the child doesn’t offer immediate and utter compliance), try making a reasonable and considerate request.
I received a comment/response to an earlier post in which a mother describes a scenario in her home. In this case, the mom explained directly to the child directly that “the volume level (his preferred level) was more than she (or the family) could enjoy with him at that time, and asked him if he would please turn it down”. Her manner of handling the situation was absolutely brilliant, and kind. Perhaps this mom knows that referring to the family as a whole works better in her home, and maybe another home would work better if it were individualized, either way, the adult taking time to treat the child as they would their spouse, friend, co-worker, or even a stranger in the room, elevates the child’s self esteem and ability to connect and co-exist to such an extent that instead of the parent having to try (or force) to get cooperation, all they have to do is ask.
BUT here’s the catch…
A parent willing to demonstrate compassion and such a level of maturity and awareness as this type of scenario, must also be willing to bend. Treating her child as she would an adult in the grown-up world, (sitting in one’s office, guy in the cube next door blaring awfully annoying noise – asked to please turn it down – guy either refuses or does so to such a degree that it doesn’t help), she knows that sometimes she gets what she wants and other times she doesn’t. If the child knows he or she has the right to deny the parent’s request (scary, I know.. but hang in there with me), then the child can choose how he/she behaves, and becomes responsible for those choices. While sometimes it means the parent has to accept their request being denied (just like in the real world), it can just as easily be extremely satisfying and rewarding when the child chooses to grant the request out of genuine selflessness, compassion, or empathy. Talk about parenting on a different level. Imagine having a teenager that respected you so greatly, and your respect of them was equal, that instead of power struggles and fear based control tactics by the parent, the parent could simply establish boundaries, set expectations, request cooperation, and trust the loyalty of the friendship between the parent and teen, and trust the teen to make his/her own choices, to accept responsibility for them, and each enjoy the other and their shared life. This takes courage.
Hard to imagine?
Well… when you set it up from day one as a mutual partnership, a mentorship, a friendship, a love that does instead of just says, it’s not difficult and it is not imagination either, it’s reality. Day one can be at birth or as soon as you become aware and decide to allow the paradigm shift in your mind and home. And keep in mind, no human is consistent 100%, but grace and compassion take care of the inconsistencies until the inconsistencies take care of themselves.
Requests ensure that I am giving the people around me something actionable and clear so that they can respond to my Need.
Making requests of each other, rather than demands, assures that we are doing everything for each other out of an energy that will not later interfere with the quality of the connection.
As I said earlier, one of the most important insights in NVC is that whenever we do anything for one another, I for you or you for me…
…the energy with which we do it is just as important as the action itself. Because when we or others act motivated by fear, guilt, shame, obligation, shoulds and have-tos, the relationship pays a big price, usually in terms of resentment and often an erosion of trust.
Unclear requests create confusion, and waste time and resources. Demands squander goodwill and trust.
A true NVC request is distinct from a demand, and meets four criteria (below).
In a demand the other person’s Needs are not perceived as equally important, and the other person may do what we’re wanting out of a motivation of fear, guilt, shame, obligation, shoulds, have-tos, etc.
When I make a true request, your Needs matter to me just as much as my own. And I remember the consciousness that NVC teaches me in which I prioritize the relationship over specific outcomes, and when we are connected we find that we co-create mutually satisfying outcomes.
If I have made a true request, I can hear a response of no with as much love as a yes. Below are the four criteria for an NVC request:
(1) Specific. (Vague requests are less doable, and therefore less likely to result in your Needs being met. They are also prone to being misinterpreted; e.g.: “I want more space in this relationship.” Response: “Are you saying you’d like me to contact you in five years?”)
(2) Present. (Actionable in this moment. Even if what I want is a future action, what is actionable right now is agreement about that future action.)
(3) Positive action language. (What we do want the other person to do rather than what we don’t want them to do).
In our home, we don’t teach our kids that there are consequences for their behavior – we don’t fabricate a world for their learning of the negative, or for the purpose of giving them lessons. In our home, results of behavior occur for the child just as they do for the adult. Of course, if a result would be harmful or damaging, we buffer, but otherwise we do not. When a result should occur for the purpose of them learning something, and in fact nothing related really happens, we either simply verbalize our relevant thoughts or we let it be, trusting that the child will acquire the necessary understanding at a later time when the child is ready.
Parenting like this requires trust in the mind of the developing child, openness in communication and raw relating from parent to the child, and a complete lack of fear of losing control – because there is no “controlling” in the first place.
Does this lack of control mean my kids run my home? Actually, to some it may seem that they have too much influence because we choose to accept and accommodate their wants, preferences, and needs as equal to our own. Yet, if someone were to be a fly on the wall, they’d see that this respect we bestow upon the children is returned without force. I don’t need to control my child because I trust her ability to reason, I don’t fear her making a mistake because I trust in her ability to accept herself and learn through experience, and I am willing to be inconvenienced for the duration of her childhood when necessary.
There are exceptions, when I must enforce something out of practicality. Even then, however, my prevailing mentality is not to direct but to allow her to explore and learn through her own understanding and experiences. Tonight my kiddo (4) decided to set a square box (cushioned cube) to sit upon, right in front of the tv. Initially, I talked with her about the decision as she was too near the tv and the tv isn’t securely mounted as of yet (it’s new). I asked her to make certain that if she was going to leave the cube to sit on so near the tv that she not bump the stand (or make the tv move) at all.
A few minutes passed and before long, she’d stretched herself between the cube and the tv stand like a bridge, and needless to say, the tv was jostled and wiggling in time with her own movements. I watched for a few moments, to determine whether she’d correct the situation on her own. She didn’t. I stepped in.
I knelt near her, paused the program she was engaged in, asked for her eye contact, and said in a flat and gentle tone, with respect and not condescension in my voice, “Bugz, your feet on the stand are causing the tv to move too much. There’s a good chance the tv might get damage because of how much it’s moving, and how close you are to it. I mentioned to you just a few moments ago that if you were going to sit on the cube so near the tv you’d have to make sure not to bump the tv or the stand… (She reflects, then I continue.) I see the tv is still moving a bit even after you’ve now taken your feet off the stand. I don’t want our new tv damaged and this concerns me.”
Her response, “Why does the tv move so much?”
My explanation, “Because the stand is meant to allow for some movement safely that won’t damage the tv, but we don’t have the tv in a good place yet and so it’s not secure. It’s my job to mount the tv and I haven’t done it yet. I know.. if it were, then we wouldn’t be talking about it..”
She responds, “Yeah, so can you fix it cuz I want to make a bridge but I don’t want to mess up the tv.”
I simply told her at that point that I wasn’t going to mount it at this time (I’m sick today, the room isn’t ready, the wall isn’t ready… I’m procrastinating… etc, etc.) and that the she was welcome to continue using the cube to sit on, but that it would need to be moved back a few feet from the tv. She responded with some annoyance and disappointment, but she acknowledged me and picked up the cube, moved it to the center of the room (6′ or so from the tv) and resumed watching her show. Shortly thereafter, she found herself climbing on the back of the couch, mimicking the cat on the tv, and was quite pleased.
I acknowledged her interest in the physical elements of the placement of the cube. She likes to climb, stretch, jump, and teeter on things that are entirely not stable but she manages. She also actively interacts with the tv, as we don’t use it except for education and/or entertainment that she physically responds to/with. It’s unfair of me to restrict her just because I am too lazy to take care of the reason I am compelled to restrict in the first place. If I took the time to mount the thing as it is meant to be, or at least set it onto a surface that was safer than what I have chosen, the entire conversation would never have happened. She knows this. She knows I have chosen to procrastinate, and that as a result I have had to ask her to forgo something she finds enjoyable. Yet she doesn’t throw a fit, doesn’t intentionally defy me.. She also (this time) didn”t refuse to respect my request even with my own laziness being the cause, and her being well aware of it. She chose to acknowledge the real concern I had for preserving the electronic equipment, chose to respect my request because it made sense to her and she happened to value the same that I did in tihs case, and she chose to modify what she could do to suit her desire to use her body to enjoy what she was watching on the tv.
Does she always make these decisions that go my way? No. But most of the time she does, and most of the time, I make decisions that go hers. Though, if I demand something I can almost guarantee her respect and consideration of me, my wants, expectations, etc., become the very last thing she is interested in honoring. Is an adult any different?
So, I don’t demand, and I don’t control. I guide, educate, share and communicate very openly, demonstrate empathy and equal respect, respond out of compassion, and gently smile as the amazing things really impress me and the not so great just fade a moment later out of importance. I screw this up a lot too… but the more I mess up, the more aware I become, and the I can choose how I interact, and what being in the position to parent really means.