New Years Day soup lunch with the beloveds. Note: tablecloth! And white-out snow conditions outside!
It’s 10:30pm on New Year’s Eve, two hours after our children are usually nestled into bunk beds. We’re with friends, their living room turned dance floor packed with the bendy bodies of children and their parents. There are toddlers spinning and stomping, pre-schoolers believing the spotlight belongs solely to them, and the 7-10 year old crowd, all leggy grace and giggles.
Brothers, Lee and Danny, spin tunes from the inner machinations of their smartphones, noting to the children like professors of the class, Decades in Music Appreciation: The 80’s, “This song was huge when I was your age.” Out blasts Michael Jackson, Madonna, REM, and regrettably, Vanilla Ice. Although I might not have been shaking my ass (or slow-dancing to the occasional Journey ballad with Rose) if I wasn’t here with the kids, in the blurred factions of children and adults, it’s hard to say who’s having more fun.
Though the passing into a new calendar year is an arbitrary transition, and as all great spiritual teachers (and most toddlers) remind us, each moment is brand new, I like taking this opportunity to assess where greater degrees of effort or acceptance are warranted in my life. A resolution is an intention, an intention is a powerful act of self-love. And as pointed out last night at the Durango Dharma Center, a resolution is for the purpose of training. Training these silly, over-active, sneaky minds of ours.
I seek to carry out this parenting gig consciously, with continual intention towards connection and peace, which includes a good measure of falling. (Paraphrasing a Zen monk: “There is standing up practice and falling down practice.”) Creating peace and connection in our family never comes from simply wishing and waiting. Rather, it comes from gentle and pointed effort, active forgiveness, and a willingness to regard my children as deserving the same respect and kindness I expect. (In fact I just read somewhere that the best way to ensure a respectful relationship with your teenager is to nurture a two-way connection of respect now).
If Hugh Hefner drank hot chocolate and lived in snow country.
The funny thing is that this is not exactly intuitive. There were times that I would have downloaded an app into my brainstem and given a pint of flesh for a roadmap called “child compliance” to lead me through the thick trees of parenting, no matter the method. But, too many of these “methods” (wait – is yelling and excessive sighing a method?) gave me an existential hang over immediately afterwards. (Which is a good barometer: if you feel remorse after interacting with your child, this is an indicator that there are places that need gentle attention).
There are myriad parenting books, coaches and classes. There are websites, support groups and inspirational Facebook quotes. There is the sacred act of taking a deep breath before responding to your children, remembering that all their misconduct is a function of them trying to get their normal, human needs met.
Dr Laura Markham, author of Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids, explains, “Troublesome behavior signals big feelings or unmet needs. If you don’t address the feelings and needs, they’ll just burst out later, causing other problem behavior.”
And really, this is good news. When all our efforts towards initiating complicated reward charts and tiered systems of punishments are put towards determining our children’s unmet needs, the road to peace becomes shorter. Your child will benefit more from the lasting power of being understood than the short term faux-fix of a time out.
Often the need is as simple as wanting to be heard and acknowledged. How many times do we breeze through our agendas, sweeping our children along without letting them know we understand their point of view. Maybe they’re sick of accompanying us on errands, or they’re involved in a book and don’t want to come to dinner. We might not be able to change the circumstances (dinner is ready; errands must be done), but we can empathize with their position, share how much we too hate to be interrupted when engrossed in a book, and perhaps brainstorm after dinner with our child on how to ease the transition. As we begin to identify our children’s needs, they will often learn they can bypass the “bad” behavior and simply state their needs, trusting they will be heard and efforts will be made towards true solutions.
It’s after 11:00pm when we finally arrive home, full of New Years cheer. How grateful I am to be in the position of celebrating New Year’s Eve with my children (dancing with my 9-year old!), rather than nervously awaiting their return home from teenage festivities as will someday be the case. Col explains how the night went to Dan who was home teaching a bow-making class, “We jumped on the bed, we ate, and we rocked out.”
May your family peace and connection increase in this new year.
* Incidentally, the kids and I just had another late night dancing to Carute Roma, Durango’s own gypsy band. The kids think staying out late dancing is our new thing, and why not? Anyone need a few, enthusiastic groupies?
I find I need support for doing anything that flows counter to the mainstream (I rely on my friend Melanie for quarterly homeschooling pep-talks; my artist-friend Jo gives me the much-appreciated straight talk on living the poorly-compensated, highly-fulfilling artist’s life; Julia, Sue and Jennifer and I console each other regularly over trying to raise kids on a nineteenth century farm diet; I have a whole community of people I meditate with (falling down practice) every Monday night; and I tend to hang out with people who never tell me to look on the bright side when I’m feeling down).
Perhaps you too need support in creating more peace and connection in your home. Some resources: (all of which I’ve directly benefitted from).
Websites and coaches