November to Today

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The last two months went something like this . . .

 

Thanksgiving. Sold our house. Christmas. New Years. The Flu. Pneumonia and moving out of our house but not yet into our new one.

 

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But we are healthier . . .

 

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and happier.

 

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The girls are feeling better and we visited friends today. We are getting back to our routine and I will be getting back to this blog, which I have missed so much.

 

Thanks for taking the time to read our story.

– Marisa

 

The Critical Step of Acknowledgement

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My path to understanding how to acknowledge my children’s emotions has been a long one. I don’t know why something so simple was SO hard for me to incorporate into my parenting practices.

 

Acknowledging children’s emotions as I learned in my RIE 1 class felt uncomfortable and unresolved. I felt like I wasn’t helping. When Mike first heard me “acknowledging” Greysen’s feelings by sportscasting, he questioned the technique. I don’t remember what he said exactly but it went something like, “Doesn’t she know what just happened? Why are you saying it again?”  Valid point. Why was I?

 

The answer to his question is something that I did not yet understand.

 

Responding to High Emotions
I rarely take the girls to the grocery store anymore. With some planning, I am able to go a couple of times a week on my own. However, last week I tried to bake a cake a Frankenstein cake, which crumbled when I tried to take it out of the pan. So to the store we went for three ingredients. With just three ingredients to get it seemed like it would be an easy trip.

 

We walked along, picking up our things and went to the self checkout registers. From her preferred position of the grocery cart seat, Greysen had a view of everything I was doing.

 

Greysen:    Can I do that? (Referring to the scanner)

Me:             No, this machine is for adults to use.

Greysen:    Mom, can I push the button?

Me:             No, I need to pick the right numbers.

Greysen:    Mom, look at that. (She points to a lollipop display on the counter) Mom, can I have one?

Me:             No, we are not buying candy today. (Not surprising, as I never do.)

Greysen:    NO!!!!! BUY ME THAT NOW!

 

My cheeks burned red with the attention that her screams surely raked my way. Frustrated with what selfishly felt like an unfair situation, I start an autopilot calm voice response, “Stop screaming, take a breath.”

 

This helps me do the same. I breathe. I remember, I can do this  . . . and I believe it. I need to start again.

 

I lean down, breathe and say, “You want a lollipop.” I wait. She clenches her teeth and throws her neck back, grimacing and groaning. I kindly continue, “I said, no.”

 

She cries and kicks. I lean close, no longer afraid of letting these emotions be, “Do you want a hug?”  She falls into me.

 

Before prioritizing acknowledgement as suggested here, my strategy would have been to start with, “Stop screaming and talk to me in a regular voice.”  Truthfully, I wouldn’t have stopped there. I would have said more. I would have tried to work through her upset feelings rather than taking the time to accept her emotion first.

 

I have been working on establishing acknowledgement as part of my every response to upset feelings since I was at a recent lecture by Janet Lansbury. I came to shift my practice by coming to a new understanding of acknowledgement.

 

 

How I Started To Acknowledge My Child’s Feelings

 

 

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1. Acknowledge the situation the child is in.
State the circumstances/facts. This is a factual statement about the challenge your child is experiencing. “You wanted candy and I said no.”

 

2. Before saying more . . . stop right there.
Take a breath and wait for your child to respond before saying more – if you decide there is more to say. It is really hard to stop at number one. When I stop at that statement, my daughters usually respond to that statement alone. More often than not, it’s a nod or cry and a motion for a hug. It ends there.

 

  • Consider why I wanted to say more. We so often want to say more. We spend so much of our time as parents of young children explaining the world that it seems only natural that this circumstance would be no different. I spend a part of each day answering “why” questions about minutia, so doesn’t something as significant as a display of intense emotions deserve some conversation? Perhaps, but in my experience, this is not the time. I still have a very strong urge to explain the “why” of what is happening. ” I’m not buying candy because . . . “

 

  •  Hold off on presuming an emotion. I naturally want my children to know that I understand them. I want them to know that I can see that they are sad, hurt, disappointed, or angry as a means of accepting those feelings. “I can see that you are upset about not having a lollipop right now.”

 

  •   Don’t immediately look for a solution. When we focus our efforts on allowing our children to have their feelings rather than on moving through those feelings, our efforts become less about a solution and more about acceptance. This still astounds me. There are likely many solutions around that would make my daughter feel better, but were I to start working towards a solution this critical step of acceptance might be missed.

 

 

In her lecture, Janet shared story after story about children expressing their feelings. These tales centered around the expressions of upset infants and toddlers. Janet did not offer explicit instructions on how to resolve a conflict between toddlers or guide an infant through sad emotions, although she taught me to do exactly that.

 

The examples of acknowledgment revolved around acceptance – allowing expressions of sadness or frustration to be expressed, and accepting those feelings so that our relationship emerges deepened by the connection of our shared experience. I needed to hear several stories about emotions and not about solutions to understand that I needed to redefine what acknowledgment of someone’s feelings means in practice.

 

I didn’t always believe that we would get through these instances without tears (mine or my Greysen’s).  Her intense reactions still often trigger feelings of anxiety and fear, but they are fleeting.  I am beginning to understand how to accept my daughter’s emotions as a pivotal point in responding to feelings that used to very easily overwhelm me.

 

 

Parenting Worries

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The Bell Curve of Worries

For the most part, I do not worry about most of my parenting decisions. I try to be intentional when it comes to parenting, and making mistakes is part of any relationship. I do my best. There are a few things I feel like I have a pretty good handle on; decisions that are right for my family and that we all feel good about. Then there are a few things about parenting that I worry about pretty much all the time.

 

While there are only a few things that I am preoccupied with, those things I fear have, over time, come to affect my parenting. Inspired by a friend to take a look at those fears, I decided that I wanted to face them once I realized how much of my daily life I was planning around avoiding things I feared might happen.

 

These fears are day to day ones, like being out with the girls when one of them decides to go into a full tantrum due to being tired. My solution? We’re home every day at nap time, no matter what. If I have an urgent errand, it will wait since avoiding a tantrum is an even higher priority. If I’d like to buy some milk and it’s noon? I’ll go to the store when the girls wake or after they rest (Greysen is not always napping these days). This may sound absurd to some parents, but to me doing without is a small price to pay to avoid all eyes being on me during one of the kiddo’s meltdowns.

 

I’ve had enough with the worry, but it’s a tough habit to break since I was raised to worry about everything. It is how I process and understand some things, and I think it helps me to be a more thoughtful person. However, I have decided that I want to lessen the things that I worry about when it comes to my daughters, because I want to model a different approach to worries than I was brought up with.

 

Ready to start small, I recently took a deep breath and headed off to a monthly local event that I have put off attending for well over a year.

 

The community event was at a local farm. While some parents may worry that their young children may trample the garden or wander off, I was worried about me. I was worried I’d be overwhelmed. What if I couldn’t watch the girls and help with the harvesting? What if my daughters were aggressive with the other children? What if I looked like an incapable parent? The worries, in my mind, outweighed my will to participate.

 

After running through a list of excuses in my mind that morning as to why it wouldn’t really matter if I went, and allowing the girls to lollygag their way through the morning, we went anyway. It was, of course, a lovely day.

 

Having faced that fear, I began to question what other things I have prevented myself (and my children) from doing.

 

The “what ifs” with children are endless. Some of those “just in case” decisions and “better safe than sorry” efforts can cause us to be unnecessarily cautious at times. I realize that I have not trusted myself to experience my life to the extent that I have wanted to. Going to the store at noon may not seem like some grand freedom, but the weight of that worry is more than I need to carry. It is not only my life that I am curtailing, but I am also limiting some of my daughters’ experiences unnecessarily.
It’s not cool for us parents to worry about average childhood experiences, such as when kids fall. We are very often encouraged to revel in their play and not worry about everyday things. And no matter how deeply parents may know that unfettered play is good for our children or how common tantrums can be, it can be difficult to set our concerns aside.

 

 

Do you have parenting worries? I’m not referring to those very real things that we need to worry about regarding our children’s healthy and safety. I mean the worries that keep us preoccupied when maybe we don’t really need to be.

 

 

I’m letting go. To try to lessen my worries, I’m going to do something with my daughters that I have been too worried to try. I’m going to tackle those worries over time and face a fear today, this week, and this month, working my way up to a play date – something I fear above all else.

 

I’ll keep you posted on my progress as I tackle one scary park date, playgroup, or noon time errand at a time.

Why I Didn’t Step In When Kids Told My Daughter to Go Away

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Children pick and choose play partners. Their willingness to meet and play with other kids is not necessarily hampered by whether they know these kids.  Play groups form naturally whereever play occurs. From school yards to playgrounds, children’s play is critical for practicing how to get along with others, how to make friends, and really just how to keep on keepin’ on.

 

A Girl Rejected. This weekend while at a birthday party, my three year old daughter, eager to play with kids as usual, climbed up a small backyard slide with a deck and stood politely among three older children (between the ages of 5 and 9). I was sitting alone at a table nearby for the purpose of keeping an eye on her. Though I was about 15 feet away, I could tell by her solemn face and stiff body that they were not having a friendly interaction. As the older kids shooed her away, Greysen stood wide-eyed and unsure, but steady.

 

I had to decide right there, should I come closer or stay out of it? Having intervened with this group of children at a previous birthday party in July, I was familiar with their routine of “get away kid, you’re bothering me.” The other thing I kept in mind was that while they were older than my daughter, they were children too.

 

The last time they asked her to leave, my daughter stood alongside her cousin, and together they played through the group of older children, not taking much notice of their dismissive ways. By my moving in closer, the children quieted, and my daughter and her cousin naturally moved away.

 

This time was different. My daughter stood alone and was acutely aware of their feelings.

 

As the children continued to speak, my daughter turned to me. I nodded and said, you can tell them, “No, I’m playing here.” Perhaps there were savvier words that I could have suggested, but that’s what I went with.  Fueled by my encouragement, she turned to them and said so confidently. The kids regrouped and talked some more. She stood waiting to get access to the slide, but now she was gripping the side of the structure. She looked at me while they spoke. Her face didn’t seem alarmed or hurt, but rather unsure. I stayed where I was, focused and available should she seem to need me. She looked back to the children and continued to wait. Within moments they spoke to her again and she responded to them again, this time with more determination -“NO.”

 

She wasn’t looking to me to be rescued, but rather for reassurance. So, despite the ache I was feeling for my daughter who was being told to leave, I stayed put waiting for her to indicate she needed more from me than she was getting.

 

The children spoke some more amongst themselves before one moved positions, climbing down. This spurred movement amongst all the children, and my daughter took this opportunity to slide down the slide.

 

She jaunted over to see me. I sat and waited, swallowing my urge to ask whether she was ok, and what did they say, etc.

 

As she twisted her leg to free her foot from her boot, she had three things to tell me:

1. Those kids were telling me to go away.
2. I’m going to play in the jumphouse now.
3. Can I have a red sugar candy?

 

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I leaned down for a hug and held her for just the briefest moment, in which I felt a sting of the idea that there will be a time where I will not be there when she faces rejection. She may not have me, but she will have had this experience.

 

Had I walked over to intervene, I could have spared Greysen two more instances of confrontation. I could have even possibility facilitated some play. There was a remote chance that I could have even helped her gain entry into their play.

 

Had I intervened, I could have taken over all those children’s play. I could have taken Greysen’s opportunity to stand up for herself, to bolster her tenacity, to negotiate, and to really listen to when she needs help and when she doesn’t.

 

The idea to not ask my child the 50 questions I had read was inspired by this post by Robin Whitcore and a response of approval (when I shared this post) by Lisa Sunbury.

 

The need to process and analyze may not be their need, but ours. At that moment, I chose to trust my daughter and our relationship. I gave her permission to take the lead of her emotional development since it was a manageable instance, and to not ask her to placate me with details.

 

What purpose would those questions have served other than to reassure me? When she has questions, she asks them. When she is upset, she cries. If she needed to talk, she would have.

 

That was that for her. Thus, that was that for me.

 

 

Letting Go of My Inner Parenting Snob

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I’m not sure when it was that I first felt like a parent. I don’t think it was during pregnancy. I think the feeling settled in sometime after she was born and I was feeding and changing this small person, my daughter.

 

At the time, being a parent was about the relationships between the two of us. This often idyllic, sometimes confusing relationship between her and I was how I defined parenthood.

 

Our twosome soon expanded. Not by plan or design, but in time. We joined other children and parents at playgroups, at the park, at the library, etc. I came to know other children and care for them and their parents.

 

My definition of parenthood was being rewritten.

 

In the first years, I seldom meet other parents that thought like I did. I proudly wore my decisions and efforts as a parent like a badge of gentle parenting. I was quick to see differences and to write off others for their parenting decisions, until one play date with the “anti-me.” I realized that I was reserving that gentleness that I kept for my daughter for only other like-minded parents, instead of all parents.

 

Comrades. My friend Michelle sometimes calls us parents “comrades” in e-mails. This is the perfect reminder that we, as parents, are all in this together.

 

Committing to gentle, respectful, deliberate, intentional parenting – or however you refer to it – means embracing  principles and applying them broadly to humanity, not just your child. Ideas like respect, listening, and encouragement are avenues to building relationships with our children because we see them as people. Why, then, is it so much more challenging to extend these practices to other adults?

 

Abusive parenting aside, there are few parenting decisions that really cause a great divide between other parents and I. We may not feed our children the same way or discipline them using the same principles, but I’ve come to learn that parents whom I have encountered negotiate their decisions the same as I do.

 

There are parenting principles that I hold dear, but most of these decisions are not more important to me than the parent behind them.

 

Our relationships as parents are broader than those between ourselves and our children. To truly cultivate authentic children, they must see in us that which we expect of them.

Parenting Styles Do Not Define the Parent

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Toddler in Garden

 

As a stay at home parent, I try to balance my kids having time at home and time with family and friends. To broaden our social circle, I joined a parenting group after my daughter’s birth.  While the group was mostly positive, I had some unforgettable negative experiences. I felt out-of-sync when it came to relating to the other parents. No one was familiar with RIE or Reggio Emilia, which were the two philosophies that were guiding our parenting decisions.  In my daughter’s second year, I considered starting a parenting group based on my parenting practices and values rather than continuing on in the community based one I belonged to.

 

After researching and contacting a holistic parenting group (which seemed fantastic), I decided against it.

 

The more I got to know the other group members, the more I could relate to them as parents. I learned that the parents I admired most were the ones that based their parenting decisions on how they impacted their children. It wasn’t the conversations about baby-led weaning or cloth diapering – things that I continue to highly value –  that I ended up needing. Rather, it was the good-natured, child-focused parents that reminded me of the kind of parent that I want to be. They are my greatest supporters – even if only by example.

 

 

I have met some wonderful moms and dads whose love for their children is blinding. From the father who plays ring-around-the-rosie with his two year-old daughter for the eighth time despite the scorching heat, to the mother who chooses not to attend a good friend’s party because her son would be overstimulated by the chaos that is essentially a bounce house discotheque, they have helped me see the kind of parent I want to be.

 

I expected to need other adults in our life – especially other parents – so that I could have someone to bounce ideas off of and help me work through parenting struggles. What I didn’t expect was the impact other adults have had on my daughters’ greater sense of belonging.

 

 

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I have come to rely on the other adults in our lives to be part of my children’s understanding of this world.

 

I rely on other parents – especially those in my parenting group – to share who they are and what they know with my daughters. The parents who garden, for example, are passionate and knowledgeable about their craft. They have shared their expertise and their veggies. They have found a way for those of us less capable to still share in these experiences.

 

I think that it is the other parents in my children’s lives that have contributed to developing a healthy sense of trust in others. Parents who have taken the time to get down at eye level with my daughter to read her a book, or demonstrated how to finger knit, have contributed to her burgeoning sense of confidence. Based on her experiences, Greysen expects adults to be responsive to what she has to say. I credit those adults with instilling her with the confidence to order her own food when we are out, or ask questions to museum docents, business owners, and other adults we interact with in the world at large.

 

My daughters are as eager to see the other adults at playgroups as they are to see their peers.  Greysen, in fact, asks for them by name. Whether these adults eat organically or co-sleep is irrelevant in my daughter’s eyes. It is the generosity of their time, their respect for children’s ideas, and the gentleness of their hearts that draw my children in.

 

And so, I have surround myself with other parents. All types of parents. I’ve learned not to exclude myself from relationships based on parenting choices, but rather to look at their capacity to give of themselves by sharing their passions and spirit with my children. That is the world of adults I want my children to know.

 

Positive Parenting is Defined By Faith

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As parents, we make countless short-term decisions based on immediate potential consequences and outcomes.  We choose toys that we think will fascinate, and foods that will satisfy. Our decisions and responses are often simple, even reflexive.

Then, there are other types of decisions. We may know the response to obvious needs – a tired child needs sleep – but how best to help with that need, such as how a child should go to sleep, is not as obvious.

I imagine that there are many of you out there who have family and friends that are supportive and encouraging of your positive parenting strategies. It has been my experience, however, that responsive parenting does not have the popular, cultural, or historical support that more authoritarian parenting does.

There are absolutely times when I am talking to my daughters that I feel like a trailblazer for not employing common parenting strategies. Though I believe in my mind and heart that I am responding in the way that is best for them and myself, there are no clear signposts.

Is acknowledgement of my child’s emotions and wants, coupled with stopping those undesirable behaviors, enough? Responding consistently and confidently to my daughter’s intense needs have changed her behavior, but not eliminated them. I keep thinking, should we try something else?

I’ve been tempted. What if we tried punishment? With more harmful behaviors like biting, sometimes my desperate need for a clear resolution to these behaviors leave me wondering.

Somehow, in the end, I always ask myself, what is she learning by my response?

Believing in the Good in All of Us


Like so many things we learn in our lives, I have faith that the responsive parenting strategies that we try is about the belief that they will one day “pay off.”More important than knowing all the theorists or strategies out there, is holding onto faith. Faith in your child. Faith in yourself, that you are a good parent, and faith in the adults around us, that they too want your child to have confidence and come through this “phase” with confidence and ego intact.

We need to hold onto that faith tightly as we guide our children through the everyday.

I remind Moon to sit at the table repeatedly at about half of our meals. I believe that with reminders, and in time, she will remember to sit down while she eats. I could buckle her in if this were an issue of safety, but it is not. So, instead of using an external strategy, I have faith in her ability to learn that she should sit through her meal.

When we speak to our children, rather than punish them, we demonstrate our faith in their goodness. We have faith that together we can find a way to satisfy their needs and work collaboratively to develop internal controls for unkind or harmful behaviors. In time and with respect, we will grow into an understanding.

Thinking About Girlhood

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At a Kid’s Health and Fitness Fair in our town this weekend, Greysen was literally stopped in her tracks by a trio of young female dancers that offered her an information card about their dance company. She stood after they left commenting on their dresses. Interest piqued, we watched their performance.

 

 

As we headed home, another group of dancers crossed our path and Greysen asked to stay and watch them. While we waited, 10 or so girls on roller skates and tween punkish attire rolled around together -the local girls roller derby team. We watched them until the ballet folklorico performers started.

 

I couldn’t help but wonder what Greysen was thinking and learning about girlhood while she watched. I started to think about my own daughters. Just  fleeting thoughts of the I-wonder-what-she-will-be-like kind.

 

I also thought about the girls we watched. Are the roller derby girls tough? Do the ballerinas have a useful knowledge of classical music? Each group was so different in dress and style I couldn’t help but focus on their differences and if those differences carried over into other parts of their lives.

 

After the last group had finished, I was struck by the commonality of the audiences during each performance. The people were different but the prideful parents grinning behind focused cameras were the same.

 

I’m not sure what Greysen was thinking as she watched these groups of girls but as I watched my daughters twirl and skip to the music in their own way and time, I felt connected to these strangers. We shared a love and admiration for our daughters. Whether they were dressed in classic tutus, ripped shorts, traditional/cultural dress or mismatched toddler play clothes was glaringly irrelevant. What I really care about has nothing to do with music knowledge or dance skills but rather with their sense of self. I hope they continue on as confident as they are now in whatever they chose to wear and in whatever ways they choose to be participants.

Supporting Morning Farewells

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Like so many things in our lives, our daily “Have a good, fun, day!” routines with Mike have changed as the girls do.

 

Young children may be ready to say good-bye one day and may hold on tight to you the next.  Even within healthy attachments and positive environments, children may feel ready to play and see you later or want you to read one more book before you go.  Not only are you saying good-bye to your child, but often there is a change in their context which may contribute to how they feel about saying good-bye.

 

As infants, I would hold the girls if they were upset to say good-bye to Mike. Now, as a toddler, Moon is capable of moving the child-sized furniture around. She regularly moves one of the chairs over to the window to climb up and watch him leave. Mike waves good-bye to the girls from his car before he drives away every morning, regardless of whether we are waiting there or not  . . . just in case.

 

Moon likes to linger a bit after he drives off. She’ll call out things she sees, typically dogs and birds, but may comment on other exciting things that happen outside our front door. She hasn’t shown signs of distress or unhappiness, but I  began to wonder if she needed support since her ques are usually subtle.

 

Support for Transitions. By support, I don’t mean guidance or a lot of explanation. She understands this process and seems to be getting along well. Maybe I was just beginning to question my own busyness in the morning, and wanted to be sure that I wasn’t missing anything.

 

  • Be Present. On the days she stays at the window after Mike has left, I spend a minute or so standing by her.  I may comment that I will miss dad for the day, or I may not. Mostly, I just want to share a moment with her and follow her lead. Sometimes my presence goes unnoticed, and sometimes she reaches for me – I would not have known that she sometimes needs a hug had I not taken just those few minutes to check in with her.

 

  • Representational Toys. I added these recently gifted gnomes and one of our wooden peg people to the window sill to give her an opportunity to process any feelings she may have about saying goodbye. She uses them most days, “walking” them along the sill, leaning them into each other for a quick kiss. I can’t be certain that they represent her feelings about Mike leaving, but the toys are there should she want them for that purpose.

 

 

In the Reggio Emilia tradition, I’ve been trying to think of additional ways that the environment can support this transition. Something simple, something portable. Perhaps a photograph of Mike and the girls on the shelf next to this window?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parenting Roads

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I have written no less than three follow-up posts about how I’m feeling about our hard school experience.  My editor (Mike) has vetoed them all, determining that there is not much to be learned from them. Agreeing that my  “processing” is really of no help to anyone but me, I’ve agreed they are better left in the draft file.

 

So, instead of talking about all the things I consider Greysen’s school could have done differently, I have decided to put the mirror right here.

 

Actually, I started thinking about my parenting one night when Greysen asked me what the lyric, “We know these roads because we paved them” meant as we sat together listening to some music before bed.  I took a hard swallow and searched for a simple explanation.

 

I said something like, “To me, it means that everyone makes decisions, and that we have to live with the consequences of those decisions. We can change our lives, but we need to do something differently than we have been for that to happen.”

 

 

Arrogance or Ignorance?

Honestly, I’m not sure whether it was arrogance or naïveté that led me to think that I would experience few, if any, struggles with parenting in the first years. I thought that based on my experiences, knowledge, and years of longing for children, that these first three years would be nothing but joyful.

 

Before kids, Mike would glance my way, eyebrow raised in question at the sight of a child struggling. Convinced it would be different for us, I would come in close and would explain things we – as parents – would do differently than we were seeing being done. Hypothetical problem solved.
The joy of having children has exceeded my imagination and my heart’s desires; however, there are were far more challenges than blogs, books, and experience could have prepared me for.

 

Try and try as we might, children are going to act in ways we wish they wouldn’t. This is as I expected. That’s growing. What I didn’t expect was that, try and try as we might, we as parents are going to act in ways we wish we wouldn’t.

 

We parent deliberately, but not perfectly.

 

There are no parenting milestones, progress reports, or any other ways to determine whether how we are parenting will develop the skills in our children that will help them be happy adolescents and healthy adults. There are no guarantees that for all the well-intentioned decisions we make, from health to education, that things will work out as we plan. Regardless, we continue to make deliberate efforts to parent in accordance with our heart and our instincts – to trust that the kind, respectful choices we make every day will set our children on a path where they live, love, and laugh.