Quiet Stillness

I want to share with you a poem called “Tenderness of Heart”, written by Patricia Brown. She and her husband host the silent retreats that I have attended for the last 3 years. Having just returned from this year’s retreat, I am reminded of how pushed and pulled we can feel in our daily lives. Feeling controlled by schedules, heartache, to-do lists, worries, causes we hold dear, mistakes we’ve made, and the list goes on – we are constantly on the move – constantly reviewing, planning,  and analyzing. But inside each of us is a quality that connects us to one another, even in this world that seems so divided into us and them. This quality, our quiet stillness, is always there – regardless of how rushed we are – waiting for us to listen, to connect us to what matters most. When I find this stillness and let my “knots” unwind, there is a peace I cannot aptly describe with words, so I’ll leave it to Patricia.
 
Tenderness of Heart
 
I am not afraid of stepping
across the threshold
into the fire of the unknown
of sitting while the body pulsates
with undigested particles of this life
of staying while the knot unwinds.
 
It is the quality of attending I bring to
these moments, I know less about.
The way of the heart
that knows only
of openness and infinite, silent gentleness.
 
THIS
ever-available suspension
around and in everything
inviting me
to simply
 
Be Here
with life
just as it is.
 
~Patricia Brown

Have you heard?

Have you heard what has been happening in the Wilmington Public Schools lately?  

Superintendent Mary Delai is leading Wilmington Public Schools in addressing the mental and behavioral health issues that our youth face.  Superintendent Delai’s approach to mental health issues is a refreshing combination of authenticity, vulnerability, innovative ideas, and active listening. 

Village Parenting’s part of this work is but one small piece of the district wide effort. It has been my pleasure to collaborate with the Wilmington schools over the last few months. 

  • By the end of the school year, I will have taught approximately 200 students the mindfulness curriculum from Mindfulschools.org. 
  • I have provided trainings for very open and welcoming  school staff on both Mindfulness and Family Engagement.   
  • As a result of our combined efforts, a district wide survey was administered to families in order to gauge school climate and other topics related to Family Engagement.  
  • Last week I participated in Wilmington’s first Behavioral Health Fair. 
  • I will also be offering two parenting workshops at the end of this month:  Intentional Parenting on May 24th, and Parents as Educators on May 31st.

In the midst of Mental Health Awareness month, I would like to share with you one of the latest blog posts from Superintendent Delai.  She highlights an important truth when it comes to mental health:  We all struggle.  All of us.  The truth of what we are each going through is not only ok to share, but sharing it is usually vital to our own healing.  Though it may feel like we are the only one who is going through something, that’s never true.  Ever.  I am a living example of this.  When it serves our work, I am open with my private clients about my own struggles with mental health.  Struggle is simply part of the human experience.

Here is the post from Superintendent Delai:

https://wilmingtonsupt.wordpress.com/2016/05/01/observing-mental-health-month/

Parenting Today


parenting is an art pic

Parenting is an art.

The norms of parenting have shifted over the decades. There has always been a range of styles within a generation of parents, but for the most part, parenting from over 40 years ago was more on the “Seen and not heard” or “Speak when spoken to” side of the spectrum.  Rules were rules.  Authority wasn’t questioned.  Kids didn’t question parents without a consequence for having the question itself. Along the way, however, emotional expression and autonomy became increasingly recognized as healthy components of the development of self.  Raising kids who question the status quo and think outside of the box has become more and more of a desired outcome. 

Where does this leave us as parents?  No longer as prescribed as it once was, parenting has become an art.  Rules are questioned, emotions are expressed, and kids are pushing boundaries.  Each family has its own culture and set of values.   We need to raise our kids with our family culture and values as well as our children’s unique set of needs in mind.

I am so grateful that my husband and I are raising our kids in an era when greater value is placed on emotional expression.  If given the choice between a prescribed set of rules to parent with versus a blank slate, I will take the blank slate every time.  But, there’s no denying it has become a more difficult and nuanced task.  

The current age of parenting has left many of us feeling directionless.  How do we get kids to do what we think they should do?  I have even heard someone say, You can’t really say ‘No’ to kids these days.  It’s just not how it works anymore.  To that, I say, not only can you say no, but you must say no.  We just don’t have to say no to everything.  And there are many positive parenting strategies to use which minimize the need for “No” in the first place. 

Parents tell me, My kids do things that I would never have done!  When I ask if they would like to duplicate their own parents’ approach, they do not.  They want a different way.  Here’s the thing.  Once you know what your set of parenting values are, it gets to be a Both-And.  That is, you get to BOTH allow your kids to express themselves AND set a firm, loving boundary where you choose to set it.  Figure out which rules help keep them safe and meet expectations.  Figure out where you can loosen the reins so they can think outside of the box.  Join your kids with compassion when they are struggling, and still set the boundary that you have intentionally chosen.

What Is

For a few months now I’ve been looking forward to this weekend. Yes, it’s finally here: the weekend I get to go be with my brother and sister in beautiful Maine. Three days of yoga, meditation, delicious home cooked meals, and silence. I get to wander 100 acres of trails. Visit the sheep in their pasture. Sit in the sauna again and wander out underneath the stars. For those of you who know me, you know I came back from my first silent retreat at Rolling Meadows with a complete mind shift. It is easy to think back on this weekend with such fondness for all the gifts it brought me.

Well, now it’s here. And I’m kind of ready to dissolve into a puddle of tears. I have that what-if  lump in my throat. There are many what-if-mix-tapes that were totally popular in my head for most of my life. I still get them, but my brain’s dj only plays them now and again. I can mostly recognize them for what they are: anxiety-that’s-trying-to-distract-me-from-something-else. The one playing right now is: What if something unspeakable happens to my family while I’m away. I can’t even get more specific than that because the possibilities running through my mind are that horrific and I’m too afraid to type them out.

Here’s the thing. I have been pining to get back to this retreat ever since I left there this time last year. But, now that it’s here, I remember that it’s hard. It’s hard to drop away from my to do lists, my business, my responsibilities. It’s hard to sit with myself. It’s hard to not be able to rely on my social interactions to put me at ease in a roomful of strangers. It’s hard not to check in with my brother and sister even though they are sitting right next to me. It’s hard to just be and to just feel whatever thoughts and feelings come up. It’s hard not to have coffee, wine, humor, exercise, novels, friends, food, TV and manicures to distract myself. It’s hard to remember to not get caught up in the What Ifs and just remember the What Is.  It’s hard to face the fact that I’m not in control of the safety of my family and that is the truth whether I’m with them or away on retreat.

But I so believe in befriending myself. My true nature is nothing to fear.   I can sit with anything that comes my way. This weekend isn’t about finding bliss. It’s about remembering that I am ok just as I am. I don’t have to do anything to fix a feeling or a thought. I don’t have to attempt to control outcomes. My personality is not who I am. My body is not who I am. I value them, but they are not me. My true nature, my soul, is who I am.

This is what I strive to remember while parenting. My hope is that I can help my kids know and greet themselves with unconditional love. I want them to know that they can handle any thought or feeling that comes their way. I want them to know that there is no amount of winning, losing, achieving, or mistake-making that could make them any more or less lovable. I want them to know that what lies between an event and their response to that event is the present moment. In this present moment lies their true nature. Dwelling in the present moment and embracing our true nature fosters a freedom like no other. This freedom empowers us to step away from distractions and live our life. Right now. In this very moment.

So goodbye, What-Ifs. Hello, Right Now. It’s nice to do nothing except breathe you in.

Mirror, Please

I believe that one of the best things we can do for our kids is to acknowledge what is hard for them.

In our society, children are flooded with well-meaning attempts at boosting self-esteem. This was not always the case.   Starting in the 1960s, a Self-Esteem Movement began. It was going to be the magic bullet which would address every social issue from bullying to teen pregnancy that plagued our youth. Self-Esteem is still the focus of many programs and approaches used today, yet depression and anxiety in children, by some reports have increased. Now, I know that I cannot argue a cause and effect between the two. But, I think I have a strong case when I say that the Self-Esteem Movement is no magic bullet.

I don’t know about you, but my never-ending-journey towards being comfortable in my own skin has been comprised of some very necessary steps:

  1. Recognizing my weaknesses
  2. Accepting my weaknesses (not to be confused with complacency)
  3. Loving my weaknesses
  4. Realizing my weaknesses are also my strengths

We all have weaknesses. Our children have weaknesses. Yet, our kids are surrounded by constant praise. To be clear, I am not advocating that we never compliment our children or worse, that we only tell our children that they are lacking. I am, however, suggesting that one of the greatest gifts we can give is to hold up a properly functioning mirror. They can look in this mirror and recognize what they see, not some overinflated (or under-inflated) version of themselves which is impossible to sustain.

Kids are smart. They know they are not good at everything. If they are repeatedly told that they are good at everything, it doesn’t match up to what they innately know is true.  If kids feel they can’t show any flaws, that becomes an exhausting façade to maintain for the world.

In my classroom, I did my best to create a safe environment where sharing one’s “weaknesses” was not only ok, but was celebrated as a sign of strength. I made a habit of asking my 4th graders what was hard for them after a lesson. In the beginning of the year, no one would raise their hand. Their eyes would nervously shift to one another and then back at me as if to say, You are crazy if you think I’m raising my hand, lady.  But then I would start to describe a strong student as one who knew what was hard for them. A strong student was not one that everything came easy for; in fact, that student does not exist. As the year progressed, tentative hands would start to rise when I asked the question. By the end of the year, some kids were eagerly raising their hands to explain in detail which parts of the lesson confused them.   I can’t imagine that my approach helped everyone to feel more comfortable, but I’d like to think that it helped some.

When I am flooded by what is hard for me and I do get flooded, the best thing that someone can say to me is: It’s ok. I love you. I love all of you. The Theresa who doesn’t struggle is not a different person than the Theresa who does struggle. You are one whole person and I love every part of you.

I firmly believe that the well-intentioned Self-Esteem Movement has missed its mark. Instead of helping children to love themselves, we have inadvertently taught kids that they are lovable because they are good at everything.

I believe we need to be authentic with our children. Let’s not deny that some things are hard for them. In fact, I think we should help them get better acquainted with their weaknesses. And then, help them realize that terms like “strength” and “weakness” are actually fluid. Every personality trait that can be identified can reveal itself as both a strength and a weakness. Maybe someone is stubborn on a tough day, but decisive and confident on a better day. Maybe a student’s trouble with math leads them to an inspiring career in the arts. Maybe a tendency to shutdown out of fear of heartache can actually reveal an incredible amount of life-changing empathy for others. Maybe the flip side of lashing out at others is a strong sense of and passion for justice.

I say, let’s help our kids to know and love themselves in a true, unconditional way. It’s not easy, and there will be messy moments along the way, but let’s let them in on the Open Secret.

The Seedling and the Soil

The soilPhoto Credit: © <a href=

that the seedling

must

struggle through

is also greatly responsible for

its blossom.

Before my parenting journey began, I often imagined that I would raise my future children to be issue free. Please reread that sentence and soak in its absurdity. I thought I could protect my children from every –ism, every mistake, every heartache.

By the time I actually became a parent I had accepted that things might not be perfect, but I was hell bent on keeping things asperfectandpainlessaspossible for my child. After all, I had learned some hard lessons and felt I could make a pretty close to perfect life for my child. Why would she need to struggle when I already had? All I had to do was teach her how to avoid the pitfalls that I had experienced. Easy!

Little by little, and 3 kids later, I am learning and relearning that I can’t keep my children pain free. Recently, I was talking to two members of my village about how to help one of my children with some school troubles. We bounced around ideas and then one of them pressed pause on the whole conversation and said: “These are good ideas, but nothing is going to teach him quite like struggling through it.” My heart sank. I didn’t want him to feel less than what I knew he was: Enough Just As He Is.

But as I let the thought of his struggle being important percolate, I began to breathe easier. Maybe it wasn’t my job to prevent hurt feelings on the playground, a less than perfect student-teacher fit, consequences of unmet responsibilities, hurting someone else, self-doubt and negative self-talk, any and everything that would break his heart.

Think of the hardest experiences you’ve had. Think of the lessons you’ve learned from them. Now imagine that someone just told you those lessons, asked you to take notes, and then shielded you from ever learning it for yourself. I don’t know about you, but I just wouldn’t have learned.  I wouldn’t have learned that by shutting down from pain, I also shut down from joy.   I wouldn’t have learned what love isn’t. And, so, by logic, I wouldn’t have learned what love is. I wouldn’t have learned that I can bear two miscarriages and the anxiety that came with my subsequent pregnancies. I wouldn’t have learned that I can survive the grief of losing a loved one. I wouldn’t have learned that she is still with me every day. And I wouldn’t have learned that the grief I survived will come back and burn as fiercely as the first time and then recede again. If I hadn’t first hated my faults, I wouldn’t have learned to love them. I wouldn’t have learned that everything is my teacher. Nothing matches experiential learning. Traveling through my struggle is the only way to my next lesson, my next burst of creativity, or my next way to give.

As it turns out, I can’t make my kids’ lives perfect.   I can plant seeds, add nutrients to the soil, and water consistently. Their struggle, that soil that they are pushing through, is their teacher and friend. Their struggle will have more impact than any protective bubble and life-instruction-sheet I can hand them. I can’t deny my children their right to the struggle. How else will they blossom into who they were meant to be?

My Open Secret

Rumi, a poet born in 1207, refers to what he calls the Open Secret in a lot of his writing. My understanding of this Open Secret is that we are all walking around feeling vulnerable, with a fear of how we are inadequate, and we work really, really hard to keep that a secret. But! The open part of this “secret” is that we all have the same secret. We are all walking around fearing the same thing! It is in being open about our own fears where true connection with others happens. No longer are we left wondering how everyone else has it so together. Rather, we realize that we are not alone in our experience of being human. I first read about the Open Secret in the book Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser. I can’t recommend this book enough! An excerpt from her book on the Open Secret can be found by clicking here. (and can I just add that I love that Rumi is from the 13 century?? It reassures me that this Open Secret is very much a universal and timeless truth.)

The reason I mention this Open Secret is because I think this is so very present in parenting. It is easy to feel alone and inadequate at this job. Pinterest, Facebook, and Our Internal Voices can incessantly tell us that everyone else has it together. Village Parenting is about remembering that we are not alone and we are not inadequate. We all have great moments, messy moments, and everything in between. And we need each other. No one can do this alone. It truly does take a village.

My workshops, my consultations and this blog are places to share your insecurities and hear someone else say, Me too. At workshops (or Village Parenting Circles) we give space to our ideas, our struggles, and our successes. The most powerful moments are when people share what is difficult. A nurturing space is developed and people go there (if they choose to) and it is honored by others and it is beautiful. During a workshop, after listening to others and doing my own sharing, I am somehow reinvigorated to tackle the job of parenting my own kids. With this blog, my hope is to create an online version of that space. Not quite the same as in person, but special nonetheless.

Ask questions. Share your messy moments, your victories, and your ideas. The only rule is that you do so in a kind way that honors the Open Secret we all share.