Thursday, June 30, 2011

Power to Parent Five

This is the fifth post in a series on Thursdays summarizing the Power to Parent DVD course by Dr. Gordon Neufeld. I'm thrilled with the positive responses I've been hearing from readers about these concepts. I've got my fingers crossed that more of these DVD courses will be offered in the fall and the winter as I cannot recommend them enough.

This session is about preserving or restoring the ties that empower. Attachment is a stronger need than even the drive for food; it is the most significant human hunger there is. As parents, we must assume responsibility for fulfilling our child's attachment hunger. Our children are meant to belong to us, and we must assume that we are the best bet for our kids.

This is arrogance of the best possible kind - the confidence that we have exactly what our child needs. This restores us to our dignity. We can assume a generous attitude and offer the impression that there is always more to draw from. We can say, "Don't worry, I'm responsible for this relationship, I will take care of you, and this well won't run dry."

He listed these four ways that parents can take responsibility for the relationship:

1. Convey that the relationship is more important than conduct or achievement
2. Take charge of preserving a sense of connection
3. Be careful about conveying the message that the child is responsible for the contact and closeness
4. Give the impression that nothing could sever the relationship

You want to avoid the idea that your child feels they must be good to be accepted. This causes anxiety because they can't possibly be good all of the time (no one can). It's not what they do, it's who they are in relation to us. Kids need to know that the relationship will survive the issue at hand. This message must be conveyed in success and in failure. It's not about the achievement.

The parent is always responsible to mend the relationship. The child is not in charge. Saying things like, "I'll always be your mom, I'm not going anywhere" provides extra security. He also suggested using phrasing like, "Until we meet again" instead of goodbye for children who fear separation of any kind.

Use structure and ritual to cultivate connection and protect the relationship. It's important to safeguard your relationships before you lose control of them. Eating a sit-down meal together is less about the food and more about the ritual of connecting with each other. We need to impose limits which protect our child's attachment to us, and also create customs and traditions designed to cultivate a context of connection.

Refrain from using discipline that divides or hardens. Avoid using the relationship against the child. Any form of shunning, separation or withdrawal of love is harmful. We don't want to convey to our children that they could possibly lose relationship with us.

Using what children care about against them is referred to today as "consequences". This can communicate an adversarial relationship with the child, and it de-sensitizes them to caring. If what they care about is used against them, they cannot depend on us and end up hurt by us, so the caring becomes bad to them.

Avoid using threats and ultimatums to bring a child into line. If the brain becomes too afraid, we numb out our feelings of alarm, and we need our vulnerabilities. Many ultimatums are too much to bear for sensitive children, and they capitulate out of fear that they might lose the relationship, and then they harden their heart (to see this in action, read any of my posts about William in this last school year, or the ones in March 2011 when I was in counseling).

We must soften a child's heart in order to deepen the attachment and correct dominance problems. A soft heart means the child is capable of being deeply moved, curious, caring, feeling vulnerable, is scared when he or she should be, and is in touch with a range of emotions. Under a hard child is a very damaged one. It's concerning when they are numbed out and can't cry. We must work to thaw out our kids' frozen emotions.

It's important to put rules in place to preserve the vulnerability of children and not allow anyone to shame them. We can protect our kids from stress that overwhelms them, and lead the way by melting their hearts with warm words. We can say, "It's okay to feel hurt and scared." Sometimes we need to revisit upsetting experiences with our children to draw out the sadness and disappointment. As parents, we have to realize that our children are fragile and vulnerable, but often they are defended against those feelings, acting like they don't care when underneath that hard shell, they care deeply.

We must reclaim our kids if they have replaced us with something or someone else. We can fix it, but in reverse, having the resolve to remove the competition. We are the best answer for our children, and if we act with confidence, we can create an attachment void that we alone can fill, and arrange for our child to depend on us. We can do this by assuming a nurturing role and refusing to allow ourselves to be alienated.

Soft hearts are the key. This was life-changing for me, as I had been running from my own vulnerability for years and failing to nurture and grow it in my children. Now I feel like I have permission to own it for myself and value it more in others. It is significantly easier to parent when we have the hearts of our children in our hand.

One of the documents which came home from Ava's class at the end of the school year said she was smart and generous. She looked up at me with her big eyes, and said, "Do you think that's true, mommy?" In that moment, I had the power to crush her idea of herself or confirm it. I smiled and said, "Of course I do, Ava, I see that you are both smart and generous, and also a million other wonderful things." She walked away, her shoulders a little taller, and I saw again how powerful our position as parents can be, as long as our children have soft hearts that are open to us.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

First Day of Summer

Today we officially head into summer. School is finished for Ava, William's preschool graduation was last night, and all recitals and wrap-up events are completed. June felt like a marathon run, and I'm so ready to turn off the alarm clock and simply unwind and relax.

This will be the first summer of my adult life where I can enjoy leisure without feeling guilty. I have worked hard to move past that sense of anxiety when I'm not racing around accomplishing something all of the time. Part of it is getting older, and going back to counseling to talk through some of the things which have held me back in life, and recognizing that my value is in who I am and not in what I do or produce.

I have definitely been relaxed before, but only as a reward for crossing a hundred things from my to-do list. Now I want to be more reasonable about what I hope to accomplish in any given day or week. I'm trying to slow down and enjoy what is in front of me, realizing that I will have more time in the future when my kids are older and in school, to be able to pursue all that I want to do with my life.

I'm tired of rushing and regretting all that I don't have time to do. This summer I'm changing my expectations, and offering myself permission to unwind, make memories with my kids, and have a little playtime and fun. I hope to find a little time each day to write, but I won't stress about it like I have in the past. I'll make leisure a priority, and not apologize for it, to myself or to anyone.

It's going to be an experiment, but one I'm eager to try. Now that my kids are 8 and 5, I can do more spur-of-the-moment things with them. There are no more diaper bags, or strollers/wagons, or naps. There is just us, and what we might feel like doing on any given day. My confidence has really improved in this area too, as I used to need Jason to come with us to the beach or Calaway Park, but now I know for sure I can do it on my own, and that's a wonderfully independent and freeing feeling.

Hello, summer. I've been waiting for you.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Flower to the Sun

Today is Ava's last day of Grade 2. Like all endings, this one is bittersweet, as the girl who began the school year is now gone forever, only available in our collective family memory. She has grown and changed so much this year, turning from 7 to 8 and suddenly growing up to be aware of danger and sadness in an entirely new way.

She is not nearly as innocent and little as she used to be. With her adult teeth came maturity and awareness that I hadn't anticipated before I saw it happening in front of me. She asked much bigger questions than I thought she was capable of, and cried real tears as she came to terms with many new fears and concepts. I would say that she wrestled through a lot of things this year, moving slowly from a child who was sheltered and protected to one who began to understand that the world is not as safe as she hoped it was.

As I became vulnerable this year, Ava followed suit. I saw that I pushed her to be too independent too fast when she was a preschooler, and we both paid a price for that. She needed to feel permission to be dependent on me; to need me and not have to carry such a heavy burden for herself. Recognizing this need and taking over this burden for her changed forever the balance of our relationship. I told her it was okay to be a child, and to rely on me as her mother, and that I would do the heavy lifting and relieve her of that stress.

This opened up the space between us in a whole new way, enlarging the landscape of what existed for us as a mother and a daughter. It made her clingy and afraid to go to school for awhile, because she sobbed in the van and said that she would miss me during the day. I had no idea how to respond to this as it was so out of character for her. I expected that dependence from William, but Ava was my independent child.

It's always dangerous to label. Ava had been independent early because I made it clear that was what I expected from her, and she wanted to comply so that I would find her acceptable. I hate typing it out like that, in harsh black and white, but that's what happens when you aren't aware of the relationship dynamics churning underneath. I pushed her because I knew I could, and I believed I was helping her.

But of course I wasn't. She simply grew another layer of protective shell to hide that vulnerable core. This year, I showed her that it was okay to be dependent on me, and that I didn't need her to prove her independence anymore. I remembered to look at her and see an 8 year old child, who was fearful and unsure, and only pretending to have it all together.

This kind of thing was familiar to me, as it was my go-to defense mechanism as a child, but I didn't want Ava to get to 38 and realize that this pretense had helped her to fit in and be liked but didn't actually do anything else for her. I wanted her to be herself, in all circumstances, and to show her vulnerable core and know that she would be loved and accepted for it by those who really mattered, and to learn to be okay with not being liked by some people.

That happened, for both of us this year. I was focused on William for the first half of the school year, and by the spring, when things were more stable between him and I, Ava turned to me and began to soften and change. She grew in my direction, like a flower does with the sun, and I saw that she needed me in exactly the same way that William did, and always had. So I worked, one on one with each of my children, to parent them in the individual ways that they required.

The results were worth every tear that was shed, and every discussion that we engaged in, because the relationship that we are building is meant to last forever. We needed a new base to build on, one that would withstand all that would come against it, and be grounded in something real instead of something pretend. I am so proud of Ava this year. She has changed, and allowed herself to be vulnerable in a whole new way, and has inspired me with her bravery.

Monday, June 27, 2011

What You See

"It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see." I saw this yesterday in the form of a painting on the wall, and I was intrigued by it. This weekend, Jason and I had a discussion about something that happened between us, and I was amazed that his version of what he meant and my version of what I heard were light years apart.

So much of our human communication is like that. We all speak, knowing exactly what we mean, but by the time the other person filters it through their grid, it ends up as different as a child's game of telephone. Words have specific meanings to each of us, in the context of our families of origin and our workplaces and other various filters, and we simply cannot assume that someone else means the same thing as we do when we open our mouths to have a conversation.

I'm reminded again of the importance of clarification in any kind of discussion. It's not fair to believe we know what the other person means, especially when the stakes are high (i.e. in marriage, when you end up resentful and that atmosphere spreads like a disease in your household, affecting everyone in its path). Taking a little extra time to ask, "What did you mean by that?" can make all of the difference in the temperature of the relationship.

I wish it hadn't taken me so long to learn this. Jason used to tiptoe around me when I was angry about something, and I don't want that anymore. I want us to have equal participation in the communication portion of our relationship, but that means we must often clarify what the other person is actually meaning. What we think it means is not the same as what the other person means.

Differences between the sexes is a factor here, but even with friends this miscommunication is a common issue. It only takes a few minutes more to ask for clarification. The key is to keep the heated emotion out of it as much as possible. This is easier said than done. I've been ready to fire my gun more times than I can count, when the other person wasn't actually attacking me.

When we start to allow ourselves to be vulnerable in our significant relationships, this clarification process is an important relationship skill to learn. I'm still fumbling my way through it, as a person does in a power outage in the dead of night with your fingers outstretched hoping to find a flashlight and avoid bumping your shins on the furniture.

It's not pretty to watch, but I want to learn how to communicate clearly first, and defend or attack second. Often the first will negate the second, but we have to be willing to set aside our specific point of view in order to look at it from another perspective, and that can be a challenging thing to do.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

God is Not Angry With You

A few weeks ago my pastor said, "God is not angry with you" and I've had that phrase rattling around in my brain ever since. I've been trying to find space in my mental picture of God for an all-powerful being who isn't actually irritated with me. For some reason, without even realizing it, this was the image I had of God. It was subtly taught to me for most of my life, and it's refreshing to re-train my mind to think differently about God.

As my pastor said, "Why would God create us and then be mad at us, waiting for us to fail all of the time?" That kind of a God makes no sense, if you stop and think about it, but for some unknown reason it seems to be the general feeling I had about God. I don't know where this comes from, but I'm happy to abolish it from my world view. God loves me. I was always taught this, but along with it came the vague uncertain idea that his standards were so high and impossible to meet, so as a result he was almost always disappointed in me.

It's a relief to think differently about it now. To use how I love my kids as an incomplete picture of how God loves me. I don't sit back and judge my kids for their occasional poor choices, feeling superior to them in some way. My love for them is greater than my distaste at what they do sometimes, and I like to think of God loving me first and foremost, and believing in me instead of shaking his head in a frustrated way when I'm less-than-stellar.

I don't know how these ideas of God develop, but once they are in there, they can be hard to shake. Simply hearing the phrase, "God is not angry with you" had the power to cut a cord which had been attaching me to a faulty image of God. I believe now that it's not about our behaviour at all. I thought it was for many years, but I see it differently at this stage of my life. It's about love, and mercy, and being accepted for who we are and not for what we do. If God loves and accepts me, warts and all, then why would he be angry at me and constantly expect my behaviour to be better than it is?

I'm frustrated that I felt set up to fail for so many years. I really don't believe that it has to be as complicated as we make it. It's actually very simple. When Jesus was asked about the most important things, he said, "Love God. Love others." Four words which can anchor us in something real and true and has the ability to change us from the inside out. It's also damn challenging to truly love and be loved, because grace and forgiveness must exist alongside of love. One doesn't work without the other.

There is so much freedom to be found in the idea that God isn't itching to sit in judgement on us, but in fact would rather hold us tight and tell us that he loves us, exactly as we are. We don't need to change for him or pretend to be better than we are. He knows us at our core, and loves us where we are at. The best relationships in life reflect this principle as well. There is no sense in pretending, because our true colours always rat us out in the end. It's better to step forward, as ourselves, and be loved for who we really are and not who we desperately wish to be.

God is not angry. He loves us, each one of us, and accepts us as we are. It's just so hard to accept ourselves, but if we do, and find that we are loved in spite of our many shortcomings, we can experience healing and peace in a whole new way. That has certainly happened for me, and I want more of that in my life. I want it for my kids, and for my friends and for my family. I want it for everyone, as it provides the answer to so many of the questions, and brings joy and contentment to a hole that could never be filled before I came to discover that it was not about performance but all about love.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Freedom to Fail

Learning to fail while writing was the single best thing I've discovered, for it set me free to pursue my dreams in a whole new way. When I thought I had to be perfect, the bar was too high to perform at all, and so I backed away. Then I hated myself for my fear, and I mercilessly berated myself for my weakness, and I ended up treading water when I could have been swimming and getting somewhere.

Failing is not the enemy. Fear of failing is. Fear of anything is more damaging than the actual thing that we are dreading happening to us. Actually failing is not the end of the world. We have to fail in order to improve at something, and quite often we fail through no fault of our own. Life is not always fair, and sometimes it's our time to win and sometimes to lose. Learning to accept this and not take it personally has opened up the whole world to me.

I like seeing my kids fail, and feel disappointed and frustrated, and then recover. It doesn't have to crush them. I really didn't understand this concept before about two years ago. I find that my relentless drive to compete with others has abated too, as I think it was tied into the fear of failing. Understanding that it's necessary to fail on the way to success has opened up my mind and allowed me to be much more generous with others.

I always wanted my writing to be perfect before. That's a big part of why I began blogging in the first place. I knew if I had to write something every day and put it out into the world, it wasn't going to be perfect. I wouldn't have hours to wordsmith and finesse and make it brilliant. It was going to pour out of me, and be readily available on the internet, and I was going to have to let go of my need for it to be polished and perfect.

I realized over the initial six weeks of the blogging experiment that I got marginally better with each post I wrote. I worried less, and didn't obsess over it as much, and I allowed the thoughts and words to come without censoring them so much. Our inner censor is mean and cruel and should be abolished altogether, if not outright murdered. That critic inside of me stopped me at every turn before, and offering myself the freedom to steamroll over him in order to meet a daily deadline turned his volume to mute and allowed me to get on with the business of writing.

Freedom to fail is an essential ingredient for anyone who is successful. If you can't fail, you can't succeed either. I love that I can teach my kids this, and understand it somewhere in the marrow of my bones. It's not an idea anymore, but a way of life. The criticism or judgement I receive from others hurts a lot less when I know I'm allowed to fail. I can just say, "Oh well, I tried, and I'll keep trying until I get better at what I'm doing."

The praise tends to mean more too, because you aren't arguing with the person, saying, "Oh, it's not actually that good" the way I used to. I thought this sounded modest, but really it was garbage. Being a perfectionist is so hard because the praise doesn't reach you (as you don't tend to believe it) and the criticism destroys you (because you've already told yourself what you've produced is no good). I can now take a compliment and express genuine gratitude for it, and I can take it to the bank of my soul and let it grow there, paying dividends in my confidence for years to come.

I've learned that if I read or watch or experience something that moves me or changes me in some way, I let the artist know, because that praise means so much. If we know we aren't perfect, but we are getting a little better at what we are working on every single day, then we have laid the ghost of perfectionism and it can't wound us like it used to.

If you struggle with wanting to be perfect, I encourage you to set a goal of imperfection in what you are doing for a short period of time (six weeks was great for me). Then when you hit your goal, and see that the world didn't implode, and you recognize that your work is slowly improving, you will have a chance to silence that inner judge, and you will regain the keys to your own creative kingdom.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Under the Scab

Yesterday was William's last day of four year old preschool. I dropped him off, got back in my van, and marveled at the personal upheaval he has undergone in the last year. He went from a terrified little boy, clinging to my leg and whimpering most of the time, to a confident kid, at home in his own skin, and secure in the knowledge that he is loved and accepted.

It has not been an easy road to walk from there to here, but so worth it when I turn around and measure how far he has come. Parenting is hard, and fraught with so much self-doubt and fear, but when it goes right, it's important to stand up and notice. I'm into celebrating these days, as each milestone needs to be marked and enjoyed for the accomplishment that it is, no matter how big or small it may be.

He graduates from preschool on Tuesday, and for the last few months he has expressed fear about going into kindergarten, but vocalizing these concerns seems to be abating for him. I love that I can see my own qualities so much clearer in him now, and they are good qualities. Sure, my natural trend toward pessimism and anxiety can be frustrating, but those things also ground you in reality and help you dot all of your "i's" and cross all of your "t's".

William is thorough, like I am, and careful, and thinks things through before he commits. He takes a long time to warm up in any new situation, and fears being embarrassed more than anything else. This is a perfect picture of me as a child, and where I was in denial before and fought with him over these things, now I can look for what is most positive and helpful about these traits and help him navigate them.

I needed confidence in order to parent this child. I needed permission for my own character qualities, the good and the bad, and to be willing to own who I am before I could embrace those things in William. I think that we tend to fear what we don't understand, and when these things are buried deep in our subconscious, we panic when the scab is ripped from the wound and it hurts all over again but we don't know what is actually happening.

That's the best way I know to describe what the first three years of William's life were like for me; a constant pulling on a scab that never fully healed, and it hurt badly whenever the wound was exposed to the air and the light. And yet this pain brought me the greatest gift imaginable when I sat in a counselor's office with William, wanting to pin all of our relationship issues on him, and realized that the problem was mine. It was a moment of clarity, like a lightning bolt, where I could see what was going on under the surface, and then slowly find a way to fix it.

Gratitude is too small of a word for what I have learned through my son. I ached for what I had done to him without having any conscious idea of what I was doing, and I eventually offered forgiveness to myself. I broke down the wall I had built between me and my three year old boy, and he turned to me without any hesitation, and found I was actually there to give him what he had been looking for all along.

In healing the rift between us, he came into a deeper sense of himself and so did I. Now I can see him as he really is, and recognize the beauty in his soul, and see so many of my own qualities mirrored in him. Now that I can embrace them and own them for myself, I can help him grow into them, much earlier than I was able to. As he grows and develops, so do I, and somehow the lurching messiness of the process is inspiring.

Scabs can heal properly, but only if we allow them to. It's the easy way out to blame others and say it is someone else's fault. We all get hurt, and we all hurt others, but if we can bravely face what's festering under the scab, we can understand why it hurts so badly, and develop a plan to make it better. If we really want to grow, there is no other way. Each scab has a story to tell, and if we pay attention to that story, we have the chance to heal so it doesn't hurt every time someone nudges around that spot.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Power to Parent Four

This is the fourth in a series on Thursdays summarizing the work of Dr. Gordon Neufeld in his Power to Parent DVD course. This one is about how to keep from losing a child to competing attachments. If you haven't read the first three installments, you can find One here, and Two, and Three. Each concept builds on the last, so it's important to read them in order.

He began by talking about magnetism as an attachment force. All magnets are polarized, and there is an element of incompatibility with attachment. He showed a picture of a magnet with a variety of metal shavings, and all of the shavings line up on the north pole and the south pole, but they repel each other. This force is alive and well in attachment, because if a child matters to one parent, then there is a possibility that the other one won't seem to count to the child.

For every pursuit of proximity, there is a resistance. Parents can find themselves on the wrong side of the attachment magnet. It seems to be a natural instinct to push one parent away in order to remain attached to the other. It's not personal, but it's a survival instinct (I can certainly attest to this as a child of divorce).

If kids feel that people are on competing sides of their magnet (parents, teachers, peers, etc.), they will experience competing attachments. Kids are like the solar system, and they need to orient around the sun, not other planets. It's important for children to share an attachment in common (i.e. parents and teachers) and not worry that their attachments are competing with each other. Kids are meant to orbit their parents, not their peers or anyone else who will compete with you.

As an attachment forms and strengthens, the brain says, "Now we have to protect this attachment." It polarizes, creating boundaries between those who are safe and those who are not (this is the "making strange" stage for babies and natural shyness for preschoolers and children). This is how nature protects our attachments. When the child is not ready, they are shy, and they can't form new attachments. He explained that kids are never shy with people they are attached to.

This concept was really helpful for me to understand, as shyness is not a bad thing. It's a good, protective device which is natural for children. He suggested going for depth of relationship with a shy preschooler, not breadth by forcing them into more relationships. A shy person wants to attach to someone that their attachment is connected to. Dr. Neufeld calls this a working village of attachment.

He talked about matchmaking our kids with adults by intentionally creating a connection. We do this unconsciously with siblings by endearing them to each other by matchmaking for a non-competitive relationship, saying things like, "What a great big sister you have, you are fortunate to have someone so caring as your sister." We need to build their attachments one by one as resources for our kids to feel safe and loved. Our culture used to do this for us, but now we have to do it ourselves for our kids.

The problem is not in the number of attachments the child has, but in the number of competing attachments (anything that is in competition with their attachment to us). Anything that pulls our children out of orbit from their main attachment has the potential to compete with us as parents. We can feel when there is resistance in our relationships as we come close and the person pulls away. Does your child keep friends and parents apart? When attachments are working well, kids want their attachments on the same side of the magnet (for parents to like their friends and boyfriend/girlfriend, etc.).

We tend to think that kids have to detach from parents in order to become their own person. This is not true. Attachment is the womb of individuality and maturity. Going back to Dr. Neufeld's plant analogy from session two, the deeper the roots of attachment, the more likely children are to give birth to their own individuality. Without these deep roots, a child can miss out on a sense of security, and the idea that she matters, and can end up taking care of others instead of herself (and I know this is true because it happened to me as a child).

To keep from being replaced by competing attachments, we can either reduce the sense of separation from our child, or increase their attachment village. We need to work on significance, going deeper with our children and helping them understand that they really matter to us. If we offer them a sense of unrequited love and acceptance, this makes us irreplaceable and then there is no competition.

We need to hold onto our parenthood for as long as we need to parent. Kids aren't ready to separate and become independent until they have been allowed to be fully dependent on their parents. They need us, and it's okay that they need us. This is the opposite message that most of us receive today while parenting, but I found it so liberating, and in testing it out within my family, I have found it to be utterly true.

I don't want my kids in competing attachments of any kind. I want Jason and I to be the sun in their solar system, so that they can safely orbit around us. When those roots have gone deep and done their work, our kids will be ready to individuate and become independent, but on their timetable and not on ours.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Doubly Good to You

I got an iTunes gift card recently, so I trawled around looking for new music to download. I ended up finding a lot of old music, which I owned on cassette tape once upon a time in the stone age (and those tapes are now in a landfill somewhere as I no longer have the ability to play them on anything). One of the albums which popped up was Amy Grant's Straight Ahead, with its simple white background featuring a vertical streetlight in the middle of the cover.

I loved this record as a young teenager. It was released in 1984, when I was twelve, just on the cusp of becoming a teen, and yet still holding on to childhood. I attended Christian school and would describe myself now as sheltered and fearful of the big, bad world. I listened solely to Christian artists like Steven Curtis Chapman, Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant. When Hungry Eyes came out in 1988 and was a monster hit, I felt pious when I refused to listen to its overtly sexy lyrics and closeted myself in my bedroom to listen to my "safe" Christian music.

I'm so glad that I don't subscribe to these ideas any more, and that my kids won't have to work these exact fears out of their system (I'm sure they will have others, but fear of what goes on in the entertainment world hopefully won't be one of them). It's not as though I regret listening to Christian music, because now when I hear these songs as an adult, I am overcome by memories of myself when I was young and innocent and just feeling my tentative way into the world, but I wish I hadn't been so afraid of everything that the world had to offer.

All of that to say, when I listened to Amy Grant's song Doubly Good to You yesterday, I bawled. Not gentle tears, but the kind of crying where you lower your head, and put your hands by your ears, and let it rip from somewhere deep inside. Music can unlock a door that we closed and bolted shut for a variety of reasons, but when we hear it, we can access those places again.

We can go back, and find that we still own those precious parts of ourselves. Our youth makes up a big part of who we are, no matter how incomplete of a picture it provides. It is still ours to own, and the music we listened to then can take us back and make us feel things we thought were long gone.

The chorus of this beautiful and stirring song says, "You can thank the father, for the things that he has done, and thank him for the things he's yet to do. If you find a love that's tender, if you find someone who's true, thank the Lord, he's been doubly good to you." I remember listening to this in my teens, yearning in that desperate manner of youth, hoping against hope that this would happen to me.

I realized yesterday that it has, above and beyond my wildest imaginings, and I bowed my head and thanked God. For all that he's done and all that he still plans to do. This concept of being between what's happened and what is going to happen is so inspiring to me. It's a good place to be in. I can look behind me and see all of the ground that I've covered, but when I look ahead, I know there is still so much to come. And it is not only good, but it's doubly good.

I want to look at my life with this phrase in my mind, for it stirs me to gratitude and thankfulness for the beauty and love that is all around me on any given day, and it's no good at all to me if I can't feel it and see it and be grateful for it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Relationship Diamonds

Every so often in a marriage or any other significant relationship, tensions build up and overflow in the form of sniping comments, angry words or stony silences. All of these serve as poison to the overall health of each person within the relationship, and the antidote seems to come in the form of clearing the air through an honest discussion.

I always struggle to initiate these difficult conversations. Something is inbred in me, deep down, which feels allergic to confrontation. I have learned to improve in this area, as I've discovered it's impossible to be authentic without it, but it still mimics the action of pulling teeth. Eventually the scales tip, and I can't take the tension any longer, and I find a time when the kids are away or sleeping, and begin talking.

Intimacy functions best when both people are open to its work. True intimacy is impossible unless you can be seen by the other person for exactly who you are. I've had enough pretending to last a lifetime, and now I want to be seen for me, and accepted as such. Of course, for this to work well, I must also see my husband for who he is, and not who I think he is or who I want him to be.

Misunderstandings can happen at any time. You don't get a warning, and suddenly you are angry or resentful or sad, and a conversation has to happen to restore balance and equality to the relationship. This happened for us on the weekend. As much as I hate the beginning of the conversation, I realized somewhere in the middle, when I was crying and sharing honestly how I felt and really hearing Jason's side of the situation, that being willing to risk who you really are with those you trust is the only way to build intimacy in the relationship.

It's no good investing in something which is built on half truths and shaky perceptions. You need a base to work from which is as honest as possible. This requires risk like I have never known before, because there is no wiggle room. If I am rejected when I'm being as honest as I can about who I am and how I feel, it's very hard to bounce back from that. I see now that I didn't have the moral courage to be fully myself before, because the stakes were simply too high.

The flip side of this is that when you are truly yourself in a vulnerable conversation, and you aren't trying to impress or make yourself sound better than you are, and you are seen with your warts showing and are accepted anyway, you get a sense of intimacy which can't be found any other way than through this beautifully messy process.

It's the difference between a cubic zirconia and a diamond. One is cheap and easily accessible, and the other is valuable and rare. I want relationship diamonds now, and it doesn't matter to me how much they cost because I know that the price is worth it. What lasts is genuine and true, and that's where the growing happens.

I learned this weekend that what hurts us the most also brings with it tremendous healing power. When we risk who we are with people who are worthy of that risk, we can sew up our wounds and find true intimacy with another in the process.

What is life about if we can't be vulnerable with each other, and if we can't reveal our true selves to those who love us most? I want to take more relationship risks from this point forward, and trust that those who love me will be gentle with the deepest areas of my heart, when I am able to offer them up in search of understanding and acceptance.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Ups and Downs

Recovery is a difficult process, filled with many ups and downs. The rewards of working on yourself cannot be measured with any degree of accuracy, because they are so deep and internal, but the way you relate to others changes as you grow personally, and that becomes a sort of yardstick. Most of the time I beat myself over the head with this yardstick, and forget to look at where the positive changes have taken root and are making a difference in my day-to-day life.

I wish it didn't take me so long to figure out when I'm in a tailspin. Someone says or does something, and I'm not aware of the impact it is having on me until further down the line when I've allowed myself to once again be stressed out and anxious over it. This people-pleasing gene refuses to go quietly into the night; it rears up like an unschooled pony when I least expect it and I'd like to think that eventually I'll see what's happening sooner than I did this week.

Our emotions are tricky things. If we were wholly unified within ourselves (which most of us are not) we would feel something, examine it and pinpoint exactly what it is trying to tell us. This would be a better way of handling things, but I seem to spin in circles, frustrated but not sure why, until I sit down and take the time to draw a line from point A to B or even Z if its been building up for a long time.

Often we need someone else to point out what should be obvious but is actually hidden from our own view for a variety of complicated reasons. A spouse or a parent or a good friend can do this for us, provided we are open to listening to what they have to tell us. Most of the time I find I simply need permission to do what I already know I need to do. I think I'm so tired of confrontation and conflict that I'm trying to keep my head down and get through my days without another battle, but holding boundaries is what I'm trying to learn, and there are endless opportunities to get better at it.

I think the ups and downs will never really go away. It feels better to be up than down, but as long as we are in relationship with ourselves and with others, we will run into tricky situations, filled with friction, when we least expect to. We have to deal with what comes up, as kindly as possible, and try to be as true to ourselves as we know how to be.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

This Father's Day

Today is Father's Day. If I'm being honest, it's a day when I usually feel grateful that my dad died nine years ago, setting me free from the many dips and valleys in our challenging relationship. This year, because I'm working on my memoir about being his daughter, I feel differently about Father's Day.

I think about him and most of the bitterness and anger has gone away, leaked out after years of wearing it like a coat, clutched tightly around me. I don't need it anymore. I have come to terms with the kind of childhood I lived through, and I can remove that particular backpack full of rocks and set it down by the side of the road.

We can't change what happened to us, especially as kids. I had to reconcile with my experiences, and stop running from them or whitewashing them to make them more acceptable to me. Much of what happened wasn't good or healthy, and a lot of it was beautiful and worth celebrating. I think it's probably that way for everyone.

I have come to a place where I wouldn't want to change my childhood, because it made me who I am today, in this exact moment. I love who I am, but it was a long road to get from childhood to here. Most of my adulthood I didn't know who I really was. I faked my way through it, taking the temperature of every other person in the room to decide how I should act and feel. That was the kind of benchmark I believed was normal, but now I know it's deadly to your own identity and sense of purpose.

My dad taught me a lot of things which reside in my soul to this day. He gave me a sense of order and neatness, and helped me develop a logical mind. He was wickedly funny, and any humour I have developed I first learned from him. He was resourceful and economical (read: cheap) and I like now that I inherited that gene, even if it means learning to enjoy spending money sometimes.

I recently re-read a number of his final letters to me, and through my tears, I realized anew that he never stopped trying to be better. He had a lot of old scars from his childhood, and overcoming them was not an easy process, but he worked hard at it. Like me, he also came to believe in the power of grace over rules, and he understood that forgiveness was the answer. Living up to these ideals was hard for him, as it is for all of us, but he believed them in his heart, and that alone has healed many of the rifts between us in our father-daughter relationship, even after he has left this world.

On this Father's Day, I'm grateful for the changes deep inside of me. I can view my dad differently now, and I can see Jason for the dad that he is to our children, and I thank God that he led me to Jason as a marriage partner. For all of the mistakes I've made, my choice of who to marry was the best thing I've ever done. I gave my kids the gift of a loving and capable father, and you cannot place a value on that because it is worth more than anything you could ever buy.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Pete Knight Days

Today is the day of our local rodeo. We moved to small town Alberta five years ago this November, and one of our favourite family events is Pete Knight Days. The first year or two we participated as newbies, and now we enjoy the warm feeling of being surrounded by friends. Ava is plugged in to her community of school friends, and William has preschool buddies and neighbours to socialize with.

This year, Jason is in a parade float as a town councillor, and for the first time, the kids and I will be tossing out candy and waving like crazy on the library float. I love being an active part of my community, and I can see that my kids are sewing this involvement into the fabric of their childhood. These are their memories, and they are precious ones to safeguard and enjoy, and anything that you repeat again and again as a family becomes a tradition, stored forever in the mind.

It's a day full of events, kicking off with a community pancake breakfast, then the parade, then we have a tradition of having friends over for a BBQ lunch. After we eat, we head to the rodeo grounds for an afternoon of kid's games, rodeo events, junk food, visiting with friends and a demolition derby. Usually we come home around 6, sunburned and exhausted, to eat a light dinner, wash the dust from the rodeo grounds from our bodies, and the kids fall into bed for a good night's sleep. From our deck, we can watch the fireworks, and another Pete Knight Days becomes a wonderful memory.

We moved here to experience small-town life when we were tired of living in a big city. These rodeo weekends are part of what we love so much about life in this town. The longer we live here, and the more involved we have become in the community, the deeper our appreciation for what we get by being active participants in various areas of our town. We get something by giving of ourselves, and it's not an idea for our kids to understand, but instead a concept they are living out every year they are alive.

For the first time in five years, the weather forecast isn't promising heat and sun, but instead the possibility of rain and cooler temperatures. I like it better when it's hot, but since I have no control over the weather, I'm not going to let it get me down. Bring on another layer in our memories as a family. Bring on the chance to be immersed in the culture of our friendly small town. Bring on Pete Knight Days.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Razor-Sharp Edge

I am no longer living my life so that people will be happy with me. My choices are mine - I own them and I am responsible for them, and I'm not responsible for anyone else. Others can judge me, and be as mean as they like about me, but it doesn't have to take away my peace of mind and my joy.

This is what it means to be kind when others are not. It's damn hard. It's much easier to be vengeful and cruel in return, but that doesn't make me a better person, and it certainly doesn't have the power to change the world.

I don't want to react from a place of brokenness any more. We are all damaged, and messed up, and wounded, but continuing the same circle of blame and one-upmanship doesn't alter the negative pattern. There is nothing inspiring in living that way.

If we want to rise above, we have to cry those genuinely painful tears, and then make an active choice to take the high road; to refuse to engage by fighting in the trenches. There has to be a better way, and it's up to each one of us to improve our side of the interaction.

Sometimes it's ugly for awhile, and we fail in our quest to not meet anger with more anger. That's what riots are about, but if we give in to a mob mentality, we have lost all ability to control ourselves.

Peace comes from restraint, not from giving in to our base urges. It's easy to gossip, or fan the flames of rage against someone who may deserve it, but it's so much harder to step back, take a deep breath, and decide to sacrifice the momentary release you will feel for the quarter inch of personal growth you will experience that can last you a lifetime.

I'm trying to choose the growth, even when a situation rears up and smacks me in the face. My cheek is stinging, and everything inside me rebels at the sheer injustice of it. I long to strike back, but I can just glimpse the light at the end of this tunnel if I will intentionally change my side of the interaction.

If I want peace, I have to live it right now, when it's excruciatingly hard. What doesn't cost us anything doesn't get us anywhere, but when the stakes are high, we have the chance to live on that razor-sharp edge of change, even if the cut draws a lot of blood.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Power to Parent Three

This is the third in a series on Thursdays summarizing the work of Dr. Gordon Neufeld in his Power to Parent DVD course. This one is about harnessing the power of attachment, and I already wrote about collecting before we direct but I will try to fill in some of the additional information to create a deeper context for the material. If you are looking for Power to Parent One and Power to Parent Two, click on the links to have a read before you continue.

He began by talking about context, and defined it as "weaving together", explaining that context is 95% of the parenting issue. If the context is right, it becomes much easier to parent our children. There is a courtship dance that exists between people, and if we don't have a working connection, we have no basis for relationship.

There are four steps for collecting a child, and he talked about how we do these steps unconsciously with infants, and then seem to forget how important they are with toddlers, preschoolers, children and teens. Here are the steps to collect a child:

1. Get in your child's face (or space) in a friendly way, collecting the eyes, a smile and a nod.
2. Provide a 'touch of proximity' for your child to hold on to (he likened this to a baby holding the adult finger that is placed in their palm - if they aren't ready to connect, they will ignore the offered touch).
3. Invite your child to depend upon you.
4. Act as your child's compass point.

The primary role of attachment is to facilitate dependence. In our culture, we are so preoccupied with independence that we forget we must invite our children to depend on us. When independence is forced too early, children are clingy, but the desire for true independence, when instigated by the child, is the fruit that comes from being allowed to feel dependent first.

Collecting before you give orders is the most significant step in the relationship. This warms the child up. If you haven't collected your child and received a smile and a nod and some friendly interaction, refrain from giving direct orders, as they will almost certainly backfire. After any separation (sleep, school, dayhome, being at a friend's house) be sure to collect your child before moving further into any activity. Relationship must be restored and re-connected after any absence.

We need to back out of incidents and into the relationship. All of our natural parenting power and influence comes from the relationship, not from behaviour and consequences. We don't have to fix the problem right away. It's much safer and better to back away from the issue, and fix it calmly in the context of the relationship, at a later point when the emotions aren't running so high. It's imperative to always convey that the relationship can handle the weight of the incident.

We are the answer for our child. We are their best bet for survival, and they need to need us. Depending is much more vulnerable than dominating. We must seize the lead as parents, and give them a bigger hug than they give us, and more attention than they seem to need, and avoid force and leverage at all costs. We can create scenarios where our child must depend upon us.

As parents, we are models, leaders, places of refuge, authorities, and our child's truest compass point. We need to become that person to our child that only their attachment to us can create. If we are connected and in a healthy context of relationship with our child, nothing and no one can take them away from our sphere of influence. We don't have to be afraid of losing them, if we are the most valuable relationship they have, but it's up to us to create and hold the attachment, no matter what may come against it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Burned Out

I was wiped out this weekend, and I tried to pinpoint why I felt so exhausted. The brain is a curious instrument, as it will help you find an answer provided you give it space and don't push it. I suppose that's a good idea for most relationships too. Stepping back and allowing a place for the process to work is not my strong suit, but the more I practice it, the better the results tend to be.

I am not actually in control of everything. For many years I thought I was, or at least fully in control of myself and my own emotions, but I see now that I was only fooling myself. So much of life is out of our grasp, and learning to ride the highs and suffer through the lows as they come to us provides a certain surrender to what is going on around us. It's quite freeing to accept that I'm not the puppet master. Often I'm the twig, bobbing along in the current of the river, floating down the stream. I can either enjoy that, and embrace it, or I can fight it.

It feels unnatural most of the time to surrender control, but I do see that the key to my personal happiness is wrapped up in how tightly my fist is clenched. When I uncurl my fingers, even a little, I discover some breathing room, and peace and joy seem to reside in that space. I wouldn't have thought of myself as burned out before I gave myself some time to reflect and be still, but that's the idea that descended softly, and it seemed to fit for me.

I'm tired of committees, and responsibilities, and schedules. Of school lunches and agendas and morning alarm clocks. Of organization and deadlines. After not understanding leisure for most of my life, I now crave it in an entirely new way. I recognize that Jason will not have the same break as I will when school is out because he will still go to work, and I appreciate deeply how wonderful it is for me to be home with the kids at this stage of our lives.

I crammed a lot into these last few weeks. The weather was warming up, and I was pushing harder to finish the YouTube commercial I'm filming with a local high school student to promote my Write-In Kit, and releasing the first high school newspaper I'm co-editing with a teacher, and planning a big book sale for our local library. I began checking those items from my list, one by one as they were wrapping up, and in the resulting void, I experienced the dragging sense of burn out.

We all need to weigh and measure our energy and time. When we expend more energy then we can replenish in a given time, we end up stressed and busy and our lives lack joy and balance. It happens to all of us at one point or another, and I'm trying to catch it earlier each time so I still have something left to give to my kids, my husband, my friends and anyone else who relies on me. We can't give what we don't possess ourselves, and it's my job to watch my energy reserves so they don't run dangerously low.

Recognizing where we can improve is the most important step. Taking time to stare into space and allow my emotions their free reign to do the work they are designed to do is part of identifying what the problem is. Then I have to go back to my boundaries and see where I said yes when I should have been saying no. Each person can only do their own part, and not everyone else's part. This is a hard lesson for me to learn, and I keep making mistakes, but as long as I can learn something each time, I'm further along than I've ever been before.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Occupied By No Other

I have been on a lifelong search for identity. To feel that I matter, deep within myself, regardless of the opinion of others. To stand alone, as myself, in all situations. To stop pretending to be someone else in order to be liked and instead have the courage to express my own opinions and let the chips fall where they may.

Most people begin this process in adolescence. I guess you could say I am a late bloomer, because I began it at the age of 37, and have never looked back. Recently I read this quote about identity in Dr. Gordon Neufeld and Dr. Gabor Mate's book Hold On To Your Kids, "To be an individual is to have one's own meanings, one's own ideas and boundaries. It is to value one's own preferences, principles, intentions, perspectives, and goals. It is to stand in a place occupied by no other."

I love this phrase, "To stand in a place occupied by no other" as it is a beautiful picture of identity. The goal is not to be the same as everyone else in order to fit in, but to stand out and be who we really are. I've discovered that this process can make other people uncomfortable, and rightly so, for in many ways it is counter to our culture to stand firm in your own identity.

It's easy to say that we value identity, and another thing completely to live by this process. That is true of most things (taking the high road, repaying meanness with kindness, being the bigger person even when we've been hurt by someone) because talk is cheap and action is where the lesson resides. We all know it's better to be kind than mean, and ourselves instead of conforming to what we perceive others want us to be; the trick comes in living it out in every situation we find ourselves in.

For the most part, I fail miserably at this. I now understand who I am, and I want to be that person in all situations, but old habits always die hard. There is immense pressure to go back to the old ways of functioning in any stressful situation. I know how to please people. I know what that looks like and feels like and where it will get me in the end. It makes for significantly less conflict, but it's also deeply unsatisfying on a personal level.

I have committed to standing in that place which is occupied by no other. This means I have to re-draw my boundaries on a daily, if not hourly, basis. I can no longer bear the weight of everyone else's disappointment and frustration. If someone is angry with me, I don't have to be angry in return, and I don't have to hinge my emotions on the other person's. We are two separate beings.

I must value my own ideas and priorities, and respect that others must value theirs. Where they conflict, or don't agree, I want to learn to live with those gaps. I am not responsible for everyone else's emotions. Only my own. Often I'm tempted to go back to caretaking for others but that's not my job, and it never was, and I have to stand in my own space and allow others to stand in theirs. Conflicts and disagreements will come and go, but identity is ours to own forever, and I need to remind myself of this until it begins to take root and grow inside of me.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Talent Show

Last week Ava performed in her elementary school's talent show. I was excited to go and watch her sing, particularly because last year she was too shy to audition for the show. This year, after ten months of voice lessons and a few performances at recitals and Kiwanis festivals, her confidence had surged and she was ready to stand up in front of her friends and sing.

It's a beautiful thing to watch confidence blooming. It reminds me of a tightly furled rose when it begins to open, releasing its fragrance and inspiration to the world. So many things conspire to damage our confidence, but when it is growing, there is no hiding it. I have yet to find a valid substitute for true self confidence. When it's there, you can see it, and when it's missing, you have a job to do to build it up.

I loved the spirit of support which existed in the school gym before, during and after the talent show. The children filed in, a low buzz of excitement in the air, and one by one each performer was called to the stage to play the piano, act in a skit, sing, dance or play the drums. Whole classes cheered when their friend's name was called, and the entire gym burst into applause when each performance ended.

When Ava got up to sing, looking so small as she stood in front of the microphone and faced three hundred students and about two dozen parents, I felt a moment of nerves on her behalf. I felt proud of her, for taking this risk at the age of eight, for believing in herself enough to try singing a capella in front of her friends. She introduced herself and her song, and then sang, putting her whole heart into it, and bowing when she was finished.

I grinned at her, and watched as she made her way back to her seat, her classmates hi-fiving her as she walked. Amazing things can happen in a supportive and loving environment. Dreams can flourish and grow, and anything seems possible. Every single child who got up to perform, from the youngest to the oldest, received loud applause and cheering. No one felt alone and isolated as they stepped out to risk. There was a spirit of acceptance and beauty in that small school gymnasium, and I was inspired by it.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


"Genuine self-esteem does not say, I am worthwhile because I can do this, that, or the other. Rather, it proclaims, I am worthwhile whether or not I can do this, that, or the other" (italics mine). I just finished reading Hold On To Your Kids by Dr. Gordon Neufeld and Dr. Gabor Mate, and I went back and checked on the pages I had folded down whenever inspiration or identification struck, and this is one phrase that really stood out to me.

I have tended to phrase this concept in terms of value; that I am valuable no matter what I produce, but this wording was so succinct and to the point that it brought me to tears. I recognized it instantly as true and profound. I am valuable no matter what. My worth lies in my being. It's not meant to be external, but rather completely internal. When it resides inside of my soul, no one can take it away or tarnish it or degrade it in any way. It is mine; I own it.

Later, in the same section, he says, "If this view of self-esteem seems strange to some people, it's only because we live in a culture that indoctrinates an idea of self-esteem based on how we look to others. We all want to keep up with the Joneses, we all long to show off our new car or trophy boyfriend or girlfriend or spouse, and we all experience a rush of heady pride when others acknowledge or envy our achievements. But are we really esteeming the self? No, what we are esteeming is what others think of us. Is that the kind of self-esteem we want our children to develop?"

I spent the majority of my life up to this point "esteeming what others thought of me." This was my benchmark and my ranking system for everything. If someone praised me, I felt good, and if someone criticized me, I felt devastated. You end up like a rat on a wheel, increasing your level of competition all of the time in order to feel any sense of worth. And you simply can't hold on to it, because it will change with the next opinion you hear.

I'm so glad by the time I turned 37 I began slowly to put some of these puzzle pieces together. If I wasn't charting my growth here in this blog no one would know anything about it, because it's all happening inside, but the process is so fascinating that I don't want to lose it. Writing here every day is a sort of record for the kind of changes that are occurring, and it always means so much to hear from any of you who are reading, to see where my journey is intersecting with yours.

The deepest meaning is found in the hidden places, and where we connect with others is what brings us identification and a sense of community. None of us has to do this alone. Expressing our fears and vulnerabilities with each other signals to us that we aren't the only ones wrestling with these big issues. It's a universal phenomenon, and honesty is the passport in order to travel there.

I love knowing that if my self-esteem lives inside of me, I can tend to it the way a gardener grows a garden. I can water, and prune, and see the seeds turn into thriving plants. I'm not leaving who I am up to anyone except for myself. Where I am not accepted and loved for who I am, I can withdraw and find other company. We all must be allowed to grow and to become our best selves. Encouragement is like fertilizer for our self-esteem, and criticism is like weeds that threaten to choke us at our most vulnerable point.

I can see this process at work in my children. The more I build them up, the taller they stand, and the arrows from peers or circumstances don't have the ability to destroy them. Words and gossip and situations which don't go our way always hurt us, but if we are strongly attached in our core relationships, and our self-esteem is growing in flowerbeds of encouragement and unconditional love and support, we can do anything at all because we know our true worth, and that knowledge trumps everything else.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Man, oh man, have I learned about leisure this past year. I finally came to understand that it's not necessary to push hard all of the time; to be perfect in my pursuit of endless accomplishment with no downtime to balance it all out. Life is not very enjoyable when lived in this manner. I was forever in gear and moving but not actually having much fun on the trip.

I feel very aware of how precious these last days are with William at home, and how I will never again have this kind of time with a preschooler in the house. I am reminded of the fabulous late 90's Aerosmith song from the movie Armageddon, "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing." Sometimes that song goes through my mind and brings me to tears. I really don't want to miss any of these moments with my kids. I'm so grateful to be home, pursuing my writing dream but also available to my children in a completely new way as I continue to look for ways to improve my emotional health.

Leisure gives us eyes to see things we are too busy to notice when we aren't taking time to rest. I know that my allergy to relaxation had nothing to do with not enjoying it and everything to do with not believing I was entitled to it. Putting my feet up became too good for me. It was tied into my sense of value, and so much of the internal landscape work I've done this year was related to separating out my personal value from my list of accomplishments.

What we do is external and who we are is internal. The two have to be separate in order to feel unconditional love and acceptance from God or anyone. I couldn't accept myself unless I checked off every box on my to-do list, and now I know that to be utter bullshit, not to put too fine a point on it. It's never easy to examine our deepest fears about ourselves, but I've discovered that all the meat of life exists in those rough and thorny places. The seeds of change grow there, but you must be brave enough to begin pruning what is dead and damaged and getting in the way of the new buds.

Rest has helped me to be happier all around in my life. I get to play Sorry with my kids and make memories that will last a lifetime. I enjoy the solid feel of them leaning against me on the couch while we watch a movie together. This week I went shopping when William was in preschool because I needed to buy them a small gift for finishing out the school year, and I thoroughly enjoyed my own company in the mall. That was leisure, and I didn't once feel guilty or bad that I wasn't writing during those precious few hours of alone time.

When we feel strongly about something, I'm beginning to understand that there is a reason. One thing is tied to the next, and it's all rooted in some long ago soil. When we take the time to look at the fears or the "I'll never do that" or the aversion to some aspect of life, we discover that it's related in some way to how we view ourselves. The lens that we use to see the world colours everything, good or bad, and I want to clear up my view so it's not so obstructed by my own issues.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Works in Progress

Forgiveness is a really tricky subject. Just when I think I hit a new plateau and feel as though I've moved past something which threatens my peace of mind, I end up mired in the mud of anger and vengeance yet again. It's hard to surrender and let go. People don't treat us the way we want to be treated, and if we need proof of this, we don't have to look any farther than ourselves. We don't meet anger with kindness, or at least I don't.

I want to live with forgiveness as one of my values. I don't want to hold grudges because they end up handcuffing me to my own negative feelings. I can become obsessed with watching someone else, hoping they fail or get hurt as badly as they have hurt me. This is so far from what I would like to be doing that there is no way to even measure the distance between the two.

I wish I knew what the answer was. I know that humility is tied up in this, because if I am honest about my own failings, I can hopefully extend mercy to others in a sort of "there but the grace of God go I" thing. I also know that if I focus on my own brokenness instead of working so hard to shine a light on the shortcomings of my enemy, I can make positive changes. I can't control what someone else does or says or who they are. I can only control myself, and my reaction to other people.

I'm beginning to understand that this stuff takes a lifetime to learn. It's not fast, or neat, or simple. It's ugly and messy and filled with many rock-bottom moments. If we are honest about what lives inside of our own hearts and minds, we will see things that will stop us in our tracks and horrify us.

It was easier for me when I didn't worry so much about gossiping, or being nasty about those who offended me. Trying to be authentically myself in all situations means doing less of that backstabbing and peppering my conversation and thoughts with more grace and forgiveness. This new way is about a million times more difficult, and calls on something deep inside which I'm not sure I can give.

Often I want that fix of "venting" or "blowing off steam" but once nasty words are said about someone, they can never be unsaid. I don't want to walk around and live with the weight of that kind of hatred anymore. I want to allow others to live with their consequences as I live with mine, and not try so hard to change people who might not have any interest in changing.

Just when I think I'm making progress, and can live at peace with others and myself in a genuine way, I go down another level inside of my soul and find more ugly resentment and fear to deal with. I suppose on this side of the grave it never really ends. If we want to be kinder, and gentler, and live in peace instead of anxiety, we have to come to terms with the depth of negative feeling we can possess toward others, particularly when we have been hurt.

I suppose we take it day by day, accepting that we will fail, and extending mercy to ourselves as well as others. It's easy to forgive those who are nice to us, and not so easy to let go of our anger when people mistreat us. But then I remember that I have also been deeply unkind, and hurt people out of my own broken heart, and I am grateful that we are all works in progress, and we are all allowed to fail.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Power to Parent Two

This is the second in a series every Thursday giving some more information on the Power to Parent course by Dr. Gordeon Neufeld. If you missed the first one, I suggest searching for it and reading it before this. As I said in the first post, I highly recommend taking the full course to get a bigger picture of the material and reading Dr. Neufeld's book Hold Onto Your Kids.

The second session had me in tears before I was barely out the door to my van. It touched something deep in my heart, and helped me connect to my childlike vulnerability in an entirely new way. He talked about psychological intimacy, and that being known equals being seen and heard for who you are. The more attached you are to someone, the deeper the loyalty, and loyalty is felt with the heart, not the head. To be loyal means to take the same side as.

He described attachment as happening through the senses, and it is a process which is below the surface (meaning it can't be seen). Different things are meant to happen for children at different ages in order for these roots to grow and take root in the child. At birth, the child attaches through the five senses, then at age two through sameness, age three belonging and loyalty, age four significance (being valued and mattering), age five love, and age six being known.

Attachment involves vulnerability. When you give your heart away, you risk it being broken. Our vulnerability lies in our emotions. Some kids are more sensitive than others, and the brain is designed to tune out what hurts you repeatedly as a protective measure. It's supposed to be a situational thing, but if it happens enough, you become stuck in your development and don't progress in these levels of vulnerability. (As a side note, man-oh-man, did that happen to me, and I couldn't give my kids permission to be vulnerable until I found my vulnerability again and embraced it).

We tend to think in our culture that our kids are too attached when they have separation anxiety, but it's the opposite. They aren't attached enough. They don't feel secure and that's why they stick like velcro. Bedtime can be a problem for many kids because they lose connection when they go to sleep. We need to increase contact and closeness and not withdraw it. Forcing separation is not the answer. It's deepening the attachment.

We need to make it easy for our children to become deeply attached to us. I was afraid of this before last fall, particularly with William. His sensitivity and vulnerability made me shy away because I found it so hard to embrace my own. When my counselor helped me to break down those defenses, and see vulnerability as a strength and not a weakness, I could turn to my small son and work on those roots of belonging and loyalty, significance and being known. The love was always there, and the sameness and the senses, but I needed these loftier things to be accessible inside of me so I could offer them to my children.

Feeling these losses and wounds deeply offers the chance to heal from them and accept sensitivity and vulnerability in our children and others. We can all heal at any time. Dr. Neufeld said that relationships are forever. If you were dying, you would attach as much as you could to those you love, so that you would matter to each other forever. That thought touched my heart, and gave me fresh eyes to view my significant relationships through.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Primary Markers

Our pastor recently talked about four primary markers of a Christian, which he got from Walter Brueggemann. They are:

1) Hospitality
2) Generosity
3) No vengeance
4) No coveting/sabbath (other-centred)

It's not something we have to do, but something which flows from who we are and our relationship with God. You can't put it on. It's either there or it isn't. You can't fake this stuff because it's practical. Brueggemann goes on to say that if we focused on these primary markers, we would not have enough energy or interest in arguing over the secondary issues that people tend to focus on and which end up dividing churches (theology, scriptural interpretations, etc.).

I have been thinking about these markers a lot lately. As I age, I gravitate toward the simple. As a kid, most of what I was taught seemed complicated, with each new idea building on something else. Now I don't want intricate belief systems. I want practical, and easy to understand, and something which flows from love and mercy and not exclusion and regulations.

Hospitality has been a part of my adult life since I moved out and began to forge my own way in the world. We have always hosted parties, and dinners, and tried to be a place where others felt comfortable and welcome. I love showing this to my kids as a normal part of life. They are accustomed to having different groups of people in our house at any given time, and it's part of our philosophy as a family to invite others in and show them our real lives as we are living them with as little pretense or fakery as possible.

Generosity is something I think about in terms of time and gifts as well as with money. When someone needs something and we can provide it, we decide if we should and then we try to give more than say no. When we have been blessed, sometimes we want to hold on to what we have because we are afraid of losing it, but this isn't the way to joy and freedom. Giving and not hoarding lights the way to our best selves, and gives us peace where we once held fear.

No vengeance was an interesting concept to me. No one likes to think of themselves as particularly filled with vengeance, but when I looked deep and tried to be honest, I found all kinds of dirty places where the urge for someone to suffer resided. When someone annoys us or wounds us, we want them to pay for what they have done. This might be a human urge, but it is not a Godly concept, and harbouring these resentments does not help us grow into kind and loving people.

No coveting also strikes a real chord with me. I am jealous of a hell of a lot of things, not that I would normally admit that to anyone. I don't like it much when someone is further in their career than I am, or has more money or less body fat, or better behaved kids than I do. Rejoicing with others is much harder than weeping with them. This is an area I've been really working on, and I'm not nearly as far down this road as I would like to be, but thinking of it as a marker post is helpful and motivating for me.

Observing sabbath was explained by my pastor as being other-centred in the way we live. It means giving up our to-do lists and our busyness to reach out to someone who may need a coffee, or a kind word, or a hug. It means identification with others instead of always gratifying ourselves. It's not about Sunday or anything traditional, but about making rest and other people a priority in our lives. This gives me something to aim for as well.

I like hearing about practical things, for what I can touch and see and taste in this life is what I know to be real. There is no wordsmithing it or hiding behind promises or actions which don't ring true. Markers give me something to see and aim for, and hang on to when I'm uncertain about everything else. I'm going to keep these front and centre in my mind and my heart as I keep moving down my life path, for I believe they will show me the way.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Patience for the Process

I am tired of being in such a rush all of the time. What is all of the rushing for, and why do I pursue something which brings me nothing but anxiety? I'm coming to see that any emotional process takes a long time, and works from a timeline which usually isn't available to me, and I'm not in control of what is happening. I need to feel and react to what comes my way, and not rush it.

Those words are so easy to type, and so challenging to walk out in the Mondays and Tuesdays of my life (and every other day too). I want to move faster than I do most of the time. I want to get better and healthier and I don't want to waste any time spinning my wheels. Sometimes I can glimpse the finish line of life, and look back to the starting gate and it seems further and further away, and I panic at the idea of wasting time.

But our processes have their own purposes, and we can't commandeer them. There is no way out, except through. We have to walk the path that is before us, and learn what there is to learn at each signpost along the way. It all takes time, and maturity, and when we least expect it, we are through the worst of it and have come out the other side. We become a little stronger at each bend in the road, and when we survive one storm we learn things that will help us through the next one, and that is what the process of maturity looks like.

I wish I was better at waiting. Patience is its own process, with its own unique reward, provided we will wait for it. I can see that patience will be a reward, as long as I can slow down enough to appreciate what it can give to me. I don't have to do everything right away. That is part of the immaturity of youth. With age comes the dawning realization that waiting is good for the soul. It teaches us something that rushing in to circumvent the process cannot come close to imitating.

Each emotion we experience has a purpose. It can teach us something, and change us in the deepest places of our hearts, provided we will allow it to do its work. I'm wanting my processes to work for me, instead of fighting them, rushing ahead to the next thing on my list. I know that the way to grow is to plant the seeds, water them, and wait. I don't have to do the job of the sun or the soil or the farmer. I have to wait, and see what the harvest will yield.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Vulnerability Not Defensiveness

Yesterday at church our pastor spoke about living from a place of vulnerability, not defensiveness. "The Church" as a whole has been rightly criticized for trying to make converts of everyone else, with sometimes extremely violent results. We can't force anyone into our point of view, either from fear or power or manipulation. That might get you what you want in the short-term, but it will never be meaningful to either party in the long run.

I have been living with vulnerability as a close part of my personality for the last few months. I had to become slowly reacquainted with it again, kind of circling around the idea, filled with apprehension. I had equated vulnerability with weakness, and worked hard to gloss over the softer side of my own emotions.

This was a survival technique for me, and a poor one for living as an adult and certainly as a parent. Taking the Power to Parent course and finding permission to access and embrace my own emotions, and hearing that parenting is best done with children and parents who have soft hearts, turned this around for me. I began to look at vulnerability as a strength. It's a good thing to be sensitive; to feel deeply and to be connected to those emotions.

It's a bit like looking at the world with entirely different lenses. I don't have to be so defensive and aggressive anymore. It is no longer my way or the highway. I can believe what I believe, and live at peace with the differences that exist between me and others. It's not my job to fix other people (and God knows I have enough work to do just looking at my own brokenness) and I have been trying to surrender my twin needs for control and to be liked all of the time.

Most of life is out of my direct control. Opening my clenched fist and letting go of that illusion of control has set me free from a lot of the anxiety and stress which used to rule my life. Setting boundaries so that I don't carry everyone else's hurt and pain has been liberating to the extreme. It's enough to feel my own, and to take responsibility for my words and actions.

I am learning to live from a place of vulnerability and not defensiveness. I can disagree with someone and still love them. I don't have to convince anyone of anything. I just want to live my life, with as much authenticity as possible, and do my best to love God and love others. The rest is not up to me, and I don't have to worry about it. The freedom which lives inside of this discovery is so immense, it cannot be contained in the confines of the prairie sky.

Sunday, June 5, 2011


"The reward for conformity is that everyone likes you but yourself." This quote, by Rita Mae Anne Brown, was posted recently on a friend's Facebook page. I recognized it immediately, and felt a surge of gratitude that I have walked through the hardest parts of coming to terms with my own urge to conform to what I perceived that others wanted from me.

It's extremely difficult to live in anticipation of what others might need from you. It's impossible to know if you've hit the mark or missed it. I didn't know myself at all until my early thirties, because I had created personalities to fit with each group I was in. This was a coping mechanism which had its place when I started it, but quickly outgrew its usefulness. The problem, of course, is that these habits are deeply unconscious, and once they are formed, they end up informing most of your decisions without you having any idea what is actually happening.

Counselling is so helpful for this. It brings a lot of the things we are unaware of to the surface, so we can look at them, and decide if they are working for us or against us. Understanding that I was living my life to please others was a hard one to face, but making small choices to assert myself, even when it was unpopular with others, was my ticket to freedom from conformity.

Now there is no going back. I am attempting to live as authentically as possible, in all situations, and not be ruled by the fear of what others may think of me. Learning to bear the pain of being disliked by people has not been easy, but it has been an important part of the process of being myself, and eventually, liking myself. If we are as true as we can be to our values and personality, taking responsibility for our choices, we can live life as the people we truly are, not what we want others to think of us.

I had to realize that while I felt liked by others when I was pretending to be someone I wasn't, the authenticity was absent, and therefore they liked only a shell of who I really am. Putting my true self out there in my relationships was much riskier, for when that is rejected it hurts badly, but at least I know I'm dealing in the real and not the pretend. Then when I'm loved and embraced for who I really am, the satisfaction is deeper and more profound, because it's genuine.

My vision of a perfect community would be one where everyone took off their masks, and stopped pretending, and expressed their own opinions and beliefs respectfully while not being offended when others believed differently. We would not conform in order to be liked, but allow our individual personalities, with all of their creative beauty and flawed reality, to shine through. We would be who we really are, and we would be learning to love ourselves, and extend mercy and grace to each other. For now, it's a dream, but a good one, and a path I hope to keep walking for as long as I'm alive.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


I am a terrible sick person. I recognize that no one likes to be ill, but I end up with a sinking feeling of melodrama and depression when I am not feeling well, and I find it so hard to sit down and rest. For some reason, I fear being labelled as flaky, and even though I never hold it against anyone else to back out of things when they are sick, I seem to hold myself to an impossible standard and expect that I should continue no matter how sick I may be.

I've been working through so many things this year, so what is one more? Perhaps it's time for me to examine this pressure I put on myself, and try to discover where it came from and why it's there. It could be related to the way I abhor weakness, or my fear of disappointing others, or my inability to accept that my presence is not critically required for everything I'm involved with.

Fear seems to be at the root of this problem, and since I'm trying to live with peace and joy instead of fear and anxiety, the time is now to try to put this behind me. I haven't been sick at all this school year, and then when I get a flu and a cold all at once I panic and try to decide right up until the last minute if I should go to meetings and events I have committed to.

Perhaps it comes down to feeling at rest inside of myself. I end up rushing through my days, checking everything off my list and feeling satisfied, and when I have to reschedule something or not accomplish it when I planned to, I feel scattered and nervous. The world doesn't actually hinge on me. I know this somewhere in my mind, but I think when I was disappointed as a kid because I was promised something that wasn't delivered, I have carried that feeling inside of me, and I am loathe to do the same thing to others.

Some things are beyond our control. There is rarely a convenient time to get sick, and thankfully, most of our illnesses are short-lived and in a few days we are back on track. I have to let go of my fear that I am easily replaced when I can't make it to something, or that I am being judged as flaky.

The older I get, and the healthier I become, the more I realize that people aren't sitting around talking about me all of the time. Far from it. It is worse to attend something, fevered and coughing and exhausted, spreading my germs to everyone, than it is to bow out to stay at home in my pajamas and get better. It's just that I have some deep-held belief that it's better to look strong than to appear weak.

Everyone gets sick at some point. We push too hard and we end up susceptible to illness, and if we stay home and recover, we will be better off in the long run. If anyone is judging, that is for them to live with. I have to live with my own choices and values, and that is enough pressure. I can't take on more. We are all allowed to admit weakness sometimes, and when our bodies tell us to rest, listening is generally the best course of action.

Friday, June 3, 2011


Evil is rebellion against living a life of love. It's not an equal force to good. My amazing pastor explained this recently, and it opened my mind up to a whole new way of thinking about this. I grew up in a Christian home and went to Christian schools, and I've been taught all kinds of things which have lodged deep in my spirit. Some of them make sense. A lot of them do not.

In the last few years, I have embraced the freedom to think differently about spiritual things (and by extension, other things too). This process has radically changed my life. I used to be afraid to change my ideas, fearing that the ground under my feet would shift and I would have no safe place to stand. Now I think that I was only fooling myself when I thought that having all of the answers provided safety and security.

I have never had as many questions as I do now, and I have also never felt as close to God. I have focused more on my relationship with him, and less on the dogma of my belief system. It no longer matters to me what others believe. It's not my job or mission to convert anyone to my line of thinking. How arrogant I was before to want everyone to believe as I did.

I would like for other people to find God on their own terms, and to develop relationship with him which is meaningful and important. This is an individual process, and it is not necessary to know anything at all about God. We can be in relationship with him without knowing scripture or arguing theology. It's not about that anymore for me. It's about loving God, and loving others, and being as kind as possible.

This idea of evil was very interesting to me. I always understood evil as the opposite of good, like a tug-of-war where evil was just as strong of a force as good. Thinking of it as rebellion against the wholeness that was always meant for us and for the world we live in is an entirely new idea to me. We are broken people, but brokenness was not our intended state. We are damaged and wounded because we rebel, and try to find our own way apart from God and love, and then we end up living with the consequences of our choices.

I like softening my thoughts in a new direction. I have the ability to test out anything at all I hear or read and think through it to determine if it makes sense to me or not. Just because we've been taught something doesn't make it true. We need to test it out and see if it sits comfortably or uncomfortably with our intuition and values. I trust that God can speak to me in new ways, and as long as I'm in relationship with him, I don't have to hang on so tightly to what I once believed.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Power to Parent One

I recently finished the eight week DVD course entitled The Power to Parent: The Vital Connection by Dr. Gordon Neufeld, a Vancouver-based developmental psychologist. It literally transformed my parenting by giving me a new way to understand myself and my kids and the relationship that exists between us. He helped me see that a relationship is a living organism, capable of change and growth at any time, and that if I am connected to my kids, that influence will last forever.

When I finished the course, I posted a Facebook status about how I was going to miss it, and I was surprised by the amount of comments it received. Parents are hungry for information on new and healthier ways of raising children. I know I am, and it's a common thing to want to be a better mother in the future than we are today.

As a result, I have decided to do my best to distill down an hour of intense learning into a blog post, and I will do them once a week, on Thursdays. I will do eight of them, in order, as the material builds concept upon concept so you need the foundation to be able to better understand it. I found that I needed a lot of time for the ideas to internalize. Much of what I learned was deeply emotional, connected to how I felt in childhood, and much of the work involved is looking at yourself as honestly as possible to address what has been broken in you in order to find and fix it in your kids.

I highly recommend taking the course. You can do the same course I did online for $250 through Dr. Neufeld's website. These blog posts are only going to be a taste of the material, but if it helps, and you don't have $250 at this moment, hopefully it's a good starting point (and I called to be sure it wasn't breaching any copyright and I was offered permission to write these posts). I feel passionate about what I learned and would love to share it with anyone who is interested.

With all of that said, here is a short breakdown of the first session. It's about the connection between parent and child, and that is where the power to parent is found, as responsibility with no power leads directly to frustration. We have more information on parenting than ever before, but less authority. We have the ability to take back our power as parents.

Parenting is not about skills. It's not about the parent loving the child, but rather the child loving the parent. The parent must have the heart of the child in order to parent, and the relationship defines the connection. This is referred to as attachment: that drive or relationship characterized by the pursuit and preservation of proximity. Equality doesn't exist in attachment. One person is the caretaker and the other is in the dependent position.

We need our children to feel motivated to be good, not because they will be rewarded, but because they are attached to us, and they need the attachment as much as they need air, food and shelter. We must parent in the context of the motivation to be good. Under all behavioural problems are relationship problems. We take for granted that because we love our kids, they love us back, but if we don't have their hearts, the love isn't there.

There is a difference between power that is natural and force that is contrived. Attachment power is invisible, seeks influence, evokes deference that does not humiliate and is power to take care of a child. Contrived force is paraded with attention drawn to it, seeks capitulation, humiliates and is power over a child. If we work at attachment instead of behaviour, we will come out further ahead with our kids.

That's a few highlights from the first session. Each of the eight sessions builds on what comes before. Patience is required (not one of my strong suits), but I learned in this course that patience as a parent is one of our strongest skills. It doesn't have to be done or learned or practiced all at once. It takes a lifetime, and that's the point: to grow into maturity. The connection is key. Everything flows from the relationship between parent to child, and the level of attachment and safety which exists inside of it.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


I took down my May kitchen calendar yesterday and wrote in our dates and appointments for June. When I was finished, I threw out Ava's school calendar and hot lunch dates, and felt like I was going to burst into tears. It seems like I just put both of those sheets above my dry-erase wall calendar, but it was actually last September, and I simply cannot believe how fast the last ten months have gone.

I must confess that it's a pet peeve of mine when people lament how old their kids are getting, and how time is zooming by, because the reality is that time passes at exactly the same rate for everyone, whether you are young or old, a parent or not a parent, or working or in school. The same twenty-four hour day applies to every person who is alive, but there is something about marking time with our children's ages and stages which feels different somehow.

We see a baby and we remember how it felt to hold ours in our arms. We watch a two year old having a meltdown in a store and we thank God that our children are past that stage. We grin when a kindergartner smiles and we notice two front teeth missing, and we remember how sweet our kids were at that same stage.

The truth is that we can't ever go back. We have the moment we are in, and the memories of what has gone before, and the hopes for what is yet to come. There is no sense pining over what can never be again, and I would prefer to put my energy into the next thing instead of weeping over the last one. But emotions are tricky things. They lurk inside of us, and surprise us when we least expect them, and we must let ourselves feel them deeply in order to move on.

I love June. The promise of summer is just around the corner, and I find I appreciate the last of the school days because I know that soon I will empty the lunch boxes for the last time and kick the backpacks into the dustiest corners of my children's closets. It's a time of endings, and easing into the slower pace of summer, where we can re-connect with the kid that lives inside all of us.

I'm looking forward to it, but I'm also mourning the sweet girl in grade two who will never be again. And my five year old boy will finish preschool and don a tiny cap and gown and graduate with his friends. So much growth happened for all four of us this year as a family, and I realize that I'm sad to watch it wind to a close.

When one thing ends, another begins, and now we will transition into the next adventure. This time has been good, in every sense of the word, and we will carry it with us wherever we go. I want to move past the sadness and into the excitement of the next stage. The key is to be present, as much as we can, to enjoy it while we have it, for we can't hang on. Eventually it will slip through our fingers, and we want to have lived it to the best of our ability.