Just came from a parenting consultation home visit. As I was summarizing some key points from our session to email to her, it occurred to me that even though it's out of context, maybe other parents might benefit from reading it. So here it is:
- It's okay for you to have needs!! Needs are part of the human experience.
(In our Connected Parenting classes, we teach the ABC's of Five Core Needs: Autonomy, Basic Essentials like food, water and safety, Connection, Contribution, and Creativity.)
We all get snarky when we go too long without getting these core needs met, and then we aren't the kind of parent, spouse or friend that we want to be. Therefore, consider yourself Permitted to find ways to meet those needs! (And there are plenty of ways to take care of yourself without compromising your values as a parent, so it's not an All or Nothing situation. There's quite a range of possibilities between having baby in bed with you and letting baby cry it out alone for hours.)
- Parents are giving their children a powerful gift when they acknowledge their own human needs, as well as their children's, with neutral matter-of-fact acceptance, rather than hiding them because they seem like weaknesses. Modeling has a greater impact than anything else we do as parents. It's wonderful for our kids to experience the joy and connection that happens while we brainstorm creative ways for both parties to get their needs met. That's a major life skill that will serve them well.
- Baby steps! Big changes can happen in small increments. When you want to make a change or try a new experiment, it's okay to take it slow. Look for the smallest possible step, one that is so small that it almost doesn't even register on your radar screen as a change. A step that makes you say, Sure, no problem! I can do that easily!! For example, if you want to help the baby start learning to soothe himself a bit, wait just 3 seconds longer than you usually do before going to him when he starts fussing. Try it out, and see how it goes.
When it feels like you are ready for more, look for the next smallest possible adjustment and make that one. Maybe try waiting 4 seconds. And continue on in this effortless way until you are where you want to be.
My friend has a needlepoint on her kitchen wall of a saying that's been in her family for generations: Yard by yard, life is hard. Inch by inch, it's a cinch! I find it strangely comforting in a cheesy sort of way.
- Work your way up to full contact. Start with the smallest intervention when wanting to soothe your child. Rather than immediately picking him up when he fusses a bit, first try talking or singing, moving yourself within view so he can see you, looking into his eyes and smiling, a gentle touch, and rubbing his back or feet or head. And then go right ahead and pick him up if none of that has helped to soothe him. Being present for our children in these progressive steps is a wonderful way to foster healthy attachment - your child experiences you as available, attentive, and responsive, and he also gets the opportunity to gently expand his self-soothing abilities.
- Remember to breathe deeply. Allow yourself at least one calming deep breath before taking a soothing action for your child. Actions are more effective when they spring from a place of inner alignment. (and oxygenation!)
- It's all yoga. Kids bring us to our edges every day. Parenting is the ultimate asana! When we are at our edge emotionally or mentally -- the place where we think we can't stand it a second longer -- we don't always have to run away. Sometimes we can stay there and breathe a bit, and we may find we can go a little deeper, or we may decide to retreat. Either choice is okay. It's the deep breath that allows us to decide rather than react.
- You are the expert on your child. No author, professor, therapist, or consultant can trump what you know about yourself and your children. Consider what you hear or read and see if it resonates with your own inner guidance and intuition. If it makes it through that filter, then experiment with it. If it is not effective, or the price you or your child pay feels too high, then pitch it out and try something else.
I hope this has been helpful! I work with parents all over the country via telephone consultations, so please keep me in mind if you know a parent who is seeking some assistance. There's more information on my website: www.karenalonge.com