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Problems might last into early adulthood, study suggests

Source: Harsh Parenting May Harm a Child’s Physical Health

Harsh parenting may leave more than psychological scars, it might also leave lasting physical problems — such as obesity — even into young adulthood, new research suggests.

And having one kind, caring parent doesn’t seem to counteract the effects of the harsh parent.

“Harshness, as we measured it, is always bad for kids. But it is particularly bad if the adolescent perceives high levels of warmth and support from the other parent,” said study lead author Thomas Schofield.

The researchers defined “harsh” parenting as angry, hostile and antisocial.

Until now, “we did not know if parenting that was harsh — while not falling into the category of abuse — could predict physical health,” said Schofield, an assistant professor of human development and family studies at Iowa State University.

Risks of harm from spanking confirmed by analysis of 5 decades of research

Source: Risks of harm from spanking confirmed by analysis of 5 decades of research

The more children are spanked, the more likely they are to defy their parents and to experience increased anti-social behavior, aggression, mental health problems and cognitive difficulties, according to a new meta-analysis of 50 years of research on spanking by experts at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Michigan.

BOUNDARIES AND CONSEQUENCES

A parent’s need to control and protect will always conflict with a child’s need for freedom and growth. From the time your child can move around independently, you will constantly monitor and negotiate boundaries.
As in the practice of Tai Chi, you need to cultivate “listening power,” to help you attune to your child’s phases and needs without imposing your expectations upon them. Pick your battles carefully.
In Tai Chi, “listening power” is not so much about listening with your ears. It is cultivating the ability to perceive what is happening, your child’s body language and what different behaviors really mean. In the martial art, one tunes in to these by reflecting body language, facial expression, and words; then responding intuitively without aggression.
In good parenting, there should be some, but very few, non-negotiable rules, and these should before the child’s safety and well-being, not the parent’s need for total control. “You may never talk back to me” is not a good one. “You may not cross the street without an adult,” is a much better rule. “Don’t talk to me in that tone of voice!” is unskillful. A better way to say it is, “I will listen you when you speak to me in a normal tone of voice.”
These kinds of boundaries must be set with “sinking power,” so that the child knows you mean what you say. Again, “sinking power” is absorbing the child’s energy without moving. Sink your strength into the earth with the relaxing breath. Allow the child to bounce off your energy, discovering without harm the nature of your power.
Let everything you have — mind and body, thoughts and reactions, plans and avoidance of plans — sink with gravity into your feet to beneath the earth. Relax your intention. Put everything underground where it can support you. Strewn anxiously through your body, it can only distract you.
Even the non-negotiable rules must change as a child grows. They won’t be the same for a three-year-old as a ten-year-old, and families that talk and communicate understand this.
To keep life simple, keep the non-negotiable rules simple and few. That way, you do not forever extend invitations for rebellion. Set these boundaries using all your principles. Relax, get centered, sink your power into the earth, and state the boundaries in a setting that allows the child to hear what you say, ask questions, and clearly understand that this particular rule is not negotiable. Have your child repeat the rule back to you.
You must also be able to explain what the consequences will be if the rule is broken, and have the internal power to follow through. Remember that your child will see, hear, and feel your true resolve. For example, instead of saying, “Clean your room right now, or you’ll be in trouble!” a better way to inform your child of consequences is to say (in a normal tone of voice), “You are welcome to join us for dessert as soon as your room is clean.”
Some children stay within the boundaries set for them very well; they like the safety of those invisible fences. Others are boundary-testers. They constantly push at the boundaries as if, because the boundaries are invisible, they aren’t sure the boundaries really exist. These kids used to be called bad or difficult. Now they are called “spirited,” a much better way to see them.
Boundary-testers are often people with a lot of power, energy, and curiosity, who, if not broken by harsh punishment and shame in childhood, will use that energy for great things and will probably be leaders and even visionaries in their adult lives.
If your child is a boundary tester, you can expect to have to pay much more attention to what he does. These are the kids that have an overpowering curiosity to see what happens if they try to cross the street without an adult or strike a match in a closet. They need to experience the consequences that follow when they test a boundary. Sometimes an explanation of why the boundary is there will do; you could get hit by a car and hurt very badly; you could start a fire, burn down the house, and be seriously hurt. Sometimes, along with an explanation, a consequence such as the removal of a favorite toy for a week, not being allowed out of the house for a day or two, and so on, needs to be put in place so the child knows the boundary is firm.
Try to anticipate and set boundaries ahead of time, so that the boundary is not set because of something the child does first. For example, the child goes into the street and gets yanked back and given consequences when he never knew that was a boundary in the first place. This is reactive, not responsive, parenting. This kind of boundary setting only encourages unsafe exploration, because the child has no idea what he can or cannot do without consequences.
With young children you must explain again and again why a certain consequence is being given to them. They are a bit like an old person with dementia! Take them through the whole story so they can link cause and effect, for their memories are short. Do not expect small children to remember rules and boundaries. Constant repetition and imitation will teach them. Without anger, simply remove the child from the situation, or show the child what to do by doing it yourself and then leading her body through the correct action as you speak. This way, the body-centered child learns to connect actions with words, and later the words will connect to right action.
For example, if the child inappropriately handles the cat, you can say, “We pet the kitty gently,” and do it yourself. Then take the child’s hand and repeat. Then let the child show you how she can do it by herself. If she is verbal, she will repeat the words; if not, you can repeat the words as she does the action. Again, do not expect her to remember this and never handle the cat inappropriately again. The whole sequence may have to be repeated many times to become a learned pattern of “how we love our kitty.”

Martial arts expert Dawn Callan defines boundary making beautifully:
“If you know how to set boundaries, you don’t have to build emotional walls.”

Setting boundaries for your kids helps show them how to set boundaries for themselves. Teach and model boundary-setting skills to empower your children to be free of fear and help them “danger-proof” themselves.
If you need to give a consequence when a child persists with inappropriate behavior, explain that if you let nature give her the consequence, she could get hurt (in the example above, the cat might feel scared and scratch or bite), so you need to teach her by giving her a consequence that helps her learn and remember.
Empathize responsively with her pain while holding firm with the consequence. Use your listening skills to let her know you understand it’s hard to stay inside when everybody else is playing outside. You can be sorry for having to impose consequences, while still letting the child know it is her own actions that brought about the situation.
Don’t ever withhold love and affection from a child as punishment for a misdeed. This reinforces the notion that it is the child himself who is bad, not the action he took or the words he spoke. When a child feels rejected in this way, he no longer links behavior with consequences — instead, he starts to believe that he is bad and he will begin to act like a “bad” kid would act. You have the power to define your child in this way, so use it carefully.
Try to avoid labels; if you must use them, use good ones that have the energy of love within them, and pride in who your child is inside: “I see that you’re really brave!” 
Use the concept of “listening power” to attune yourself to which consequences will work for each child under each circumstance. Remember, this is your path, too, so take the time to do it consciously as your spiritual practice, not just a thankless job you must perform because you’re a parent.
Don’t make consequences overly harsh, and link them as closely to the behavior as possible. For example, if a child knows it is a family rule to put dirty clothes in the laundry basket and he does not, he may have to wear something other than what he wants and then later, with your help (depending on the age), do a load of laundry himself.
You are not trying to inflict pain or shame, you are teaching him how life works: behavior has consequences, and each individual must take responsibility for their behavior. Share a story from your own life when you “misbehaved” and had to experience an unpleasant consequence.

© 2015 Vimala McClure

3 WAYS YOUR CHILDREN PERCEIVE PUNISHMENT

Impulses

If you raise your children with punitive discipline, they are more likely to have tendencies toward anger and depression because you are teaching them that part of who they are — their emotions — isn’t acceptable.

Since parents aren’t there to help them learn to manage those difficult feelings, they’re left lonely, trying to sort out for themselves how to overcome their “not-nice” impulses. This makes it harder for them to manage their anger, and more likely that they’ll take it out on their siblings, who are often the closest target.

Power

Kids raised with punishment learn to use it against their siblings to increase their own power. When children know that their rival will be punished, they have an incentive to tattle, both to hurt their sibling and to be able to play the role of the “good child.”

When siblings are punished for fighting with each other, they become more resentful of each other and more focused on revenge. Often, they get into a negative cycle of inciting conflict while trying to make it look like the other child’s fault.

Punishment teaches fear. Kids learn what they live and what you model. If kids do what you want because they fear you, it’s a small step to bullying. If you yell, they’ll yell. If you use force, they’ll use force.

SPANKING

Research Shows that Punishment Doesn’t Work

Children end up learning some entirely unintended lessons from punishment — about wielding power, resolving disagreements, and handling upsetting emotions. So punishing children not only undermines your child’s development in general, but it also has a negative impact on your children’s relationship with each other.

Anger

The way you handle and express your anger is the most powerful teaching tool you have. Contrary to popular opinion, it is not a good idea to encourage your child to beat a pillow or other object to release his anger. It doesn’t work, and worse, it reinforces the notion that it is okay to act out anger with violence.

The only healthy way to express anger is verbally, exploring the cause of it and the fear that lies behind it, and then finding positive ways to use the energy and power it generates. Children need to know it is okay to be afraid and to express it to safe people (parents) and to explore what might be done about it. Often, just talking about anger diffuses it power, and having a parent listen with empathy, not interruption or interpretation, can make all the difference. The child can then solve his own problems appropriately, with a clear head.

An Example of Helping a Child Handle Anger

For example, your young child comes home in tears, angry that a trusted friend hit him and took away his toy.

Parent: “That must have felt awful! You probably feel very angry.”
Child: “Yeah! I’m gonna hit him!
Parent: “It would feel better if you could take back what he took from you, wouldn’t it? Hitting is one of your choices, but it might make things worse later, don’t you think?”
Child: “I dunno. But I’m not just gonna take it like a baby!”
Parent: “Hmm. This is a hard one to figure out, isn’t it? If you hit him, he could just hit you back, and pretty soon everybody’s hitting everybody, you lose a friend, you get in trouble with the teacher, and you get in trouble with us because we don’t hit in our family. So you know it would lead to consequences at home. But you don’t want to feel like you have no power at all.”
Child: “Yeah.”
Parent: “Let’s see, what other choices do you have?”
Child: “I dunno. If I don’t fight him everybody will say I’m a chicken.”
Parent: “Do you feel like a chicken?”
Child: “No! I’m just so mad!”
Parent: “You must feel sad because he was your good friend.”
Child: (sniffing, tears) “Yeah. I can’t believe he did that. Now I hate him!”
Parent: “It sounds like the whole thing is super-frustrating.”
Child: “Yeah! But what should I do?”
Parent: “You could just let it go, choose another toy, and let him know he can’t make you feel afraid or angry, even if he tries. Maybe he’ll be sorry and you can be friends again.”
Child: (looks doubtful).
Parent: “You can tell him what he did made you feel angry, and ask him if he meant to hurt you. Maybe he’ll tell you he didn’t mean it. If he doesn’t want to talk about it, then walk away. Sometimes we walk away strong on the inside, with a different kind of courage, and find other ways to fight back. People who hit  don’t have any courage, and they are usually scared inside. Anyway, I’m sure you’ll figure out what to do. Let me know if you want to talk about it some more. And thanks for sharing your feelings with me.”

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An Example of Modeling the Handling of Anger

Once my sister and her daughter witnessed a man beating his three boys, all under age seven, in a large department store. He slapped them hard across the face and slammed them into the wall. He was obviously out of control. My sister knew she had to do something about it, and at the same time model for her daughter how to intervene  safely in such a situation without getting caught up in it. She was very angry and felt helpless, watching this strong man throw his babies around like rag dolls. “God only knows what he allowed himself in private if that was the way he acted in public,” she said.

She found an onlooker nearby who was willing to go with her and follow the man to his car to take down his license plate number. They then called the police, and waited there to make statements. By that time, her willingness to step forward gave other onlookers the courage to give corroborating statements. When the man arrived home, there was a police car waiting for him, and officers ready to inspect his children for signs of abuse and arrest him for assault.

My sister modeled for her daughter and other bystanders the appropriate and dignified, middle-path use of the energy generated by her anger; it was neither the extreme of total non-involvement and abandonment, nor the extreme of reactivity — that is, hitting him over the head with a shovel, which is what she felt like doing!

THE PATH OF PARENTING: PRINCIPLE FIVE — BE RESPONSIVE

Note: I am using the principles that guide the martial art Tai Chi, with its foundation in Taoism. Like my book The Tao of Motherhood, these principles translate beautifully to what I call “Right Parenting.”

“In adulthood we often see responsibility as something dreadful. Why should we dig the ground when the weather is disagreeable? We see activities as obligations, and we strain against our fate. But there is a joy to working in harmony with the proper time. When we do things at just the right occasion and those efforts bear fruit, the gratification is tremendous.”

— Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao Daily Meditations

This principle follows closely on the heels of Principle Four. It deepens our awareness of how to respond rather than react to our children. It helps us learn how to accept and handle our responsibility to them throughout our lives, for being responsive also includes responsibility.

In Tai Chi, being responsive is the practice of learning to become sensitive to others without becoming enmeshed with them. It cultivates a balanced awareness of our surroundings and of the people with whom we interact. We are often so loaded with preconceived notions, family scripting, and social conditioning from the popular media or our social circle that it is difficult to approach anything new without filtering the new through the old.

The Tai Chi student’s most important work is to learn to be aware of the flow of chi and to work with it as he or she does the exercises and movements of the martial art, including sparring with partners or “opponents.” In the same way, we as parents are given endless opportunities to practice awareness about our children’s energy, their individual way of being — what comes with them — so that when we respond to them we are responding to them uniquely, not just as “my kid.”

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“When you master the outward by means of the inward, all affairs are unspoiled. If you can attain this within, your internal organs are peaceful and your thoughts are calm; your muscles are strong, your yes and ears are alert and clear. You have accurate perceptions and understanding, you are firm and strong without snapping.”

— Huai-Nan-Tzu

This principle relates to how we teach our children to respond to circumstances and people, and how we model and teach responsibility.

THE OPPOSITE

A lack of responsiveness comes in many forms, mostly unintentional. When you see an irresponsible, disrespectful child, you can look to the parents and the home environment where the child is constantly modeled adult interactions. Often the child is mirroring something going on in the home that is not apparent to the outside world, or even spoken of in the home itself.

Sometimes a particularly sensitive child will unconsciously take on the parents’ problems. Often, when a child goes from being friendly,  inquisitive, radiant, and loving to closed down, irresponsible, and difficult, he may be acting out the parents’ unspoken problems. That is why, when a child is taken in for therapy, many therapists want to see the whole family. The therapist knows the child is probably feeing the heavy weight of “something wrong” and is justifiably angry about having to bear the brunt of unspoken problems.

Some irresponsible parents may neglect their children, but it goes deeper than that. Setting up an environment of win-lose, wherein the parent is always right, and where blaming and helplessness prevail prevents us from using the principle in any way. When there is no mutual respect, boundaries cannot be set and negotiated as a child grows older. There is confusion about who is the child and who is the parent.

If anger and emotional and physical reactions are the only feedback a child receives from his parents, the child grows up with little self-motivation and less and less respect for the parents. As a teenager, the tables may turn. The parents become afraid of their children’s anger and cave in to his every demand. Eventually the child looks for other people with whom to have reactive relationships.

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So often this child never grows up; in her adult relationships she is either the controller or the one being controlled, by anger and reaction. The child never learns to be sensitive to other people — their feelings, their histories, or what they need. She becomes self-centered, narcissistic, and wants the word to revolve around her and her — by this time — endless need for validation from others.

Responsiveness is self-management, and sensitivity to the needs of others. It follows that it requires empowerment (Principle Three). A person who is disempowered cannot think of others, and cannot even manage his own choices. His chi or vital energy has been disrupted and siphoned off, so to speak, by the disempowering environment in which he grows. Building that back up as an adult is a difficult and usually lifelong process.

If you grew up in a home where you were neglected or constantly on the losing end of a win-lose situation, you will try to build the responsiveness and responsibility of Principle Five in yourself at the same time that you try to maintain it in your household — not an easy task by any means, but one you can handle.

CHOOSING TO BE RESPONSIVE

You can make the choice to turn your family dynamic toward health and spirituality. It is up to you. Look forward to it as a tremendous challenge and opportunity, as another important aspect of your path of parenting, if you choose to see it that way.

The foundation you lay now, even though you may slip back sometimes, will only grow stronger in the future. By the time you are a grandparent, this will all come much more naturally to you, so you can help your kids even more, and your grandchildren’s foundation in these principles will be taken for granted by them.

When you leave this earth, it will be with the knowledge that though your struggle, you have changed generations of unhealthy, unskilful ways of being and have affected all the people that come within the circle of influence of your children, your grandchildren, and future progeny. That is quit a legacy.

RESPONDING VS. REACTING

The moment between stimulus and response is the precious moment when trust is built or broken We need to train ourselves to pause in that moment, reflect, and respond rather than react to what is being done or said. Sometimes this means we need to take a time out for ourselves, to calm down, relax, remember our principles, and choose our response consciously, rather than reacting like we would to a bee sting or snake bite.

Chungliang Al Huang states, “One principle in the practice of Tai Chi is understanding that your energy will reb found naturally unless you interrupt.” This principle, perhaps more than all the others, requires us to be grown-ups, to intentionally re-script ourselves to respond in a deep thinking, empathic way to the people around us — even if we seem to be the only “grown-up” present in a room full of adults.

The great psychologist Carl Rogers said that the true communicator enables the other person to explore feelings and to mature. He was the first to describe the core conditions necessary for a positive, helping relationship. These include unconditional positive regard (respect), genuineness, and empathy (true understanding, from the other person’s point of view).

Respect means you accept the other person as she is and you care about how she feels. She does not need to change in order to earn your respect.

Genuineness means you come across as a real, authentic person, not a “role.” You are straightforward and sincere. You let people know who you are and what you stand for in ways that are kind and compassionate rather than judgmental or argumentative.

Empathy is the ability to feel what others feel and to accept others’ experiences as valid. You can trust an empathic person with your feelings. An empathic person doesn’t judge how you feel, tell you how you feel or should feel, analyze you, or gossip to others about your feelings told in confidence.

When you learn how to practice being responsive, you will also get a good handle on Principe Three (Empower), and become far more empowered. As adults we have the choice to move from childlike joy, wonder, and fun to adult reasoning, sensitivity, and the ability to set boundaries.

Principle Five — being fully responsive —  includes learning to easily and naturally move between these poles — of our own volition, not because outside forces trigger it in us.

Being responsive is more than the ability to respond sensitively to your environment. It is the ability to take responsibility for your life, to refrain from gaming circumstances and other people for everything that happens in your life. This is also a “grown-up” principle to practice, because often it certainly appears that circumstances and other people are responsible for a lot of what happens t you. But you are responsible as well. The challenge is to take responsibility for your part in whatever happens, and to see the part of you that must change in order for the externals to change.

If you have been subjected to a lot of shame and blame in childhood, this principle may be difficult to master. There may be unconscious processes going on that you don’t even understand that help create problems for you — still, putting the responsibility for them squarely on your own shoulders is the first step. The beauty of it is that you also get to release the things you are not responsible for to those who are.

We are not responsible for the words and actions of our parents. Yet, we can only blame our parents for so long if we cannot control our temper. At some point, we have to take the responsibility to earn how to do it, and then to teach it to our children if it was not taught to us. The same principle applies in many other areas of life, physical, emotional, and spiritual.

© 2015 Vimala McClure

Controlling Parenting Impacts Teenagers’ Future Relationships

Study Tracks Teenagers Through Nine Years

A study conducted by members of the psychology department at the University of Virginia found that parents who exercised psychological control of their teenagers hinder their child’s ability to develop close relationships later on in adulthood. The study, published in the journal Child Development, was titled “The Cascading Development of Autonomy and Relatedness from Adolescence to Adulthood.”

“Adolescents who have parents who do this learn that in close relationships it is bad to assert your opinion and you’ll hurt other people,” said Elenda Hessel, one of the doctoral candidates who worked in the research group conducting the study. “They think that this is what happens at home and so this is what must happen elsewhere.”

Throughout a nine-year time period, researchers tracked 184 teenagers from a public middle school in Virginia. The study began when the participants were 13-years-old and continued until they were 21. The group assessed the adolescents’ relationships with their parents to determine its relationship to the development of autonomy and relatedness with their friends and romantic partners.

Guilt, Shame, Withdrawing Love, Cultivating Anxiety

The parent’s use of guilt, shame, withdrawing love or cultivating anxiety — all examples of psychological control — set the adolescents on a long-term trajectory toward badly functioning relationships in the future.

“We have no evidence that provides why exactly these parents do this,” Hessel said. “However, it may be possible some parents had the same relationship or that some of them are scared and anxious and don’t have good ideas so they resort to these methods.”

During each assessment period at ages 13, 18 and 21, researchers asked the participants about their psychological health, their values, their parents’ conduct and their relationships with their friends. As the participants matured, the researchers began adding more questioning pertaining to their romantic partners.

Regarding their parents’ behavior, the participants were asked to assess the degree to which their mothers and fathers used guilt, anxiety, love withdrawal and other manipulative methods.

“Self-reporting is often the most informative method of gathering data,” Hessel said.The researchers rated various situations on a 10-point scale. For example, with the question “My mother/father is a person who is less friendly with me, if I do not see things his/her way,” respondents could give a value of one, meaning “not like my mother/father” or a value of three being “a lot like my mother/father.”

The group created another phase of the study that simulated real-life interactions. At each assessment period, the participants were placed in a video-monitored room and were given an activity or question that forced them to disagree.

“The idea was to look at how adolescents talk about things when they disagree with one another,” Hessel said. “We think it’s a good skill to have to express yourself without damaging the relationship, and being able to say, ‘I disagree with you but I still value you.’”

At age 13 for example, they were told that 12 people were stranded on Mars and only seven would fit on the ship returning home. The adolescents separately picked the seven people and later came together to discuss disagreement and come to a decision.

Once the participants were 21, they discussed real-life issues in their relationships, such as money or budgetary problems, jealousy and communication issues. Researchers used a coding system that indicated expressions of reasoning and confidence — a sign of autonomy — and warmth and collaborativeness, a sign of relatedness.

As predicted, the researchers found that parental psychological control ultimately undermines the youth’s ability to properly express autonomy and relatedness when in disagreement with close friends and later on, romantic partners. This shows the importance of the transitional period from early adolescence to adulthood.

“The transition period from early adolescence to early adulthood is the time when the peer group matters more and determines how they’re able to navigate those relationships and the expectations going into new relationships,” Hessel said.

Researchers emphasized that without the right parental guidance, adolescents will be ill-prepared to manage their relationships.“Guilt tripping your kids won’t be good for them in the long run,” Hessel said. “You can still have an influence over your kids at this age and let it be a good one.”

Effects of spanking on kids’ brains – CNN.com

Effects of spanking on kids’ brains – CNN.com.

Researchers say physical punishment actually alters the brain — not only in an “I’m traumatized” kind of way but also in an “I literally have less gray matter in my brain” kind of way. “Exposing children to HCP (harsh corporal punishment) may have detrimental effects on trajectories of brain development,” one 2009 study concluded.

Spanking children slows cognitive development and increases risk of criminal behavior, expert says

Spanking children slows cognitive development and increases risk of criminal behavior, expert says.

“The Primordial Violence” (Routledge, 2013) shows that the reasons parents hit those they love includes a lot more than just correcting misbehavior. It provides evidence on the effect spanking has on children, and what can be done to end it. The book features longitudinal data from more than 7,000 U.S. families as well as results from a 32-nation study and presents the latest research on the extent to which spanking is used in different cultures and the subsequent effects of its use on children and on society.

BEING YOURSELF — Part Two

The Simplicity of the Uncarved Block

Tai Chi teacher Chungliang Al Huang, in his book Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain, gives us good words to ponder:

“There are many basic concepts in Tao that emerge in Tai Chi when you practice. One is the word pu, which means the original material, before it is trimmed and modified, fixed and polished. Sometimes we translate it as “uncarved block.” It is the raw material before it is carved into artistic form, the essence that exists before you change it. Learn the grain of the wood before you carve it. Pu is the basic substance of the real you, before it’s manicured or painted over. Expose your own basic essence before you clutter it up. Don’t let all the external things blind you so that you lose the uncarved block within.”

A wonderful book that explores this subject with humor and whimsy is The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff.

The simplest person, if he or she lives in that simplicity comfortably, without guile or apology, is respected by all. You don’t need complicated teachings or practices. If you can find who you are and be yourself, your children will naturally love and respect you regardless of your education, your job, your “standing” on the illusory scale of wealth, or your race and class. If you are truly yourself with dignity, you will be respected, whether you are rich, poor, or in between.

Being yourself also means you allow others to be themselves. As it says in Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain,

“When you look at nature, everything has its own motion: the tree and the rock and the running water — they somehow tie together without making a point to fit. When you watch the waves coming over the rocks, you see that the wave has wave-nature, the rock has rock-nature. They do not violate each other’s nature.”

We learn to allow our children to be who they are — not mere reflections of us or who we wish we were. We are not afraid to share ourselves and our history with our children, and show them what we have learned and what we still want to learn. We are not afraid to be wrong and apologize and to talk about the times when we have veered off course. Inside, we have determination to constantly learn and grow, and we know we learn a great deal from adversity and mistakes. When we can truly be ourselves all the time, we allow our children to learn right along with us.

In my parents’ day, anything that might have exposed a parent as vulnerable or not perfect was hidden away. So there was a duplicitous quality to their parenting. For example, many of them were closet alcoholics who were appalled when their children experimented with drugs.

The rebellion, when it came, was great. The hypocrisy of our parents’ lifestyle was suddenly repugnant to a whole generation of teenagers, who stood up together and said, “NO!” — as the children’s story goes, “The Emperor has no clothes!” All we really wanted was for our parents to be themselves. But we didn’t realize that was nearly impossible for most of them, for they had been conditioned — their minds had been scripted — in an entirely different world, where there was only one definition of “normal.” With the explosion of worldwide communications media, we discovered that there were many definitions, and that some of them were much healthier and more integrated than what we had been brought up with, and some came from age-old cultures that were about to be wiped off the earth forever by the materialism of our culture. We felt an urgency to learn how to find and be our true selves, and to apply that knowledge to our western cultures, which seemed riddled with fake values, with false faces, and no substance.

What is “Normal” Anyway?

Not long ago, in most communities, there was only one way to be “normal,” to fit in and conform. There is a Chinese story about a woman who always cut off the end of a ham, before she cooked it in her oven. Her daughter asked her why she did it, and she replied, “My mother always did it that way.” When they asked the grandmother, she said, “My mother always did it that way.” Finally, they asked great-grandmother. “I did it that way, “ she said, “because otherwise it wouldn’t fit in my little pot.”

When I was a young housewife, I folded the sheets precisely the way my mother had, and got upset when my husband didn’t fold them “right.” Finally I realized how silly it was; there was no reason for folding them that way, but my mother, and her mother, made it seem as if it had to be done in just this way. To this day, when I fold my sheets willy-nilly and stuff them in the closet so I can go do something more interesting, I smile to myself and I see my ancestors in my mind, shaking their collective heads, arms folded in consternation.

There is no such thing as some kind of “normal” behavior for any group of people that doesn’t change over time. It’s futile to try to be normal. It’s much more fun and fulfilling to be ourselves.

Share Your Journey

Being oneself is, obviously, not being a clone of one’s parents, friends, teachers, television personalities, or anyone else. It’s not conforming to anything. It isn’t requiring your children to fit into some preconceived notion of what children “at that age,” or in your neighborhood — or of your race or family history — should be.

Have the courage to find and be who you truly are, and to share yourself and your journey with your children. That doesn’t mean you don’t protect them from some parts of the adult world that may frighten or harmfully influence them. For example, it is not wise for parents to fight with each other in front of their children. The children don’t understand the complicated dynamics of marital relationships, and if you find yourselves yelling at one another, you should work with each other (or go to therapy if necessary) to find other, healthier ways to communicate — certainly for yourselves, but also to model for your children how to work through problems and differences in a healthy way; learn how to argue constructively. Don’t fight in front of the kids — but don’t, also, pretend that all is well if it isn’t.

If you are having difficulty communicating, you can explain to your children that there are some things that are just between their parents. You can reassure them of their safety and of your love for them. That is enough to keep it real without lying to them, scaring them, or involving them in problems and responsibilities that are not theirs. And, for goodness sake, make sure they understand that your problems are not their fault.

All too often when we become parents we think we need to play a role, and often the role we try to fulfill isn’t synchronized with our own values and principles, and isn’t updated to the culture we live in now.

Being yourself means being available to your loved ones in whatever condition you happen to be — not hiding away when you are hurting or imperfect, and then showing yourself only at your best, pretending you never have those human moments of vulnerability, mistakes, wrongdoing, and regret. It entails working to make your inner and outer life fully integrated with each other, so your life is a relatively open book. This requires a commitment to honesty, which is sometimes very difficult. Temptations to lie, either overtly or by withholding, are constant. My spiritual teacher once said, “In ancient India, when you found someone lying, you were surprised and shocked. These days, when you find someone who is really honest you are surprised and shocked.” You can’t expect honesty and integrity from your kids if you aren’t that way yourself.

Sometimes we get into a bind because we have a lot of “shoulds” controlling our lives that my not match our deepest needs and wants at all. So we spend important moments of our lives doing things we think we should do or acting the way we think we should act, or judging ourselves against someone else’s standards. We forego our deepest needs; we silence ourselves through these judgments and thus convey to our children that it’s not okay to be who you are and, far worse, that you will never meet the standards set for you.

© 2015 Vimala McClure

Link

Children’s negative emotionality moderates influence of parenting styles on preschool classroom adjustment.

Highlights

Three profiles of parenting at 36 months: sensitiveharsh, and detached.

Parenting profiles influenced child aggression in preschool.

Parenting profiles influenced teacher-child relationships in preschool.

Detached parenting and child negative emotionality promotes risk.