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Be the Person Your Child Confides In | eHow.

Nothing is more precious to me than the discussions I have with my 19-year-old daughter.  I consider her frequent use of me as a sounding board my crowning achievement as a parent (yep, I’m taking full credit for this one).  After keeping so many secrets from my own mother, this element of our relationship has been a tremendous surprise and immensely flattering. Here’s what I believe has made it possible:

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.”

PARENTING WITH PRINCIPLE FOUR — BE YOURSELF

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Principle Four with Young ChildrenEven young children are experts at detecting hypocrisy. Acting as if you have no flaws or problems can seriously damage the communication between you and your kids. “Be Yourself” sounds simplistic, but having an awareness of who that is requires you to be thoughtful and slow down, accepting yourself for who you are, where you came from, and what you truly believe.

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PARENTING WITH PRINCIPLE FOUR — BE YOURSELF

Principle Four with Young Children

Even young children are experts at detecting hypocrisy. Acting as if you have no flaws or problems can seriously damage the communication between you and your kids. “Be Yourself” sounds simplistic, but having an awareness of who that is requires you to be thoughtful and slow down, accepting yourself for who you are, where you came from, and what you truly believe.

Self-Esteem

Constant praise unconnected to behavior can inflate children’s egos so that they get a distorted picture of themselves and become devastated by mistakes, flaws, and being just “one of the team.” A child who is praised too much in a superficial way cannot handle being a “simple dandelion,” even if that is what he is meant to be.

[Messages assuring your child that you love him no matter what are not included — they do not count as constant praise.]

Self-esteem boosters are more effective when connected with behavior. For example:

— “I love the colors you chose for that drawing. They’re so vibrant, just like you!”

— “Thanks for doing the dishes without being asked. You really know how to be a team player. You are so important to our family.”

— “Good grades on your report card! You must have really worked for those. Congratulations! I knew you had it in you.”

— “The teacher told me how nicely you shared the toys today. That makes me feel so happy. You’re very considerate.” (You may have to define “considerate” — a great opportunity to continue the conversation and teach a new word).

In this way, you show your children that good values and character traits are demonstrated by behavior and must be consciously worked at. In the same way, incorporating reasoning into the discipline process can also get the point across. Rather than reacting impulsively or parroting phrases you read, be yourself and speak from your heart. For example:

— “I felt disappointed when you hit Jason. I know inside you are a kind person, and hitting isn’t kind. What other ways do you think you could express your angry feelings?”

— “I’m so happy you got a B in math; I know that subject has been hard for you. What about this C in history? What do you think is the problem?”

— “Doing chores around the house is part of us being a close family. What do you need to help you do your share more often?”

When a child misbehaves it is usually because she has need that isn’t being met, and often the child can’t articulate that need. We must become very astute detectives and observe them for a while to see if we can figure out what the need might be. We could than ask them something like: “Have you been feeling as close to the family as you want to lately?” or, “Is your love bucket getting low? Need a hug?’

If your child answers with denial, continue feeding back what you think it may be:

— “You haven’t been doing your chores, so I just thought maybe you didn’t feel as close to everybody as you want.”

— “Your grades have dropped, so I thought maybe you have some stress or worry you’d like to talk about.”

— “You’ve been acting very unhappy, so I thought maybe some extra attention might help. Can I give you a hug?”

Usually the child will then open up and try to tell you what is going on.

LISTEN!!!

Offering a massage, putting your arm around your child, or holding his hand can help sometimes. Again, you need to stay focused on the child’s need, and feed back what you think you’re hearing without judgment. Don’t force your child to talk; give her time to come to you when she feels safe and wants to. You can say, “If you want to talk about anything, I’m here to listen.”

Sometimes sharing your history, in small doses, can help your child feel not so alone. Let your child know you had similar experiences and feelings at his age, if it is true. It can be a relief as long as you don’t go on and on or suggest that you know exactly how they feel, because you do not. Show a genuine curiosity about your children’s feelings and experiences. If they don’t expect a lecture or judgment, they will open up to you. Never interrupt them!

Sometimes kids need to talk for a long time, with starts and stops and stutters; especially very young kids tend to try to speak what’s on their minds faster than they are able. You don’t need to solve their problems. Let them solve their own. You can give a couple of suggestions, emphasizing they’re only suggestions, and always end with, “I have faith in your good judgment and ability to solve problems. If you need any help or just want to talk about it, I’m here.”

This is not an easy lesson for parents to learn. You’ll find yourself blowing it again and again. But you can always go back to your child and say, “When we talked I really blew it. I jumped in with a boring lecture instead of listening to you. I hope you’ll give me another chance.” Recently, I had this scenario with my 36-year-old daughter! Still learning!

It may not be at that moment, but usually your child will give you another chance to just listen, skillfully, without telling her your autobiography or trying to solve her problems unless she asks you for advice. Even then, use questions to try to get her to come to the solution or possible solutions herself, so she feels empowered. When it works, you can say, “Great job! I knew you could figure that out.” and/or “I’m so proud of the way you handle problems.” Instead of “I told you so.”

Self-Concept

Self-concept is the image we hold of ourselves — of our abilities, our nature, qualities, and typical behavior. This is formed in our earliest years by what we hear about ourselves through those closest to us. In essence, children come to see themselves the way their parents and caregivers see them. Therefore, when they consistently get the message that they are “bad,” “naughty,” or “stupid” or that they “act like a baby,” that message is internalized.

Because self-concept determines behavior, children will act out how they feel inside. A child who believes himself to be bad will, therefore, exhibit bad behavior, often causing the parent to pile on more shame in an effort to control it. The cycle perpetuates.

More than Behavior

We have a habit of reducing children to nothing more than behavior, and we treat only the behavior we see rather than treating the human being behind the behavior. When we are focused on only treating behavior, we may be quick to dole out punishments or use shaming tactics to gain compliance. When we are focused on treating the human being, we are able to empathize, teach, and guide the child to better behavior. This is obviously a healthier approach, but it takes more time and effort.

Shaming is quick and often effective, so don’t be fooled into taking the easy way out. There is a valuable, worthy human being behind that behavior.

Self-concept can be defined as the view one has of herself and her abilities. A child’s self-concept begins to develop at birth. It begins with how adults respond to her. Parents and caregivers create a positive emotional bond with an infant through warm and caring interactions. This positive emotional bond with parents and caregivers promotes a child’s healthy self-concept.

As the child grows, her ability to interact successfully with her environment nurtures a healthy self-concept.  This is critically important in early childhood. The development of a positive self-concept at an early age empowers the child to feel competent, try new things, and strive for success. As parents, we have the opportunity (and responsibility) to nurture a positive self-concept in our children.

Choose How You Offer Feedback

The way we grew up can have a tremendous impact on who we are as adults and as parents. As soon as possible — ideally during pregnancy — think about how you were treated as a child, and what behaviors you wish to change with your own children. Here is an easy-to-understand list of “Don’ts” versus “Do’s”

Shame abandons — encouragement believes.

Condemnation paralyzes — compassion frees.

Exasperation quits — patience prevails.

Yelling silences — communication opens up.

Blame hurts — grace heals.

Fault-finding destroys — praise builds.

Rejection loses — unconditional love wins.

Shaming your Kids

Shame has long been wielded as a powerful tool to modify a child’s behavior. When made to feel unworthy, children will usually try harder to please their parents, giving the illusion that it’s “working,” but those feelings of worthlessness cause deep scars which can take a lifetime to heal.

Shame isn’t only common in abusive homes, but is generally an acceptable form of “discipline” in your average “nice” family. Shaming includes verbal comments such as “stop acting like a baby,” “you naughty child,” and “are you that stupid?” as well as the unfortunate trend in public shaming and social media humiliation.

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Ten Things You Can Do to Nurture a Positive Self-Concept

1. Be mindful of the language you use to describe your children. Do not label them with words such as ‘lazy’, ‘naughty’, ‘aggressive’ or ‘mean’. Instead, look for and point out your child’s strengths.

2. Provide them with opportunities for success. Give your child age-appropriate tasks she can complete on her own. Having done so will give her a sense of pride and help build a “can do” mentality.

3. Show your children that you have faith in their goodness and in their abilities. This is a matter of language choice. For example, if your toddler, out of frustration, hits another child, you might say, “You naughty girl! How can you be so mean! I can’t believe you hit him! You’re in big trouble!” Or, you could say, “You got frustrated and hit him. It’s not ok to hit. I know you didn’t mean to hurt him. How can you express your frustration in different ways?”

4. Spend time together. A vital part of having a healthy self-concept is feeling loved and valued. Spend this time doing something fun and enjoyable for both of you, and avoid criticisms or lectures during this quality time.

5. Support your child’s interests. Learn what your child is interested in and support him in mastering that skill or accomplishing his desired level of achievement. Feeling competent and good at something grows a positive self-concept.

6. Set reasonable rules and enforce them with lovingkindness. Your rules should be age-appropriate and clear. These help your child to feel safe and learn how to manage herself. However, enforcing them with a heavy hand when your child steps out of bounds can actually erode the self-concept. It’s important to make sure your child knows that mistakes are a part of life and doesn’t mean she’s a bad person. When giving consequences, keep your child’s dignity in mind.

7. Help your child to manage his emotions and work out problems. This is why problem-solving is such a big part of positive parenting. When children learn to solve their own problems, they build confidence and, therefore, a positive self-concept. Learning to manage emotions is key to having the ability to step back from a situation and view it objectively.

8. Maintain a connected relationship. Being connected keeps the lines of communication open, and this is especially important as your child grows into adolescence. Knowing that she has you to talk to, that you will listen without casting out immediate judgment and you will take her feelings seriously, will help her to feel supported, safe, and important.

9. Give her the opportunity to explore her environment, ask questions without feeling like a nuisance, and engage in make-believe play activities. Children are curious and imaginative, and we must be careful not to squash those traits. To nurture curiosity and imagination, allow ample time for free play and exploration.

10. Acknowledge effort and offer encouragement. Children need to know that first place isn’t the goal, but that personal best is a win, no matter what place that lands them. As she grows, her own self-evaluation will become important to her self-concept, and she needs to learn how to emphasize her strengths and accomplishments, even if there is no trophy in the end.

A healthy self-concept is the foundation for the positive development and the over-all well-being of a child. When a child has a healthy self-concept, he sees himself as being loved, loving, and valuable, and that’s what we all want for our children.

Help Your Child Know How to Be Himself

To help your child find himself, first, BE YOURSELF. Listen and observe. Give her feedback about what you see in terms of what she is good at, what seems to make her feel happy, what traits seem to come naturally. In this way, you help her build a solid sense of self from the beginning, so that she is not afraid to follow her own drummer, and rarely falls into the self-esteem destroying trap of comparing herself with others.

Opportunities for building self-esteem abound. For example, when your child expresses admiration for someone (a teacher, sports figure, super-hero), you can ask him, curiously, “What is it about him you admire the most?” Open-ended questions help the child clarify in his own mind what his opinions, desires, goals, and wishes may be.

Though this post is about young children, it really goes for your kids always. Even as adults, they’ll count on you to listen and continue to give them positive feedback about their positive behavior and not flip out about what you perceive to be negative.

© 2015 Vimala McClure

PARENTING WITH PRINCIPLE FOUR — BE YOURSELF

MOM DAD NEWBORN

Using this principle in your everyday parenting comes naturally when you have worked to discover who you truly are. Tai Chi teacher Chungliang Al Huang summed up nicely the message we want to get across to our kids:

“What you need is an acceptance of yourself as you are. You are like a seed. You don’t know what you’re going to be when spring comes — maybe a chrysanthemum, or an orchid, or maybe…

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PARENTING WITH PRINCIPLE FOUR — BE YOURSELF

Using this principle in your everyday parenting comes naturally when you have worked to discover who you truly are. Tai Chi teacher Chungliang Al Huang summed up nicely the message we want to get across to our kids:

“What you need is an acceptance of yourself as you are. You are like a seed. You don’t know what you’re going to be when spring comes — maybe a chrysanthemum, or an orchid, or maybe just a plain dandelion. . . Be with the process and enjoy it.”

When we look at the analogy of flowering, we remember that flowers don’t bloom until near the end of the plant’s life cycle. This is especially pertinent these days, when we live so much longer than our ancestors did, when people have several careers and maybe even several families. Blooming, going dormant, and blooming again is a realistic paradigm for how our children’s lives and our lives are likely to be. It is our job to assure our children that they have many choices and that they never have to settle on just the one thing forever. Rather than pushing them into what we want for them, we help and support them as they try out many things and go with what brings them joy.

Principle Four in Pregnancy

Pregnancy, birth, and infancy are periods when you are required to make many decisions; sometimes it can be overwhelming. You get so much advice and input from relatives, friends, books, blogs, and experts that you can lose track of what your inner guidance is trying to tell you. Using Principles One and Two (Relax and Slow Down) can help you and firmly rooting yourself in Principle Three (Empower) can help you have the “sinking power” you need to communicate with others. Be Yourself requires that you act in accordance with your own deeply held values.

Only you can decide, according to what feels best to you, whether you give birth at home or in a hospital or birthing center, choose to immunize or not, breastfeed or not, whether your children wear natural fibers or not, whether or not you choose day care, how to discipline and communicate with a toddler, and so on. After doing your own research about the issues, make your decisions from a deep inner place that makes you feel like a good parent, instead of simply going with what your parents tell you or with the current cultural flow.

Over and over again, it has been shown that the current cultural flow is often wrong. At one time it was common and accepted to give babies opium to keep them quiet. At one time, mothers were told to wear masks and not to breathe on their babies or breastfeed them for fear of “contaminating” them. At one time,parents were told not to respond to an infant’s cry for fear of “spoiling” them. At one time, it was widely believed that babies didn’t feel pain and that they could not see or hear in the womb or for the first weeks of life. Take the experts with a grain of salt, and listen to your own heart about what is right for you and your family. Refrain from judging other parents and their decisions for the same reasons; you are not in their shoes.

Be Yourself with Your Baby

Before you birth your baby, you may envision yourself calmly and blissfully being a parent; or, you may be terrified that you don’t know what to do with this new human depending on you for its very existence. It is fairly easy now, with the internet, to read a lot about infants — what they need, what they don’t need, how to provide the best environment for them, how to respond to their cries and fusses and so on.

Scientific research has blossomed over the past decades, and many parenting styles of our parents’ day have been proven to be almost barbaric. Figure out how to both be yourself and provide your infant with the love, attention, and healthy environment that s/he desperately needs. Those who say, “Well, I turned out all right! The way my parents did it will work for me,” don’t recognize the many problems, physical, mental, and emotional health risks they faced or will face because of how they were raised.

If you can be firmly rooted in who you are, you will find that you can intuit the right decisions as you live with your baby. You will make mistakes, but as you relax, slow down, empower yourself with good information, and have confidence in who you are, you can correct your course as you go along. In this way, no permanent damage is done. Your child responds to you “being yourself.” Trying to parent in some way that isn’t coming from your deepest principles is confusing for your child, and damaging long-term.

© 2015 Vimala McClure

3 CONCEPTS & 1 ACTIVITY THAT CAN INFLUENCE OUR EFFECTIVENESS IN OUR FAMILIES

ONE
The first is the most important, and that’s the concept of principles. Principles should and actually do guide everything in the universe. Principles are true to all human beings all over the world. They are unchanging, unarguable, and self-evident. They are those things that all of us know in our hearts to be true. Principles are not internal as we may think, they are actually external to…

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3 CONCEPTS & 1 ACTIVITY THAT CAN INFLUENCE OUR EFFECTIVENESS IN OUR FAMILIES

ONE
The first is the most important, and that’s the concept of principles. Principles should and actually do guide everything in the universe. Principles are true to all human beings all over the world. They are unchanging, unarguable, and self-evident. They are those things that all of us know in our hearts to be true. Principles are not internal as we may think, they are actually external to us. We can fail to live up to our principles, but the principles themselves remain, forever unchangeable.

Principles may be in harmony with our values, but they may not be the same as our values. Values change — they are what we like from time to time. But principles are true and unchanging. Gravity is a good example. You may not believe in gravity, you may not understand gravity, you may not like gravity, but if you jump off a building, you will experience gravity. There is no way you can change that. We have to go to great lengths to escape its pull, but when doing so we don’t change the principle of gravity. Principles are natural laws that involve cause and effect. They are long term. What you do today because of your principles influences you and your family and the people around you for generations to come.

Principles are true for all religions. We think that principles would be different in two very different sets of philosophical views, but they’re not. There is a basic agreement in every culture about principles such as integrity, kindness, and honesty — we all know they are essential for a healthy society.

TWO
Practices, on the other hand, change. Practices are the things we do that change with changing times. We may do something differently because of new knowledge. For example, a long time ago they gave babies opium when they cried. Now that would be considered child abuse. Obviously that is not a principle, it’s a practice. In the midst of complexity we always seek security in practices, so it is very easy to teach practices. A nurse mechanically rubbing a baby in a nursery is an example of practice without principle; the underlying principle for the practice of infant massage is the bonding between parent and baby. You may get short-term value from practices; you may get limited benefits. Principles, however, give you long-term benefits — on every level — that never end. President Thomas Jefferson’s words are worth reflecting upon:

“In matters of style, swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

THREE
A paradigm is a way of seeing things; it’s the picture we have in our minds of how our universe works. It’s our best guess at how things are, our best assumptions about how things work, where people are coming from, and what is true.

Paradigms, though, may be based on inaccurate information. Let’s say I invite you to my house in Colorado, and I mistakenly give you a map with a misprint — it says, “Colorado” at the top, but it is actually a map of Illinois. You get in your car and you get lost because you do not have an accurate map. That’s what a paradigm is : it is our map of the territory. But the map is not the territory. So our paradigms are subject to updating. This is where we try to cultivate teachability or humility, the frame of mind where you think you know what is right, but you are always open to new information.

For the longest time, we thought that babies couldn’t see at all when they were born, much less see in utero, so we behaved accordingly. Then suddenly — seemingly overnight — we discovered they can see and actually they can see quite clearly. It shifted our paradigm of what the infant’s reality is — and that shift continues to happen over and over again.

As soon as we think we know all about an infant’s experience — what the world looks and feels like to them — we discovered they know and experience more than we thought. At one point we also thought babies couldn’t feel until a certain age — that they didn’t feel pain! That paradigm was very convenient for adults, but it wasn’t true.

We correct our paradigms by listening — to other people and to information that comes to us when we study, when we think deeply about what our paradigms are, and by trying to adjust them to what is current, what is real. We use our principles as a guide for doing that.

A MISSION IN LIFE

One of the most useful projects I have undertaken is to write a personal mission statement for my life. I wrote a personal mission statement several years ago, and every year on the first of January, I review my statement and make changes to bring it into alignment with what I understand to be my chief principles. I also review the past year, and evaluate what I did and how I expressed my stated mission in my everyday life. If there is an area that is being neglected, I try to understand why and figure out how I might address that aspect in the coming year.

My personal mission statement comprises my guiding principles. It is statement, in my own words, about how I wish to be in every area of my life. Throughout the year, as I plan all my activities and goals, I review this statement and ask myself, “Does this project, plan, or goal resonate with my mission in life?”

You probably already have an overall sense of purpose about being good person, serving humanity, maybe even realizing God, and so on. Breaking that general purpose down into specific behaviors can be very helpful — you will find yourself doing more thinking, less reacting. We are often pressured, cajoled, manipulated, and maneuvered into doing countless things that do not necessarily move us any closer to our goals, and that may, in fact, pull us away from our fundamental principles. Stating these principles can be the first step toward gaining the inner strength and courage to be what we really, truly want to be, deep down in our souls.

YOUR “FLIGHT PLAN”
I read Michael Crichton’s techno-thriller Airframe, and it made me think about my favorite analogy about mission statements: the flight plan. Most of the time a commercial aircraft is off course, but using feedback systems it corrects its course and reaches its destination, usually on time. In much the same way, a personal mission statement serves as a flight plan. It tells you where you want to go. It can provide a system through which you can receive feedback to keep you on purpose in spite of the many events and decisions that may cause you to veer off your original plotted route.

In thinking about this analogy, I wondered what would happen if two pilots with different flight plans tried to fly the same plane? The plane would probably get off the ground easily, but as the pilots settled in for the trip, power struggles would erupt as each tried to steer the plane according to his or her own flight plan. Unless some kind of synergy could develop, there would be a crash.

In addition to writing personal mission statement, many people find creating a mission statement with their partner is an exciting and fulfilling thing to do — especially if you have children. Questions you never thought of before will come to you as you clarify what is deeply important to you both. In most partnerships, a shared mission can be arrived at joyfully.

© 2015 Vimala McClure

BEING YOURSELF — Part Two

BEING YOURSELF — Part Two 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.

FAMILY GAME

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…

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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