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

PRINCIPLE THREE: EMPOWERMENT WITH YOUR TEENS

A PARADIGM SHIFT

An experience I had with my son has always stayed with me, because it so beautifully illustrates Principle One (Relax), Principle Two (Slow Down) and Principle Three (Empower). When my son was sixteen, he got his driver’s license. We lived in the rural Ozarks, about four hours from St. Louis, Missouri. We were driving home from the store one day, and he said, “Mom, I have a friend from Colorado who is visiting his parents in St. Louis and I want to go up there and see him. Can I borrow your car?” I immediately reacted, “Absolutely not! No way am I comfortable with that. You haven’t had your license for that long!” His face fell, and he became very quiet. A heavy silence fell over the car, and I felt bad about disappointing him, but I felt I had reacted the way any mother would.

Later that afternoon, he came to my office and said, “Mom, would you please sit down? I need you to read something.” He handed me a letter (printed here with his permission):

Issue: Mom has written books on parenting, motherhood, etc., so why the problems with me? Idea: Everything has basically turned out great, except for a few things, ie., responsibility, defiance, and laziness on my part. My idea is that a lot of this stems from a lack of trust. In other cultures such as the old time Native American ones, there was a point at puberty when a boy was initiated into manhood. This was done in many ways, sometimes painful rituals or taking him on his first hunt or whatever.

These ideas were brought to me by a TV program I was watching where a father was having trouble with his kid, and his way of trusting the kid was to let him use the welder’s torch for the first time. I think that by showing this trust it motivated the kid to show responsibility to the parent, which started this value within the kid. I know you trust in God to guide me. But I’m not sure you have any faith or trust in me personally.

One incident that supports my idea is, surprisingly, from my stepfather. When he asked me to take his car to have the tires changed, I realized he was really trusting me with this, and I agreed and eagerly helped him, which is unusual for me. What’s more, however worried he was, he never displayed it to me. He didn’t even say, “Be careful,” which meant a lot to me, and I drove as carefully as I ever have. My point is, well, I don’t know really, but it’s just an idea, and I hope you will consider it.”

As I read this letter, my eyes filled with tears, for so many reasons. To me it was a culmination of my entire life as a mother, to have him sit down and be able to work out his thoughts this way. Then to be able to communicate them so clearly, to stand for something he believed in and to back it up, to evaluate his own behavior, and to tell me how he was feeling and why he was feeling that way.

I had an instant paradigm shift. This was a way for me to double-check how my principles were guiding my parenting . I was out there empowering everybody else, but was I really empowering my son? He was right. And that’s what I told him. I looked him in the eye and said, “Honey, you are right. I’m wrong. You can take my car to St. Louis. I trust your judgment that you can do this. Let’s just work out some ways you could check in to keep my fears at bay.”

He burst into tears, threw his arms around me, and said, “You’re the best mom in the whole world.” He cried from his heart. He came back later that night and said, “Mom, you know what? I don’t need to go to St. Louis.”

That was a great turning point in our lives. It made the rest of his teenage years so much more smooth, and all of my daughter’s, who was coming up two years behind him. From then on, I was usually able to remember these three principles — to relax, slow down, and empower my kids — to release my fear, trust them, and watch them come up to that trust. I tried to empower them, to help them get the skills to do what they wanted to do with their lives, not what I wanted for them. Sometimes, happily, these were one and the same. But sometimes they have been very different, and I never allowed our differences of opinion or our different lifestyle choices to come between us. I tried not to let my fear run my reaction to whatever they thought or did at the moment. Even if their choices were vastly different from mine or from what I wished they would choose, I tried to empower them to go as deep as they could, to operate from principles, and to explore and believe in whatever path they chose. In this way, we were (and are) all constantly learning from one another and staying close and bonded, no matter what the external circumstances of our lives look like.

Now that my son is an adult approaching 40, I’ve been able to see the result of my parenting with principles. I couldn’t be more proud of him. I admire him deeply. We continue to communicate in empowering ways, and I am so glad I learned about this early on.

EMPOWER YOUR TEENS TO TAKE HEALTHY RISKS

Dr. Lynn Ponton, a veteran University of California child psychiatrist, thinks that parent should rethink their conclusions about adolescence as a hormone-driven, continual state of rebellion. The teen years as a natural time for taking risks as children begin to exercise their choices, test their abilities, and discover their identities. Western cultures have come to believe that adolescence is a time of unpleasant upheaval. Dr. Ponton says that this has “blurred the lines between normal, exploratory behavior and behavior that is dangerous. . . When we assume that all risk taking is bad, we fail to recognize both the very real dangers some risks pose, and the tremendous benefits that others can be.”

Research shows that 80 percent of adolescents — including urban youth — negotiate the teen years with few problems. Dr. Ponton counsels parents to discuss healthy risk taking with their kids, and teach them how to weigh the dangers and benefits of a particular activity and how to know their own strengths and weaknesses. She says she often sees parents of teens being extreme — either too controlling or abandoning their kids to negative risk taking.

Teens need and want adults in their lives to help them evaluate risk and to help direct their behavior in positive ways. Parents can help by providing information about difficult subjects like sex, drugs, and alcohol, and by modeling positive risk-taking behavior, such as speaking in from of an audience, learning to ski even though you may be afraid you’ll fall, or participating in other medium—risk sports.   Discuss these choices with your kids to show them the process of evaluating risk; educate yourself and your teen, in a safe manner, how to protect oneself and then take a risk.

© 2015 Vimala McClure

PRINCIPLE THREE: EMPOWERMENT

MODELING EMPOWERMENT WITH AUTHORITY

When my daughter was in high school, she had a friend who came from a very difficult home. She had been abused early in life, and her mother took hard drugs. This girl, I’ll call her Josey, spent a lot of time at our house, and I tried to mother her as best I could. Her envy of my child’s good parents and apparently wealthy lifestyle eventually became obsessive, and when my daughter expanded her circle of friends, Josey became enraged and turned on her. At the same time, Josey began taking drugs and got into dark music that my daughter didn’t like much. Joey became obsessed with the serial killer Charles Manson. Her room became almost a shrine to him. Because of her jealousy, her entire junior year of high school became focused on torturing and ostracizing my daughter, who would come home from school in tears from being tripped, slammed, and insulted by Josey.

Josey had a loud mouth and aggressive demeanor, and no one at this small-town, rural high school could stand up to her. My daughter — already a little different because she was from somewhere else, she was small and quiet, and a vegetarian — had no chance against this girl’s onslaughts. I watched her self-esteem plummet as the year went on. We talked a lot, and I tried to  help her keep her head up, to ignore Josey, and to concentrate on her own life. But in such a fishbowl environment, it was a hard test for her.

Just before spring break, Josey trapped my daughter in the girls’ bathroom at school and beat her up. She came home with a black eye and scratches all over her body, and with a note she had found in her locker containing a disgusting poem, basically threatening her life. Naturally, the lioness in me wanted to go and beat some sense into that girl and her no-good mother to boot. I called the school officials, who had to pull Josey off my daughter, and their reply was that it was “just one of those girl fights, it happens all the time.” I told them no, it had been part of a months-long systematic harassment of my daughter and if something wasn’t done I would get the law involved.

I photocopied the nasty poem and wrote several carefully worded letters, which were not excessively angry, but clear and to the point about the fact that I would go as far as necessary, under the law, to protect my daughter. I enclosed photocopied portions of the school board policy on violence and the poem, and sent these letters to the girl’s mother, the school officials, and the county prosecutor. I made it clear to the girl’s mother that if her daughter should even touch my daughter again, I would take her to court for stalking, harassment, assault, and whatever else I could think of.

In the meantime, I contacted the county prosecutor and informed him of the situation. I got a clear understanding of what our rights were. All along I told my daughter everything. She didn’t really want me to get involved at first (at that age, it is embarrassing for parents to step in) but I told her, “I’m really sorry, I’d like to go by your wishes, but since I’m an adult I can see the bigger picture. We’ve tried ignoring it, going to school officials, and going to her family. Now the situation is dangerous, and it’s my job as your mother to sep in and set limits if no one else will. We aren’t bullies, but we Don’t let bullies get their way with us either. I need to teach you how to deal with these situations now.”

I enlisted her agreement and support. I knew that the most powerful way to act in a situation like this is with calm perseverance, knowing your rights, and following through on your warnings. Emotionally, I’d have liked to do any number of vengeful things. But we couldn’t let ourselves be ruled by emotion or we would have become just like the bullies.

The girl’s mother was mortified; she called me and begged me not to go to the authorities. I empathized, saying it must be very embarrassing for her and I couldn’t imagine as a mother she would ever approve of such behavior. I didn’t mention what I knew of her own drug use. I let her know that if the behavior did not stop, I would have no choice bu to have her daughter arrested.

Then Josey called, crying, and apologized. I calmly explained how disappointed I was in her after I had taken her into my heart and home. I recommended that she get counseling and find out if any “medication” she may be taking could be affecting her personality so badly. Then I said I was sorry, but I could not allow her in our home again. Finally, in my lowest, most powerful voice — with “sinking power” rooted in the earth — I said, “Josey, if you even so much as look at my daughter again, I will have you arrested faster than you  can take a breath. I have spoken to the county prosecutor, and he is ready. Do you understand me?”

She sniffled, “Yes…” I said, “Please try to straighten yourself out. You are a good girl with a lot of potential and a lot of life to live. But you have to do it yourself, nobody will do it for you.” My daughter never had any trouble from her again. She was able to see how adults can work through difficult situations without resorting to violence or childishness. It was a great lesson in empowerment for us all.

© 2015 Vimala McClure

SEVEN IMPORTANT ASPECTS OF EMPOWERMENT

1. Communicate With Your Children, Not At Them

Practicing Empowerment gives us the ability to recognize that each child is entirely unique, with his own personality, needs, and thresholds. So parenting has to be tailored to the individual. This means there are very few rules that everyone must follow, and the few rules there are will be subject to change from time to time, with the child’s involvement. New rules may be put in place and old ones deactivated. Because there is open communication, the children understand that a rule for a toddler may not apply to a seven-year-old. Things are explained, not just declared. When a child feels he has been respected enough to be a part of the rule-making process, he has a stake in the household and is more likely to follow the rules.

Martial arts expert Dawn Callan, in Awakening the Warrior Within, talks about empowerment in our culture:

“Our entire education, beginning with our parents (even those with the best intentions), and including our schools and religious systems, has taught us who we ought to be, so that we fit the accepted mold, rather than supporting us to break the mold and be ourselves. We have been taught to be controlled rather than to have our own power.”

We want to try, as much as possible, to encourage and allow our children to express and use their power appropriately, without overpowering or disempowering others in the process. We want to work in partnership with our children and teach them to be in partnership with others. If we are to do this, we have to learn to do it ourselves.

Babies and toddlers rely on their parents’ and caregivers’ reactions to learn how to respond to uncertain situations. They observe their caregivers and learn about their environment through indirect experience. If a child leaves toddlerhood without trust in his caregivers and a healthy sense of his individuality and his personal power, problems can arise later on in adjusting to social situations.

2. Privacy

Privacy is an important part of Empowerment. Each child needs things his or her own that no one else, not even Mom or Dad, is allowed access to without permission. Knocking on doors and requesting permission to enter respects privacy. Manners such as “please” and “thank you,” “may I,” “good morning,” etc., practiced consistently by parents and taught with love from infancy, help reinforce dignity and respect for oneself and for others, an important part of Empowerment.

3. Choice Making

Previously I discussed choice making, another crucial aspect of Empowerment. Use every opportunity you can to help teach your children, 1) that there are many choices in any situation; 2) which choices lead to health and happiness, feeling of self-respect and dignity; 3) that they do not have the right to make choices for others; and 4) the consequences of choices can be far reaching.

There are endless opportunities for discussion of these topics. Television shows and/or news stories are filled with them. Point out what came before an act of violence or self-destruction, and ask kids what other choices that person may have had. Underscore the idea that we always have choices and can make nonviolent, life-enhancing choices in every situation.

4. Empower Your Children to Make Healthy Choices

Dealing with food gives us plenty of opportunities to learn about choice. When my kids were little, I would let them have a sugary treat, and then later, when they got grouchy and mean, I’d point out the connection. Then I would give them a protein snack (even just a spoonful of cottage cheese) and their dispositions would radically improve. I’d point out that it was the protein making them feel better.

Eventually, they became aware thane of their options when feeling grouchy was to have some cottage cheese, nut butter or other protein, and they would feel better. They also knew they might feel jittery and bad if they chose sweets. My son, of his own volition, stopped eating chocolate altogether because he hated the “hyper” way it made him feel. He knew this wasn’t the case for everybody; it wasn’t a value judgment.The choice was purely his, from his own experience. I helped him discover the connection, and he took it from there.

5. Share Your Own Choice-Making Process

Be sure to share your own choice-making dilemmas with your kids. As they get older, ask for their opinion. Let them know clearly that you are making your own decision, but you are interested in what they think — that way they won’t feel responsible for your decisions. Then tell them what you decided and how you came to it. Show them how you get more information when you feel you don’t have enough to make a good decision. Always maintain your dignity in the role of parent, and your own personal power. It is a huge mistake to turn that power over to your kids. They want you to have already figured out some of this! They need a strong model to show them how to make appropriate choices and to point out the consequences to them.

6. Empower Your Children to Care for Others

Have the older children help take care of the younger ones. I’ll never forget how common it was in India to see a nine-year-old with a baby on his hip, and how rare it is in Western cultures for siblings to “mother” one another. This can be taught in many ways, and changed as the children grow older. An older child can massage a baby. It helps them bond and helps the older child realize this new being is a real person, a brother or sister, to be loved and protected. They can imitate your techniques, but keep it simple, with easy rubbing motions. They love getting massage oil on their hands and feeling grown-up in the way they care for the baby.

Older children can push the baby in a stroller, pull a wagon with a toddler in it, (with supervision, of course), help pick out baby items at the supermarket, or help feed the little ones. As a baby grows, the sibling bond becomes stronger, the baby is more fun to play with, and they become both friends and rivals.

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7. Teach and Model Empathy

I suggest having fairly strict rules in place about hitting, such as “in our family we never hit each other.” This statement of rules should always be given with “sinking power” — first ground yourself, relax, get powerful from your very core, and deliver the directive, eye to eye, in a way that says it is non-negotiable. This can be a powerful message that sets the stage for nonviolent conflict resolution later on.

Teaching children to respond with empathy to a younger child’s distress helps them learn to behave more selflessly later on. You can extend this outside the home, and have children help in charitable activities that have a direct and positive impact on those in need, such as visiting the elderly, making deliveries for a food bank, and raising money for charitable causes. Research has shown that children who learn to care about others and are involved, even in small ways, in helping others in need, are at a lower risk of developing depression later.

Children who learn to be empathic (to feel another’s pain and want to help them) — and learn to stand up for what they believe — perform better in adult life in their work and social lives. On the other hand, kids who are raised being disciplined by physical violence, force, humiliation, embarrassment, or withdrawal of love grow up having great difficulty feeling compassion for others. Every man who batters his wife has a skewed view of his actions; he usually believes she deserves it and it is “for her own good” (this also goes for parents who beat their kids). It is minimized in his mind because when he saw it done as a child, or when he was a victim of violence, he was told it was not abuse, it was discipline — or else he was lied to — “Mommy fell and broke her arm.” Most abusers don’t even realize their behavior is antisocial or wrong because overpowering and disempowering control was so normal in the homes of their childhood.

© 2015 Vimala McClure

PARENTING WITH PRINCIPLE THREE: EMPOWER — Part Five

Principle Three in Pregnancy

Working with Principle Three begins as soon as you get pregnant. You will need constant access to you own power to make the hundreds of choices you must make.  My mother was utterly disempowered by social norms when she had her babies, and who knows how that affected my relationship with my mother, my own empowerment, and my mother’s ability to “parent” healthily. An empowered woman is strong, centered, and confident in her choices. She seeks out support and help when she needs it, and her birth experience is informed by her empowerment.

In an ideal world, people wouldn’t have children until they have solidly connected with own power. It’s difficult enough even then! Imagine a teenager, who is barely coming into awareness of this aspect of her being, suddenly having to be a role model for a child, having to know the right use of power as a parent. It’s nearly impossible. How can we expect kids to lead healthy, meaningful lives? It is a lifelong challenge, an endless spiritual path.

PREGNANT BELLY_m

I encourage you to use your pregnancy, whether it is your first or fifth, as an exciting opportunity to exercise the right use of power. Notice all the decisions you need to make, connect them with your parenting mission statement, and make them on the basis of what your inner sense tells you is right. Don’t allow the so-called experts to run your life. Consider their advice, but consider yourself with ultimate authority. Doctors and researchers are not gods. Their warnings are often recanted years after they give them. Be willing to surrender the results of your decisions to the universal forces; God, the Tao, whatever you choose to call that which guides you. Trust that force, and trust yourself. Let your inner sense tell you what is right and back it up with power from your very core. If you don’t know what to do, get all the information you can on all sides of the issue, let it sit for a while, ask for guidance, and then go with what feels right.

Principle Three with Babies

When my first child was born, the prevailing norm was that circumcision was a must, a given. But it didn’t feel right to me. So I did a lot of research about the reasons for it and its history, and found different points of view. I learned about exactly what is done and was able to watch a video. Finally my husband and I made our own decision: we would not, as vegetarians and spiritual beings, inflict pain on animals, so why would we do that to our newborn baby? We decided that when he was old enough to make that decision for himself, he was free to have it done, without disapproval from us.

When we made the decision, it was an act of empowerment for us and for our infant: your body is not mine, it is yours. You get to decide if it is changed in any way, when you are old enough to do so. He is now in his thirties and it has never been an issue for him. When he had his own baby boy, he chose not to have him circumcised, for the same reasons.

So often, we project our own “what-ifs” on our babies and, to spare them the possible embarrassment of being different, we make a decision like this for them. Something like circumcision teaches the newborn child he is not the owner of his body and that , at any moment, his power over his own body can be painfully taken away by strangers without his permission, his understanding, or any preparation. New research proves that circumcision, especially in developed countries, has no medical value or health benefits for babies, and the American Academy of Pediatrics has said it is an unnecessary procedure from a medical standpoint.

I’m using this as an example only — I realize many people have their own good reasons for choosing this ritual. I use this example to encourage you to engage, in whatever way you can, your child’s own power — his permission, his selfhood — in the process. Empowering your children begins at birth.

baby massage

In teaching infant massage, early on I incorporated the practice of “asking permission” from the baby. Many parents can’t understand this until they try it. The parent engages with her baby eye-to-eye; she places her hands on her baby’s body, then  rubs her hands together in front of baby, shows him her open palms, and asks, “May I massage you now?” Parents learn their babies’ nonverbal cues which tell them whether or not their infant is ready to be massaged. As they practice this over and over, parent and baby are synchronized and it becomes easier, even in ways other than massage, to really listen and understand what their infant is saying.