The majority of “problems” we have with our young children are due to us attributing a negative intent to their actions. We perceive that they are manipulating us through tantrums. What if, instead, we perceive they are overwhelmed with emotions and need comforting? We perceive that they are testing our authority. What if, instead, we perceive that they are attempting to get a need met in the only way they know how? What if we perceive that they are developing autonomy instead of defying us? What if we can let go of negative perceptions and stop attributing negative intentions on their behavior? Dr. Bailey says a very powerful statement:
By attributing negative motives to him, you highlight character flaws that he, in turn, incorporates into his self-concept.
Teaching and Modeling Respect
Using force, physical punishment, lectures, and tirades does not empower; it means you are stuck in the yang side of the yin/yang balance. Your children will then inherently try to balance you by either yielding too passively and losing their own power, or by resisting you to maintain their own power. The predominant style of our grandparents’ generation — “You had better . . . or else!” — is outmoded. It will not only block you from using this principle, it will disempower you, for eventually your children will laugh at you, knowing they were born with more internal power than you will probably ever have in your lifetime.
This is the secret to raising children in the new millennium: understanding that these kids are coming in with more innate knowledge, greater power, more intensity, and more ability to keep pace with the speed of the new age than you have. They will be dependent on you to walk your talk — to model, not just tell them, what to do. They depend on you to be honest, for they have even better radar for hypocrisy than we did when we were young. If and when you must take a stand, you must do so with great deliberation, grounding yourself in principles (using “sinking power”), so that the result is respect for you as an elder. As your relationship becomes more healthy, interdependent )able to need others and respond to others needing you, appropriately), and respectful, the need for you to motivate and/or discipline your child decreases.
Respect goes both ways. When I teach infant massage, one of the first things I teach parents, or help them to remember, is that infants are human beings and deserve respect. We have specific techniques we use to show babies that respect; we touch them respectfully and allow them the power to communicate what they want and don’t want so they see right away that they have power and are not just playthings with which their parents (or anyone) can do whatever they wish.
Discipline conducted with respect does not distemper or overpower. The concept of obedience tied to ultimatums is not empowerment. It may get short-term results, but will end in long-term losses. Making too many choices for your children leads to a loss of empowerment, too. They become overly dependent on others — authority figures — to tell them what to do, and why and when to do it. They lose the capacity to think deeply for themselves and to go against the norm when they need to.
The Right Use of Power
In Tai Chi, power is often thought of in terms of aggression versus non-aggression. But non-aggression does not mean passivity. It means you do not constantly oppose your children, their ideas, wants, or needs. You follow them, with “listening power,” listening closely to them and mirroring back what they say from their point of view. When you do this, they learn to think more deeply. You respect their ability to come to sound conclusions and learn from their mistakes, and you communicate that respect through your words and actions.
Abandoning your children to their own devices, their peers, and the world does not help them learn the right use of power. In fact, it pushes them into learning the wrong use of power, as we can see in the headlines every day. Many parents do not understand the difference between healthy separation and abandonment. Often parents are so disempowered themselves that when faced with a rebellious or challenging child they go into what I call the “Wizard of Oz Syndrome.” They act as if they are big, all-knowing, all-powerful, scary, and so on. This works temporarily. But eventually the child gets curious and pulls back the curtain to discover the parents’ show of power is all pulleys and levers, smoke and mirrors. Respect disappears, and you’ve lost your leverage with your child. So don’t even try it. Get yourself straight first in terms of dealing with your own childhood, and continually work on your own use of power as you go along, showing the sharing with your child how you work on it, so when he or she becomes a parent, they will know what to do and will not resort to techniques that don’t work.
Your Personal Power
To help your children learn how to use their own personal power, you must be able to access yours and use it on a daily basis. Principles One and Two, relaxing and slowing down, help you begin to get in touch with the infinite power available to you, power that comes through the earth and is in the prana or vital energy all around you. As my spiritual teacher said, “The Force that guides the stars guides you, too.” That’s a powerful force.
Showing your children the right use of power is simple. Set goals for yourself and take small steps toward them every day until you reach them. Share the process with your children — it makes great dinner-table conversation. During the writing of my books, for example, I always talked about the process with my kids. I didn’t lead them to believe it was effortless. I shared how sometimes sit was really hard just to make myself write a paragraph that day , and that sometimes I knew that paragraph would end up in the trash! I emphasized persistence, and said that sometimes we have go backward in order to go forward, or re-route around an obstacle in order to achieve what we want. It wasn’t easy to remain patient and self-motivated, but it was worth it to me for the long-term satisfaction of having completed a book that might help others. Sometimes I’d read small parts to them and ask what they thought, and that would open up a whole new area of conversation.
I tried to show my kids that, even though we often didn’t have a great deal of money, it was important to be contented and try to do the things we wanted to do. Going to India to see my spiritual teacher every couple years was important to me. So I would save and borrow to do whatever was necessary to achieve that goal. I explained to my kids that those trips fed my soul, and were therefore important to my long-term feelings of connectedness to the world, to God, and service to those in need (in India, service was part of what I did). When we were in financial crisis, my kids saw me take an extra job to bring in more money so they could continue going to a school that was important to them and to me, too. It was important for my own personal power and self-respect that I provided what I knew my children needed.
Many challenging things happened to me during their childhood — I had serious illnesses and surgeries, and spent almost two years in bed due to virulent forms of diseases I contracted in India. I lost my second-hand car (that I had saved up for a year to buy) the day after I bought it, when someone without insurance borrowed it and totaled it before I had insurance. I knew how I handled these things would be an important example for my kids in the future, when unforeseen crises may come into their lives. I didn’t always do a great job of responding powerfully, but I tried. When I didn’t — when I behaved in a powerless way — I would find some way to laugh at myself, and to point out to my kids what I’d done and discuss other, better ways I could have responded.
I fought my feelings of despair, anger, and helplessness, and tried to emphasize what I was learning: that things can be replaced, starting over is a part of life, and just because you are disabled you are not unworthy of love and life. These things were not always clear and obvious to them, but I do believe from talking to them now that they got these messages. I gradually got better and began to be able to meditate and do my yoga again. Eventually, I even found the car of my dreams.
My children were able to see that there is no one way to act powerfully. Sometimes power comes from a very quiet, compassionate, seemingly “weak” looking place. For some people, it looks like a big, muscular, fighting spirit. For others, it looks like a small, serene, compassionate, redemptive heart. Mother Teresa had tremendous power.
My kids are now adults with their own children. I have been able to observe them using and teaching the use of power. It gives me great joy to see them parenting in ways that are respectful, healthy, and empowering.
To find your own sense of power it is important to learn to listen to your inner voice and to follow it, regardless of what others tell you. You may seek out the input and advice of others with more experience, but ultimately the only way to increase your access to your own power is by relying on it and respecting it, eagles of how it looks in your life. When your power comes from the infinite source of power — the Tao or God or the Force — it is right, good, clean, and clear. Do whatever it takes to stay connected with this aspect of your being. You will need it over and over again, throughout your entire life.
© 2015 Vimala McClure
Positive parenting is not permissive parenting! The following articles explain the difference:
“The best leader remains obscure, leading but drawing no personal attention. As long as the collective has direction, the leader is satisfied. Credit is not to be taken, it will be awarded when the people realize that it was the subtle influence of the leader that brought them success.”
— Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Daily Meditations
The subject of power is a huge one, worth looking at both within and outside the context of Tai Chi and Taoism. It is vitally important for parents to understand power, because the way we use or misuse it in our own lives is the way we teach our children about their power, our power, and other people’s power and that is probably the most significant lesson we teach. The right use of power results in self-respect, respect for others, confidence, fearlessness, and balance.
The Tao or the Way is where all true power resides. In Tai Chi, the exercises learned with the body teach you something about chi or the life force, the power of the Tao that comes through the individual. In the Indian system of yoga, issues of power reside in the second and third chakras, located roughly in the navel area. In Tai Chi, our center of power is called the tan t’ien (in Chinese) or hara (in Japanese), and is located in essentially the same place. It is from there we get and transfer power, which is rooted in the earth, and comes up through the feet and legs.
What is the “Opponent?”
Tai Chi is a martial art as well as a spiritual practice — and certainly raising your child should not involve fighting or power struggles, and it should definitely not require hitting or striking of any kind. When we look at Tai Chi practices, it is within the metaphoric context of using our power correctly, knowing how to change the energy in a situation of potential frustration, angers, or power struggle, and knowing how to help our children learn to get in touch with and utilize their own internal power.
When I speak of your “opponent” in this context, I don’t mean your child should be perceived as an enemy, to be overpowered or controlled. Again, it is a metaphor: the “opponent” is any energy that is causing disempowerment, separation, or frustration between you and your child. Combative situations will always arise, either in your personal life that spill over into your parenting, or in your relationship with your child. As Tai Chi teacher Ron Sieh says, “To be calm in the midst of chaos cannot be accomplished by avoiding chaos. I have a choice concerning aggression and combat and I can choose from my heart, not out of fear.”
In Tai Chi, one of the first exercises practiced with an opponent is called “attaching steps.” The student paces the partner, trying to perfectly match her moves and intentions, as if he is attached to her. This requires learning how to get inside the other person’s shoes, so to speak, to be so at one with her or attuned to her that one automatically moves with the other, not a moment after. Try this with your child — mirror her moves to understand her energy.
With the aid of breathing and meditation practice, the student can then move on to what is called “listening power” — building a connection and communication with the “opponent” (in this case, your child who is in opposition) so you can then precisely detect the opponent’s level of strength, center of gravity, motivation, speed, and so on. This gives you tremendous power, as you can then anticipate an opponent’s moves and use the opponent’s own force to defeat the aggressive energy coming from her.
Another important practice for parents is called “sinking power.” The student learns to “sink,” through his chi, and use his connection with the earth in response to his partner’s attempt to uproot him. Before you respond to a child in opposition, use sinking power. Ground yourself in just a few minutes:
- Stand still, upright
- Take a deep full breath in, and a slow full breath out
- Press your feet into the floor, standing equally on the soles of your feet
- Make your thighs firm, as if the muscles are hugging the bones
- Relax your shoulders, pull in the belly
- Imagine there is a pillar of light from above, through your body, into the earth through your feet
- If possible, close your eyes. Breathe deeply and find that “still place” within
Now respond to your child, mirroring her movements and speaking what you perceive as her feelings.
“You don’t want to stop playing and come to dinner. . .”
“I see that you’re really upset. . .”
“You don’t want me to hold the baby right now. . .”
Continue to mirror, to listen, to allow your child to clarify.
To “empower,” in Tai Chi, involves a technique called “transferring power.” It can be used for harm, that is, to transfer your power through a slap, a spank or kick. It can also be used for good by helping your child become aware of his or her own power, without giving or loaning them yours.
Principle Three, empowerment, is linked intrinsically to Principle Seven, flow and let go. We will see how as we go along. The t’ui who circle exercise represents the Tao in that it seems empty and transparent. But when you utilize its power, you find it is inexhaustible. As the Taoist sage Lao Tau said, “When you follow Tao it will round off the sharp edges, untangle confusing threads, dim all glaring light. It molds and smooths the dust.”
The kind of power we seek to cultivate as parents is the power of the Tao. Like water, it is smooth, flowing, yielding, penetrable, yet strong enough to “round off the sharp edge” of things.
Won Chung-Ya, an ancient Taoist master, emphasized the importance of avoiding “double weightedness” — that is, reacting the same way every time, getting stuck on one way of responding, being always on one side of the yin/yang balance.
He had his students practice constantly moving so when they were up, they became aware of down; when they were right, they were aware of left. They learned that not responding to the “opponent” appropriately for that specific moment and that specific person and that specific interaction results in difficulty and awkwardness, which leads to defeat.
We are so accustomed to “taking a stand” that we forget the universe is constantly moving, shifting, and changing — even rock changes, over a period of time. So in our approach to our children in this ever-changing phenomenon we call the world, we must be flexible enough to remember that each child, each situation, each time, each incident, and each interaction is different from any other. Though we connect ourselves to principles that don’t change, such as unconditional love, respect, empowerment, the way we respond within those principles must be flexible according to time, place, and person.
© 2015 Vimala McClure
Slow Down During Meals
These days, few families take the time to have meals together, and I believe this is a great loss. Having at least one meal together every day has always been high on my family priority list, and though my children sometimes complained, wanting to be like their friends and eat on the run, when they were older we ate together at least one night a week, and they complained if we didn’t.
Humans are built for ritual. It is the ritual celebration of what is good in our lives, of our connection to each other, that makes life rich. If you don’t do it already, I’d like you to consider having at least one meal together every day as a family. Responsibilities for cooking, cleaning, and atmosphere can be rotated or divided up. Keep it light, let the kids have a little fun, and try to find some funny stories to tell. It’s wonderful to start the meal by saying grace, if that’s comfortable for you, or just thinking creation for food and togetherness.
When we ate together only once a week, holding hands and giving thanks for our connection, our safety, and our food was important to us all. After dinner, we sometimes watched a movie or played board games or just sat around and talked for a while. The kids’ friends and sometimes one of my friends or family members were invited and treated with the relaxed acceptance of family. It got our week started in a way that made us all feel part of something bigger, and reminded each of us how fortunate we were to be so loved, regardless of what else was going on in our lives. Small children like it when the same blessing is said every night. For children, ritual means safety, stability, and continuity. Having table decorations to celebrate holidays or the seasons added festivity and remembrance to the meal.
When the kids were adolescents, naturally rebellion had to come out around this ritual. The kids would refuse to say the blessing, or when it was their turn, say something silly. the boys would find some way, at some point in the meal, to start talking about something gross or disgusting to the adults. At first we tried to stop and control it, but that just led to a tension-filled meal that was no fun. Finally we let it go. Then it was a kind of family joke. As the boys grew older, they would wait until the very end of the meal to bring up something totally tasteless, just to let us know they hadn’t for gotten — and we’d all laugh. Eventually that little “tradition” went by the wayside as they grew up and got more interested in the food and the positive energy of our family being together. By taking the long-term view, keeping the end in mind, I allowed them to work through this period in their lives. Sure enough, it eventually just died away.
Tai Chi teacher Chungliang Al Huang says,
“One of the best images of Tao is to be like bamboo,or a bow. You can feel the weight here on your shoulders. But instead of resisting, you bend like a bow and then spring back then the weight releases. Instead of resisting the energy, you store it up and use it as you recoil.”
Unfortunately, it often seems that just about the time life is going smoothly, we find some way to get caught up, once again, in our unhealthy thinking— speeded up, worrying about a bill, concerned about the future, regretting the past, resenting something that happened at work, or simply consumed in our to-do list for tomorrow. There are an infinite number of ways to get off track. However, they all have one thing in common: They are the result of our own thinking. When we recognize that we are thinking, however— when we remember that we are the thinker responsible for the feelings we are experiencing—we then have the capacity to wake up and bring ourselves gently back to the moment.
Slowing down allows us to see aspects of life that were previously hidden in the frenzy of a busy mind. It allows us to open to the radiant, joyful feelings that reside within . We find that beneath the vicissitudes of our thoughts lies a spaciousness, a peacefulness of being, that is incomprehensible to a mind caught up in analytical thinking or a mind operating too quickly. When our mind isn’t racing to the next series of thoughts or holding on tightly to old ones, we gain access to the peaceful feelings of our innate mental health.
Those of us who have children know how quickly they grow up. One minute they’re keeping us up at night, and in what seems like the next minute they would rather be out at night. One minute all they want to do is spend time with us, and the next we are the last people they want to be with.
Yet despite knowing how short is the time we have with them, most of us seem to speed through our parenting years, almost wishing them away. We tell ourselves, “I’ll be happier when the infant state in over”; “I’ll be relieved when we’re out of the terrible twos”; “It will be so much better when the teen years are over.” But, ironically, as our children grow up, we convince ourselves of the opposite by rewriting our personal history. “It was so much nicer when the kids were little”; “I miss the baby stage”; “I long for the days when my kids took me seriously.” In short, we miss most of the present moments of our parenting experience by focusing our attention on thoughts of the future or memories of the past. Our minds are spinning a mile a minute, trying to get everything accomplished. We go back and forth between believing that “ someday” will be better than today, and convincing ourselves that “yesterday” was better than it really was. Rather than immersing ourselves in the present moments of our experience, we keep ourselves one step removed from life with our own thoughts.
Slowing down so powerfully enhances the raising of children that parents who find raising supposedly impossible teenagers will find it as wonderful and rewarding as raising a tranquil eight-year-old. By learning to live in and appreciate this moment, regardless of how it may be unfolding, instead of reliving memories of the past or anticipating moments yet to be, you too can transform your experience of parenting into a peaceful one.
Exercise for Principle Two
- Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and relax each part of your body.
- Take two deep breaths. As you inhale repeat, “slow,” and as you exhale repeat, “down.”
© 2015 Vimala McClure
It’s wonderful to let kids know that you appreciate it when they do something good. It may be more wonderful to let them you know that you appreciate them for just being who they are and that you’re grateful they are in your life.