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Positive Parents: Always a Bundle of Joy.

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.

PARENTING WITH PRINCIPLE THREE: EMPOWER — Part Three

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.

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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

“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.

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 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:

  1. Stand still, upright
  2. Take a deep full breath in, and a slow full breath out
  3. Press your feet into the floor, standing equally on the soles of your feet
  4. Make your thighs firm, as if the muscles are hugging the bones
  5. Relax your shoulders, pull in the belly
  6. Imagine there is a pillar of light from above, through your body, into the earth through your feet
  7. 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.

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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.

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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.

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© 2015 Vimala McClure

PARENTING WITH PRINCIPLE TWO: SLOW DOWN — Part Six

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

  1. Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and relax each part of your body.
  2. Take two deep breaths. As you inhale repeat, “slow,” and as you exhale repeat, “down.”

© 2015 Vimala McClure

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Busy Is a Sickness | Scott Dannemiller.

“In the past few years, I’ve observed an epidemic of sorts: patient after patient suffering from the same condition. The symptoms of this condition include fatigue, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, headaches, heartburn, bowel disturbances, back pain, and weight gain. There are no blood tests or X-rays diagnostic of this condition, and yet it’s easy to recognize. The condition is excessive busyness.” —– Dr. Susan Koven practices internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. 

PARENTING WITH PRINCIPLE TWO: SLOW DOWN — Part Five

Slow Down at the Grocery Store

If you decide to take your children to the grocery store, try to think of ways to apply Principle One (Relax) and Two (Slow Down).With babies between the ages of six months and three years, you must be willing to handle it when your child cries, fusses, grabs, wiggles, and wants. Our culture frowns on crying in general. If your baby cries in the supermarket, some people will be annoyed and glare at you as if you should control your child. But most are more sympathetic than you might imagine. Often they will take their cues from you.

If you smile, shrug, relax, and treat your child with love and kindness, that energy is contagious — others smile at you in sympathy, especially parents.

With older children, allow plenty of time so grocery shopping can be a teaching expedition and an adventure in making choices. Give each child an opportunity to choose between one style of beans and another, or show them how you read the labels and compare the prices and ingredients, or how to choose the freshest produce. Let them pick out some of their lunch items and treats for the week — again, using specific choices so that you are ultimately in control what gets chosen. I suggest you allow the occasional forbidden treat to de-emphasize its importance in your child’s mind. Later, I’ll talk about how to use these times to show the consequences of dietary choices in order to help your child choose foods that are nourishing.

Allow the child to pick out items for others the family, like presents. Above all, try to prevent grocery shopping from becoming associated, in the child’s mind, with pain, challenge, and power struggles. Don’t use treats as rewards, but save them to use as fun snacks for the movies or some other occasion. Listen to your children tell you what other kids have in their school lunches, and try to include some of these items, even if you don’t technically approve of them. Supporting their emotional needs is just as important as nourishing their bodies, and as long as they are getting the kinds of food you want them to have at home, a “no-no” here and there won’t do any harm. You don’t want your child to eat alone and be made fun of because she is the only one with a seaweed sandwich. On the other hand, you do want to slow down enough to take the time to educate your child about food.

Our family is vegetarian, and, while you may not agree with my choices, I think you can get an idea about the importance of teaching your child about food from the following example. I made sure my children knew from day one that they were vegetarians and most of their friends’ families were not.  I let them know it was a matter of choice, and didn’t mean people were bad or weird because they chose differently. But I also wanted to make sure that well-intentioned friends and family would not feed my kids meat when I wasn’t around.

I simply told my children the truth, right from the start — the truth about what a hamburger, hot dog, bologna, “nuggets,” and so on really are: dead animals. Didn’t give them a lot of detailed explanations, though that came later as they began to ask more sophisticated questions. I used opportunities such as commercials advertising ham, steak, and “Buffalo wings” that showed dancing pigs or cows or chickens to point out the truth  and ask the children what they thought. Did they think the pig, chicken, or cow really felt happy to be slaughtered and eaten? We would talk about it without forcing my opinions; supporting what the kids came up with and not inserting guilt or shame into the conversation. I let them know that, when they were old enough to live outside our home, they could make their own choices about this issue.

As the kids grew older, I encouraged them to use the opportunity of having to do speeches and school papers to find out more about these issues, so they felt educated about why we are vegetarians and could answer other kids’ questions. In addition, I wanted them to make their own choice about it when they were old enough, and I wanted that choice be an informed one.

Slow Down with Teens

When my daughter was in high school and editor of the school paper — and this was a rural midwestern, small town high school whose graduates were 60 percent farmers — she used the opportunity to have an editorial debate on vegetarianism with a meat-eating friend. It turned out to be a very positive experience that gained her respect at school. Kids came up to her and said, “Wow, I never knew that!” Of course, others took the opposite side and sometimes teased her about it, but her editorial was so well written that none of them could bring themselves to make much fun of her. She learned that sometimes knowledge truly is power.

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I tell these stories to give you some examples of how you can educate your kids about your family choices. I had to slow down enough to make this issue important and help my children do their research. Another added benefit was that I could show my kids how to research their questions, find facts, statistics, and anecdotes to back up their theories and opinions, find out why the “other side” thought the way they did, and expose false information as fraudulent. Teenagers love that! If you want your kids to embrace certain values, you must slow down enough to teach as well as parent, and to back it up with more than just your opinion or experience.

Controlling Parenting Impacts Teenagers’ Future Relationships

Study Tracks Adolescents Through Nine Years

A study conducted by members of the psychology department at the University of Virginia found that parents who exercised manipulative 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.

The parents’ 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 with their parents 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.

The idea was to look at how adolescents talk about things when they disagree with one another,” said Hessel. “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.'”

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 manipulative 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 are 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. You can still have an influence over your kids at this age and let it be a good one.” They suggested that parents often fall into the trap of psychological control when they don’t slow down (and relax) enough to warmly engage with their kids.

We rarely have grandparents — as many indigenous cultures do — who can do this educational part for us while we go out there to make a living. It does require some sacrifice to relax and slow down enough to seriously engage with your kids. But it is a short-term sacrifice, because children are not children for long. And believe me, the time spent is well worth it when you look back on it after they are grown. The children not only have the benefit of being educated about what you want them to know, but they understand, in their very bones, that you love them enough to give your time and energy to the process, over and over again. What you get is a great feeling of pride in yourself for being the best parent you can be, leaving a positive legacy that will last for generations, and learning a great deal in the process.

© 2015 Vimala McClure

PARENTING WITH PRINCIPLE TWO: SLOW DOWN Part Four

SLOWING DOWN FOR YOUR CHILDREN

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.

As the mind slows down, we are able to see life much more clearly. We have many of the same issues to contend with, but they look different. Rather than appearing to be emergencies that are smothering us, they look like issues that need resolving or opportunities in disguise. Feelings are a mechanism to let us know when our minds are operating too quickly and when it’s time to slow down. Just as a timer goes off to signal that dinner is ready, an internal buzzer goes off when you are thinking in an unhealthy way. If you listen to these feelings and trust what they are trying to tell you, you will begin to experience the peace and joy of your mental health. Never again will life seem like such an emergency!

As the mind slows down, we are able to see life much more clearly. We have many of the same issues to contend with, but they look different. Rather than appearing to be emergencies that are smothering us, they look like issues that need resolving or opportunities in disguise. Feelings are a mechanism to let us know when our minds are operating too quickly and when it’s time to slow down. Just as a timer goes off to signal that dinner is ready, an internal buzzer goes off when you are thinking in an unhealthy way. If you listen to these feelings and trust what they are trying to tell you, you will begin to experience the peace and joy of your mental health. Never again will life seem like such an emergency!

Carlson, Richard; Bailey, Joseph (2009-10-13). Slowing Down to the Speed of Life: How To Create a Peaceful, Simpler Life  (pp. 53-54). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Slow Down While Getting Dressed

Often, getting everyone up and out in the morning means the day begins with stress, chaos, and hurry. Wouldn’t you rather start your day with connection, joy, and relaxation? Try making the morning ritual as easy on yourself as possible. You can minimize the struggle with preschoolers, either the night before or when they get up, by offering them choices so they feel in control. Often power struggles over food and dressing come from the conflicting needs of the parents who have time constraints and the child who is beginning to try out her autonomy by saying “no” at every opportunity. Offering choices usually helps to head off a conflict: “Do you want to wear this outfit, or this one?” It does sometimes require some grounded parental power (which we’ll talk about as we go along) so the child knows you mean what you say and that there are no other choices.

With breakfast, again, choices can be offered such as juice or milk, this cereal or that, hot or cold, and so on. Choosing is fun for kids, so often it can keep them preoccupied and their minds off the need to control their environment by saying, “No!”

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Having a morning ritual that is the same every day can help, too. Make it a slow, easy ritual, perhaps accompanied by music. By the time my daughter was in high school, we had to part ways on this one — when needed “Pump-up” music, I needed meditative, harmonious tunes. So we agreed she could have her rap music in the car if I could have my morning New Age melodies at home. Maintaining a morning ritual may mean getting up earlier, so everyone can feel the support and enjoyment of family before going their separate ways. Again, making some of these choices the night before can be part of the bedtime ritual, and make mornings easier.

Slow Down in the Car

One of the things I dreaded most was driving with my children in the car. Even with car seats, they sat in the back and fought incessantly. Once, we even hit a parked car because the loud fighting and crying in the back was so distracting. I discovered this was my problem. No amount of yelling, cajoling, bargaining, understanding, or pleading changed the situation. I even regretfully, resorted to spanking my son after one such ride; it made no difference at all. I am horrified to this day that I lost my cool.

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One day I was on my way to teach a class, kids in tow. The fighting started. I pulled to the side of the road and sat. Slowly the children became silent and the oldest asked, “Mom, what are we doing?” I said (without anger, with an understanding demeanor), “It’s hard for you to be quiet in the car. But when you two fight it distracts me. I can’t drive safely so I am putting us and other people on the road in danger. I will not drive under those conditions. We will sit here until you are quiet.” So, they were quiet. We started out again. The fighting started again. I pulled over again. I repeated my speech, neither adding nor subtracting a word, but adding a minute to our five-minute break. We began again. Now it was time to test Mom. Many parents, at this point, knowing they are going to be terribly late, might give up just to meet their objective. I stopped at a phone (no cell phones back then), called the place to which I was going, explained I was having some “kid trouble” and said please forgive me but I would be late. If necessary I would cancel the class. Then I called a fellow teacher to see if she could fill in if necessary — but she couldn’t. Talk about stress!

Each time they began to fight, I pulled over and added time. No radio, no air conditioning (it was dead summer), just total silence. My feet were planted, and you can bet I was practicing controlled belly breathing. After a while, the kids began to get bored with this game. It was hot. Being confined in their car seats was not fun. But I had at least one boundary tester, so I knew we were in for an ordeal. I called and canceled my class with great regret. I told the kids this was what I was doing, and that it really felt bad to me and would reduce my income so that treats would be out of the question, and stopping at the toy store would be impossible. We spent around two or three hours at this. Eventually, it definitely was no fun anymore.

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The kids could feel my resolve, and from then on there was no hitting or yelling. They knew I would sit in that car, bored and sweating, all day if I had to. They also knew, though it hurt me, I was willing to give up my objective to teach them something. Not only did they see this type of parenting clearly modeled for them, they also, deeply, unconsciously, got the message that they were my number one priority. I was willing to slow down and sacrifice in order to keep them safe and teach them right from wrong. The next week, I explained this to my class, and apologized to all of them for the inconvenience. But they benefitted, too. As parents, they could see that I walked my talk, and they respected me for it.

When, the next time we were in the car and the kids didn’t yell or fight, I thanked them sincerely.

From THE TAO OF MOTHERHOOD:

Like the eternal Tao, a wise mother

gives birth but does not posses. She

meets the child’s needs yet requires

no gratitude.

Observe how great masters raise

up their dearest disciples. Observe

how nature raises up the plants

and animals.

Great teachers take no credit for

their students’ growth, yet they

will go to any length to teach

them what they need to know.

Nature requires no praise,

yet it provides for the needs

of earth’s inhabitants.

Mother is the reflective principle,

the balancing agent for the child.

Like a guru, she allows the child to

make mistakes and loves the child

without condition. Like nature,

she allows consequences to unfold

and balance to be restored when

it is lost.

She intervenes only when the right use

of power is required.

© 2015 Vimala McClure

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PARENTING WITH PRINCIPLE TWO: SLOW DOWN Part Three

Principle Two with Babies

If you have learned how to slow down by the time your baby arrives, you will have the time of your life. Your baby’s infancy will be filled with magic, with moments that turn into hours, just watching him or her being. But there are a lot of responsibilities that come with a new baby and, particularly if you also have other children, life can get even more action packed after all the drama of childbirth has passed, the relatives have gone home, the spouse has returned to work, and hormones begin adjusting to a new body structure, nursing or not.

Move slowly through your day, or make a couple of two-hour spots a time to move in slow motion. Learn yoga’s “Mountain Pose” — when you are standing, make your feet hip-width apart. Press your feet into the floor so that you stand evenly on the soles of your feet, relax your toes, so that your body is in total balance. Make your legs so that the muscles of your thighs “hug” the bones; pull in your belly, relax your shoulders. Breathe deeply, slowly. You will find that your attention is focused, you move with your baby purposefully, breathing in and enjoying every moment. Siblings will eventually learn (without really knowing) to move with you and that you don’t react or become frazzled by their demands.

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Fathers can play an integral role in learning to practice Principle Two with a new baby. Dads, don’t wait for an invitation to get involved with the care of your baby. At the hospital or birthing center or at home, during the first few days, allow the new mom to rest. Don’t let well-meaning aunts or grandmothers push you out of the way. Ask the nurses or midwives how to change, burp, take the temperature, and bathe your baby. If you and your partner have agreed, learn how to feed the baby (even breastfed babies can occasionally accept breast milk from a bottle). If your partner complains about the way you do things, don’t be defensive. Ask her to show you how she does it, and thank her. As one dad said, “After a while she’ll get tired of being the ‘baby boss’ and will relinquish more control to you.” Studies have shown that a father’s sensitive caregiving leads to a secure bond with his infant and that a warm, gratifying marital relationship supports a father’s involvement with his baby.

Fathers can walk, rock, sing to, dance with, read to, and massage their babies as well as do maintenance activities like feeding, changing, and bathing. Many people don’t realize that fathers, too, have “parenting hormones” that are activated by close contact with your baby, for your own well being as well as theirs. Slow down for the times you are with your baby; breathe deeply and move in slow motion.

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FROM THE TAO OF MOTHERHOOD:

There is no natural pouring-forth

that lasts forever. When it rains,

it stops. The wind blows,

and then it ceases.

Learn to use your words wisely,

to communicate rather than to lecture.

Speak your truth, state your feelings,

then stop.Your actions, in silence,

speak louder and will be heard.

Teach your children this:

A human being is greater than

a human doing.

Purchase THE TAO OF MOTHERHOOD:

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© 2015 Vimala McClure

PRINCIPLE TWO: SLOW DOWN — Part Two

THE OPPOSITE

When you forget to slow down, you react to whatever comes your way according to how you feel at the moment. You rush through your days, trying to be the thousand-armed Goddess or the unstoppable Hercules. You yell at your children while you struggle with your pantyhose or shave, because you are late for work or school, the phone is ringing, and you need to remind your spouse to pick up the dry cleaning; you throw food toward the dog’s bowl, clothes in the washer, and then forget your keys — and that’s only the start of your day.

You are always doing several things at once, with a nagging feeling that your soul, your spiritual being, is waiting on “hold,” and a festering fear that it may finally give up and hang up on you. Any spare moments are spent worrying about the future (that doesn’t exist) or fuming about the pst (that no longer exists) or making lists of how to make tomorrow even more stress-packed than today, so that you can finally get it all done and relax. But you are operating under the fallacy that it will all get done, and deep down inside, you know it.

In your heart, you may be terrified of relaxing. What if all those things from the past and future come up for review, tighten you up, and destroy your relaxation and connection to Spirit? So, to convince yourself you are relaxing, you schedule a grueling weekend of sports, yard work, projects, or entertaining that completely wear you out, just in time to start all over again Monday.

This may be an exaggeration for some people, but for many, unfortunately, it is not. Even if it is only partly true for you, the concept of what is not Principle Two is within your reach, within your own experience. Something I heard once has always stayed with me: If you are trying to do or be something, you are not actually doing or being it. So forget trying. Slow down. Literally. It is not a metaphor.

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See what happens if, just for one week, one day, or one hour, you slow down as if your personal movie — including your thoughts, emotions, and speech — has gone into slow motion. This slowing down has nothing to do with depression or low energy. Just slow the pace while keeping your energy positive and your head up. Allow people to notice how slow you are, and even to get impatient with you. See what happens.

Keep a journal at night, documenting the times when you slow down. At first, they may bring pain, inconvenience, and confusion. But toward the end, you will realize more about how you can incorporate this principle into your life. If you can find time to just sit alone, without fretting, and simply be who you are and face the fear that aloneness and quiet may bring, you have gotten it.

Principle Two is not rushing through the grocery checkout lane without noticing the clerk who is working hard to provide you with food and who may not be having such a great day. It is not “road rage” — the internal emotional combustion of being behind a slow-moving vehicle and wishing harm to the driver. It is not diapering your baby without making eye contact. As someone once said, “Accept the limitations of the day.”

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The Consequences of Rushing

Another way to increase your understanding of Principle Two is to look at your life for a week — say, the past week, if you weren’t rushing so fast you don’t remember it — and list all the elements of it that are not Principle Two. Then list the potential consequences of those things. For example, the potential consequence of road rage is an accident, which could cost you even more time, energy, and resources, and possibly physical, mental, and emotional pain. The potential consequence (scientifically documented) of not making eye contact with your baby is that your child will grow up unable to connect with others, and may distrust you, having never felt the love in your eyes, the windows of your soul, during the most intimate moments of your child’s infancy, at the time when all imprinting occurs. Again, the loss of this connection costs you both more time, energy, money, and physical, mental, and emotional pain down the road.

Observe an expert doing Tai Chi. Notice the slowness and deliberation of the movements, and the awareness that encompasses every movement. How can this type of awareness be brought to your everyday life?

Choosing the Speed of Your Life

In American society today, and in many others around the world, from the moment a child is of an age to do so, he or she is trained to rush, to hurry, to do, to produce, to win, to excel, to achieve. Many of these things aren’t bad in themselves. It’s when rushing, hurrying, and achieving become requirements of life that we must question why. It is when earning one’s very place as a being on this earth, regardless of personal tragedy or hardship, is normative, that we must begin to rethink what it means to be here.

Think about the speed of your life, and whether it feels comfortable to you or not. Each person has a different comfort zone. Some need more stimulation than others. This is the difference between Tai Chi and aerobics. In an aerobics class everyone moves together, on-and-two. In Tai Chi, the key to finding chi, the flow that makes it possible to do the movements correctly, is to find your own rhythm, your own internal pace and power. It is a continuous flow. A group of people doing Tai Chi properly will not be in perfect synchronization. The idea is to ask yourself if there are times in your day when you can slow down. Controlled belly breathing (described in previous posts), morning and night, can help, and increasing our awareness always helps us to control our thoughts and behavior.

It Takes Practice

When you get some time to yourself,  practice slowing down. Relaxing (Principle One) and slowing down (Principle Two) are natural mates, so both can be accomplished at once. Some ideas:

  • Do gentle, slow yoga regularly.

  • Practice Tai Chi if you can.

  • Use traffic slow-downs to help slow you down internally.

  • Wake up slowly. Get a CD player that will automatically turn on and play music or gentle sounds to wake you up gently and remind you to do your breathing, prayers, or mediation, and to move slowly. It is worth getting up fifteen minutes earlier, rather than jumping out of bed and rushing off.

  • In many parts of India, bathing is a slow-down ritual. After bathing, a prayer or song is given to the direction of the sunrise. Try it. See if you can come up with an after-shower ritual that feels uncontrived and helps you slow down and acknowledge your connection with the larger universe before beginning your day. Perhaps an affirmation or prayer, followed by greeting your sacred self in the mirror with something like they say in India, “Namaste” (meaning, “I bow to the divinity within”).

  • Use cooking time, if you cook, to slow down. Chopping vegetables is a great mini-slow-down break.

  • If you have a baby, use diapering or massage as slow-down time, and connect emotionally and spiritually with your child. With older children, a bedtime ritual is often the best slow-down time you have. Light a candle, say a prayer, look into the eyes of your child and say, “I love you,” in your own special way.

  • Use one of your breaks at work for a slow-down ritual such as Tai Chi, yoga, or simply sitting in the bathroom behind closed doors, doing five minutes of controlled belly breathing. Rather than making yourself stop moving, consciously allow your movements to subside and your body to relax.

It is my hope that Principle Two will stay with you and give you a refuge to go to during times of stress. It can prepare you for the natural slowing down that comes with growing older, and, rather than creating a sense of being useless, slowing down will bring you an experience of peace and oneness that many monastics strive for all their lives.

Next: Parenting With Principle Two: Principle Two in Pregnancy

© 2015 Vimala McClure

PRINCIPLE TWO: SLOW DOWN — Part One

“Slow down” is more similar in meaning in the East and in the West than “relax” and “yield,” but a Taoist view deepens its significance. In the Taoist way of thinking, slowing down brings us the ability to perceive the more subtle, or unseen, aspects of a situation. It brings awareness to those things we may forget or ignore when rushing to get something done, settled, over-with, or achieved. Many people link busyness to productivity, and they are shocked when, as a new parent, that busyness inhibits good parenting.

Slowing down helps us immensely to remember and practice Principle One (Relax)  because it is difficult, if not impossible, to relax in a hurry. When you have mastered the art of living in a relaxed way, you know how to move quickly in a way that does not tighten and harden your energy. That type of mastery takes conscious, everyday practice, yet it is possible for parents to achieve at least enough of this quality of slowing down in the midst of hurry to reap its benefits.

As you begin to slow down, your life begins to change. Your ability to focus on one thing at a time increases as you learn to dismiss distractions. You begin to enjoy the very process of living. Aspects of life that you had taken for granted become sources of interest and joy.

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Superficial changes don’t work. If you move to the countryside, you still take your thinking with you. You need to slow down from the inside out. After you learn to live in a calmer state of mind, you may decide to make some lifestyle changes. You will enjoy them because they aren’t another gimmick to help you cope — like that relaxation CD you never listen to, the yoga mat in your closet. Especially with a new baby, the world will not accommodate you by making fewer demands. Your experience of stress results not from the circumstances of your harried life but from your habitual way of perceiving life.

In Slowing Down to the Speed of Life by Richard Carlson and Joseph Bailey, they give us eight principles you will learn by slowing down:

  1. to slow down and enjoy each moment
  2. that slowing down doesn’t involve major changes in your lifestyle
  3. that your productivity will actually increase
  4. that other people’s attitudes, behaviors and moods don’t have to affect the quality of your day or the speed of your life
  5. that even though your work setting may be rushed or stressed, you can maintain calm
  6. that by slowing down you will be more prepared for the unexpected
  7. that even life’s serious circumstances and events don’t have to be taken so seriously
  8. that you can be happy
“Slowing down is a qualitative experience that comes from the inside out.”

Surrender Your Limitations

In the martial art Tai Chi, slowing down helps to create an awareness of all that is going on in the moment. One is able to step into a place that is purely present time, in which the past and future do not exist. A passage I interpreted from Lao Tzu’s Tao te Ching in my book, The Tao of Motherhood, captures the moment I understood this principle in my life as a parent:

Everything that endures can
only do so because Eternal
Consciousness gives it sentience.
A mother who gives herself
completely to her infant meets
herself in the dark and finds
fulfillment.
In the hours between midnight
and dawn, she crossed the
threshold of self-concern and
discovers a Self that has no limits.
A wise mother meets this
Presence with humility and steps
through time into selflessness.
Infants know when their mothers
have done this, and they
become peaceful.
Who, then, is the doer? Is it the
infant who brings its mother
through the veil of self-concern
into limitlessness? Is it the
mother, who chooses to hold
sacred her infant’s needs and
surrender herself? Or is it the
One, which weaves them both
through a spiraling path
toward wholeness?
You can sit and meditate while
your baby cries himself to sleep.
Or you can go to him and share
his tears, and find your Self.

MOM HUG BABY 1_ml

The ability to do this — not all the time, but at appropriate times — increases the energy you have to give to your children. Why? Because the present is, literally, the heart of God or the Tao. We find a second wind when we slow down enough to really be present, even for a few moments.

Tai Chi teacher Douglas Lee talks about kinesthetic perception in relation to the benefits of slowing down. Especially during the period of time from the beginning of pregnancy until your child is fully able to communicate with words, this ability to perceive on a subtle level is valuable to every parent. It enables you to tune in to your baby’s body language and respond accordingly. It also allows you to learn how to listen to your own body and your own intuition or inner sense of what is best for you and for your child. You pick up the signs of stress before they have turned into full scale alarms, and you have the opportunity to de-escalate, to take care of your needs appropriately, at the appropriate time.

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Many health professionals these days talk about “cues” — sensory signals babies give that mean they are experiencing on thing or another. It is very good that the medical profession finally acknowledges the need to respond to babies as more than just unfeeling objects. (When I had my first baby, scientists were still saying babies don’t feel pain!) As a parent, you are the one best equipped to learn your child’s cues or body language, not only because you’ve carried the baby around for over nine months and are intimately, cellularly connected, but because you live with your baby twenty-four hours a day and can translate all those signals much better than a strangers (We’ll talk more about this in Priniciple Five). To access this knowledge you need to slow down, observe, and receive what your baby wants to communicate.

In a society like ours (and increasingly around the world) slowing down is perceived as being tantamount to growing old, being depressed, dying, or inviting failure. We are afraid of falling behind; we have lost respect for the slow wisdom of our elders and the natural ebb and flow of the life force. So we literally wear ourselves out, and in the meantime we miss so many of the most valuable treasures of our lives.

Remember the American cartoon character Roadrunner? We admire the roadrunner figure; he is always faster, way ahead of the crafty coyote. But if you think about it, that style of life, while bringing certain kinds of success, eliminates any possibility of being. As a parent, this style is disastrous, because the things we miss in our frantic race to beat the odds, or the next person, or to reach a goal, are the things of which life is made. We rush toward hardness and death having never enjoyed the very thing we are rushing to secure — the soft, juicy stuff — our children, our families, our lives.

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Perseverance Furthers

Like the fable of the tortoise and the hare, we ultimately find that, as the Taoists say, “perseverance furthers.” Rather than bringing into being all the things we fear, when we slow down we’re given the tortoises’s endurance to outlast the speeding rabbit, the endurance to face our fears courageously and master our challenges.

While a rushing stream may push obstacles out of its way, a lazy river will flow over, around, and through all things in its path. There is harmony and serenity outwardly, and great power underneath, where the current is very strong. All rushing streams end up in lazy rivers that follow their nature to merge with the great ocean. Similarly, when we slow down, we find the great internal strength available to us, and we begin to both communicate with and follow that deep tug of the”ocean” — the Oneness of all things, the Tao, the natural order of things. Outwardly, we appear calm, relaxed, and we seem to be doing little. Ambitious strivers rush past us with a look of disdain.

Perseverance is definitely a quality of Principle Two. In 365 Tao Daily Meditations, Deng Ming-Dao says,

“When it seems as if nothing encouraging is happening to us, it is important to remember such perseverance. Work may be drudgery, maintaining a home may be routine, and we may find our goals quite distant. But we must persevere toward our goals, and buoy our faith in rough and threatening times.”

In the anthology, Vitality, Energy, Spirit: a Taoist Sourcebook, Taoist master Huai-Nan-Tzu said: 

“How could the vital spirit be forever rushing around without becoming exhausted? . . . When the vitality, spirit, will, and energy are calm and slow, they fill you day by day and make you strong.”

©2015 Vimala McClure