If you had met me 10 years ago and asked me about becoming a new mom I would have told you I had everything figured out. My baby registry was filled with all the newest thingamabobs and doohickies. I had read Dr. Sears, Sweet Dreams, The Happiest Baby on the Block, and a half dozen other baby books of the time. The birth plan I constructed after attending hours of Bradley Method Instruction was “iron-clad”. But when I brought that sweet little baby home, I was at a complete loss. I remained that way on and off, even through the birth of a second child and into the throws of preschool until I decided I needed help—a new direction, one that would allow me to feel good about my parenting instead of manipulating, threatening and coercing.
To get my two young girls to do as I asked, I set up systems that didn’t allow them to fail for fear they would be penalized with either a “time-out”, taking away a precious toy and TV time, or withdrawing my love. It worked, they behaved and I was revered in my circle of friends as a mom with “good” kids. What did that mean anyway? Good? Did they feel good inside, were they happy, content and at peace with the ways in which I “encouraged” them to behave? I couldn’t clearly put my finger on the sadness I felt when I used consequences and bribes to achieve cooperative behavior. It was real though and compounding. When the sibling rivalry started, it led way to all kinds of feelings of inadequacy and continued dejection. My long days of parenting left me confounded and weary unable to trust the opinions of any so called “expert” in the child-rearing field. Nothing worked! Harsh limits with punishments left the whole family feeling sad and depressed. Incentives gave a sense of mania as my kids clamored to achieve the highest level of recognition for the largest prize leaving very little room for mistakes and ultimately ceasing to work weeks later.
So I began to look at and research “Connective Parenting”. All based in Brain Science, the science that supports the idea in which brains are built to work well when they feel safe. It sounded so smart, definitively easy, even too simple. Dan Siegel, Patty Wipfler and Laura Markham were all onto something they knew what many of us out there in the trenches did not. We could achieve cooperation and harmony when we, as parents, connected on a daily basis with our kids. No star charts, naughty corner, or toy prison? It sounded too good to be true, but it wasn’t.
I began making time for my kids every day, just sitting and playing. I never played like that before and when I did it made all the difference, we all connected and our little limbic systems were humming along together. I also began to figure out how to stop talking my kids out of their feelings, and initiated a thing called empathy. I learned to be empathetic in a whole new way. I mastered the art of empathizing with feelings regardless of the facts of the situation. I wanted to really let my kids know they had every right to be feeling what they were feeling and all feelings are valid. I would try to be with them when they were having big feelings. I taught them over time to feel safe with me when they were having a difficult time.
One last thing I stumbled across was the idea of “fixing” my children’s problems. If someone’s hair wasn’t just right or cookie didn’t have enough chocolate chips in it, I stopped trying to do everything in my power to fix it. Rushing around to find just the right cookie or combing and brushing my daughter’s hair over and over to make it look exactly how she imagined. I came to discover the hair and the cookie weren’t always the problems and that stored hurts and upsets were lurking below the surface waiting to come out. Once they did and I stopped running around like a lunatic making everything OK, I was there for comfort and support.
Today, the relationship I have with my girls is deeper, fuller and more meaningful. My brain works better because it is connected to theirs. We all think more clearly and love one another more fully. We have many tough moments and challenging days, but our recovery is quicker and more complete.