7 ways to become a better parent

1.   Don’t take yourself so seriously.  There are no perfect parents.  However, you are the perfect parent for your child.  Don’t focus on the ways you “aren’t”.   Comparing yourself to other parents is only getting you out of the “now” and what is going on in front of you.  Your kids need you here.  Now. They don’t need you to focus on what you wish you had or why you can’t be like that cool mom in that blog you read.  Move past it. 

2.  Set boundaries with your kids.  This benefits you, your partner, and your kids.  Kids WANT boundaries!  It’s how they make sense of their world.  It’s ok that they are disappointed and cry sometimes.  They are going to feel pain, they are going to be hurt.  That does not mean you have a green light to neglect your kids, however.  Over protecting tends to lead to problems with boundaries.  It’s ok to say no, in fact it’s healthy to say no. 

3.  Be more present.  Your kids don’t want a “better” you.  They  want more of you.  Be there for them physically, mentally, and emotionally.  Just focus on being present.  It’s the most important thing. 

4.  Deal with your worries and anxieties separate from your children.  Do you think your child makes you stressed or anxious?  If so, you are assuming that you were free of all anxieties and fears before they were born.  Your kids aren’t “making” you feel anything, or any way.  Consider addressing and challenging some of your habitual fears.  Self “work” doesn’t stop when you have kids.  Your kids need you to attend to your needs because it makes you a better parent. 

5.  Don’t project your insecurities onto your children.  Again, work on your “stuff” for yourself to benefit you, them, and your family.  This sets a good example for your kids and shows them that life is a combination of self-reliance and relations with others.   Projecting fears and insecurities onto your kids raises the likelihood that they will adopt your “stuff”.  Work on being mindful of generational patterns of behavior.  Break the cycle of unhealthy behaviors and just pass down the good stuff.  

6.  Stop doubting yourself as a parent and trust your instincts.  Is this your first time being a parent?  Well, it’s your kid’s first time being a kid.  Relax.  Go with your gut.  Does it feel right?  When I am reacting to a situation is it because I am angry or am I coming from a loving place?  Be honest with yourself and refer to #2 and #3 if need be.  Use parenting books as REFERENCES only. The only gospel on how to raise your son or daughter should be written by you.  Experts in the field only know so much. Your kids don’t care about what they have to say anyway.

7.  Take care of yourself.  Love yourself, appreciate yourself.  Know that you are capable of being exactly what your child needs. Being a good parent is more than just sacrifice, it’s about a giving and receiving relationship in terms of mentoring, providing, and sharing. Playing the martyr for the sake of tending to unmet needs is selfish and promotes an unhealthy behavior for your children.  When you take care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally, your child will respect you for that!  They will love you for being you and will be more apt to have a higher self-esteem and appreciation for themselves.

Change is always an inside job

(This, like many topics that I deal with concerning my clients, also hits home for me.  Remembering who is responsible for change seems like a common sense concept.  However, it never hurts to be reminded of the simple things.  I know I appreciate it when I am reminded.)

Much of my time interacting with my clients involves talk about change.  Most of the time that someone seeing me for therapy is seeking some change in their lives that they are having a difficult time in achieving.  Some of our old tendencies in seeking change is to look into the external environment.  We tend to seek relationships, experiences, new occupations, etc.  We also might look for others to change as to make our changing easier.  If only things would work out for us.  However, we discover that he, or she, does not ”make me feel upset” and no, we can’t “just find the perfect relationship” to make us happy.   It seems we live in a socially accepted state of this reality that is actually false.   People don’t prevent us from being happy, nor do they bring us happiness.  In the same light, nobody can force us to change ourselves and we cannot force others to change.  It just doesn’t work that way!  So, we’re left with the realization that we are the sole catalyst responsible for the changes we want to see.  For many people that’s a hard reality to accept.  To accept this reality brings an awesome feeling of empowerment.   It also brings an awareness that being in control of our change is a lot of responsibility.

If we are ultimately responsible to make the changes we seek, how do we go about doing this?  Naturally, increasing our awareness of self and expanding our consciousness in our world will influence change in self.  We can recognize this by seeing how we’ve changed in our lives through our experiences.  As we have grown, or matured, it is because our awareness of self and our surroundings have expanded. Simply because we’ve allowed ourselves to live.  Unfortunately, the experiences that come through living and are helpful for lasting change can also be painful.  In fact, we can learn to embrace pain as a signal that we are encountering change.  Yes, I said pain can be a good thing.  Experiencing difficulties is the fastest track to lasting change.

We also might have noticed that change does not simply occur when we take in cognitive information.   Even if we have all this good advice and information, we have to utilize it.  We can remember as young adults, the advice of others only goes so far.  First we seek to know, then we do, then we “are”.  From knowing to being through doing.  The key part of this transition is the “doing”.  We have to act, nobody else can do that for us.  Waiting for others to change or our environment to change turns out to be a waste of our time and energy.  The intended effect of all of this work to change is that we become our change.  Who wants to live their change through struggle?  Lasting change only exists when we actually “become” it.  Our actions simply become a reflection of who we are.  Be patient with self.  Be patient with others.  Blame of others, including ourselves, does not serve our purpose of achieving lasting change.  Can we balance the responsibility of our own change while holding compassion for self and others and withholding the blame?

 

Moving from judgement to compassion

How do we begin to understand others, when it can be difficult to understand ourselves?  Why is it that we insist that we have the answers for those around us when we too struggle to change?  People can seem to annoy us, piss us off, and cause us pain.   We say “if they would just change, our life would be better”.  We might suggest “if our co-workers would start acting like they should our job and workday would be easier”.  It’s common for us to say that if our partners would change, our marriage, or relationship, would be better.   We plead to our kids that if they would just simply listen to us, we’d worry less and they’d “obviously be better off because we know better”.   Being able to relate and show compassion to others brings more understanding, and better grounds for communication in our relationships.  Understanding and compassion helps us grow and it brings ourselves the peace we seek.

The path to peace and finding the common ground ALWAYS begins with us.   Even if the other person takes the first step towards change or making amends, WE STILL have to be the receiver of those amends. In essence, we still have to be the one to initiate peace for ourselves because that is the ultimate goal.  Since peace is experienced within, we have to allow this understanding, peace, and compassion to be allowed within.  Simply waiting for others to change is actually an act of pride and resentment, not a motion towards resolution.

We all have biases, we all have judgments, we all have a need to serve our egos and feel validation.   This is human.  Is it possible we can work through these aspects of self so we can find more contentment and more peace?

be-kind

The next time you are feeling a need to tell someone how they should be, or what they should do, remind yourself of your own life struggles.  It’s possible that simple changes for you may not be so simple for them.   Maybe you can reflect on some form of behavior in your life you are attempting to stop.  Your task would be to cease that behavior immediately.  Now at this moment of awareness…never do this thing you are trying to change again.  (It’s not that simple, right?) Maybe in doing this you are reminded how difficult change is for you.   Maybe you become aware of some resentment towards yourself because of your inability to change.  Maybe your capacity for empathy and compassion increases when you take time to reflect on the concept of shared struggle.   We all can relate to difficulty, pain, and struggle.  Though, our paths are different, we all experience struggle as we navigate life and seek change.

The peace we are ultimately seeking comes in the change we make for ourselves, not the changes we are encouraging others to make.  Increasing our sense of awareness of seeing ourselves in others, as well as others in ourselves, can go a long way in making the change that we may seek.  These changes we seek in our lives that were once viewed as out of our control are now attainable because we recognize the responsibility we have to make them ourselves.

The need to be “right”

What is it that drives us to seek truths or cling to culturally accepted beliefs?  When faced by others who have different beliefs, why do we at times feel so threatened?  We seek others who tend to hold our viewpoints and when around those who we differ with we may refrain from intently listening to their viewpoint.  In conversation we formulate the words in our minds to refute what they are communicating while they are talking to us instead of listening to what they are saying.  Being right is justifying.  It is validating.  It brings us worth and value.  For example, as a parent being “right” brings us security and a sense of role fulfillment.  However, is it necessary to be “right”?  Does emphasizing a “correct viewpoint” bring more issues and problems than simply “letting things go”?

The psychology/counseling fields discourage the concept of a “right” or an absolute way of being or thinking.  This is called the “righting reflex”.  Most people can appreciate this needed aspect of a therapeutic or psychological approach.  Feeling accepted, appreciated, and acknowledged are intrinsic human needs.  People come to therapy to escape the outside polarized world of “right and wrong” and allow themselves the opportunity to be free.  Free to be themselves without judgement.  We all want to fit in and we want to belong with something greater than ourselves.  However, we will all feel rejection at some point.  This perception of rejection may not be a total rejection of self but simply a rejection of “part” of self, such as our ideas, thoughts, or opinions.  However, we tend to guard these parts of self as if they are part of who we are as individuals.  We cling on to our believe systems as if it is who we are.  When our ideas, or opinions, are refuted by others we can tend to feel “less than”.  There is a disruption of our perceived sense of self and reality and this doesn’t feel good!  If we can appreciate that we all have a need to be acknowledged and appreciated, it’s possible that we can better understand our own “righting reflex”.  Is the “need to be right” more about the person we are trying to convince or is it more about protecting that part of us that seeks approval and the need to be validated?

Even more difficult to navigate is our communication with our children.  While it may be easy to walk away from a conversation with a friend or co-worker, the emphasis on being “right” can be especially difficult to give up when we are dealing with our kids.  We may tend to think “I know better and it is my job as a parent to make sure they know what is right”.  That makes sense, right?  How else is a child supposed to learn?  Unfortunately for our parental urge to protect, the learning process for a child has a lot to do with their own experiences and learning from their mistakes.  As parents we can only do so much.  This fact can lead us to feel vulnerable and anxious.  We simply cannot hold our kids hands, nor can we force them to learn anything.  They have to be willing to accept it.  We know this is true as we were children and young adults once finding our way through life feeling out our own boundaries and self-identity.

Michelangelo

This look inward at our perceptions of “right and wrong” can be a great opportunity to learn about self.  We have the ability look internally and check our intentions or motivations.  We may end up asking ourselves “Why do I need to have all of the answers?” or “What if we are both right and both wrong all at the same time?  What does that mean?”  The questions are endless.  The process seems to be full of opportunity to expand one’s worldview, though probably not without some discomfort.  None of that matters unless we have the intention to listen and understand more and project less.  Are we trying to make progress or be right?  Are we seeking happiness or do we want to be right?

The paradox of noise

I found the following sitting on the copy machine where I work the other day.  I thought I’d share it.

 

Paradox of Noise

It is a paradox that we encounter so much internal noise when we first try and sit in silence.  It is a paradox that experiencing pain releases pain.

It is a paradox that keeping still can lead us so fully into life and being.

Our minds do not like paradoxes.  We want things to be clear, so we can maintain our illusions of safety.  Certainty breeds tremendous smugness.

We each possess a deeper level of being, however, which loves a paradox.  It knows that summer is already growing like a seed in the depth of winter.  It knows that the moment we are born, we begin to die.  It knows that all life shimmers, in shades of becoming–that shadow and light are always together, the visible mingled with the invisible.

When we sit in stillness we are profoundly active.  Keeping silent, we hear the roar of existence.  Through our willingness to be the one we are, we become one with everything.

Gunilla Norris

 

Personal empowerment

We’ve all done it at some point.  We go against our better intuition in making a decision whether it’s casual or of serious importance.  We look back with regret on what we “should have” or “shouldn’t have” done.  We’ll say things to ourselves such as “I had a feeling” or “I knew this would happen”.  Is it good to reflect back with 20/20 hindsight only to condemn ourselves for our “mistakes”?  Probably not.  However, it might be a good thing to take a closer look at why we often shut down our sense of intuition deferring to the “safer” option, the socially accepted one, or even the “easier” one.

Why don’t we trust ourselves more often?  What makes us search for that answer or guidance that seems to always be outside of us?  Why do we defer to someone, or something else, as if they are the expert?  Is there safety in knowing that there is a higher source of knowledge and intuition separate from ourselves?  If we stay within the “norm” maybe we won’t feel embarrassment or shame.  Maybe subconsciously we go away from ourselves thinking there will always be that “savior” to rescue us.  Or maybe by looking outside ourselves we can blame someone, or something, else when it all goes wrong.

The proof that we have the ability to discern our own best interests using our insight can be easily seen, if we choose to look for it.  For example, when we go to the doctor maybe we have that “gut feeling” that says he/she is wrong about our ailment only to find out that we were right when we get that second medical opinion.  Maybe it’s seen in the relationship that ended a year or two after our “gut” told us this wasn’t the right person.  The examples are endless for anyone, it would seem.

Whatever the scenario, the fact remains that we are the sole expert, decider, and master of our destiny.   It doesn’t matter what credentials, experiences, or expertise another individual possesses, we still have to decide what we do with that information or influence from that other person.  There is no doctor, professional, politician, media celebrity, athlete, or anyone that knows us better than us.  The reason is being is that they are human too.  They have their own struggles, lessons, and experiences to navigate.  If someone else is trying to master their own lives, how can they possibly master ours?

There is no experience or answer that is outside of us that we don’t first have to accept as truth.  There is nothing that will make us healthier, smarter, or a “better” person without us allowing that to happen first.  It all starts inside.  However, there is nothing more liberating or terrifying than knowing we have the power, and the responsibility, to shape our lives.   It’s the catalyst for growth, change, and the truth.  It all starts here.

one

Moving beyond non-productive arguments

(Preface:  Communication and relationship issues with partner, spouses, or even friends and family can be very complex.  This blog might highlight what is a small portion of what goes into various aspects of why we argue with certain people or in certain situations.)

For those people with kids, imagine this common scenario.  You’ve got a ton of things to get done and your child is upset or in a bad mood.  Whatever it is that is bothering them is  drawing you away from what it is you are doing.  Do you react by yelling back at them or do you show them compassion as you understand that 2 year old’s can be moody? We know that the solution exists in understanding our child, not yelling at them.  The solution is not on the same level as the problem.  We rise above the problem to see what is really going on because we are invested in the outcome, not the conflict itself.  We have the ability to see that conflict is not a part of the solution.

When we are dealing with adults, most likely in relationships, our pride and our “need to be right” reflex gets involved.   Anytime we are involved in an argument, we have choices to deal with it in rational ways and in emotional ways.  Rational thinking tells us that we all have faults, we’re all human, and that we all have bouts of irrational behavior.  Emotional based, or reactionary, thinking tends to assign blame, fuel conflict, protect ego and pride, and looks to be “right”.  Many times an argument tends to end up with two people on an emotional level projecting their emotions on the other.  Neither are actually listening, they are simply thinking of their next response.  The reason that we don’t do this with kids is that we understand children lack a level of insight and communication skills.  Our error in thinking when dealing with each other as adults, is to ignore or forget that we all have character defects and shortcomings that we bring to the interaction.  It’s easier to assume the other person is negligent, as opposed to acknowledging their simple faults.

arguing

Just like children, we as adults may not know how to deal with certain situations, react to them in a constructive way, or we may not possess certain ways of communication.  I can think of several times leading a group where men talk about how they did not learn how to express themselves because their father was physically or emotionally absent.  Coping skills do not necessarily come about simply through maturing with age. We can still keep in mind, that while someone may not have a certain communication skill, it is still their responsibility to seek their own self-improvement.

Patience and understanding of self and others will go a long way in improving how we effectively deal with others and relationships.  When in an argument or conflict, we need to ask ourselves “are we seeking a solution or resolution?”  or are “we wanting to be right?”.  Chronic problems, such as reiterated resentments, rehashed grudges, and avoidance of responsibility can perpetuate because they are kept in place using the same methods of communicating.  Solutions and resolutions only exist on a level higher than the problem.

deepak

So what can we do?  We should start in identifying our own limitations allowing ourselves to become aware of what we are doing that isn’t serving us.  We can’t feel guilty about what we find, though.  Remember we all have things to work on.  This allows us to develop a greater capacity to understand and accept others.  Simply put, we all have room to give ourselves and others more understanding, love, and compassion.  Maybe it makes sense to start there.

 

Exercise as a solution for anxiety?

The concept of mind, body, and spirit is a commonly held idea that we possess different aspects of self that make up the total self.  We think and rationalize with the mind.  We use our body to manifest our thoughts physically and we take in sensory experiences through our 5 physical senses.  Our “spirit” is commonly referred to as the part of us that we know as our intuition, drive, and essence.  It seems that science is finally catching us up to what many of us have already suspected.  Exercise helps regulate mood and can help with anxiety.  Not only is that good news for our overall mood and feelings of anxiety, it’s also good for our whole self as mind, body, and spirit are interconnected.  However, if this concept is now a scientific fact, does it still apply to everybody?

(Here is a great scientific explanation of the effects of exercise in terms of lessening anxiety)

If we look at the treatment of our physical body in terms of how we affect our entire being, we can see the real benefits of something like exercise.  Not only is exercise good for our self-esteem because we look better, for example, it also can be better for our self-esteem because we feel better.  It doesn’t stop there.  If we feel better emotionally, we’re going to think and reason better because our mood is stable. There is less detrimental influence on our thoughts.  Everything within us is connected and influences the other parts of who we are.  (There are also studies proving that positive thinking and mood helps people recover from sickness and disease faster than those who report a more depressed state)

trail-running

Though there can be ancillary benefits to exercise, the rest of our ”self” still requires direct attention.  There are people who are infatuated with exercise that are miserable even though they look like “they have it all together”.  There are many people who are successful in their careers using their minds, spending the majority of their time pursuing “success”, who are absolutely lonely.  If we started a regimen of a healthy diet and running, do we think that will be enough to deal with our anxiety?  If we still feel “unhappy” do we end up labeling those lifestyle changes as ineffective and revert back to old behavior?  What seems to be missing?

300px-Yoga_Class_at_a_Gym3

It is promising that scientific studies can back up the widely accepted benefits of something as intrinsically healthy as exercise.  However, it is also important to see the our own whole picture.  The search for the ultimate universal advice will tend to leave us at a dead-end.  Finding our unique balance for our mind, body, and spirit might be the real answer for what we are seeking.  That right combination is for the individual as each one of us and no scientific study will be able to provide the “right answer”.  This answer lies within and nowhere else.

 

 

 

 

The need to project the ideal self

You’ve probably noticed it on social media outlets such as Facebook.  It is mostly a very positive outlet with people posting their best pictures and sharing their good times.  It’s become a great way for people to share with others what they are enjoying. (I do think that it’s fine to be proud of what you have in your life and I’m simply using social media as an example).  Sometimes these posts and updates can serve as reminders of what we don’t have, what we’d rather be doing, and maybe even what we’d like to be. To some degree, Facebook is just a an example of what can go on inside all of us.   The want to become our ideal selves and the want to transcend the darker sides of who we are.

Most people aren’t posting their worst moments captured on film or video and posting it online.  You’re not seeing the arguments, the meltdowns, or the insecurities (for the most part).  I’m certainly not an advocate of that, by the way, but there is a lot to be said about why we do the things we do.  What we see on social media is a projection of what we want others to see.  We’re putting our best out there.  This isn’t just happening on Facebook, either.  We do this habitually everyday to varying degrees.

Most of what we learn to be socially acceptable we pick up at a young age.  We might have been taught to “be happy”, “put a smile on”, “be outgoing” or to only show the sides of ourselves that are socially acceptable.   As adults, many people spend a lot of time and energy projecting their preferred selves into their environments.   We want to fit in even as we did as kids.  We still want to be accepted.  That part of us we don’t like?  Selfishness?  Laziness?  Being moody? Over reactive? We reject those sides of us as much as we can.

The problem with rejecting the “negative” sides of ourselves is that we are also stifling some of our “good” traits with it.  Maybe we’ve been told that we shouldn’t “display our talents in front of others who aren’t as good” because that’s “bragging” and being “self absorbed”.  It’s possible, for example, that we don’t allow ourselves to make time doing the things we love to do because if we do we’re being “selfish” with our time.  When we were kids maybe our high levels of energy and aversion to sitting in one place for hours at a time was criticized.  We were called “unfocused”, given a diagnosis of ADD or ADHD, and also labeled “non-conforming” or “disruptive”.  We’ve effectively been taught that parts of our true nature are not acceptable.

The reality is that none of our traits go anywhere.  Even the ones we don’t like.  At some point we’re forced to deal with them.  Sometimes if not recognized those unwanted parts of us can manifest in destructive and chaotic ways.

yin and yang

It’s important to recognize our “bad” with our “good”.  It’s part of who we are.  More importantly we can learn from our “negative” aspects and traits.  However, if we completely shut off those sides of us we deem undesirable, we lose that opportunity to grow.  Allowing the self to see what is there tends to be a better option than to seek what the self does not possess.

“The educated man tries to repress the inferior man in himself, not realizing that by so doing he forces the latter into revolt.”

“We cannot change anything until we accept it.  Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.”

(Psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Jung)

And then it happens…

The recent changes you made to not get into an argument with your partner ended when you blew up over something minor…

You violated your pledge to stop wishing death upon the guy who cuts you off in traffic without a turn signal.  You filled your car with an obscenity laced tirade, in turn leaving you in a bad mood for the next few hours…

Your commitment to exercise regularly ended after a few weeks and you find yourself disgusted with the amount of excuses you come up with to justify your inactivity…

That self help book you just read made so much sense and the ideals were so easy to put into practice.  There would be no doubt that every day would be sunny skies and gumdrop smiles….however, you have a hard time getting out of bed one morning only to think that it’s your fault for not “trying hard enough”.

You were feeling good.  You thought you had arrived.  Everything was clear.  Life was actually beginning to make sense.   Then it happens.  The moment things return to the “way things just are”.   All the work you did to make improvements seems to have been for nothing.

That is not necessarily so.

It’s a common tendency to put a tremendous amount of energy into our expectations of results.  We set out on our new venture, or change, with some or many expectations.  Whether we like it or not.  It’s conscious or subconscious.  Either way, it happens.  When the results don’t meet our expectations, we view those “results” as “failure”.

That is not necessarily the case.

As with anything we have the ability to change perspective on what we are doing and what is happening to us.  It may be helpful to expect less, or have no real expectation at all.  If changing our behavior (that we have been doing for several years, probably decades) was easy, we’d just take a class or two and be done with it.  Logic rules in our society and logic says when we learn how something works we can “fix” it.  When it comes to the self, the answers to make changes in ourselves do not lie in logic.

If we choose to take in the whole experience, not just the good and positive, but even the “bad” too, we can see it for what it really is.  A chance to grow, to evolve, not to be perfect or fix whatever it is that we see is broken.  Instead of focusing on getting rid of our “imperfections”, avoiding the pain of “failure” and disappointment, it might be beneficial to change our perspective on our experiences.

Pain might have a benefit.  “Failing” at something might be good.  A “bad day” might just be what we need.  I admit,  that sounds odd.  However, when we judge an experience as “good” or “bad” we are giving it a meaning and limiting it on what it could be.  We have the opportunity to make our realities.

The guys I counsel here at the hospital live by mottoes such as “one day at a time” and “life is a journey, not a destination”.  There is a tremendous amount of wisdom in those sayings.  Live today.  Allow what is to be and go from there.  Don’t take yourself or life too seriously.  We’re not getting out of here alive.  (For more wisdom, click on the picture below)

being human