Relationship is Everything

April 25, 2012

One of the core concepts in Privilege of Parenting (the book) is the concept that everything in parenting turns on relationship.

Cultivating good relationships with our kids requires addressing three core motivations in life:  feeling safe, feeling loved and feeling empowered.

These apply to us grown-ups as well:  if we don’t feel safe then we don’t feel connected and may tend to either retreat into isolation or become aggressive, angry or explosive (and then end up in a place of shame and/or isolation).

When we are in our own red zone, or are parenting a child in the zone of anger or alienation, it is worth keeping in mind that in these moments we do not feel safe.  This is not the time to talk and reason, it is not the time for limits and consequences: it is the time for openhearted compassion and understanding.

If we, or our kids, are truly not safe, this is a time for action to protect them or ourselves; but when we, or our kids, are in actuality safe, but do not feel safe, we have moved into the second motivation (and its frustration).

Feeling loved rests upon feeling understood.  Thus when our kid says that they are a loser and everyone hates them, or that they do not feel safe, and we tell them that this is ridiculous and that they are wonderful, they tend to clam up and feel neither heard nor understood.

This is when parenting turns to crap because we know we love our kids, but our love is not landing and we feel powerless, lame and sometimes angry that our child won’t just cut out the nonsense and realize how wonderful they are.

When we’re down in the dumps, we don’t really want “glass is half-full” talk so much as we want someone to bear witness to our experience.  When we do this for our kids they feel company in misery and they do more than know that we love them, they feel that love.

Finally, we all want to feel empowered.  This can take the form of self-expression, autonomy, athletics, academics or social relatedness (to name a few arenas of potential empowerment).  As parents, empowering our children is where we must walk the line between love and limits, between helicopter and absenteeism: if we overprotect we suppress autonomy, but if we under-protect we leave our kids at undue risk.

Here we circle back to the need to feel loved; if we listen with our hearts to our children (and to our own instincts), we will better calibrate our love and limits and facilitate empowerment.  Kids are constantly growing and changing (as are we), but listening deeply and observing our children’s subtle shifts in mind and behavior allows us to better understand, and thus make them feel loved, safe and yet free to learn, grow and develop.

Given that in parenting we are often striving to bestow upon our children some of the very things that we ourselves did not get, parenting can trigger us to feel scared (for our kids, for our economics, scared about our abilities); and it can trigger us to feel unloved (i.e. not understood, mischaracterized, unsupported); and it can lead to our own feelings of disempowerment (particularly when kids test, or break, limits and our words are shrugged off and our consequences received without behavioral change).

This is where we parents particularly need community, camaraderie and support from each other to help us feel safe, loved/understood and empowered.  Community and understanding will prove more important than expertise, and the “expert” arises as the wisdom and love of the group, not the ideas of experts.

We generally know things like that it’s best not to yell at our kids too much, it’s finding ways to calm down, be effective and to sustain our right-actions that tend to elude us.

I write about parenting, here and in my book, in an attempt to provide insights, support and encouragement to other parents in the service for all our collective children, but also as a way to connect with the group through bringing something to the table.

Perhaps today is a good day to take a deep breath and to set an intention to deepen our understanding of where our kids are at today (emotionally, intellectually, socially), to intuit what they might be feeling—and to re-envision this exploration as love in pragmatic action.

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p.s. Kristen over at Motherese was kind enough to review my book; she is one of the best spirits I’ve met in the blogosphere and I adored her even before she said such nice things about me and my book.  Friendship is one of life’s great treasures and in this realm I consider myself extremely blessed.  Please check out what she has to say (and thank you, thank you, Kristen):  http://bit.ly/I1nlqL