Unfold is one of my new favorite words. In my mind’s eye, the word unfold makes me think of an image of a flower or maybe one of those videos where a flower blooms in seconds right before your eyes. Unfold is a delicate word that is to be spoken softly or with an air of wonder and excitement. It is also a word that implies patience - to unfold is to do something slowly, something that cannot be rushed. You have to watch and wait and see what appears as it unfolds before your eyes.
The word unfold runs counter to our busy, everyday lives. Who has time to watch something unfold? We are on a schedule, there are things to do and places to be. It’s like that flower bud in your garden. You noticed it was about to bloom, but when have time to check on it again it has fully opened. You completely missed the time in between.
Unfold is not a word we often use when we talk about our kids, but we should. Childhood is a time of discovery. A time to watch our children find their way and develop their personality. It’s like a beautifully wrapped present. You may start by carefully loosening the tape. However, as soon as we see a little opening, it’s like we can’t help ourselves. We rip off the wrapping anxious to see what is inside. We want to skip to the end result without allowing things to unfold.
What would change if we started allowing things to unfold? How different would it be if you approached your children from the perspective that they are in the process of unfolding who they are?
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A Dad is someone who taught you how to…..
…. ride a bike.
…. throw a ball.
…. balance a checkbook.
…. drive, even if that meant putting his life in your hands.
Dad is an action word. When action is needed, Dad takes the lead. When something needs to be fixed or built or mowed or cut or tended to, Dad takes the first shot at it (and hopefully is able to admit defeat and hire a professional when needed). Many Dads aren’t comfortable with babies because they don’t do anything (other than lay, sleep and eat). But as soon as they are big enough to play, Dads become their #1 playmate. After so much action, is it any surprise that when we talk about celebrating Father’s Day, we talk about letting Dad take a nap?
I can imagine it is often hard for Dads to let someone else take the lead and choose what to play, what to do and where to go. Not only Dads, but all parents, must get to a point where we hand over the reins to our kids and let them decide what interests them the most. Dads have to accept the fact that their daughter might think baseball is boring (gasp) or that their son would rather learn to code than learn to play chess.
There is a quote floating around social media today: “My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me” – Jim Valvano. It can be done in a conversation or by practicing with them night and day or holding their hand or giving them a hug to take the stress away. Believing in your child is the most powerful action of all.
“It’s opposite day! No means yes and yes means no.” How many times have we heard that before? No doubt we said it when we were kids and chances are your kiddos have said it to you at least a hundred times. If you think about it, it’s kind of weird how universal it is. It’s not restricted to a certain area of the country or specific culture, yet children everywhere play this silly game where what you mean is actually the opposite of what you say.
Lately, I’ve been trying to put a new spin on opposite day. Whenever I’m feeling frustrated, angry, sad or even just ‘meh’, I try to do the opposite. For example, if I am super frustrated about a situation at work or with the kids, I try to find something to do that will make someone else feel good. It could be as simple as buying a birthday present or taking care of a chore that you know your spouse does not like to do. Or if I am feeling sad or disappointed, I send a text or funny picture to a friend. Whatever it is, the feelings around the action are the opposite of the way I’m truly feeling. Like some mornings I feel too tired to work out, instead of crawling back into bed, I’ll go for a walk instead of a run, no headphones and just enjoy watching everything wake up around me.
An amazing thing happens when you do the opposite, you actually start to feel the opposite. It may not happen all at once and it won’t erase what upset you in the first place, but when you come back to it, your perspective will have changed. Not only that, but you have also had an impact on the other person you reached out to. The birthday present you bought or chore you did or text you sent may have come just at the right time for the other person. Here’s the tricky thing – you may never know the impact your action had on them. Or your action may lead to that person doing something that leads to something else, you’ll just never know. Often it’s the smallest moments, the moments that we don’t give a second thought to – a smile, an open door, a simple favor, that have the ability to completely change the trajectory of someone’s day.
You may think this is easier said than done and you’d be right! If you want help incorporating this into your everyday life, I can help. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll set up a time to get started.
In the last post I left you with a question to think about – what if the clothes that are left on the floor day after day by my children, are not the real trigger to my frustration? If it is not the clothes, what could it be? The Conscious Parenting approach is to look at ourselves and dig deep to figure out what is truly behind our reaction. In her new book, The Awakened Family, Dr. Shefali Tsabary has an entire chapter dedicated to “The Invisible Triggers of Our Reactivity”. She explains that as a culture we accept the idea that our children will trigger or challenge us - it’s just what kids do. This idea is so ingrained in our culture; we don’t question it. As a result, we end up react to them in “robotic ways”. In other words, we allow our reactions to happen without giving them much thought. Dr. Shefali goes on to say (on page 35):
“Our children are just being who they are. They aren’t interested in inciting us to fury or causing us guilt or anxiety. Quite the opposite: They function from their own internal state, which really has nothing to do with us. However, because we carry so much emotional pain, they inevitably ignite a firestorm within us at times. None of this is intentional, but is a result of our own lack of wholeness. We are triggered not by their behavior, but by our own unresolved emotional issues.”
At this point you may think I am a little crazy – how is my reaction to a few clothes left on the floor related to my “unresolved emotional issues”? Stay with me. Let’s follow the train of thought with the dialogue going on in my head answering the question – Why does it make me so crazy to see these clothes on the floor? Don’t they see I am just trying to keep the house cleaned up? If they don’t clean up after themselves now, how will they live on their own? Their apartment is going to be a mess. I know I have asked for these clothes to be picked up – why don’t they listen to me? They don’t listen to me because they don’t appreciate all the things that I do for them. They’re so ungrateful – how can they be so insensitive? I want to raise them to be kind, nice people not insensitive monsters. I’m totally screwing this up. They are going to be completely unprepared for real life unless I can fix this now.
This inner dialogue may be slightly exaggerated (or not) but it does show the potential deeper triggers to the situation. Is it about listening? Is it about cleanliness? Is it about insensitivity? Is it about me? As Dr. Shefali says in the quote above, that children are in their own minds. The fact that they do/don’t do something is only related to where they are at in that exact moment, no more and no less. You are the one making this is a big deal. You are the one piling on additional emotion and unrelated issues to the scenario.
So where do you go from here? The clothes still need to be picked up and you don’t want to be the one to do it all the time. This is where expectations and boundaries come in. First, become really clear on what your expectation is. In this scenario, your expectation may be that the kids help pick up after themselves. Second, set a boundary. How often do you want this expectation to be met - daily, every other day, weekly? Communicate the boundary as a minimum requirement for living in the house, as something that just needs to be done and strip all the emotion from the discussion. The hardest part may be in the enforcement of the boundary because you must remain both consistent and neutral. If you have decided it is a daily task, then you must enforce it as a daily task. As Dr. Shefali likes to say, don’t be “wishy-washy”. Along with consistency, you must be neutral/unemotional while enforcing the boundary. You will get resistance. You can’t let that resistance trigger you in the way that it once did.
Changing our perspective and the way we handle things with our children is not easy. It is like building a muscle, it requires continuous work and practice over time. Some days you are going to feel strong and other days even the lightest weight feels heavy. Don’t get discouraged. Keep trying, building and shifting. Not only will you have fewer triggers, but you will also be strengthening your relationship with your child.
Summer is also a great time to revise and reset your expectations around Work Life Balance. If you want to create a customized plan that will work for you and help you achieve the balance you’ve been striving for then let’s get started. Email me at email@example.com to find out more.
When did my living room become the changing room? After a particularly busy few days, I looked around the room one evening to find an array of pajamas, swimsuits, socks, t-shirts and shoes. How had all of this stuff accumulated down here? Like a pot of nearly boiling water, bubbles of frustration started to form carrying with them familiar questions as they reached the surface – do I have to do everything? Aren’t they old enough now to pick up after themselves? Don’t they have any respect for these clothes we buy for them? Don’t they realize how lucky they are? And like that pot of water, the more bubbles, the more agitated the water becomes and soon the entire pot is boiling to a point of no return. Can you relate?
A trigger is defined by websters.com as “any event that sets a course of action in motion”. With that definition in mind, what is the trigger in the scenario above? The obvious answer is that the trigger was the kids leaving their clothes all over the living room. If you can relate to this situation, you may speculate additional background facts including the number of times the kids had been told to pick up these clothes, to leave shoes in the laundry room and to change in another room. These assumptions further support the fact that the action (or inaction) of the kids was the trigger, right?
Our automatic reaction is to look for the root cause of our trigger. In this scenario the cause seems pretty obvious, the kids left their clothes all over the living room. Now that the cause is clear, our next action is to try to teach/discipline in order to prevent the situation from happening again. Chances are you may succeed in changing behaviors for a day or even a couple of days, but more than likely it will happen again, sooner than you’d like. So we go back again, teach/discipline the action, see a little improvement and then it happens again. At this point we may ask ourselves, what are we doing wrong as parents? Why isn’t this message sticking? Or maybe we wonder, why is it so hard for our child to remember such an easy task? Is there something wrong with them? As you can see, once you start down this path you can quickly spin a simple situation into a crisis of character.
But what if, the clothes on the floor are not the real trigger? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or on Facebook and let me know what you think. Part two coming soon……
I started writing this blog because I wanted to have deeper conversations beyond "How are you?", "Busy", with other parents. Over the years I've shared personal stories, articles, authors and topics to facilitate conversations with parents about the joys and the challenges of parenting.