Parents Using the Present
Copyright © 2011 Tina Feigal
Parent coach trainee Shannon Snyder recently wrote about her experience as a mom of three young kids:
“I feel like I could gush about the present moment approach to parenting and how much that speaks to me in asking me to forgive myself for all the bad days I’ve had as a parent, and let go of all the worry of what those bad days might do to my children’s future self-esteem.”
I know this strikes a chord with many parents who carry not only the frustration of dealing with negative child behavior, but also the guilt about past interactions with their children. “Have I ruined my child?” is a frequently-asked question.
As Eckhart Tolle reminds us: Nothing has ever happened in the past. And nothing will ever happen in the future. Everything happens in the present moment. But after a lifetime of being conditioned to spend every moment concerned with the future (will she be healthy, will she behave at home and in public, will she have friends, will she get good grades, will she make good choices, will she have a good adult relationship, will she reflect well on me as a parent, will she be successful as a parent herself?) how do we suddenly just stop all that concern and pay attention in the present moment with our kids?
And even more daunting, how to we let go of the guilt we feel for all of our past mistakes?
The answer is so simple, it seems impossible, but here it is. We just decide to.
We use the present moment as our tool, rather than a stranger who just walked in the door and asked us to let go of what we thought made us and our kids safe: vigilant fear of the future. We decide to try it by merely letting go of the future for this present moment, and then, floaty as it feels, we actually let go. We greet the child in front of us, no matter what the mood or state of mind, and join him or her in the present moment. If it’s a happy time, we simply be in it with love. If it’s not happy, we simply be in it with love. We don’t try to fix it, change it, adjust it, or explain it. We just sink into it.
So you might be asking, what does that look like, exactly? Let’s say you have a child who just came in the door and screamed, “Where’s my homework folder? You never help me find things! I need it right now!” You have two choices here: you can either let the fire dissipate by keeping the air around it very still, or you can fan the flames. I recommend using this present moment to simply be with your child in her distress and say, “You are really upset about your homework folder and you want my help finding it.” A hand on the shoulder might work, too, if she’s not too sensitive to touch at the moment. “Yes, I am really mad and I want you to help me find it! You never help me!” comes the reply. Rather than push for the “truth” that you help her all the time, go for the feeling, which helps her feel seen. “You feel like you never get help around here.” “Yes, I feel like you always ignore me when I need help!” “You feel ignored way too much.” “Yes!” As you do this, the child can start to calm down, noticing that she is in fact being seen and heard right now. You are actually causing a physiological change in her body when you do this. The stress hormones are decreasing, which leaves room for the rational brain to take hold.
So how does this relate to self-forgiveness? As Maya Angelou said, “When we know better, we do better.” When in the past, you simply didn’t know better than to fan the flames of negativity with a big response to bad behavior, so how could you do better? Where would you have gotten the idea to do better if you didn’t even know there was such a thing as being in the present moment with your child? We can’t change the past, so we need tap the incredible power of letting it go, which is what self-forgiveness really is. Letting go means just that: giving your mind one tiny opportunity to remember what you did wrong, and then stop letting it occupy your mind space. Over time, it will become automatic to quickly register your mistake, let guilt go because you know it will only erode the moment, and join your child in the present. It really is a matter of just deciding and doing it.
As you get better at this with yourself, you’ll start to realize more about dealing with others’ behavior: giving no energy to negativity and giving lots of energy to positivity does cause a huge shift, not only yourself, but in everyone around you. You’ll feel it inside.
If you would like help with learning self-forgiveness as a powerful parenting tool, call Parent Coach Tina Feigal at 651-453-0123 or write firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more about parent coaching here.