Questioning the labels

We have a habit of labeling. Maybe it goes with our inherent need to belong, or maybe we find instinctively that we bond better with a common good and common enemy.

We see it in religion, when even Christianity is segregated within itself, we see it in generations, when whole groups of people are put into boxes they don’t fit.

And we see it in parenting.

This week I have been reading about different styles of parenting. Of peaceful parenting, though it had many names. And my first reaction to this is joy that people are questioning, thinking, trying to do the best that they can for their families. But then I found that what a lot of people perceived as clarity was beginning to look quite black and white. And we need those shades of grey.

Apparently from a psychological perspective we get them about age twelve. That’s when black and whites such as “stealing is wrong” gain perspective and we think “stealing is wrong, unless a person has to steal medicine to save their child” and so on. Most of us keep those new found hues and they serve us well as we navigate the truths before us. Until labeling encourages us to suspend them for a while.

I think it’s really important to question society, what’s put before us and even our own beliefs.

I don’t believe in control crying, neurological research aside I can’t get my head around it. But there are times out there when a mother may be desperate, she may not have help or family support, her exhaustion may get in the way of her taking care of her baby or other children, put her driving or health at risk. There may be times when it’s absolutely right in that situation.

I don’t believe in smacking, but I have smacked. And every time I see it referred to as this horrible violence against children I wish that I could take a snapshot in time, of the few times I’ve done so, when nothing had reached my son, when he was so lost in a tantrum, so lost in the anguish of his own anger that everything I did would make it worse, even walk away. And those few times that in desperation I gave his hand or bottom a single smack and pop his spell was broken.  His anguish drained away in an instant. Then we hugged, we talked about it, he heard me. Because for my child, in those moments, that momentary tap was kinder than an hour of words or demonstration. I see people say that smacking teaches violence and from an adults perspective I absolutely 100% agree. But a child, more often than not, is in the moment and their perspective is different to ours, that’s how siblings fight but love each other just as fiercely a couple of moments later. I’m not suggesting you smack your child, not at all, just as I don’t plan to do so again, but I am suggesting that you don’t beat yourself up if you have. Just question it, like everything else.

I don’t believe in putting kids in situations that are likely to push their buttons – but sometimes I do, because life does. I read a comment the other day where a woman said something along the lines of “I thought my daughter was being naughty, then I realized that I had dropped the ball by talking on the phone. It was my fault not hers.”

See the thing is, sometimes life makes you wait – for a phone call or cookies to bake or something you want to buy, sometimes it makes you be quiet, sometimes you need to listen, sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do, sometimes you need to take a deep breath when you’re angry or you need to calm down when you’re sad.

I want to bless my kids with a life that involves them greatly and nurtures them as much as possible. But that life will involve phone calls, trips to the supermarket, waiting in line, cleaning up the toys and taking responsibility for themselves in that moment.

Peaceful parenting often focuses on our tone and language when we talk to our children. As it should, they’re extremely receptive to it. But I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that there are times that my child only hears me when I raise my voice. We laugh about it later, because it’s “Mummy being loud” but mummy has to be loud sometimes, because sometimes he’s being a dinosaur or a robot policeman and they don’t have very good listening ears.

Sometimes I snap at my son. Rarely, but I do. And though I try very hard not to, I’m not sorry. Because the times that it happens is when he has pushed and pushed and PUSHED, and my kind tone and language finally expires into a flustered snap. That snap is just as important to who he will become as the love we give him, because in life people respond to you how you treat them. And it’s much kinder to my beautiful boy for his Mum to occasionally bite, then explain why, than for him to believe that he has less of a duty to treat others with respect than they do him.

 Apparently we shouldn’t argue in front of our children, we should avoid being sad or angry in their presence.

When I was a child my parents tried not to argue in front of me. I’d feel something simmering between them all day, because kids are smart, they get that, then I’d hear hushed, angry voices from the living room while I lay in bed. My belly would twist in knots – what was this horrible secret that they were hiding from me? Those everyday disagreements, to me, became enormous. They became frightening because of their secrecy.

We try not to fight in front of our kids, but sometimes we do. And that’s ok. Because I want them to grow up knowing that conflict is alright sometimes. That love doesn’t diminish because of it. That it’s possible to disagree with someone, even for them to piss you right off, and to hug and make up five minutes later. I want them to see their parents say sorry too, and mean it. I want them to know that their family is safe in the calm and in the rough because it’s bigger than that.

Bodhi has seen me happy. A lot. He has seen me laugh and smile and joke around and dance a chicken dance in public to make him giggle. He has also seen me cry, real honest to God sadness that reaches the depth of my soul. And I’ve told him, in words that make sense to him, why. I’ve told him that it’s ok to feel sad sometimes, and it’s ok to cry. He has wrapped his arms around me and kissed it better. His sadness isn’t a scary thing to him, and neither is mine. I’m allowed to be strong for him and he’s allowed to be strong for me… or for a friend or a kid he doesn’t know at the park who needs someone to hug it out.

He has seen me angry. He’s seen Daniel angry too. And 99% of the time we’ve done a real good job of being angry. We’ve been the kind of angry we ask him to try. The kind where you take a deep breath and talk it out, or go for a walk or be alone until the fire eases. But he’s also seen me be angry badly (which equates to loudly in my case). He saw Daniel throw keys at a wall once. And we talked about it, and he got to tell us how we could do it better. He got to tell us how we should have handled it. And that let him be wise too. It let him know that everyone makes mistakes, so not to worry about his own.

Labels can bring people together, and I love that so many parents are coming together to peacefully parent their children. I love that old ways are being questioned and that compassion reins. But I just hope that we keep sight of those shades of grey in amongst it all, because they belong there just as much as anywhere else.

I hope that when we parent, we make it our philosophy above all else to be kind. To be kind to our babies, our kids, our partners and ourselves. They deserve it and so do we, because as long as we keep questioning and doing our best it’s ok not to be perfect.

As I peacefully parent, I’m also going to be at peace with that.


Copyright Nirvana Dawson 2012

The Difficult Ones

Disclaimer – this post is written about the challenging people in our lives. About the overbearing boss, the difficult coworker, the moody relative, the judgmental neighbour. It is not referring to cases of abuse, serious bullying or violence, or trying to solve them.

Someone asked me recently for my thoughts on the difficult ones. On how to handle it when we encounter people who are spiteful, underhanded or just plain horrible to deal with.

I believe that there are a few elements to this, so I’ll break them down a little…

First of all – we are selfish

Let go of negative connotations around that word, because it’s just how we’re wired. I’m not saying that we all behave in a selfish manner, but rather that our motivations are based on our own needs and perceptions. And rightfully so.

A lot of our actions flow on from this, whether they seem self centered or altruistic to others. For example I might donate money to help someone less fortunate – even though my action is giving, the motivation for doing so comes from self-actualization, or more simply, it makes me feel good.

A negative behavior is the same – if I act irritated at a friend it is about how I feel. She may have acted in a way that triggered that feeling in me, but that is my perception. Hers may be different; therefore that irritation is based on myself more than her.

In short, your actions and feelings are yours – they’re ultimately about you. Another person’s actions, feeling and motivations are about them.

It stands to reason that in a diverse world with billions of people we will encounter those that seem kind and those that seem unkind. We will encounter those we love, those we hate, the bullies and manipulators as well as those that warm our hearts.

The problem is that they’re all behaving and perceiving selfishly and so are we. So we make it about us. And it’s not.

Likewise they perceive our actions and reactions to be about them, but they’re not either. Conflict has a habit of feeding itself this way.

A wise woman I know with dark skin was once asked if she experienced racism. She said no, then explained “But if I’m not served first at the counter, I think they’re busy, not that I’m black. If someone is rude to me I think they’re having a hard day, not that they have a problem with the colour of my skin.” She didn’t make it about her, because it wasn’t. So she saw the best in situations instead of looking for the worst.

If we can remind ourselves, as our hackles rise, that another’s words or actions are not our doing, then we can change the outcome with our own perception. It’s not our fault or our flaws, so take the hurt out of it.

Be selfish enough to act with kindness, because it feels good to you and to others. And while you endeavor not to make mountains of molehills, not to take blame or hurt that’s not yours – still be selfish enough to surround yourself with people who will treat you kindly. You deserve that.

We all speak different languages

It’s easy to miss when the words all sound the same, but we do.

Years ago I worked with an older lady who was bullying me in the workplace. I hadn’t expected that experience at all and was shocked and hurt. Going to work was like walking on eggshells and I often ended up in tears. Until one day two things clicked – 1) it wasn’t about me, my presence just stirred something in her and 2) the language she spoke- craved -was that of affirmation. She was fighting me because she felt threatened and my defending myself just confirmed that threat to her.

So instead of retaliating I made an effort to soften and to use her language.  I affirmed her strengths, I made a point of noticing what she did well, I asked her to share her tips and things she had found worked. When I thought about her I focused on the positives. Within the week not only had she apologized for how she’d acted, but she’d become a friend. She turned out to be a great support.

Most people’s fight is actually a shield for something. Sometimes it’s just about showing that we’re not armed.

There’s been the neighbour that put down our house, whose guard dropped when his insights were acknowledged, and his choices affirmed as well as our own. The acquaintance who attacked my parenting choices, whose insecurities acted as such great weapons, but fell away when they saw there was no judgment in our differences. The spiteful boss who feared for their power, who became an ally when they saw I had no urge to take what was theirs.

I’m not suggesting you become a pushover. I’m saying that there are many kinds of strength, many kinds of wisdom. And sometimes the greatest strength is to choose to be soft.

I’m suggesting that you take a little time to read people. To take notice of what language they speak.

Because you can keep fighting the difficult ones, but your fight just builds that shield of theirs into a stronger weapon. 

When you meet someone who speaks with hatred, find the dialect of kindness to undo them. When you meet someone who speaks to hurt, listen to what is behind their words to find what has hurt them.

And if someone is just plain cruel – walk away. Regardless of their language, you do not need to have that conversation.

It’s about energy

Some believe that everyone comes into our lives for a reason. That we either have something to teach them or them, us. I think there’s some truth in this. Sometimes our clarity, strength or kindness can be enough to change someone’s path completely. Sometimes the challenge they provide can be enough for us to find how clear, strong or kind we are.

But some people just seem to have more than their share of difficult ones, of harder situations, while others find themselves surrounded by more of the good stuff.

Everything is energy, and ours is made up of our perceptions, experiences, and what we surround ourselves with. If you have a difficult person in your life, or one who continually drags you down they are influencing your energy as you connect with them.

Aspire to surround yourself with people who lift you higher, but when circumstances don’t allow it (due to family, work, where you live etc) just choose not to engage anymore. Shift your focus and choose not to give so much of yourself to them.

Seek out more of the people whose energy DOES lift you higher, and connect there. It might be a close friend of someone you pass in the shops. Take the opportunity to feel the good wherever you find it. Notice kindness wherever you can. You’ll begin to attract what you’re looking for, and as you disconnect from that which doesn’t work for you you’ll begin to notice it less.

So in the end…

Don’t take on negativity that isn’t yours. Take time to read people and speak their language occasionally.  Surround yourself with the good stuff. Life is meant to have a lot of happy in it – if it doesn’t, then it’s a reminder to take a step back.

You deserve to be treated well. You deserve to laugh often. You deserve kindness that blows your mind. 

Copyright Nirvana Dawson 2012