Attachment parents: At what age do we stop unconditional acceptance and begin tempering support with our judgments?
Hit, swat, tap, strike, smack, cuff, wallop, belt, whack, spank.
Whatever you call it, I think hurting a child is wrong.
Idiot, stupid, spoiled, monster, horror, entitled, lazy, brat.
Whatever you call them, I think calling a child names it wrong.
I write about mindful living and gentle parenting. A big reason I write about topics like mindfulness, compassion, empathy, and forgiveness is because they do not come naturally to me. I have to constantly seek out internalized messages or lazy patterns of thinking and examine them for judgements. It’s a daily practice.
I was whistling along in my self-absorbed world, gratefully careening away from the small touches I had with self-awareness. I mixed in a few moments of lucid despair and the realization that this was meaningless and this dissatisfaction lead me to question everything.
Without knowing it, I was headed on a track to mindfulness because of the nagging feeling that something was wrong. I wasn’t aware of what it was, but it felt fundamental to life. I found physical Yoga, then I stumbled into what’s behind the body in Yoga and I shifted to a new path. But, I still hung tightly onto my ego.
Then I had a kid, and cliché though it is, everything changed for me. I immersed myself in the love I had never known about. And it was bliss.
But, there’s a problem swimming in bliss. Eventually all of the stories you make up about yourself to feel okay begin washing off. And once they’ve floated to the top, you have to deal with them or get out of the pool.
Like most people, I look back on times when I was cruel, mean-spirited, and small-minded. I see the unkind thoughts, actions, and feelings I held with a death-grip. I recall blame, anger, hurt, and judgments I had against others.
I am working through the layers of self shaming slowly and gently. I don’t know if I am capable of becoming the person I want to be, but I won’t ever give up.
Becoming a parent gave me the will to strip it all away and rebuild me as someone else-mostly because I couldn’t bear to parent with less than my entire, imperfect heart.
I am sure there are parents who are able to parent fully without this catharsis, just like I am sure there are parents who chose to get out of the pool of bliss.
I think most people are wise without knowing it because whatever choice is made, it is often their mind choosing the best way to protect them. Some people need a safe space to grow. Others need to rip it apart before change happens.
Whatever the choice that is made for personal growth, I think it is important to trust the parent that they will get there in their own
time. I suppose I’ll apply Alfie Kohn’s term, “Unconditional Parenting” here. I give trust and support unconditionally no matter their age, without terms or threat of punishment for not agreeing with me.
We could all use a little more complete acceptance in our lives.
I can recall several times I have been so deep in the anger-shame spiral during post partum depression that my hand has twitched at my side with thought that I needed everything to stop.
I was separated from my real feelings enough to want to hit, swat, tap, strike, smack, cuff, wallop, belt, whack, spank. Whatever you call it.
Many times before I could stop the thoughts, I have silently called my children: Idiot, stupid, spoiled, monster, horror, entitled, lazy, brat. A few times, a word has slipped out.
So, am I a fake because I write about mindful living and gentle parenting when I have done and felt these things and will probably do them again?
I am not a perfect, mindful Yogi. I understand the inner demons that so many of us wrestle with. I think part of being a mindful person is acknowledging this and continuing to try without guarantee, but with self-compassion.
You put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.
When I see a parent venting their frustration, anger, and blame toward a child in a way that labels like stupid and brat, I empathize with where they are. I’ve been there too (and I will probably be again.) When I know a parent spanked, I understand. And not just because I’ve been in the space where hitting seemed like a plausible answer, but more importantly because they deserve to be heard and acknowledged. Full stop.
Attachment parents, we focus unconditionality on our children, but we forget that adults need it, too. First, compassion for ourselves then it can be extended to others-no matter what their age.
Even if I couldn’t personally identify with what someone is going through, I get that they are the same as I am. When I judge another parent, I am doing exactly the same thing as spanking and name-calling. Yes, there are degrees of disconnection from other people and power differentials come in to play. However, it’s all pushing someone into being some-“thing” and you can do whatever you want, think whatever you want about a thing.
I separate the person from the actions, just like I separate my self from my thoughts in meditation practice; just like I separate myself from my emotions when I want to hit, yell or blame; just as I separate my kids from the spilled food on the floor or the bite marks on their sibling’s arm.
I give unconditional parenting to my kids, to myself, and to other parents. There is no, “I understand, but did you know spanking is harmful?” or “I hear you, but yelling at your kids isn’t a wise choice.” or “I extend support to you, but…”
No buts. No ands.
When a person is at a loss, in pain disguised as anger, frustration or blame, or feels out of control, the only thing that person hears is what comes after the buts and the ands. And, truthfully, it’s what comes after the buts and the ands that the person offering the support actually means. The support is conditional and not really support.
It’s okay to get outraged about issues and condemn actions. But, if I want to create change, I have to create this separation from the person. It’s a profound realization to really see people like this because, for the first time, it’s really seeing people.
Sometimes, I think there’s a particular brand of mindfulness that I’m good at called squirminess. It is really uncomfortable to stay with the places that are painful and allow whatever comes up within. Because of course, that’s what the unconditionality is about, the ego-stuff inside. This takes a lot of work to give to people who are doing things you dislike or disapprove of. And some people choose not to go there. I honor that, too.
Yes, even when you think it hurts kids. I’ve discussed this in many posts, like these. If you’re arguing with me, that’s cool. Feel free to judge away at me, and I’ll listen. I’ll most likely learn something from you and for that, I am grateful.
Wrestle on, my friends.