Nonviolent Communication

Vietnam war memorial
Image via Wikipedia

I don’t remember buying it. It’s been on my bookshelf for more than 5 years, maybe 9. There was even a note in the margin of one page that says, “Share with Michelle,” in handwriting I don’t recognize. I don’t know who the note is for, but the quote is interesting, regardless. While discussing the power of positive thinking, Rosenburg explains how he set himself up with “Don’t thinking” as follows:

During the Vietnam War, I was asked to debate the war issue on television with a man whose position differed from mine. The show was videotaped, so i was able to watch it at home that evening. When I saw myself on the screen communicating in ways I didn’t want to be communicating, I felt very upset. “If I’m ever in another discussion,” I told myself, “I am determined not to do what I did on that program! I’m not going to be defensive. I’m not going to let them make a fool of me.” Notice how I spoke to myself in terms of what I didn’t want to do rather than in terms of what I did want to do.

A chance to redeem myself came the very next week when I was invited to continue the debate on the same program. All the way to the studio, I repeated myself all the things I didn’t want to do. As soon as the program started, the man launched off in exactly the same way as he had a week earlier. For about ten seconds after he’d finished talking, I managed not to communicate in the ways I had been reminding myself. In fact, I said nothing. I just sat there,. As soon as I opened my mouth, however, I found words tumbling out in all the ways I had been so determined to avoid! It was a painful lesson about what can happen when I only identify what I don’t want to do, without clarifying what I do want to do.

I know I relate to this line of thinking, whether the quote was intended for my eyes or not. When I was selling books door-to-door for Southwestern, for example, we were encouraged to shun Mr. Mediocrity, the little green man who sat on your shoulder saying things like, “You can’t!” Rosenburg addresses this line of thinking when dealing with the fourth element of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), requests, and asking for specific requests.

  1. Observing without evaluating
  2. Identifying and expressing feelings
  3. Taking responsibility for our feelings (expressing needs)
  4. Requesting that would enrich life

So, my understanding of the methods behind nonviolent communication would be observing a situation or conversation, identify the needs of the other person and express your own, express your needs (through taking responsibility for what you feel), and then request, specifically, what you need.

Tonight, my husband noted our son’s diaper was in need of a change. I did what I normally do, “Would you like to change it?” I didn’t mean this! Sure, I wanted to offer it, but who looks forward to changing a poopy diaper? Not many people I know. So, I give my husband a choice, “Would you like to change Levi’s stinky, poopy, potentially really messy bottom?” And, then I act surprised when he says, “No!”? How fair is that.

Identifying my needs and making specific requests is definitely something I could stand to work on!

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Attachment Parenting as Paradigm Shift

Rousseau complained in his First Discourse how, in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, we relied too much on specialists to answer our problems and too little on our own reasoning. He complained that we have Mathematicians, and Scientists, and Chemists to solve our problems, all commodifying humanity.

I had a discussion today with a friend, and advocate of Dr. Sears Attachment Parenting, who described attachment parenting more as a means to get in touch with our intentions, desires, and how we really want our children to grow up. Then, recognizing these things, making conscious decisions in our parenting to reflect those values. She bemoaned folks who have a desire to check things off a list and call that attachment parenting because it took the feeling out of it. Attachment Parenting, from what I understand of her view of it, is taking conscious goals and relaying them to situation-specific moments within the big picture.

I argued that attachment parenting, worded that way, was more a way to engage a paradigm shift in our society where we move away from these roles (as Rousseau described) into more holistic thinking and living.

What do you think?

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Parenting Styles – Skeptics Please Stand Up

San Galgano, Church

I am including San Galgano as a bastion of simple Catholicism. Beautiful, authoritative, long standing. Image by Michelle Lasley via Flick

I’ve written previously about my skepticism towards magazines that give advice. Given a magazine’s typical audience, I think this was sound advice. I’ve done enough research papers to want to see the studies behind a given claim or something attributed as fact. I may not understand the tables and techniques used to devise one study over another, but I have enough sense to be able to figure out the gist of what the panel of authors is trying to tell me.

As parents, we are given a lot of advice. It comes from non-parents, grandparents, our parents, pediatricians, general practitioners, OBs, chiropractors, teachers, clergy, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, friends, foes, strangers at the super market! Some days it’s enough to make me feel a little batty.

There seems to be one (set of) Doctor(s) who appears to be the leading sage on kiddos: Dr. Sears. He advocates attachment parenting, has an answer for everything, and goes against “mainstream” parenting ideas. Warning bells ring in my head.

OK. Many (many) of my friends like Dr. Sears. They find what he’s saying to fit their needs as a parent. I am glad they have found something that works for them. Please, if you are reading this, know that I am. I have seen your parenting style, and you are firm and affectionate, and I respect, appreciate, and admire that.

View from Church

But, I am a skeptic. A self-identified Catholic, I don’t agree with the church on many things (Hello? Women? Priests should be defrocked for thinking of ordaining one of us? Seriously, get with the times). And, I get really skeptical when another human is held up on a pedestal where upon he cannot be struck down – well – I get really skeptical.

AttachmentParenting.org has my skepticism on their FAQ. Remember my frustration in Momma Bear? When parents don’t do anything to “teach” their children that a behavior is wrong? Attachment Parenting apparently advocates this approach when addressing toddlers who hit:

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you let him hit other kids. By remaining close by and engaged in his play, you will often be able to intervene before your son lashes out at another child. In the event that he does hit another child, you can model empathy and issue an apology to set the example for him. You can help your son put his feelings into words and continue to work with him on sharing (or “taking turns,” which is sometimes an easier concept to understand). By staying calm and comforting his distress, you help regulate his emotions and model empathetic behavior.

Frequently Asked Questions 3rd Principle: Respond with Sensitivity, Attachment Parenting International

As an adult, I have difficulty expressing how I feel to many, including my closest loved ones. I have always been this way, although I am closest to my mother and my sister whereby my difficulties are lessened dramatically. I trust them, implicitly, even if I don’t agree with their decisions or advices for me. For others, I generally start off guarded and slowly get to know folks, treading carefully to see if I can fully trust someone. My mother was an authoritative parent. She was raised by authoritative parents. My husband is an authoritative parent who was also raised by authoritative parents. Part and parcel of being authoritative, from how we were raised, was being shown consequences for our actions. The simple idea behind this philosophy was to get us to think before we acted. If we pushed our siblings we likely would have been spanked and/or had something taken away, a favorite toy, to show there is a consequence for our action. Again, the idea being that repeated demonstrations of actions and their consequences would lead us to think before speeding, for example, as a young teenage driver. We would have been told as we got older that speeding could lead to reckless driving which could lead to death. Our deaths would cause sadness and grief for our families, so please think before putting the pedal to the metal.

The above example is a demonstration of articulating feelings. While I appreciate the attempt, it is short sighted and one sided. It only asks the hitter, the child acting out, to display his feelings. It says nothing of the child being hit. The child being hit only receives a half hearted apology because how sensitive are those 2 year olds (yes, I have met some who have genuine, real feelings, but many seem quite underdeveloped).

This half-hearted parenting actually does a disservice to our children. This type of parenting is the type of parenting teachers complain about when they get into schools. First, the parent modeled the apology but didn’t ask the child to respond. This would only teach the child that their parents will fix their problems for them, which is the problem many of my teacher friends complain about. The child received a poor grade, for example, on a test because they goofed off in class and didn’t pay attention. The consequence for their action was the poor grade. The angry parent demands the grade be fixed because their child couldn’t possibly have received a poor grade.

This example highlights my skepticism of attachment parentings. It sounds like cuddling without the consequences. If we just cuddle, everything will be all right. Well, you may have a nice time cuddling with your child, but my kiddo was just pushed by your attached child.

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Good Enough

Upper Peninsula of Michigan
Image via Wikipedia

“You should control your kid.” I said this. To my uncle. I was 10 talking about his 6 year old. My mother took me aside and strongly scolded me, “You never tell someone how to parent their kids.” That stuck with me, to this day. So, much so that I am embarrassed to write about my behavior as a 10-year-old. But, I am writing in reflection… in understanding what it’s like to be a parent as a parent.

My mother often says to me in our phone chats when I explain how I’m doing something differently that it’s my right as a parent to correct those things I view as mistakes. She reminds me that Levi will have the ability to do the same. To me, the point is to make “new and different and more interesting mistakes” so that Levi can in turn make “new and different and more interesting mistakes” with any offspring he may have. That’s evolution in a nutshell, isn’t it?

So, I criticized my uncle for his imperfect parenting. Now-a-days it seems we have so many parents really trying to right the mistakes their parents made, but some advice, it seems, borders on attempting perfection. Why are we trying for perfection, though? Don’t we know we’re not perfect? We can’t do it all at once, so why do we burn ourselves out trying? This is a struggle for me in many avenues, so I’m not trying to question folks who do try to be better, I certainly do daily. But, when do we realize our boundaries in parenting? When do we say, “You know, this has to be good enough.”

Sure, we want our kids to grow up and be bright, polite, well read, educated, with the ability to follow their hearts, implement boundaries, stay safe, explore, be courageous, compassionate, generous, thrifty… but it doesn’t all come when they are 3 years old. We’re always learning, turning to our parents and friends for counsel and advice… why wouldn’t our kids do that to?

Upper Falls, Tahquamenon Falls State Park, Mic...
Image via Wikipedia

There are some different methods of parenting out there. In fact, folks have written books on them. Several years ago (12-15), I was visiting my relatives in the good ole U.P. (Yooper land, the Upper Peninsula, Michigan), and I was chatting with one of my aunts. She made the comment to ignore the magazines and baby books and encouraged forging your own path. I’m not sure I could do this entirely because I have found some books to be very helpful. For example, I wouldn’t have had a clue what milestones were if it weren’t for the USDA nutrition/health pamphlets I received before Levi was born (likely because we were on W.I.C.). I don’t know what I would have done, though, if all I had read encouraged breast feeding when breast feeding wasn’t working for me. I was uninsured, even if Levi wasn’t, so going to a Lactation Consultant wasn’t something I was going to do because we couldn’t afford any out of pocket expenses. I didn’t find out until 6 months after we went on formula that it was likely my Grave’s Disease telling my body to take the proteins that would have otherwise been in the breast milk and keep them for my own use.

Levi likely suffered failure to thrive because I was adamant to breast feed. Breast is Best as they say. While that may be true for many, what happens when mom is so sleep deprived the irritability, memory loss/forgetfulness overwhelm the days? So, a trip home, and another aunt who recognized the kiddo wasn’t sleeping, suggested formula. And he ate. And we didn’t fight. And it wasn’t a sob fest of frustration. And he started to sleep, but not completely.

A friend suggested a “Low-Cry” method. A method where you let the small one cry in increments before soothing, starting with one minute and increasing one minute a day until the small one can fall asleep on his/her own. I know we’ve been blessed with a child with a decent temperament, but this method is one of the reasons people say, “He’s asleep? Through all this noise?” I also had the story of my youngest maternal uncle, when as a sleeping infant my grandmother encouraged noise making to ensure the kiddo could sleep.

Good enough, not perfect. No thank you parenting magazines, I’d rather have conversations with my friends and family to trade stories of what worked and what doesn’t. Trying to take care of my basic needs so not everything is put aside to others, including sleep to achieve some semblance of balance where irritability doesn’t cloud our days so Levi can grow up to be all that he can be.

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Momma Bear

The Bear watches cub
Image by Ranger Gord via Flickr

“Stop! Stop! Stop pushing my kid!” I yelled, as I sprang from the picnic table and ran to my diapered Levi playing on the concrete splash pad at a park for a friend’s birthday. The mother of the similar-aged boy (to my 3 year old) came over with an infant on her hip. She defended herself that she was watching him. She encouraged the boy to use his words. I actually don’t remember what I said after that. I explained the situation, where she again said she was watching. What was clear to me now: my sensitive 3 year old is upset because he was pushed and the mother of the pushing kid was upset that I yelled at her child.

I am not sorry I yelled at her child. I’m not shaking anymore. I’m not about to cry. I don’t have the emotional aftershocks of a stressful situation. This was almost 4 hours ago now. Levi was fine afterwards, the other kid is fine too. The mother, I’m not sure. I’d feel a little sad if she is angry with me, but alas that’s her choice. I am not sorry for yelling because my primary duty is to take care of my son.

Growing up is hard. We’re not done until we die. It amazes me all these lessons we learn and relearn, especially, as parents. Sharing, for example. We teach our kids to share. The pushing kid was playing with a fire-hose-sprayer-thing and Levi touched it when the pushy kid responded by not sharing and pushing Levi. So, both kids need further lessons on sharing. She kept saying that she saw what was going on, but the conversation didn’t progress further than that. There was no discussion on sharing, for either of them. Just a look and a word to see if the Levi was okay. What is really interesting is that she didn’t want to use her words with me while teaching her son how to use his.

So, the kids need a lesson in sharing. But, what have we learned as adults? In our house, we have three phones, two computers, and two cars. Why? Because ultimately, we can’t share. My husband likes to look at his certain websites, and I like to look at mine. Instead of talking about some schedule to share the same desk space, I use the laptop while he’s on the desktop, and I fantasize about the day when I can have my own office space instead of this shared office/laundry room.

So, as adults we never really learned to share like our parents told us. And, now we find it difficult to teach our children. Gone are the days, too, where spanking was okay. Lord, how many times did my mother yank my arm when I was disobedient? My grandfather spanked us, my cousins, his children, when we misbehaved. I’ve heard that psychologists even recognize that spanking is okay for toddlers because sometimes the kid needs to be snapped out of the rut they are in.

Levi doesn’t listen well. He’s 3. I don’t expect many 3 year olds to listen well. So, if they don’t listen well, what are we really teaching them when we say, often, “Use your words.” Something about this bugs me. Levi has the hardest time expressing, in words, when something is wrong. Again, he doesn’t listen well, he’s 3. The pushy kid didn’t say anything about wanting to be the only one on the fire hose contraption. A few weeks ago, while Levi was playing with a different boy, he was playing with this boy’s toys when the child did say, “Don’t play with my toy.” When Levi didn’t listen, the other boy reacted by slapping Levi. The other mother responded, immediately, focusing on the use of words again. To me, this is a sort of culture shock when we only focus on words.

If I had done that when I was a child, my mother would have swatted my ass so fast I wouldn’t have known what was coming. And, you know what? I would have learned that was wrong. Yes, you heard right. I would have stopped thinking about my toys being used and concentrated on my burning butt. I would have refocused my anger towards my mother for spanking me. I would have stopped. As an adult, I don’t think the potential violent act of spanking is the same as the violence of slapping. It is a tool used to get children who don’t listen to stop. It’s a tool to use when talking doesn’t work.

What does this talking do when people don’t listen? My vote is nothing. How Levi reacts when I use words and encourage him to use words is that he hasn’t learned anything. It’s clear to me he hasn’t learned a lesson when there is no remorse, no apology, and only avoidance. I’m not saying we should stop encouraging kids to use words, but they need something else too. They need something teach them to listen.

One thing that came to me today with the park incident was how much my pacifist dreams have changed. I hate war. I hate that we go to war. I hate that we feel, as a society, that it’s necessary to bomb someone to get them to change their mind. It’s not a glorified spanking because people die. But, I’m not a pacifist either. When momma bear comes out, I want to throw something, scream, yell, something. Maybe even slap someone across the face.

I don’t resort to violence, though. I have self control. I have learned self control. So, I keep the violence in and use my words. I use my words to process. Yes, you heard that right too. I was a child who was spanked who learned how to use my words.

The bottom line is that parenting is hard and everyone has different ideas of what a good parent looks like. We all want our kids to grow up and learn to share and be better at it than we are, because we recognize with our two computers and multiple phones and cars that we have a lot to learn. Evolution again, eh? For our kids to evolve better than us and share better and be better and be kinder than we are.

I was very thankful that the pushing-kid-incident happened during the birthday party because I was able to process in safe company. No, I didn’t get the cry out, but that’s okay. It was supplanted with laughter and silly conversation. I hope the other mother is okay. I hope she has understanding to why I yelled. I know she had a little momma bear come out too. (Hell, I would, someone yelling at my kid?) Maybe we can both suppress our momma bears in a more constructive manner when this happens again. Maybe we can improve evolution further and learn the lessons we’re trying to teach our kids: teach them to share and use their words by sharing and using ours.

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Balance – What’s That?

Illustrated Proverb: Balancing elephant with cat
Image via Wikipedia

So, what does a “balancing act” mean to me, anyway? Why the name change? I’ve had several names for this collection of thoughts, and none seemed quite right. I’ve had separate blogs for separate thoughts, merged, and separated again. I’ve written in journals, on my computer, and for all the public to see. The constant theme is how I make sense of the world, and that theme has evolved to balance.

In my “why“, I detail how I remember my thought processes changing and evolving over time. Family and the environment have been core priorities for me, my whole life. As one who doesn’t “make friends” easily, my family has been the constant in my life. The Farm has been the overarching constant and will always be my true home. My Aunt Betsy put voice to my environmental passions back when I was in 5th grade by gifting me and my siblings 50 Ways You Can Safe the Earth. The following year she gifted, only, me a short biography on Winnie Mandela, Nelson Mandela‘s then wife. Family, environment, and social justice clear passions from the beginning. Top those books on my reading list to the facts of life: a receiver of free or reduced lunch, a renter my entire life because my parents couldn’t afford to buy, the product of divorced parents. The passions of life have been central to my life.

Now, I’m a 30-something mother of a 3 year old with a 4 year old marriage. In between those changes I finally received my degree. So, what’s supposed to happen after you get that degree? You’re supposed to take what you learned and apply it to the world at large. To society at large. Funny thing happened in 2008. The market crashed. I walked in August, and we recall the Wall Street debacle in September, right? I tried for 6 months to find a job on my own, but was unsuccessful. So, in January 2009 I went back to what’s previously worked for me: Staffing Services. I had a few jobs through February. It was surprising to me how great it was to get out of the house. In March, I landed a longer term temp job to help a non-profit finish out their quarter. The job ended a month early. This was fine because Peter ended up getting into the apprenticeship and working days. A day shift meant we needed daycare. Levi loved being in daycare, but I didn’t enjoy his mood when we got home. He was crabby and expected the same level of stimulation he received while in daycare. It made me feel like an incompetent parent. Now, the jobs I was able to accept had to be at a higher pay-rate. The wage I received during the longterm job was $12/hour – an average starting wage for many of the interesting jobs I see now. But, $12/hr pays for me to work. It is enough money to pay for me to be out of the house because that’s how much it cost to put Levi in daycare.

The last year has been trying to strike a balance between what I think I should do and what I have to do. I have to take care of Levi. As a mother, he is my first priority. My immediate family is my second priority. Some would argue that I should put myself first because if my needs aren’t met then my family’s needs can’t be met. So, that’s what my writing is about. Balance. Finding that balance between self-centered gratification and what my family needs and where my passions drive me. Money balancing has always been a challenge to me. Putting a family spin on it makes it new, and sometimes exciting, but more often frustrating. The Environment, our stewardship of it, our respect of it… that’s a very tricky balancing act. For example, I enjoy being a meat eater, but we need to balance what we can afford with the best-tasting organic, grassfed option available.

So, this blog is about balance. How I try to reconcile my beliefs and passions with everyday realities. And that’s why it went from “My view, my family, my life” to “The (Green) Life We Live” to “One Mom’s Balancing Act.” It’s not just about family. It’s not just about green things. It’s not just about my views. It’s about how all the myriad of things intertwine everyday and how I find my place in it.

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