Like many parents, having a child was life changing for me, and I aspired to use a peaceful parenting approach. I felt deeply blessed and wanted to honor that by connecting with my child and preventing emotionally wounding him. I had my own childhood wounds, and I was determined to have a close relationship with my son. However, I didn’t really understand clearly what that meant at the outset.
My unrealistic vision resulted in my being really hard on myself as a parent sometimes, and so I thought that sharing some of my insights might help you to be gentle with yourself. Here are a few examples of what I believe it is, and what it isn’t.
Without realizing it, I subconsciously believed that peaceful parenting would be:
- Connected 100% of the time
- Without conflict, nor is it peaceful every moment.
- Without out-of-control behavior at times–every single family has stressful situations in which chaos or conflict show up.
- A “yell free” zone in which you never “lose it” as the parent.
It wasn’t true!
That doesn’t mean that you won’t do your best to avoid these situations by using a connected parenting approach. Rather, it means that when you come up against these situations, you take steps as a leader in the family to regulate yourself, repair if needed, and reconnect.
Peaceful parenting truths
I learned a much more realistic view of what peaceful parenting is through my experience. It is:
- Focusing on connecting over behavior change (unless safety is an issue in the moment).
- Focusing on intention/need, even when your child’s behavior is inappropriate or out of control.
- Learning some skills for practicing calming and regulating your own nervous system so you can stay grounded and centered, when possible.
- Learning to repair, because no one stays calm 100% of the time
- Doing your best to speak calmly, when you’re able (and repairing when you misstep)
- A process in which you help your child regulate themselves repeatedly, many many times, as they learn to regulate themselves by co-regulating with you. Behavior change follows as a result.
- Doing your own healing work when needed (see more below).
I’ll emphasize that it’s doing your best to do the above practices–no one ever does this all the time. And when you slip up, learning the skill of repair is valuable for your relationship and also a great skill to teach your kids when you role model it.
Healing work is often needed
When you find yourself in a situation that keeps repeating itself, that’s the place where the two approaches meet and bump up against each other–authoritarian and connected. On the one hand, the imprint of your past experiences (and trauma) is influencing your parenting behavior, and often is operating below your conscious awareness when your reactivity gets triggered. The influence of that imprint is coming up against your current desire for the type of relationship you want to have with your child. Learning connected parenting is a practice, and this is the place where you practice compassion (first for yourself), level up your ability to attune to your child and use new strategies, and do your healing work if needed.
These repeating situations where you’re stuck (maybe you can’t connect, or your child’s behavior isn’t changing and you’re reacting intensely) ➡️ they’re often an indication that something from your past experience is being triggered. It’s your opportunity to heal some part of your intergenerational trauma. And when you do the work, both you and your child will grow and heal.
What if I still use consequences sometimes when my child doesn’t behave?
You’re not alone.
Because this process of learning peaceful parenting is inherently “messy”, in that sometimes a new strategy or approach doesn’t change things immediately–there’s likely to be some “in between” time where you use consequences or parenting strategies that aren’t connected in an urgent or desperate effort to shift your child’s behavior. I get it. I’ve been there. It’s a temporary measure, and sometimes it’s the only thing available to get you out of an intolerable or unsafe situation.
However, my observation is that using consequences with your sensitive spirited child over the long run can fracture your relationship and also contribute to their repressing their feelings. In situations where I’ve felt I have no choice but to use consequences, I’ve made the best decision I could in-the-moment that was aligned with my values, even if it wasn’t connected–it served a purpose at that time. However, then I returned to doing my own reflections and healing work. I kept practicing and leveling up my ability to connect.
The bigger picture
When you’re stuck in a repeating pattern and having difficulty understanding what your child needs, your earlier life experiences and their memory imprint in your subconscious are interfering with your ability to attune to your child and understand their needs. Every time you resolve a past trauma, your ability to attune to your child grows.
Strategies are important and can help you make huge changes; attunement enables you to connect, and modify strategies to more precisely understand your child’s needs and meet them.
My understanding of this has been a long time in the making and continues to deepen. The great treasure in this approach is that it’s not about fixing a problem. It’s a journey of making long term changes that last a lifetime.
*Image Credit: Nathan Dumlao, Unsplash