The Experiment: 30 Days of Human
I’ve been devoted to being a peaceful and gentle parent since the moment I held my newborn girl and knew there was no way I was ever going to leave her to “cry-it-out.” I felt alone being a “softie,” and finally discovered support in the world of attachment parenting, and then in the whole philosophy of peaceful parenting.
But as time has worn on, right into the toddler and preschool years, I have become more aware of my own baggage, triggers, and tendency toward CONTROLLING and decidedly un-empathetic ways of interacting with my children.
For awhile, I have felt the dischord…the contradiction between the way I WANT to parent, and the way I DO parent. Between what I really believe about children- that they are full, wonderful human beings, and deserve to be treated as such, with our guidance and example– and what my actions tell them I believe.
I have been learning more about Non-Violent Communication, and seeing how our attempts to control one another are violence against our own humanity and the roots of the horrors we see in the news. I believe now more than ever that peace begins at home, and the way we raise our children is the most influential factor in how they will treat humanity. Parenting changes the world.
So, I am beginning a 30 Day Experiment. To jump in with both feet and overcome my habits of control and actually learn to trust my children and choose empathy… choose HUMANITY. I’m going to post each day and discuss what I”m learning and observing, both to give myself accountability and extra motivation, and to help anyone else who resonates with the idea of respectful and non-coercive parenting, but is struggling to make the leap.
What are we actually going to do differently?
Well, first of all the changes we’ll make will affect mostly my oldest because our approach to babies is already more in line with our values. My 10 month old son will hopefully be able to reap the fruits of this as he grows up, but this experiement will probably mostly center on my interactions with my daugther, who is 3.
I’m sure there will be some give and take and adjustment along the way, but here’s the general plan:
- No coercion about eating. She can eat as much or as little of the meals I provide as she feels hungry for. We believe in eating when we feel hungry, and eating what we are hungry for, so why would we not honor that in our children as well? Do we expect it “click” one day, after years and years of being forcibly taught to ignore their body’s signals? We will discuss healthy choices, and provide guidance and the example of eating good food, but allow her tastes to lead her as well. There are very few junky options available at our house, so that will help lessen the “All I want Is Carbs and Chocolate” possibility. But that may happen at first, and I am willing to go with it, so that I CAN LEARN where children’s bodies actually lead them, and I can learn who she really is.
- No arbitrarily set bedtime. I want to give her a chance to actually listen to her body. Learn to tell when she is tired. We already do this with the baby, and did when she was a baby, but as time has gone on, we’ve adopted a much more strict bedtime approach out of fear that we won’t have any time to ourselves. And honestly, I think it’s done a lot of damage to our relationship. It was kind of like a tidal wave that brought along a bunch of other opportunities to control and exert our will over hers by force, and we have yet to recover our connection. The forced separation from us (even though we come to share a family bed later in the evening) and the rush of “getting through” the bedtime routine has not been lost on her. It is impossible to foster a strong and authentic connection with a human being while you are also doing everything possible to control them and manipulate them to do what you say, as quickly as possible.
- Saying YES to requests throughout the day, as long as safety is not compromised. This is going to be the most difficult to navigate, because it comes with learning how to be a FAMILY, and communicate ALL of our needs, and find compromises. There will be times to say no, but I want to shift away from the whole day being run by MY schedule and desires, with her being pushed along and brushed over. I have developed a strong habit of NO. That is what I want to change.
- Taking the time to connect with empathy in all conflict or difficulties. When she is struggling with her brother, I want to slowwww dowwwnn and connect to find a solution, instead of just barking “Let him go!” “Give that back!” or “You need to go take time alone!” These conflicts are the second area where I feel most disconnected with my real values. Sure, I have generally avoided “punishment” in the name of peaceful parenting….but in reality, I have habitually ignored her heart, lacked empathy, and just pushed right on over her. That is not the example I want to set, and it does absolutely cost more to our relationship, as well as her cooperation, in the end.
BEHAVIOUR IS COMMUNICATION. I want to LISTEN. I want to practice genuine curiosity about what she is communicating, especially when she’s having a hard time, instead of lapsing immediately into exasperated frustration. It is painful to realize how deeply cruel that kind of interaction really is. The annoyance and lack of empathy I so often exhibit communicates the opposite of what I want and believe all human beings deserve. It is not kind. It may be “common” but it is not natural. It is not loving. And it does not foster peace or connection, nor model the kind of human I hope my little humans grow up to be.
I have already seen signs of the kinds of changes I might expect as I’ve experimented with letting go of control.
We tried a “YES DAY” earlier this week, and it was evident even in one day how much difference it made to lean IN to what my girl asked for, rather than away from it. She felt validated and seen and it showed in an obviously more cheerful demeanor. My husband noticed immediately when he got home from work. And in the evening, as I folded laundry in the living room, she came over and asked, “Can I help you, Mommy?” and began folding and putting away laundry with me totally on her own. I haven’t asked her to help me with laundry more than a few times in her whole life, and she never even seems to notice that I’m doing it! It speaks volumes that she not only saw, but wanted to engage with me and help after a day of feeling total permission to BE.
So, here we begin. We’re going all in. Because I DO believe my children are wonderful, full human beings, and I want my interactions with them to tell them so.
I have spent a lot of time on Sara’s blog trying to understand what it really means to extend this trust to children…And I highly recommend her page if you want some more clarity or ideas about what’s going on here!
Let’s see what happens – to me, to my child, to our relationship- as I learn to TRUST my children!
Check back here on the blog each day to see how things are going!