Today, I’m writing to share that I’m entering an indefinite sabbatical to move more deeply into personal healing and conscious parenting. Eventually, I’ll be back in touch, but I’m not sure when or in what form. Creating space to heal and become more congruent in what I feel so passionate about in the first place will help me discern how best I can serve others. As this year comes to an end, and much feels uncertain, here are some thoughts I’ve been pondering, as well as an offer of a refund if you purchased access to Force Free Parenting. Thank you for supporting me in this work and for your continued efforts in your own hearts, homes and the world.
Darkness has definitely been part of my experience these last few months, in part due to the uncomfortable nature of domestic violence and marital discord, and likely just as much (if not more) my own inner discord about where I am at in life and what I’m here to do. How can I actually heal and serve, in meaningful and lasting ways? How can I fully embrace and fulfill my mothering role, while nurturing my own soul? Sometimes it feels challenging to separate my shadow from those around me, and yet it is so vital to work on because without precision of perception we are potentially left in a sea of confusion, whether mild, severe or somewhere in between.
One area of life that has really been in my face is the notion of force free parenting. A notion that came to me years ago, one I have been working fervently toward with all of my heart and mind. What a lofty ideal, how conscious and wonderful such a notion may seem. *sarcasm intended* However, as I’ve alluded to before, this notion is in no way easy, and sometimes even I wonder if it is attainable.
Especially as a mom solo parenting five children, with anxiety laced PTSD from multiple abusive experiences. Children have their own share of anxiety, fear and other strong feelings, which we all probably have right now, but also because of what they’ve personally experienced. Strong feelings often lead to force, yet they originate in power (or thwarted power as the case my be). Stepping within ourselves in such moments to access and utilize power in a mature, healthy way takes great strength and courage. We may fail, and have to try again, and again.
I know I do, I am. And to be honest, I want to give up sometimes. But when I feel this way, despair descends upon me because I decided long ago that the alternative is no longer an option for me. I don’t really want to give up; I just feel powerless at times. So instead of moving in that direction, sadness sets in. Sadness that I haven’t reached some point of perfection or consciousness that makes this all easy (not sure where I got the idea that such attainment is possible or needed, or that it ever would be, but it would likely be helpful to let that go when I’m ready). Sadness that all isn’t well, and it may not be and that I may need to learn how to be okay with where I am, where my kids are, where we all are in the world, today, tomorrow, next week, next year, in ten, twenty or fifty years. Sadness that mistakes can be so painful and that my ideal of parenting may not be attainable in this lifetime, at least not for me.
Feels a lot like depression at times, which I’ve been looking at and working to meet in various ways as well. Therapy helps.
Over the last month there’s a thought that’s been coming to my mind. Maybe I can’t live up to the ideals of force free parenting. Maybe I shouldn’t even write the book. Maybe I should take it off my plate entirely, apologize to everyone who found meaning in the idea and set it aside. Offer refunds, call it good.
Except for this… A little before that thought started tinkering around in my mind, I read through what I previously wrote in the book and I felt inspired. I felt like, “Oh my goodness, I want this woman who started this book to finish it so I can read it and apply it to my life.” I chuckle as I write that because of course, this woman is me. And at the same time I am still growing, learning, implementing and experiencing life challenges which bring to the forefront the fact that I do not live an integrated force free parenting experience. That I am continually challenged each day to really figure out how to have clear boundaries and live in integrity and collaboration with my children. And to honor the fact that they are children, they’re growing and they may not be as interested or invested in collaboration as I am at this time because of their own developmental levels, perceptions and experiences of being human.
So in the midst of this uncertainty, I’ve been reflecting on what I do feel like I know about force and force free parenting.
Physical punishment is harmful and unnecessary. Even though one of my kids said to me once, “If we had just been spanked, at least we would know where the line is,” my conclusion is still that it’s harmful and unnecessary. Along with fifty years of research to back me up, I gave it some thoughtful pondering because I did spank my first child — and I found it wrong. It did not help. It did not help her, it did not help me; it made everything worse. Spanking degraded our connection and also affected my son, my second child because he saw me do it, he saw me act out in anger and hurt his sister with those spankings. As a sensitive little one that impacted him deeply. So there’s no question in my mind that physical punishment is harmful and unnecessary.
The notion of punishment itself, the intent to harm or shame (outlined more in the ways to discipline article), is harmful and unnecessary. It detracts from our potential as human beings, placing the focus on shame and utilizes that as a tool to deter instead of acknowledging a person’s potential, the misstep, reminding, redirecting, exploring and problem solving, to really help and facilitate an inner transformation such that they are intrinsically motivated to do something else.
Early on in my parenting experience I read a parenting book that said parents should use pain to teach because pain is a valuable human experience and we’d be missing something if we didn’t use it to teach our children. I have really reflected on this over the years because that author is not alone. Many people feel this way, even if they wrestle with its validity. Cruelty is all around us; shouldn’t we be toughening up our kids? But I continually find that inflicting pain is not an effective method of truly teaching children, nor does it help any of us grow. I’ve tried it over and over again throughout my mothering, not because I intend to hurt my children, but because such behavior was and is modeled to me in a culture built on shame — and I’m still learning to change these patterns of response.
When my first child was little I tried it with spankings. As I transitioned away from spanking, I tried it as taking away privileges, being critical and pointing out faults. As I continue to transition to collaborative, respectful, force free parenting, I create pain for my children when I can’t sit with my own pain, because it comes out on them with my words, tone and less than helpful communication.
While pain can be a very informative teacher, when we perpetuate a power hierarchy domination cycle between human beings we feed the root of most (if not all) of our evils and most of our problems as a species. While pain may initiate or be a part of learning, I don’t think that instilling it upon each other or parents instilling it upon children is helpful in the short term, or long run. It still gives me a very sick feeling in my body and I feel like there are viable alternatives. Not only do I feel this way, I’ve experienced it enough times to know that it is true for me and my family.
As I ponder these two aspects that feel pretty solid inside of me, what do I know other than this ? I feel like I agree with the notion that the connection between two people, the relationship, is at the heart of whether a person is going to want to cooperate or collaborate — and there are so many factors which influence the connection. We’re all human, there’s no perfect parent, there’s no perfect child. Actually I don’t even like the idea of perfect because perfect in itself is imperfect really. Everyone’s notion of it is going to be different so it’s like some ideal that people are aspiring to and yet there’s no set definition of what it is, what it looks like or how it is in practicality.
What I mean by this is that we are all unique. We all experience things uniquely, our emotions, our responses to certain things, kids and adults alike, parents have generational trauma and conditioning from the ways we were brought up, etc. As I ponder that truth, I feel like sometimes I get stuck in the fact that I can’t just instantly go, “Oh, the connection and relationship are it, now I’ll move into force free parenting and it’s going to be peachy.” It’s not always instant, and it’s not always peachy. Sometimes it’s nowhere near peachy. Sometimes it’s harmonious. Sometimes it feels like we’ve really hit a groove, but a lot of times it feels like, “Man, this is a hard work in progress and I’m still learning. I just hope that my kids make it to adulthood feeling like their mom does everything she can to be a person of integrity, a person who admits her wrongs, makes amends and work towards collaboration and the respectful treatment of human beings”.
We’ve experienced trauma. I have my own baggage and had my own baggage before I ever became a mom, before I ever got married the first time and brought some with me the second time. My kids have their own unique story and experience of everything we’ve lived together. Now that I have teenagers I can really just see the error of my ways. Some of them are punishment related; that was definitely an error of my ways. That has not helped, ever, and there are still times I feel moved to remove privileges, clamp down, create restrictions and sometimes this might be appropriate and a related consequence to the issue that’s on the table. At the same time, is it strengthening our connection and growth? Likely depends on how it’s approached.
Underneath it all, I feel like my own inability to clarify, communicate and uphold clear, consistent, strong boundaries has been at the heart of my parenting woes from the beginning. And I’m still learning. My oldest is 16. The kids know I don’t play on some things. For those things, I’m clear, but that still leaves a lot of other opportunities for clarity. My thirteen year old son was the one who said he wished they had a clear indication of where “the line” is. As I really reflect on how am I communicating to them, how am I conveying where “the line” is, it brings to the surface the importance of clear boundaries. We talked about indicators of “the line”, aka boundaries, and we talked about a stern voice, directives – do this, don’t do this. Those are lines and when people wait and push and go beyond them, conflict results.
When this happens, force can arise and it may circumvent or interfere with utilizing our power intentionally. Force can originate as a genuine protective instinct of ourselves or others, and then transfer into an aggressive action or when we feel we are superior to another it can manifest as a dominant aggressive action. As parents, protection is part of our role and function. There’s no doubt that if we didn’t have some sort of protective instinct towards our children then in some instances they would not survive. We don’t want to turn our instincts off; but we can benefit from being aware of them and how they move within us. I’m really noticing and exploring in myself the difference between those forceful mechanisms we have as human beings and being able to dive deeper into the essence of the presence that we are, which does not move with force, that naturally moves with power and does not need aggression to influence change and harmony.
With all of this, what I’m really trying to share here with you, is that I want Force Free Parenting written. I want this to be a way of life we can actually share with our children. I want to live it with my children, consistently. I’m struggling, but I’m still committed. I realize there are others who write and advocate about this way of parenting, some who have it down more than I do. I am genuinely grateful for them and continue to learn from what they are sharing. Sometimes I wonder if what I have to share is really needed, and yet the nudge to eventually write (and live) this book still burns within me. Somehow what I feel moved to share may be of benefit to mix in with the rest, a voice to go along with the chorus of voices advocating for the end of the oppression of children and the stability of adult child interactions everywhere. While I don’t know if this book will actually ever come into being any more than it is right now, I appreciate any support you can extend in its living completion and application in the lives which it touches.
For now, if you are one of the handful of people who previously purchased access to the book, I am offering refunds through the end of December 2016 because I don’t know for sure when/if it will be completed. Please contact me with the email you purchased with and I’ll refund your money. When/if I decide to open the book back up for reading, it’ll be free and there will be no guarantees on the time for completion.
Thanks again and take gentle care,
Are you struggling as a parent? If so, I’d like to share something with you: a story and some hope.