3 Tools to Leverage Parenting as a Spiritual Path

img_9649Raising children is hard work. It’s deeply trying, physically and emotionally. Many studies have confirmed the drudgery of parenting, finding that the work itself is more tiring than chores or paid work . For those of us who have little ones, whether we care for them all week long or after hours, that’s no mystery.

Parenting is an all-in occupation, with every bit of us being needed for the job, including those parts of us we’d rather forget about. Parenting pushes all of our buttons on purpose. It’s our second chance to dig up and heal all of those old traumas we’ve buried. And depending upon how many kids we have, it’s also our 3rd chance, 4th chance etc. Because with each new character in our brood those feelings emerge as freshly as we experienced them in childhood.

How do you react when you hear your child screaming? It hits you deep down, right? And you’d do anything to make it stop. And that’s by design. By observing how you handle that feeling, and your reaction to your child as they get bigger and push your buttons, we get a unique window into our own childhood, into our parents’ experience, and theirs before them.

We are the inheritors of a unique legacy. All of us come out of childhood with some form of baggage. And we spend an outsize amount of our lives burying it so that we can “function normally”. But normal functioning isn’t dancing on top of a garbage mound and pretending we’re at a beauty pageant. It’s digging down and finding out who we are under all that garbage. It’s allowing and even welcoming all the experiences of life, and all the messy emotions that come with them. And if we have children, we’ve signed up for the messiest of those duties.

Childcare is physically challenging, but as babies turn into children, we find that the emotional challenges feel far more difficult than those early months when our bodies ached from constant carrying and personal hygiene fell low on our priority list.

Parenthood holds up a huge mirror that helps us see our stuffed feelings, our ideas about what’s wrong with us and our beliefs about who it’s acceptable to be in the world. Dealing with that gracefully is difficult on a good day, much less when your charge has smeared peanut butter in your hair and peed on the carpet.

3 ideas to get you through.

1. Laugh. A sense of humor can get you through just about anything. Another benefit is that laughter is healing, in that it lets us release tension and it tells our brain to celebrate. And celebrating is definitely the correct response to useful information that will help you to free your inner child so that you can actually enjoy watching your kid splash in the puddles while wearing her sneakers. or better yet, join in!

2. Take notes. I know it’s difficult to find time to journal when you have a kid, but some of us somehow find ways to send texts. So text yourself when you notice a pattern, when you’ve caught a glimpse of yourself (good bad or ugly) or when you find something you’d like to ponder later. These truths about ourselves are gems, and it’s worth taking a few minutes to jot it down if you can.

3. Roll with it. Yes it’s difficult. And it’s hysterical. And it’s sad. And every other emotion you can imagine. When we open ourselves to our inner experience, as we’ve detailed in the Flow chapter of The Other Baby Book, we can be present to what’s happening in this moment with our child, which is all there ever is.

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Miriam KatzMiriam J. Katz is co-author of The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year, where you can find a guide to safe co-sleeping and other fun tools. Miriam is an intuitive life coach whose passion is to help others overcome obstacles to living their life purpose. She lives in Boston with her husband and two children.

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Creating space to “hold” your child’s emotion

holding a sacred space for our childrenAs any parent knows, the size of a person’s emotions has nothing to do with the size of his body.

Babies and toddlers stretch us emotionally by confronting us with feelings that we’ve been taught to dismiss, ignore, or stuff down to get by in Western societies. After all, it wouldn’t be cool for an adult to throw a temper tantrum in a mall or at the supermarket.

To avoid the squashing of emotion, we parents are taught to validate their children’s emotions – giving the feelings names, and letting the kid know it’s okay to feel the way he feels. This is a powerful tool for helping a child navigate the world, and knowing he’s got someone in his corner.

The tool we’ll explore today takes that validation a step further, and it doesn’t necessarily involve words. It’s also incredibly healing to the adult who can pull it off. And I speak from experience, though I’ve only pulled it off once.

By way of introduction, we’ll start with a metaphor. A great Kabbalistic teacher once illustrated the principle of receptivity (which is what Kabbalah means, by the way) by handing an apple to his disciple. The disciple reached out to take the apple. Again and again the teacher reached out with the apple, and pulled it away when the disciple went to take it. Frustrated, the disciple looked to his peers. “Don’t take it,” they advised. “Accept it.” The disciple breathed out his confusion and curved his palm up into a bowl, and his teacher dropped the apple into his outstretched hand.

When babies have big emotions, it can be trying for their parents, who are often emotionally invested in their child’s happiness. We come at them with anxiety, frustration, the agenda of solving their problem, and sometimes even anger at the disruption.

To become receptive, we must hollow our feelings out like the outstretched hand of a student. That doesn’t mean ignoring or banning our feelings and perspectives, but accepting them, then letting them be. We approach our child with the intention to accept his feelings – to make a sacred space for our child and all the feelings inside him, and to hold them lovingly inside ourselves.

By creating that internal space, a space of non-judgement, non-striving – a vacuum really, we are becoming a bit more like God, the creator, the universe, or whatever you want to call it. Not only are we accepting everything that our child has to give us, we are embracing it. Through that act of unconditional love and support, we are able to connect on a profound level – not only to our child, but to ourselves and to that something greater.

There are few paths that offer the depth of testing, learning and personal growth than parenting. It can either be a struggle, or it can be a joy (and for most of us, it’s both). By reaching in deeply and letting our child know he’s okay – not only okay, but that every part of him is completely, deeply lovable – we channel more love into the world, and into ourselves. Parenting can heal our wounds, and it can help us to heal this deeply troubled world, one moment at a time.

7 Positive Parenting Resolutions for the New Year

Happy New Year!Like most parents, I have resolved to be the best parent I can be. And for me, that means integrating proven best practices as I come across them, incorporating them into my parenting toolbelt.

The end of the year is a time when many of us start looking to the future, reflecting on the positive changes we’d like to make in our lives. In the spirit of New Year’s, I’ve consolidated my top parenting resolutions here.

1. To love unconditionally.

Most western parents today were raised using a model where we were given or withheld love based on our behavior. Our desired behavior was rewarded and undesirable behavior, punished. While this type of reinforcement is effective with animals, with whom these techniques originated, they also send our children strong messages that shape their self image and self esteem. Love is contingent upon children satisfying our expectations, we communicate.

On the contrary, when children are given unconditional approval, which can be expressed through the absence of praise and punishment, they learn that – at their core – they are loved. Conversations about acceptable behavior can take place without communicating to a child that they are “good” or bad”.

2. To validate emotions and experience.

Little children experience big feelings. If adults can be overwhelmed by strong emotion, imagine the experience of a child who has no coping tools and very little power.

We can help children move through the turbulence of emotion by naming and validating their emotions. By making their emotions both relatable and acceptable, we give our children a safe space within which to grow. “You’re feeling angry because Johnny took the ball away from you,” we might say after witnessing our toddler’s rage. Offering to hold your child or speaking together to Johnny about the incident may help the child work through their feelings.

3. To instruct using positive language.

As newbies to our world, children have tons to learn about appropriate social behavior. The word “no” in isolation is minimally instructive, as it provides no actionable information about what is desirable. Spoken over and over to a baby or toddler – or teenager for that matter – it can evoke strong frustration.

Practical information about what is acceptable maximizes support while minimizing frustration. “Food is for eating, balls are for throwing,” can be a helpful response to a child who throws his food. While challenging at first, aspiring to reduce or eliminate the use of the word “no” can be a powerful tool for parents. A child’s boundaries can be set even more powerfully when the realm of acceptable behavior is clearly defined.

4. To model what I wish to elicit.

Children learn by watching what we do, not by listening to what we say. While it’s tempting to demand respect from our children, one of the most productive – and fulfilling – ways to elicit respect is by extending it to them. Using polite language like please and thank you, responding to their requests with love and understanding – especially when they can’t be granted – and providing a safe space for them to create and make mistakes all send powerful messages about love. When we honor our children as separate beings with equally valid preferences – keeping in mind that it’s our responsibility in advance to limit their options to those that are supportive of their healthful development – we create a mutually respectful relationship.

5. To assume the best of intentions.

Have you ever noticed how the world rises to our expectations? Expect to have a bad day, and you’ll notice the frustration of hitting an empty tank of gas. Expect to have a good day, and you’ll pay special attention when that lady lets you go ahead at the supermarket.

Children are extremely responsive to our moods and expectations. We can avoid some huge potholes by refraining from labeling our children, i.e. “she’s the smart one” or “he’s the aggressive one”. We can also do our children a huge service by assuming that they have the best of intentions. Your child wants a strong relationship with you, filled with love, affection and mutual respect. And as long as you assume the best, even when he’s pulling the cat by her tail and throwing rice across the room, you can educate and nurture in a way that preserves a loving relationship. Remember, we’re all students here. And perhaps never more so than as parents.

6. To learn from my child.

Children come into the world with a lack of inhibition that is tremendously instructive. They show no shame in asking for what they desire, and they act instantly upon their most primal instincts to meet their needs. Ever notice how young children will suddenly start running around, or singing at the top of their lungs?

While most adults have learned to repress their desires, children are in touch with their basic needs – food, love, and exercise. When your child demands attention, take a cuddle break and relish the opportunity to love and be loved. When your child declares a dance party or initiates a wrestling match, join in! These feel-good games raise your heart rate and release your natural joy. What could be better?

7. To be present.

So often, we get caught up in our thoughts or to-do lists. While we can experience a sense of temporary relief or satisfaction by making progress on standing projects, the high only goes so far. Children live the grace-filled experience of being in the moment, each and every moment. By letting our agendas go and allowing a child to draw us into his world, we experience the aliveness of living in the present moment. While we’re giving the child a gift by attentively joining his game, that gift returns to us tenfold in each moment that we’re consciously present.

This year and every year, above all, I aspire to embrace the gifts that parenthood and life have to offer. I wish the same for you, in 2013 and beyond.

What are your parenting resolutions for 2013?

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Miriam is a work from home mama who literally can’t stop kissing Dalia, her delicious 2 year old. Miriam’s other loves are her husband Misha, and her hometown of Boston. She loves reading parenting books, lunchtime yoga classes, crafting and helping others find their purpose through life coaching.

Love through the eyes of a new parent

We spend a lot of time thinking about faults. Our faults, those of people around us, our employers, politicians, even the world’s. In fact, once you start looking, you could spend a lifetime finding faults.

But finding faults makes us feel awful. It weighs us down and darkens our experience of life. Just as finding beauty boosts our experience of joy, finding faults pulls us into misery.

In fact, once we start looking at the world through a lens of joy and gratitude, we can recognize another world, hidden inside the one that we believed to be hopelessly flawed.

Once we start to recognize the light that shines from within each of us, we stand witness as it glows and flourishes, brightening the space that had been filled with shadows.

For me, motherhood was that pinnacle moment when I began to see how much light is in the world. My greatest teacher? My baby.

Babies are new to this world, possessed of an innocence that draws us right in. As we begin to bond and connect with them, we are drawn into their experience, surrounded by love and adoration. We find parts of ourselves awaken, those that yearn to nurture and nourish. We find our logical brains shutting down, bringing us into an experience of pure emotion and awe.

For me, those early days were some of the most pivotal in my life. While I didn’t recognize exactly what was happening at the time, I knew something inside was shifting, something I will be processing for the rest of this lifetime.

Parenting a newborn can provide a reset button, an opportunity to view one tiny soul as being entirely pure, and wanting to pour all of your light into them. Imagine if we shined this lens on everyone around us!

The vast majority of parents succeed in viewing their children through a lens of pure love, at least for an instant, now or then. What if we could sustain that focus in the lives of our children? What if we shined it on our spouses or companions? Our friends and families? Our coworkers? On world leaders?

The possibilities are endless. The more we approach our parenting from compassion, the more light we’re able to experience, and the more joy we have available to shine on our children. The same holds for every other relationship we have.

What if we could look past expectations, past deeds, even current behavior? What if we could see each person for the light that they bring to this world? What a beautiful world we would make.

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Miriam is a work from home mama who literally can’t stop kissing Dalia, her delicious 2 year old. Miriam’s other loves are her husband Misha, and her hometown of Boston. She loves reading parenting books, lunchtime yoga classes, crafting and helping others find their purpose through life coaching.

Gratitude – from us to you.

Gratitude is one of the most important emotions we have available to us. It has the power to crack open our hearts, allowing new levels of love to flood in.

As rookie authors, we have many people to whom we’re grateful. Our amazing family and friends, a dynamic team of committed volunteers who seek to raise awareness about natural parenting, and our supportive community of 10,000+ readers.

On this Thanksgiving day, we want to extend our gratitude to all of you and to this beautiful world that is opening minds and hearts to the incredible power of the parent-baby relationship.

As our thanks to you for joining us on this journey, please send all of your loved ones to download a Free Kindle edition of The Other Baby Book on Black Friday – November 23.

May you and yours experience joy and gratitude today and every day.
Love,
Miriam and Megan

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Megan McGrory Massaro and Miriam J. Katz are co-authors of The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year. Readers will find eight fun-to-read chapters filled with baby-friendly practices, along with stories from moms in-the-know. In a soothing and sometimes sassy voice, the authors present compelling research on topics like birth, holding your baby, breastfeeding, infant sleep, pottying babies (yes, really!), sign language, baby-led solids, and self-care for moms. The book also features contributions from leading practitioners in baby care: Dr. James McKenna, Dr. Janet Zand, Naomi Aldort, Gill Rapley, Nancy Mohrbacher, and more.

A Peek into the Past: Flowing with your baby

Breasts are a great metaphor for motherhood. Both have a clear biological purpose that was hijacked by a social agenda. The roles, expectations and definition of a mother morph over time. Since we’ve allowed a chorus of voices to influence our self-perception, now is the time to cast off others’ opinions and let our ideas rule the roost. This is our moment to consciously reclaim mothering.

Colonial American mothers epitomized the Renaissance woman. They were spinners, seamstresses, brewers, chefs, teachers, businesswomen, staff supervisors, nurses, and super-mothers who raised an average of ten children! But men were right by their side, working together to make sure life ran smoothly.

When the industrial revolution led men to work outside the house, the home became the women’s world. As household chores were handed off to machines, marketers had a field day telling mamas which products would make their lives easier.

Science entered our homes in the late 1800s. As developmental stages became the new “it” thing, moms came under increased pressure to stimulate babies’ growing minds at each phase. Sound familiar?

About a hundred years later, our great-grandmothers jumped the gun by following the untested “scientific” theories of John Watson’s arm’s length mothering.  But, as families sought emotional healing after the Great Depression, John Bowlby’s research on attachment gained ground, and experts like Spock and Brazelton followed suit with slightly more baby-centered parenting advice. Motherhood was redefined, again, and many started to see light at the end of the tunnel of infant tears.

Today, women are delaying motherhood to pursue careers – the average age of a first time mom is at an all time high of 25 – and we’re starting the journey with more life experience. Once a baby’s born, women are expected to do it all: career, marriage and motherhood – effortlessly, and often without help. A full 55% of baby mamas work full time out of the home today. Mommy wars are being fueled by media eager to sell papers, with stay-at-home-moms on one side, and working moms on the other. Balance has become a catch phrase, with all moms asking the same question – how do I do it all?

We believe that the concept of balance is misleading. The idea that a mom can effectively juggle a successful career and a healthy marriage while physically, emotionally, and intellectually nurturing her children, and still tend to her own needs, is a guilt-inducing myth.

We’d like to move beyond the ideal of balance, to flow. Flow involves riding the waves of motherhood, with its peaks of baby neediness and valleys when mom can tend to her own boat. With balance, there’s a risk of tipping over. With flow, we’re fully wherever we are in the moment, in sync with the needs of whatever wave we’re riding right now.

Where ever you are, whatever you are doing, dive right in and embrace it. Ideals and other people’s standards are of no use to you. Know your own heart, tune into your baby’s needs, and live each moment as it asks to be lived.

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This content was trimmed from the vast archive of environmental and child-friendly parenting practices detailed in The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year by Megan McGrory Massaro and Miriam J. Katz.

Parenting from the ego vs. intuition

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Gabrielle Bernstein’s newest book, May Cause Miracles

I’ve been reading an amazing book these days, Spirit Junkie by Gabrielle Bernstein. I went to summer camp with Gabby as a teenager and was thrilled to see that she’d released several wildly successful books and has been on an active speaking circuit, including on Oprah.

The main theme of Spirit Junkie is tapping into your inner guide, the source of wisdom and intuition. In order to better hear its voice, which is always speaking to us, Gabby walks readers through tools to override the voice of the ego, which is based in fear.

What types of things does the ego lead us to do? It has internalized past hurts and projects them onto current relationships in our lives, forcing us to relive our painful pasts time and again – in situations that have absolutely nothing to do with the original hurts. And for parents, it’s the source of the anger and frustration that leads us to lash out at our children.

When I look at the difference between punitive parenting and conscious parenting, I see the difference between parents who are acting from their egos and those who are listening to their inner guides. Punitive parenting comes from the belief that humans are flawed and children must be made to hurt in order to prevent them from hurting others. Sadly, being hurt is just more arsenal for the ego to bring forward and justify attacking others in the future. Conscious, or natural parenting, comes from a place of faith in humanity, a belief that children are innocent and look to us to model love and respect, and set fair limits.

All of us have experienced varying degrees of hurt in our lives – that’s part of the human experience. The big question for us is how do we process that hurt before passing it along to others. It’s easy to act from the ego – it’s the dominant voice in our minds, and it takes active, repetitive effort to take back our thought space. But for those parents who have endeavored to work on themselves in order to pass on even more love to the next generation, the journey is well worth the effort.

Conscious parenting is gaining ground, and the very best books out there, like Raising our Children, Raising Ourselves by Naomi Aldort, or Connection Parenting by Pam Leo, recognize that the most important work we can do as parents is to work on ourselves.

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Miriam is a work from home mama who literally can’t stop kissing Dalia, her delicious 2 year old. Miriam’s other loves are her husband Misha, and escaping the Boston winters with friends and family in Israel. She loves reading parenting books, lunchtime yoga classes, crafting and helping others find their purpose through life coaching.