Getting to Zero

What is the process for getting to zero? What does getting to zero even mean? Let’s call zero the point of self-determination. Reaching the point of self-determination may not sound important to you now, especially if you’re young, but as more and more of my friends reach their late 50s I see them shift.

zero

I’d describe the shift as a change in focus that comes with a desire to make a contribution to the community and an impatience for the senseless. It’s a time to repeat the question, what am I going to do with my life, but from a very different point of view than that of a teenager.

At a later age, the answer to this question must align with our inner truth or it causes distress, anxiety, and activity I can best describe as flailing about. This struggle is often identified as a midlife crisis. Getting to zero early can result in a more satisfying life and prevent a state of crisis in midlife.

Why do so few of us confidently follow a path of self-determination throughout adulthood? There are many ways to get distracted by everyday necessities. We spend time doing what’s needed by our parents, children, bosses, colleagues, teammates, and friends to the degree that if feels as if there’s no time to get to zero.

Sometimes this is by subconscious design. If we reach the point of self-determination, we must then make choices. Many of us have learned to fear making choices.

Choices come with inherent accountability. If we become accountable for our own destiny, we cannot blame others for our failed plans, foibles, miscalculations, distractions, delays, or regrets. We must embrace our uncertainty, roll the dice, and do the best we can with the information we have at the time.

Sometimes we’ll choose well. Sometimes we’ll wish we had known more before we made a choice. If we have courage, we’ll be willing to learn from each experience and do better in the future.

This is the process of showing up and living with intent. It puts us at risk of living with our own decisions and any resulting guilt or shame. To do this takes resolve, courage, and strength. It also makes us feel vulnerable.

I don’t know if it’s due to our diminishing sense of community, shrinking churches, the rise of social media bullying, or aggrandization of the shallow, but we seem to have lost the connection to our core strength, our moral substance, our character. I say this collectively because it feels like a cultural shift.

I know there are individuals of great courage and character in every community. They just seem harder to find. They’re not the media sensations the badly behaved have become.

The relevant point is that you may feel alone when you begin down a vulnerable path. That doesn’t mean you won’t find support or mentoring along the way. It just means that if you wait for support to show up before you begin to live intentionally, you may never get started.

You can live a whole life of going along to get along. This will limit the positive impact you can have on your health, in your relationships, in your friends’ lives, in your neighborhood, and on the community. You simply can’t be an agent for growth, improvement, innovation, advancement, reform, or progress by going along.

Build Internal Strength
A step toward getting to zero is to build internal strength and faith in that strength. How you build strength will be an individual journey.

Begin by finding an avenue that builds your sense of having something to offer the world. Some will rely on religious faith. Some will find grit and resilience by drawing on stories of their ancestors. Some will connect to themselves through collective experiences they find in books. Some will find a community that recognizes, acknowledges, and reinforces their value.

Evaluate How You Spend Your Time
Part of living with self-determination is deciding how you will spend your time. That decision can’t be made until you know how you’re currently spending your time.

One way to get a handle on this is to keep a timesheet. I know you probably think you can just wing this, but keep track in writing for a couple of weeks and you may be surprised.

Once you see where your time is going, you can determine whether that time allotment reflects who you want to be and how you want to live your life and/or what you want for your family. Anything that is not in alignment with your values can go.

No, really…it can go. That’s such a scary idea! We find comfort and security in the routines we create. And we know our friends and family may grumble with any changes. Kindness, consideration, understanding, compassion, and sometimes concessions are important during big shifts. Nonetheless, grumbling itself should not throw you off course.

A balanced mix of work, family, self, and community leads to a feeling of meaning and contribution. If any area gets out of balance, it prevents us from being our best selves or making our greatest potential contribution.

Even self-care can be allotted too much time. I’m not saying self-care is bad. It is essential, but if most of your energy is directed toward yourself, your impact on the world will be limited.

Appropriate Time for Stillness
Once you’ve set aside activities that do not align with your values and intentions, fill some of the holes in your schedule with stillness. Breathing techniques, meditation, or somatic experiencing may help you find an avenue to stillness or they may not be available to you until you have already mastered it.

How you get there and how quickly you get there are not important, getting there is. Without stillness, it is impossible to know yourself.

Know What You Know
Once you’re internally strong and have made time for and embraced stillness, you must be willing to know what you know. This is the most difficult emotional task I’ve ever tackled. It is an unraveling of the stories we tell ourselves in order to deal with the world we have experienced.

We are all remarkably adaptable. When we are forced to endure difficult, stressful, or traumatic events early in life without adequate emotional support, we create stories that allow us to survive but do not necessarily reflect the truth of our experience.

A small child cannot bear the idea that her mother watches her boyfriend beat her because the mother values the boyfriend more than the child. Even reading that, you may excuse the mother’s behavior to some degree by reasoning that she’s probably afraid of the boyfriend. Unfortunately, she may not be afraid at all.

The mother is not afraid and she does not intervene. Ouch! That is a truth that feels unbearable, mind boggling, unreasonable, and wrong. And yet, it is the truth that her child knows on a very deep level and, simultaneously, actively avoids knowing in order to feel loved.

Being willing to know what you know means both seeing and accepting cruelty as cruelty, humiliation as humiliation, neglect as neglect, verbal abuse as verbal abuse, manipulation as manipulation, and violence as violence. Knowing what you know can change your life because it changes your story.

Knowing what you know frees you from the fiction that prevents you from making the specific choices that will serve you best, but it is not easy. Our story defines how we view ourselves. Changing that story can feel like losing our identity. But a story isn’t who you are and it can be rewritten. In this rewriting lies freedom, meaning, and redemption.

You have the power to write your own story. You just have to get to zero.

Can Yoga Help Digestion?

Can yoga help digestion? If you have an easily irritated digestive system, you may be willing to try anything. Yoga instructors often say, “This twist will wring out the internal organs and help digestion.” But is that true? Can yoga really help digestion?

The short answer is, yes!

The long answer is, of course, more involved. It’s not as simple as joining a yoga class at a local studio or “wringing out” your organs with twists. Even if you practice every day, your digestion may or may not improve. In order to experience specific medical benefits, it is best to seek out Medical Yoga Therapy.

Medical Yoga Therapy or “Yoga Chikitsa” is the dynamic state of physical and mental ease, coupled with spiritual well-being and is defined as the use of yoga practices for the prevention and potential treatment of medical conditions. It begins with an assessment from a health practitioner that includes a detailed history and physical exam.

Following the history and physical exam, a yoga prescription is designed using an individualized, personalized and holistic approach that takes into account the patient’s mind, body and spirit as well as his family, support network, work situation, and culture as part of the treatment plan. This sounds like the pinnacle of Patient and Family Centered Care!

The potential for yoga to relieve digestive problems may lie in its effect on the parasympathetic nervous system and its potential to reduce chronic inflammation. When we experience stress, our blood flow pattern changes. One of the results of this is decreased digestive system activity due to reduced blood flow. In contrast, the parasympathetic system stimulates blood flow to the digestive system. Supporting the parasympathetic nervous system through yoga can benefit this process.

Chronic inflammation can result from a state of chronic stress and slowly damage systems in the body. Yoga can change the experience of stress resulting in fewer inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein and inflammatory cytokines in the blood and increased levels of multiple immunoglobulins and natural killer cells. A regular yoga practice can also result in higher levels of the natural inflammation alleviating chemicals leptin and adiponectin.

Yoga can also facilitate restful sleep. Healing damaged systems requires energy. Supporting the body through rest and sleep changes the experience of stress while building energy reserves and restoring circadian rhythms.

All of these positive effects indicate yoga is a viable option if you’re looking for an alternative to medication to help digestion. Just know it may take more than a few simple twists.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5332914/

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/the-science-of-sleep-understanding-what-happens-when-you-sleep

Mindfulness Intentions for the New Year

Notice What Feels Good to Improve the Feeling in Your Gut

Just Stop Already!

Just stop already! It sounds like the opposite of Nike’s well-known Just Do It campaign, but is it the opposite or a necessary part of the equation?

When I was 17, I skipped my senior year in high school to attend college. During my second semester, I went to see an on-campus counselor to discuss something with which I was struggling. I vividly remember his response to my question, “What should I do?”. “Just stop!” That was it. Two words: just stop.

A few years ago I worked with a life coach in LA. Subsequently, I interviewed a North Carolina life coach for our Cooking2Thrive interview series. During the work I did with each, there were times at which they identified that I was at a “point of choice”. In other words, I was at the moment in which I had to choose one thing or another.

We all face points of choice over and over and over each and every day. Some choices are trivial. Others are life changing. None can be ignored or avoided. Not making a choice at such a point is, in fact, making a choice.

Mindful exploration can guide us to make choices in line with our aspirations, goals, and intentions. Sometimes, the best choice is to just do it and sometimes it’s better to stop already. Living a physically and emotionally healthy life will require both.

When I look back at that college experience, I still feel angry. The counselor ignored the nuance of my story. His response felt dismissive. He didn’t ask any questions to determine why I was struggling or have me follow a feeling path toward the origins of that struggle. He jumped right to advising action.

That’s where a lot of us get stuck. In order to work past the struggle, we need to feel heard. We need the tools to trust ourselves so we can work through the layers of emotion that insulate us. Until we reconnect with ourselves, we will keep repeating the same actions. We know we should just stop, we simply don’t know how.

The other night, a friend awakened me with a phone call at midnight. His emergency? He believed a fast-food worker had messed with his food. “Why do you think that,” I sleepily asked. “She always leaves the counter after taking my order. I know she’s back there messing with my food,” was his reply. He went on to explain that she does this every time and he has previously complained to her manager. Though he wouldn’t directly answer the question, I ascertained that the food has never made him sick. His question for me, “What would you do?”

Even in my sleepy state, I knew the stated problem wasn’t the real problem, but I wasn’t sufficiently motivated to get out of bed to draw out the conversation until we reached the real problem so I said, “I’d stop going there.” Just stop already.

Was that helpful of me? Yes and no. Yes, I gave him a way to prevent the worker from potentially messing with his food, but I didn’t address the underlying emotional flashback that was triggered by the fast-food worker.

I know his feeling of distrust originates from very real experiences that traumatized him. I also know that he’s following some sort of internal script that most likely recreates experiences he’s internalized, legitimizes some way that he feels, or justifies his anger. While my answer wasn’t responsive to any of that, it did offer him an avenue to disrupt his own pattern.

If you work with a life coach, they may talk about working from the outside in at the same time you are working from the inside out. Deliberately choosing a different action than you would normally choose is a way of working from the outside in. And it can be helpful because it disrupts ingrained patterns allowing you to change your experience. Perhaps that was why the particular counselor I saw in college chose a two-word response.

The problem with his approach was that there was no attempt to build a foundation of trust, connection, or understanding. There was no overall strategy in which just stop played a recurring part. I felt like he may as well have said, “Just stop talking to me.” That’s how I responded. I never spoke to him again.
do it
So how do you get to the point that most healthy lifestyle decisions become as simple as doing or not doing?

Everyone’s specific path will be different but there will be common themes that often include these priorities:
Quiet downtime. When you make time to do nothing, you have to discontinue the activities that keep you from sitting still with yourself. Just stop doing and start sitting.

Self-trust. If you have lived with trauma or in an environment of chaos you may no longer trust yourself. Bodywork like Somatic Experiencing, Tension & Trauma Release Exercises (or TRE®), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Yoga, and Tapping can help you reconnect your body and emotions.

Self-kindness. Everyone deserves kindness. Most of us are more likely to be kind to others than to ourselves. Why? Have you really done anything you wouldn’t forgive in someone else? Which brings us to…

Self-forgiveness. None of us are perfect. We all have the capacity for cruelty, recklessness, and violence. We will do things we wish we could take back. This is the state of being human. If we cannot forgive ourselves, we can never move forward.

Full feeling—being able to fully connect with your emotions, feel them and let them go. It is often the interruption of this process that keeps us stuck.

Being open to receiving. This sounds simple and pleasant. It is in itself simple, but it requires courage and intention to put down defenses, be vulnerable, and surrender if your life experience has taught you the world is not a safe place. For some of us being open feels very risky.

Gratitude. Practicing gratitude shifts your focus. Sometimes that shift is all you need to disrupt a destructive pattern of behavior. It can also be uplifting. Just do it!

Mindfulness. Some might describe this as being fully present in the moment. For me, it begins with breathing then an awareness of my body followed by an inventory of feelings. When I am mindful, all of this awareness can move and shift without judgment or meaning attached. I can simply be let it be. One of the effects is freeing myself from attaching a habitual pattern of feeling to a pain in my tummy or tension in my shoulder.

Intention. Being clear on what you intend can change the way you talk to your children, your spouse, or your mother. It can change the order in which you tackle tasks. It can direct your actions without the pressure of reaching a certain goal.

Flexibility. No matter how well you prepare, how much you plan, how much insurance you purchase, and how much energy you put into controlling your environment, life will throw you some curveballs. There will be floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, accidents, and betrayals. Being able to shift and change in response will help stave off depression.

The ability to reframe. Life is filled with change, loss, and challenge. Challenge can be reframed as opportunity, loss as an opening for something new, change as freedom to do something different. Being able to see the flip side leads to creative solutions, positive momentum, and unlimited situations in which to excel.

If you frequently recount the reasons you can’t make a change you say you want to make, just stop already. Pick one change and just do it. This can be a teeny tiny change. Then pick another one and just do it. Then assess. You may find that all of your priorities have shifted. Everything affects everything.

As for the underlying issues, with courage, commitment, and intention you can heal and move forward. Tiny changes serve to disrupt patterns leaving you an opening to experience things differently. Tiny changes can shift how you experience relationships as well. This will allow you to weed out the two-word counselor in favor of a trauma-informed yoga instructor or a reliable ally with whom you can be vulnerable.

Stopping and starting are not as much opposites as complementary parts of a whole. When you just stop something, it opens the space, time, and energy to just do something else aligned with your current values and priorities. To me, that sounds exciting!

Now, I’ll just stop already!

https://traumahealing.org/

https://traumaprevention.com/

https://www.emdr.com/what-is-emdr/

https://www.amazon.com/Overcoming-Trauma-through-Yoga-Reclaiming/dp/1556439695?creativeASIN=1556439695&linkCode=w61&imprToken=UQiJONnu34ALX5EzrOIndQ&slotNum=1

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6316206/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/mindfulness-intentions-new-year/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/page/2/?s=mindfulness

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/preparation-for-healing-managing-expectations-begins-with-setting-clear-intentions/

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Childhood Is the Time to Feel Carefree

Children benefit from boundaries, routine, and rules, but with adults shouldering life’s burdens, childhood is the time to feel carefree. Unscheduled time to lie in the grass and watch the clouds, dig in the dirt, collect rocks, catch grasshoppers, play in the water, ride bikes, play chase, and giggle, giggle, giggle fills with joy the few years kids have before responsibilities loom. Feeling the security that all needs will be met allows children to relax and play without worry.
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Carefree is a feeling that may be rare or missing from a childhood filled with adverse experiences. This understandably affects how those children view the world when they reach adulthood.

If you’ve never experienced a feeling of burden-less security, you cannot return to that feeling as a motivator when times are tough. If your environment has never felt safe, you cannot fully relax. When a period of calm is the regular prelude to disaster, “good” times bring a feeling of impending doom. When parents or caregivers did not protect and provide, you will not trust others or institutions to protect and provide.

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can create a winding road to thriving as an adult. Yes, sometimes it may feel like a spiral! Last week when I said we’d come back to the ways the ACEs study plays in the real world, I wasn’t kidding. I took a quick version of the test. I score a 4 which puts me in the high-risk category.

This came as no surprise. As of this moment, I am healthy and medication free. But I do have celiac disease which is an autoimmune disorder that must be managed. I also have emotional flashbacks and certain triggers that cause me intestinal distress, plus elevated heart rate and blood pressure. These events have become less frequent and more controllable through practicing yoga. The closest diagnosis I have found for my symptoms is complex PTSD which is not a recognized diagnosis at all.

What you call how I feel is not as important to me as having techniques to move from distress to balance and slowly, but surely healing all of those old wounds so that the triggers have nothing to trigger. I’ve made great progress along this road.

I mention this to let you know I have firsthand experience with the wounds created by adverse childhood experiences. I know how it feels to move through life braced for attack. I have often felt defective and unloveable. What I believe about myself intellectually simply can’t be squared with how I feel inside.

There is what feels like a never-ending well of sadness & grief within my solar plexus. I am not depressed, but I find it difficult to access joy. And I cannot remember ever feeling carefree!
sad
I come from a family that is well-respected in the community. A college board room bears my father’s name and a Nature Conservancy pavilion, my mother’s. My grandfather was a Shriner and county judge. Both he and my father were business owners and deacons in a Southern Baptist Church.

I was ranked #3 in my graduating class, was Junior Class President, a member of the popular girl’s social club, and left high school early with college scholarship in hand. I excelled in that environment as well. I graduated in four years with a grade point of 3.86 in spite of changing schools twice. See any red flags there? Probably not. There were some, but not the kind that tend to register for intervention or assistance.

Hidden abuse and neglect are all around you. The products of abuse and neglect are your friends, neighbors, bosses, co-workers, doctors, nurses, lawyers, judges, psychologists, social workers, teachers, policemen, CEOs, and government officials. Many are living “successful” lives.

Some have healed their wounds. Some contribute to a toxic environment wherever they go. Most likely this is not their intent. They are moving through the world in the best way they know how, but some simply don’t care whether they harm you. Your distress will not even register.

A child with a parent or caregiver who does not see and/or respond to his/her distress, or deliberately creates it, cannot securely bond with that parent or caregiver. “The behaviour of parents, and of anyone else in a care-giving role, is complementary to attachment behaviour. The roles of the caregiver are first to be available and responsive as and when wanted and, secondly, to intervene judiciously should the child or older person who is being cared for be heading for trouble. Not only is it a key role but there is substantial evidence that how it is discharged by a person’s parents determines in great degree whether or not he grows up to be mentally healthy.” – John Bowlby, pioneer of attachment theory, in a 1976 lecture entitled The Making and Breaking of Affectional Bonds. 1

With evidence that adverse childhood experiences affect long-term physical health and contribute to chronic disease plus evidence that ACEs additionally affect mental health, it seems imperative that we develop mindful parenting to enhance secure attachment and minimize childhood trauma. The focus for most existing programs are low income, low education level, and minority populations.
hair pull
What about the middle class and above, educated parents who wound their children within families that escape scrutiny? How do we identify and help those children? How do we re-educate these parents regarding parenting?

I would argue this is as important to health and safety as having babies sleep on their backs, wear helmets when biking, and ride in car seats. I don’t want to suggest that we should individually interfere in families except in extreme cases, but changing the norms regarding healthy parenting is essential. It will require the combined effort of researchers, early childhood experts, mental health and medical professionals, parenting experts, internet influencers, and courageous parents to effect significant change.

I’m ready to get the process started. As parents, we cannot identify areas for improvement without an assessment of the current situation. Following is a list of items for parents to consider when evaluating a family environment.

It will require courage to explore these questions from the point of view of your child’s experience. Please keep in mind that only a clear view of the current situation will be helpful. Viewing a situation like you wish it were or hope it will become will not lead to improvement. The overall goal is to improve the health of our children by reducing adverse childhood experiences.

If you are a parent of thinking of becoming one, ask yourself:

Do I have time to devote to holding, comforting, and connecting with my child each day?
My ex-husband used to say having children was not going to change his life. He was right, it didn’t. But it sure changed mine. If you behave like he did and do not have a partner who sees and/or fills in the gaps, your child will not receive adequate responsive parenting.

Am I reliable?
A child must be able to consistently rely on you to provide and protect. If they cannot, it will affect attachment and trust. Repeated unfulfilled promises are detrimental. When a parent promises to call and does not, it hurts. When a parent forgets to show up for a soccer game he/she promised to attend, it hurts. All of us slip from time to time. It is a pattern of unreliability that is harmful.

Do I believe that the highest and best use of my parenting time and energy is to be responsive to my child’s needs?
Children need to feel seen. Children need to know someone will come and comfort them when they are distressed. Children need to feel valued. Children need to know food will be provided when they are hungry. They need to have fluids available when they are thirsty. Children need to have access to a bathroom when they need to go. Children need to feel included as an important part of the family unit.

I know it sounds like I’m just stating the obvious. I know that if you love your children, you most likely believe this is an automatic part of parenting and you may be rolling your eyes. But in my family–the one that looked wonderful on the outside–if I wanted breakfast as a preschooler, I had to fix or find it. If I needed clean clothes, I had to wash them. In first grade, I was expected to wake myself up, get dressed, and get on the school bus without input or even a good morning from the adults in the house. At age six, I still had a potty chair in the laundry room because my father would stay in the only bathroom for an hour at a time and if I knocked on the door, he became enraged and screamed at me to find another place to go. I emptied and cleaned up the potty chair when he finally came out.

Before you make excuses for my parents…they weren’t working multiple jobs. My mother was a stay-at-home mom. Our house was not fancy, but it was clean. Mom did her laundry and my dad’s. She did most of the ironing although some of this was subbed out to me beginning when I was about four. Of course, she had to find me before she could delegate. I spent most of my time wandering the farm or sitting in the woods during the day until my dad came home.

The occasional fishing trip, trail ride, and visit to my grandparents did not adequately balance the grim reality of every day. There simply aren’t enough trips to Disneyland to fix a pervasive, everyday problem.

Do I understand the difference between feeling love and behaving in a loving manner?

I’m sure most of my family and our community would tell you my parents loved me. But they often did not behave in a loving manner. Crying was to risk being hit with the razor strop my dad raised in response. Asking for food, comfort, or help was to risk a cruel or dismissive response from my mother.

I felt my father loved me, but was dangerous. I was afraid of him until I left home for college. I still do not feel my mother loved me, or if she did, I’m certain she didn’t like me. A boyfriend once described her behavior toward me as turning up her nose as though I had shit on my shoes and she just couldn’t stand the smell.

The day after my mother died, my sister & I met for breakfast. I looked at her and said, “My first thought this morning was I never have to be a disappointment again.” Her eyebrows raised and she responded, “I thought exactly the same thing!”

Do I have unresolved feelings about my childhood? If so, can I make a realistic assessment regarding how those may impact my parenting? Do I have a plan for resolving those issues?
Given my background, it might seem advisable for me to choose not to have children. That was not the choice I made. Parenting was the hardest thing I’ve ever done because every move had to be mindful. I knew how bad it felt to be treated the way I was treated and I was determined not to do that to my children. That doesn’t mean they weren’t affected by my subconscious struggles or that I did not occasionally do hurtful things. It does mean the environment in our home was vastly different from the one in which I grew up.

When my oldest took a psychology class in college, he called me and said the class had taken an assessment and, other than getting a divorce, he couldn’t think of anything I’d done to screw up him and his brother. I’ll take that and my continuing close relationship with both boys as confirmation that I did an adequate job of breaking the cycle.

Do I have significant emotional resources to support me so that I can hold, comfort, and connect with my child each day?
Some of us have a deep well from which to draw. Others will need more outside support. It is okay to need whatever you need and to ask for help.

Can I put my feelings aside when appropriate in order to make decisions that will benefit my child?
If your ex-husband is making your life hell, can you keep all negative thoughts, feelings, and judgments to yourself in order to continue to encourage his relationship with his children? Can you handle being alone on Christmas without making your kids feel bad when it’s his year to have them? Can you be cordial to his wife and supportive of the rules in their household?

Do I feel safe in my home?
If not, neither will your child. One of the duties of parenting is to protect. Are there changes you can make to protect yourself and your child?

Do I feel competent to make good decisions?
If not, your child may feel a need to parent you. This is an undue burden.

Do I, or does my partner, create chaos in my home?
Chaos undermines a child’s feeling of security.

Am I flexible?
Life is unpredictable. Flexibility is a sign of mental health and maturity. It is important to live by guidelines that allow for adjustment to changing circumstances.

Do my partner and I have the same parenting objectives?
If partners do not share the same values, conflict will result. Minor conflicts and/or the ability to resolve conflicts can mitigate their effects. Ongoing conflict can feel dangerous to a child.

Are my partner and I able to work as a team?
Consistent expectations, boundaries, and consequences contribute to security. If partners do not work as a team, one may undermine what the other one is doing. This can have significant consequences.

There’s a couple in my circle of friends whose teenage son was arrested last fall for shooting up the cars at a friend’s house. Some of the bullets hit the house which was occupied by the parents at the time. This is a serious crime and the teen was at risk of being charged as an adult. The threat of prison was real.

The gunman attended a private school until high school. His parents are intelligent, good people. They have been married for over 20 years. They have long-term friendships. The father has worked for the same company for over 20 years. They have only moved once in that time frame.

The mom also has MS that has gradually placed more and more household burden on the father. As became clear in court, when dad would lay down the law, mom would go behind his back and release the son from imposed consequences. Dad was sometimes unaware until too late and sometimes too worn out for the fight. Or maybe he didn’t want to fight with his weakened wife who could no longer drive, lift a pan in the kitchen, or manage the laundry.

The result is heartbreaking. The daughter attempted suicide two years ago and the son committed a crime that endangered someone else’s life.

Do I consider my willingness to enforce a consequence before I institute one?
If you take away rare concert tickets and then give the tickets back because you feel bad knowing it might be the last chance to see that band in person, you let the child know consequences mean nothing.

If you take away a cell phone for a month, but then give it back in two days because you hadn’t considered that you wanted him/her to have it on a field trip, you teach the child that consequences are questionable.

If you take away TV and it means there are times you cannot watch TV, are you willing to inconvenience yourself in order to enforce the consequence?

Consequences that mean nothing may be worse than no consequences at all. Consequences with no meaning undermine trust.

Am I willing to look like the oddball when it benefits my child?
What works for one child may not work for another. Really knowing your child and being sensitive to the things that distress him/her can put you at odds with daycare workers, teachers, and principals. There is a delicate balance between advocating for your child and undermining authority.

I would not suggest undermining a teacher’s authority on minor issues. If your child comes home every day discouraged or has a real aversion to school that did not exist when in a different classroom, something is amiss. It may be time to visit the classroom, consult with other teachers, or request a classroom change. Your input may not be welcome. Remembering this is not about you, but the well-being of your child and using the strength of your convictions will allow you to be the best advocate.

Am I willing and able to put down the electronic devices and toys to encourage my child’s curiosity, imagination, and sense of adventure?
Non-directed play can build resilience. Knowing that we will not be perfect parents means that one part of our task is to help build resilience in our children.

Curiosity has been shown to field off depression by keeping us engaged in life. Imagination leads to creative solutions to problems. The ability to view changing circumstances as an adventure can bring a positive view of negative events.

Is my ultimate goal to prepare my child to be an adult who is secure, calm, competent, resourceful, compassionate, inspired, loving, flexible, empathetic, law-abiding, and capable of connection?
Most of us would probably say we want our children to be happy and achieve their dreams. Some of us might say we want our children to get the best education or highest paying job. Some of us have more specific achievement goals–go to an ivy league school, play professional sports, have a certain appearance, fit in a certain social circle, become a professional with an MD, JD, or PhD distinction. While there’s nothing wrong with aspiring goals, early pressure to perform can create anxiety.
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Which brings us back to feeling carefree. Children can only feel carefree when their needs are met, they trust their protectors, they feel they are loved, expectations of them are realistic, and they know they can rely on the adults in their lives. It is possible to live in a home with plenty of resources and married parents and still not feel carefree.

Take it from me, children long for that feeling! Adults who endured a number of adverse childhood events may experience significant grief and loss during the healing process. Often it feels as though we lost the chance for a childhood.

I used to have a button that said, “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” It’s a nice sentiment, a hopeful statement, and possibly an inspiration for some. The statement is sometimes based on the idea that we can reparent ourselves.

I believe we can reframe our experiences and heal, but we never regain our childhood. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Let’s help our children feel carefree while they are children!

1)https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/fe8b/82d36a04baa05ea8e66f583935c1e22793cb.pdf

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1948879/

https://www.paultough.com/the-books/how-children-succeed/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5409906/