2mindfulmoms

We are many things to many people right now, but first and foremost we are moms. We spend much of our day driving carpools, grocery shopping, helping with homework, managing schedules, cleaning, wiping away tears and putting out the proverbial fires that go with parenting adolescents. Our mindfulness practice has been an incredible tool for us in our parenting. Through mindfulness, we can learn to be present for our children, to treasure the many precious moments we have together, and to truly embrace the joys of parenting. We want to pass on to our children the importance of slowing down, connecting with their own sense of self, as well as connecting with those around them. Parenting is the most difficult job we know, but it is also the most profound and rewarding. In this section, we would like to share with you our thoughts on being 2minduflmoms.

Communicating Mindfully

How to Communicate Mindfully

by cheryl on March 16, 2017

in 2mindfulmoms

We can enjoy many of the benefits of our meditation practice, reduced stress and greater focus for example, but we often find that when the “rubber meets the road” we are still triggered (although perhaps less often) by our partners, angry with our children or frustrated at work, unable to connect to that sense of calm when we need it most.

So, the question becomes, How do I take the lessons and skills from my meditation practice and apply them in my real life? 

Getting to Know Your Mind

The ultimate answer, that I have been told by numerous experts in the field, is to continue to practice. Mindfulness meditation is a practice.  Understanding it conceptually is one thing, living mindfully takes practice  Just like going to the gym, learning to play an instrument or getting better at a sport, you need to actually do it to get better at it.

The modern word “Mindfulness” comes from the ancient tradition of Vipassana meditation, which means insight or clear seeing. Western “mindfulness” is being used to lower stress, increase focus and improve cognitive function (to name a few of the benefits), which are real and important benefits of mindfulness.  But living mindfully can change us in much more profound ways if we want to deepen our practice beyond those health benefits. It can help us better understand our own minds and help us lead happier lives.

Mindfulness practice is a practice in open awareness, in seeing our moment–to-moment experience as it unfolds. As we develop our mindfulness practice, we begin to see the nature of our minds – our thoughts, emotions and the stories we tell ourselves about our experiences – without getting swept up by them or overwhelmed by them.

Similarly, we learn to feel and observe our physical experience, both our sensory experience and the felt sensations of our emotional responses. When we simply notice what we are feeling, and see the thoughts that fuel our emotional responses, we can better understand our habitual patterns of behavior that are causing us suffering.

This awareness or insight is what mindfulness practice helps us to uncover, and this is a way to alleviate suffering and increase happiness in our lives. So, the meditation itself is where we practice this state of open awareness or “clear seeing,” but life is where we put our mindfulness into action.

So, how do we put mindfulness into practice in the real world? One example is through Mindful Communication. In a recent training on Mindful Communication through Mindful Schools, Oren Sofer, used the teachings of Marshall Rosenberg, author of Nonviolent Communications: A Language of Life, to explain how the important skills we develop through mindfulness can help us communicate more effectively. Here are just a few of the many important lessons I learned from his teachings about how we can Mindfully Communicate, which can benefit our parenting, our relationships, our work and so much more.

 

4 Ways to Communicate Mindfully 

(1) Be Present

We all know what it feels like to be talking and not listened to.  We also are familiar with times when we are supposed to be listening, but our minds are so busy or distracted that we do not hear a word the other person is saying. So, the first rule of mindful communication is to be present.

Start by noticing when you are not listening because you have become distracted (turn off those phones) or are mentally somewhere else entirely. Also, notice when your mind is so busy analyzing, judging or trying to fix the problem that you are no longer fully present and listening. This exercise in focusing your attention is one reason we spend so much time training our attention with concentration practices in mindfulness meditation. If we can’t exercise control over our attention and place it where we want it, it is very hard to be present. So, notice when you are distracted, and practice drawing your attention back into the room.

Use mindfulness of the body to draw in and anchor your attention back on the conversation. Simply connect to your body – the feeling of your feet on the floor, the sensations of your hands on the desk or the sensations of your own breath. You can use anything that is actually happening as an anchor of your attention. This will draw your attention back into the room and open your
awareness to your own internal state and back to listening to the person speaking.

Being present is critical to effective communication because it helps you gather information so that you can connect with the others in the room, hear what they are saying and come up with creative solutions.

 

(2) Set Your Intention

Often when we enter a conversation we have a clear intention. Being aware of what your intentions are can be the first step in communicating more mindfully. Ask yourself, what are my intentions? And, will this intention help me effectively communicate?

Either consciously or unconsciously, we often enter a conversation from a place of judgment or blame, or of knowing the answer or solution we want. These intentions create barriers to communication, deteriorate trust and are roadblocks to problem-solving. Learning to train our intention to come from a place of curiosity and care allows for much greater connection, compassion and more desirable resolutions.

Prior to your conversation, phone call or meeting take a few minutes to reflect on your intentions and then set clear intentions for yourself before beginning the conversation. Cultivate a sense of curiosity, openness and care. For example, say to yourself, “I am here to learn from the other person, and to hear what they have to say.” Rather than, “I am here to show them why they are wrong and why I am right.” See differences as natural rather than as obstacles, look at conflict as a grounds for learning, and see each person as adding value to the conversation.

This radical shift from blame to curiosity, from win/lose to win/win, from right/wrong to greater understanding truly fosters communication and connection. Setting proper intentions can also make it much easier for you to listen because you are coming from a different mindset of curiosity and care.

(3) Speak Mindfully

We often think that we need to be loud and dominant in a conversation to show off our expertise and leadership.  Or, we want to avoid that awkward pause or uncomfortable silence and so we fill the silence with our own voice.   Try asking yourself, why am I speaking at all? At any given moment, you have a choice of whether you want to speak or to listen.

Ask yourself:

  • Do I want to speak right now?
  • Why do I want to say this?
  • Is this the time to speak or the time to listen?

It can be quite powerful and effective to not be the one talking or to allow some moments of silence to let what is being said settle in.  If you choose to speak, try pausing more often. The more words you use and the faster you speak, the less powerful your speech is. Instead, when you do speak, speak slowly and take pauses so you can deliver a strong and thoughtful message that people want to listen to.

When we modulate our speech, slowing down and taking more breaths, we also calm ourselves down. In a heated conversation or when we are very nervous, our “fight or flight” response is often triggered and we breathe more rapidly, our thoughts are scattered and our emotions carry us away. The result is often a rather unwise, unskilled or overly emotional response, and we may later regret either the message, or the manner of delivery, or both. When you are feeling nervous or are emotional, simply slow down your speech, which will slow down your breathing. Pause frequently and give yourself time to think and to deliver your message clearly, calmly and effectively.

(4) Really Listen & Hear What is Being Said

Perhaps the most important part of communication is not speaking, but rather listening and allowing the other person to be heard. Communication is driven by the need to create understanding.  We communicate to connect, to get something done or to meet a need.

Negative feelings like anger, frustration, and sadness, are the result of a need that is not being met. We tend to blame others for “making us feel” a certain way, but our feelings come from our own unmet needs. Therefore, we are responsible for our own reactions, not someone else. Being open to and aware of those unmet needs can help foster communication, as well as connection, compassion and understanding.

To better understand your own feelings, ask yourself which of your needs are not being met?  Then, you can better articulate what it is that you need.  To better understand others, try talking less and listening more so that you gain an understanding of which of their needs are not being met (for example, are they not feeling respected, loved, safe, etc). You can simply reflect back or restate what you are hearing to be sure you are understanding what they are saying.  This will help clear up any confusion and will allow them to truly felt heard and understood.

Mindful Communication is a way of putting our mindfulness skills into action. It helps us be more mindful in our everyday lives so we can foster deeper connections and understanding, cultivate compassion for ourselves and others, communicate more effectively and more easily resolve conflict and creatively find solutions.  

 

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Stress among teens is reaching epidemic proportions. This excessive, prolonged stress affects their bodies and their brains. Researchers at the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University found that when toxic stress is triggered continually over a period of time it can have a cumulative toll on an individual’s physical and mental health — for a lifetime.

As the mother of two teenagers and one pre-teen, and as a mindfulness teacher working with teens, I see every day the tremendous stress our teenagers experience in their young lives. I often ask the teens I work with to make a list of what stresses them out. Homework, school and college admissions are always at the top of the list. Now, they have added a new stressor to their list – their cellphones— as they are admitting that their compulsion to check their devices, and the added pressure that comes with that constant connectivity, is distracting and anxiety provoking.

This overload of schoolwork, the pressure to succeed in an extremely competitive culture and their constant connectivity leaves our teenagers with no time or ability to disconnect from their peers, to relax and unwind or to connect with their families.

As a result, we are seeing record levels of anxiety, depression, insomnia, attention disorders and even suicide among our teens. Studies also show that teens are turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms like drugs and alcohol, to tune out or avoid the discomfort of their anxiety. There is a critical need for parents and children to learn skills that will not only help them cope with this stress, but will also help them thrive.  I am thrilled to be partnering with Partnership for Drug-Free Kids to help parents and teens learn healthy ways to cope with stress.   To read more on Mindful Practices for Calm, Focused and Happy Teens, click here.

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Top 10 Reasons to Meditate

Top 10 Reasons to Meditate

by cheryl on March 8, 2016

in 2mindfulmoms

In the latest edition of Mindful Magazine, they list the top 10 reasons to meditate.  ‘The benefits of a meditation practice are no secret. The practice is often touted as a habit of highly successful (and happy) people, recommended as a means of coping with stress and anxiety, and praised as the next-big-thing in mainstream wellness. And it’s not just anecdotal. Thousands of studies have shown the positive impact that meditating has on our health and well-being.”  Mindful culled through the list and here are the highlights along with the research to back them up.   To read the full article and link to the research, click HERE.

 

Sleep Better: More Shut-Eye at Night Means Brighter Days

 

Stress Less: Make Room for More Happiness

 

More Mindful Meals: No More Stress Eating

Beat Anxiety: Send Worries Packing

 

Smile More: A Happy Pill, with No Side Effects

Enhance Your Love Life: Your Relationship Will Thank You

Lead a Successful Life: A Clear Path to Achieving Your Goals

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Are We Really Helping Our Children Succeed?

Finding Happiness

by cheryl on February 14, 2016

in 2mindfulmoms

What do we really want for our children? Most parents answer this by saying that ultimately we want our children to be happy. I wonder, are we really doing a good job at helping them find their happiness?  What is standing in their way?

Several recent studies confirm what many of us already knew, that children today are experiencing alarmingly high rates of depression and anxiety. Nearly a quarter of children in the United States are showing signs of emotional distress, such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and substance abuse. Anxiety and depression are now the most common mental health diagnoses among college students. Even more alarming is that suicide rates among adolescents is on the rise and is now the third largest cause of death in the United States among youth ages 10-24.

It seems our children are finding it more and more difficult to navigate the challenges of growing up in our changing world. As schools, colleges and therapists examine how to help children thrive, What can we do as parents to help our children find happiness?   

Where to Find Happiness

Mindfulness is all about awareness.  Mindful awareness helps us better understand ourselves and better relate to others.  As a parent, often the messages we think we are sending to our children are not the messages they are hearing.  Perhaps we need to reexamine the messages that we are sending our children or become more aware of the messages they are getting. Our attempts to offer our children every opportunity to experience all that the world has to offer, more choices and more freedom, may have the unintended consequence of causing children increased stress and anxiety, a feeling of being overwhelmed. The message that our children may be getting is that there is a giant world out there, and somewhere out there lies their happiness, contentment and self worth, they just need go find it.

Is this the message we really want to send?  It may sound reasonable enough, but I have to ask how many of us have gone out into the big world and found our happiness “out there” – in our jobs, in our accomplishments or in other people?  Many studies have shown that the happiness we feel when achieving a particular goal is short lived. We quickly find ourselves having a new goal to achieve soon after the temporary satisfaction has worn off.   We often get caught in the “if only” game, “if only I had  . . .”  or “if only he would . . .”  or “I will be happy when . . . ”  Even studies of people who win the lottery show that lottery winners experience initial joy and then 6 months to a year later they have no fundamental change in their sense of well-being or overall happiness.

By striving to find happiness and success out in the world somewhere, we are teaching our children that their happines lies in their achievements and accomplishments, that their contentment can be found by getting somewhere else other than where they are now.  If we are teaching our children that their happiness depends upon something outside of themselves and getting somewhere other than where they are, they will find that their happiness is always just outside their grasp.  This is not the message that we want to send them and will only lead to a yearning to be somewhere else, and happiness will always be one step out of their reach.

Mindfulness teaches us to be exactly where we are (since it is the only place we will ever be) and to find contentment in this moment (since it the only moment we will ever have).  We can learn to find joy exactly where we are, and in each step of our journey, with an open acceptance to whatever we find along our way  – – no more waiting game, no more conditional happiness based on some outside circumstance.  If our children can learn to be open and accepting of their experiences and of themselves, and learn to find some joy in each day along their journey, then they can find their happiness now.  But, how do we teach our children this and what stands in our way?

A Challenging World to Be Present In

The world our children live in is vastly different than the world we grew up in and the messages they are getting are much different as well. With the click of a button, our children can access endless amounts of information and connect with anyone around the world. They can find answers to almost any question in a matter of seconds on their computer screens.  They have virtually limitless opportunity to learn, to explore and to connect. They can reach out and be reached 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  As a result, they find it difficult and even uncomfortable to disconnect.

The world many of us grew up in was much different.  It consisted of unstructured playtime, hours spent outdoors with friends before dinner, connecting only to the people we were actually with.  If we missed a TV show, we were out of luck – – no DVR or On Demand viewing.   If we got an assignment for school, we would have to look into our handy Encyclopedia Britannica to learn more, or make a trip to the library to search for information.  We would have to actually WAIT to find answers, think creatively on how to find those answers, and get comfortable with not knowing.  It was not that long ago, but it was a much different world than the one our children live in.

Clearly, this world of information and connectivity has tremendous benefits.  It is also taking its toll on all of our lives, especially on the lives of our children who are growing up in this new digital age that is lightening fast and in the click of a button takes them away from where they are.  Now, our children are “connecting” with people they are not actually with.  Which leads me to ask, are they truly connecting at all?  They measure themselves by how many likes or friends or followers they have.  They can continuously view a steady stream of images to see what others are doing, instead of focusing on where they are and who they are with. This has created a new type of anxiety now commonly known as FOMO, the Fear of Missing Out.  FOMO is the fear that others are having some rewarding or enriching experience that they are not having, causing them to feel compelled to constantly connect so that they will not miss out. Ironically, this fear leads to an obsession to staying connected which only leads to more apprehension and angst about all they are missing.

This new anxiety not only applies to what others are doing, it also can lead to the fear of not keeping up with the endless amount of information available online.   With 24-hour-a-day access to information and communication, our productivity is limited only by the number of hours in the day.  As a result, we all feel a tremendous sense of pressure to read more, learn more, do more, and connect more. There is simply never enough time in the day to do all that is possible to get done.  We feel exhausted, rushed and overwhelmed.  We mistake our desire or need to take a break or rest as laziness, or consider ourselves slackers when we are not consuming information.  The continuous feed of information at our fingertips leaves us without the time or the ability to quiet our minds, to sit in the stillness and to ponder the mysteries and the possibilities of the unknown.  It leaves us all with the constant buzzing of our devices and computers whispering to us to do more, learn more, be more.  Our children are growing up in this world and feeling the anxiety that comes with it.

Albert Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”  But with the notion that more knowledge is available at all times on our computer screens or smartphones, we have little time or the inclination to be in the creative and innovative world of our own imagination.   Our children don’t know what it is like to ponder the possibilities that are limited only by their own imagination.  They rarely experience how it feels to sit in a space of not knowing and to be OK with the discomfort and excitement of not having the answer.  Instead, they learn to punch their keyboards and find someone else’s answer which is much easier and faster to do.    We need to help our children recognize the value of unplugging, the importance of silence, and the benefits of being present in the moment where they can experience their own imagination and creativity.

Helping Them Find Their Own Happiness

Instead of searching to find their happiness elsewhere, we need to encourage our children to look inward. In doing this, they can begin to realize that they can find happiness right now, and not when they get into a good college or get a good job or make a lot of money.  Their passions are already there inside them, just waiting to be discovered, they just need to take the time to listen. We need to show them how to slow down and take time to get to know themselves, to connect inward so that they can find out what makes them happy. We need to help them feel more comfortable with themselves, to unplug in order to truly connect because the steady buzzing of the internet and the yearning for constant connectivity is actually drowning out their own inner voices and preventing them from hearing what is already there.

How can we do this? We not only can help them turn off their computers and devices for an hour or more each day, but we also need to help them slow down, find the value in being where they are, and take the opportunity to learn more about themselves and the world around them.  They can find what makes them happy everyday, the simple pleasures of life which will always be there for them to enjoy in the days, weeks, and years of their lives.  They can learn to spend a little time each day doing something they love like listening to music, reading a good book, taking a walk, opening the door for a stranger and become aware of how that makes them feel.  We as parents need to value this time as time well spent.  We can also help them by being quiet ourselves, by talking less and listening more, which helps us better understand them just as they are learning to better understand themselves.  Finally, we need to understand that it is not the quantity of experiences or the number of things we give our children that will help them thrive, but is it simply being there for them and loving them unconditionally.  That is enough.

This is no easy feat in a culture where people’s worth is measured by how busy they are, or by how great their accomplishments are. It is a culture in which so many think they are not truly “alive” and productive unless they feel that addictive buzz of adrenaline brought on by stress. The best thing we can do for our children is buck the trend and recognize that this message of needing to be more, to do more and to have more is only leading to children  who are increasingly stressed, anxious and depressed.

We need to be role models for our children and slow down ourselves, unplug and be more present with them and with our own inner world. What?  Turn off my phone, you say?  Impossible!  I know it is difficult, but children know hypocrisy when they see it, and they know that when parents say one thing and do another, they don’t really need to listen to what we say, and they will do what we do. Once we learn to slow down ourselves, we can help our children feel the benefit of discovering whatever it is that makes them happy, and the importance of adding a little bit of happiness to their day. More importantly, we allow them to be exactly who they are, as they are in this moment and show them they are enough, exactly as they are, and can find happiness in themselves right now.

By slowing down, we are giving our children the most important gift we can give them – –  time. We can teach them that they don’t need to be constantly moving to find themselves.  It is much easier to find themselves by being still. In their quiet and stillness they can gain self-awareness and self-acceptance which will guide them toward their passions, spark creativity and help them find contentment and happiness in the simple pleasures of life. They will no longer value themselves through their successes and their failures, but can learn to use their experiences as a way of understanding themselves. They can discover the daily pleasures of life that will fulfill them and bring them a bit of happiness each day, and discover their own unique gifts they have to offer the world. Perhaps the best gift we can give our children is to show them the value of doing less, having less and in looking inward to find their greatest gift they can give to the world, their true, authentic selves.  In doing this, we can help our children thrive.

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I am thrilled to be a guest blogger again this year for Sharon Salzberg’s 2016 Real Hapiness Meditation Challenge.   During the month of February each year, thousands commit to sit and meditate everyday.   This REAL HAPPINESS Meditation Challenge, now in its 6th year,  creates an amazing community around the world exploring what meditation has to offer.  Jump in and join me, and thousands of others around the world, each day in February as we find a warm and cozy spot to sit and find our inner peace.  You can read more about it by clicking here  #commit2sit

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We recently lost a very beautiful woman, my grandmother, Florence Katz.  She lived a long, full life and recently passed away after 100 years of truly living life to the fullest.  She was the most loving, generous and kindest person I have ever met.  At her memorial service, my brother David beautifully summed up our thoughts about a truly incredible woman that I wanted to share below.  We were fortunate to be with her during her final days.  She truly embodied the meaning of being present, being kind, being optimistic even when facing great hardships, and living life to its fullest.  (After this was posted, a beautiful tribute to my grandmother was published in the Herald Tribune, see More Than 52 Million Minutes, and She Made Them All Count)

My Grandma.  How does one summarize the life and meaning of a person.  One does not.  I can only give you a feeling, a glimpse into the life of Florence Katz by telling you what she has meant to me and my family.  I have written several speeches throughout the years.  Some speeches were challenging, others were not so hard. With a subject as beautiful and colorful as Grandma Katz, this one pretty much writes itself.

The last few days of her life were heartbreaking. But as so much was in her life, there was beauty everywhere, every minute. She was so frail, so tiny.  She could hardly breath.  We saw her like this so many times before.  She always seemed to defy the odds and bounce back.  We could not help imagining her bouncing back again.  She seemed to realize that this was the end before we could.  Without her contacts or glasses, she recognized everyone around her. With every stroke of her hand, with every kiss on her cheek, she simply said “thank you”.  She told us how much she loved us and how proud she was of us.  She would be our glowing, proud grandmother with every last breath she had. She said her goodbyes, she told us to remember how wonderful her husband was.    When she was somewhere between life and death, she called out to him, to her son, Nathan, and to her mother.  It was somehow a relief to believe she would soon be with them.  She held our hands, seeming to comfort us as much as we were trying to comfort her.  She heard Karen’s piano playing from the other room and a smile formed on her face.  “Beautiful”, she said.  She was at peace, surrounded by family, listening to music just as she wanted and just as she deserved.

You all might know the famous line from Elton John’s song “Like A Candle in the Wind.”  Her flame seemed so delicate and easily blown out with a gentle breeze.   Well, anyone who knows Florence Katz knows she was more like a blow torch in a hurricane. Nothing was going to blow out her flame. And we all know that she came close too many times to count. I think that after she lost her sight and her ability to go out with friends and family, she was ready to leave, and, as usual, on her own terms.  She was going to leave this world from the peaceful quiet of her sunroom surrounded by family while listening to her granddaughter playing the piano from the other room. 

We were privileged to be able to laugh with grandma even as she was fading from us in her sun room at the Sarasota Bay Club.  We told her we loved her.  She told us to take her piano.  We told her how special she was.  She ask who is going to take the piano. We told her we would miss her.  She made us promise again that someone would take her piano. We laughed. Through our tears, we laughed and grandma smiled. She knew that in life, no matter how great the sorrow, there was always room for laughter.  

Look around and you will see the great joy and love she brought to the world.  She touched everyone she knew in deep and profound ways.  People look for the meaning of life as soon as they can ask the question. People climb to the peaks of mountains, meet with the Buddhist monks in the east.  We read, we pray, we fast.  If you have looked into the eyes of Florence Katz and spent any amount of time with her, you have learned the meaning of life: To live, to love, to laugh, to cry, to play music, to listen with your eyes closed, to conduct an entire orchestra.  Or, to teach your great grandchild to create art in your kitchen, one tiny shell at a time.  She taught us the meaning of life whether we knew it or not. 

As my sisters and I grew bigger, my dear grandma seemed to be shrinking.  No matter how small grandma got, she still seemed larger than life.  No matter how softly she spoke, her words were loud and clear.  How could someone so small carry so much weight. How could someone so tiny bear so much pain. How could someone so petite leave such big footprints.  We have learned and loved so much from you.  “Take care of each other.”  “Family comes first.”  “Always live each day as if it were your last.”

           – David Vigder, December 30, 2015

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Growing Pains

Growing Pains

by cheryl on October 7, 2015

in 2mindfulmoms, Mindful Parenting

Our children experience growing pains as their bodies undergo the incredible transformation from child to adult.   As parents, we also experience growing pains, those aches and pains of the heart that we feel while watching our children grow from babies to fully formed adults.  Just as our children must learn to deal with their sporadic aches and pains of growth, we must also learn to deal with  the joys and the pains of our journey through parenthood.

With newborns, I was often sleep deprived and exhausted from the physical demands and the daunting responsibility of nurturing a tiny being that depended on me for its very survival.  I don’t miss my diaper bag or the large circles under my eyes, but I do miss listening to that unbridled laughter, and holding that tiny ball of warm flesh curled up, fast asleep in my arms.  Next came toddlerhood and temper tantrums, the refusal to be buckled into a car seat until I practically had to sit on him, and the beginning signs of finicky eating.   It also brought those precious first words and hilarious sentences as he attempted to express his thoughts and feelings, watching his pure joy in simple playtime, and soaking up the smell of his freshly bathed skin wrapped up in cute little pajamas sitting on my lap, captivated by a bedtime story.

How quickly they grow!  Before you know it, that cute little toddler was off to school.  As I reluctantly released his tiny little hand from mine, and watched him take his first steps toward independence,  I felt a small pit in my stomach and an ache in my heart, fully aware that this was just first of many steps I would take in letting him go.

I have been told by many friends and family members whose children are grown about the great joy I will experience watching my children become fully independent adults.   And, I have been warned of the tremendous hole their departure will leave in my heart.   They look longingly at me (usually when I am complaining to them about the eighth carpool I have driven that day) and say, “Enjoy these days. The time goes so fast and before you know it, they will be gone.”  So, I continue to do my best to be present and enjoy each phase of our lives together, and meet the demands of where I am now, which happens to be parenting teenagers.

Yes,  I am on the rollercoaster of parenting teenagers, which certainly has some unique growing pains for everyone involved.  As parents of teens know well, some days teenagers are the kind, sweet children who look at you and just need a hug, some advice and a warm meal.  Other days it seems whatever we say is wrong and not worth their time. Or, a simple look or question like, “How was your day?” Brings an annoyed response like, “Why do you always ask me that? ” Leaving me dumbfounded as to how my attempt at simple conversation became an annoying intrusion into their lives, and wondering where that warm little mound of flesh that sat so sweetly on my lap has gone?

I have learned that being the parent of an adolescent requires a tremendous amount of patience and understanding, and lots of deep breathing.  I have also learned that I am not alone, and there is great strength in  sharing and connecting with other parents who are experiencing similar growing pains.  It is also helpful to remember how I felt as a teenager when I too thought my parents were clueless and annoying (sorry mom and dad).   It’s just hard to believe that I am now that “clueless” and “annoying” parent. I somehow thought that through proper parenting I could avoid such interactions. I now know, however, that this teenage behavior is an essential part of growing up.   Not only a rite of passage, but also a necessary, developmentally appropriate step toward independence.

Gretchen Schmelzer’s  Letter Your Teenager Can’t Write You is a beautiful reminder to parents of what our teenagers are experiencing. It helps to hear their voice, even if they cannot or will not formulate these words themselves.   It expresses what they need from us, and how we can be there for them through this difficult time in their lives.

THE LETTER YOUR TEENAGER CAN’T WRITE YOU. . .

Gretchen Schmelzer, June 23, 2015

Dear Parent:

This is the letter I wish I could write. 

writing with pencil isolated against white background

This fight we are in right now. I need it. I need this fight. I can’t tell you this because I don’t have the language for it and it wouldn’t make sense anyway. But I need this fight. Badly. I need to hate you right now and I need you to survive it. I need you to survive my hating you and you hating me. I need this fight even though I hate it too. It doesn’t matter what this fight is even about: curfew, homework, laundry, my messy room, going out, staying in, leaving, not leaving, boyfriend, girlfriend, no friends, bad friends. It doesn’t matter. I need to fight you on it and I need you to fight me back.

 

I desperately need you to hold the other end of the rope. To hang on tightly while I thrash on the other end—while I find the handholds and footholds in this new world I feel like I am in. I used to know who I was, who you were, who we were. But right now I don’t. Right now I am looking for my edges and I can sometimes only find them when I am pulling on you. When I push everything I used to know to its edge. Then I feel like I exist and for a minute I can breathe. I know you long for the sweeter kid that I was. I know this because I long for that kid too, and some of that longing is what is so painful for me right now.

 

I need this fight and I need to see that no matter how bad or big my feelings are—they won’t destroy you or me. I need you to love me even at my worst, even when it looks like I don’t love you. I need you to love yourself and me for the both of us right now. I know it sucks to be disliked and labeled the bad guy. I feel the same way on the inside, but I need you to tolerate it and get other grownups to help you. Because I can’t right now. If you want to get all of your grown up friends together and have a ‘surviving-your-teenager-support-group-rage-fest’ that’s fine with me. Or talk about me behind my back–I don’t care. Just don’t give up on me. Don’t give up on this fight. I need it.

 

This is the fight that will teach me that my shadow is not bigger than my light. This is the fight that will teach me that bad feelings don’t mean the end of a relationship. This is the fight that will teach me how to listen to myself, even when it might disappoint others. 

And this particular fight will end. Like any storm, it will blow over. And I will forget and you will forget. And then it will come back. And I will need you to hang on to the rope again. I will need this over and over for years.

 

I know there is nothing inherently satisfying in this job for you. I know I will likely never thank you for it or even acknowledge your side of it. In fact I will probably criticize you for all this hard work. It will seem like nothing you do will be enough. And yet, I am relying entirely on your ability to stay in this fight. No matter how much I argue. No matter how much I sulk. No matter how silent I get.

 

Please hang on to the other end of the rope. And know that you are doing the most important job that anyone could possibly be doing for me right now.

 

Love,

Your Teenager

© 2015 Gretchen L Schmelzer PhD- reprinted with permission

So, I continue to remind myself how difficult it is not only to be the parent of a teenager, but to be a teenager.  I continue to take lots of deep breaths, send them my love, my understanding and my forgiveness, try not to react from a place of anger but with compassion, and offer them my presence for the joys and the growing pains of adolescence.

 

 

 

 

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Perfect Parenting

Perfect Parenting

by cheryl on November 13, 2014

in 2mindfulmoms

Let me start by saying there is no such thing as perfect parenting.  Period. Full Stop. Instead, I would say that the only type of parenting is imperfect parenting. I think that we can all agree that we do that quite well.   This is not due to a lack of trying. As parents, we are very busy trying to do the right thing for our children.   We buy parenting books, full of expert advice,  to teach us how to parent better.  I have stacks and stacks of these books lining my bookshelves at home; each offering me loads of advice on how to raise my children. I have attempted to read many of them, but I must admit that I have barely scratched the surface.   I usually get through the first few chapters when I am interrupted by my life — my children asking me for help with a problem, dinner to cook, a carpool to drive, an argument I need to help settle, or the most challenging of all, my very heavy eyelids refusing to remain open after a busy day.

In my long search for answers, I have come across some deeply meaningful ideas that translate into what I consider the keys to parenting. Three qualities of awareness that help me to be less bound to the pages of my parenting books (that I never seem to finish), and free to raise my children from a place of authenticity.  These help me to understand my own values, to do what feels right and to connect to my children in a deep and meaningful way. They are:

(1) Presence. I try very hard to take time to be fully present with my children. I am far from perfect at this, but I am trying.  For example, I have caught myself having breakfast with my precious 9 year-old, unable to recount what I imagine was probably a beautiful story she just told, because I was distracted or too busy in my own head to listen to her.   I have to remind myself to turn off my phone, power down my laptop, clear my thoughts, judgments and analysis, and simply be there, like a sponge, for my child.  It is important to remember that this is not a matter of quantity of time; it is a matter of quality of time. It is about picking your moments and not being afraid to say, “I can’t listen right now, let me finish what I am doing and then I am all yours.” And then doing it. To have a few minutes a day of true listening, paying full attention, is such a gift to you and to your child. No special toys need to be purchased; no elaborate trips need to be taken, just being fully present with your child allows your child to feel felt and to be heard, and gives you the opportunity to connect in a deep and meaningful way.

(2) Understanding. It may seem easy to be present, but to be present with an open mind and an open heart is a much greater challenge. It is acting more like a sponge than a bumper, absorbing and taking in what your child is doing, saying, feeling and thinking, rather than diverting or invalidating their thoughts and feelings. For example, when a child says, “You never listen to me.” It is refraining from saying, “Yes I do. I always listen to you.” And, instead, understanding that your child doesn’t feel listened to. It means seeing things from your child’s point of view, putting yourself in your child’s shoes. In doing this, you not only validate their feelings and experiences, but you can also better understand what your child needs from you and how you can best serve your child.

(3) Acceptance.   Our willingness to recognize and accept our children’s thoughts and feelings enables us to see our children for who they really are, and not who we want them to be. It also allows us as parents to see ourselves the way we really are and not the way we wish to be.   This acceptance fosters self-confidence, safety and comfort in children and in parents. It releases us from the cycle of disappointment after failing to meet unrealistic expectations, and allows us the freedom to embrace what is, who we are and who our children are, and all the possibilities that come from that very real place.

The challenges of parenting are constantly changing. We have to be able to be present for the laughter and joy, and face the fear and uncertainty as they come. The best we can do is parent from a place of love and not fear, and acknowledge that we are doing the best that we can.

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Important Life Lessons from an Almost Centenarian

Important Life Lessons from an Almost Centenarian October 5, 2014

My family is spread out geographically. My brother, sister, parents and I live in four different states making our time together much less frequent than we would like. Yet, four generations, from ages 9 to 99, had the opportunity to spend a very special 48 hours together this weekend. I feel incredibly blessed to have had […]

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Which Wolf Do You Feed?

Which wolf do you feed? February 11, 2014

Thoughts from Week 2 of the Real Happiness – 28 Day Meditation Challenge . . .   One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.  He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.  One is Evil – It is anger, fear, envy, jealousy, […]

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