Two ways of responding to our child's cps - seeing the reflection; and finding the sweet spotControl patterns
When I first came across Aware Parenting ten years ago, I didn’t much like the term “control patterns”, especially it’s use of the word “control.”
I now see it as an apt term, as I think that one of the unwitting reasons we use control patterns is to control (or choose) our experiences. Control patterns give us a sense of control when the experiences we have are painful ones that just aren’t what we expected or wanted.
Control patterns give us the sense of having control. And yet, in their rigidity, they stop us from feeling and trusting the beautiful flow of life. And after a while, they have us, rather than us having them.
Recently, I’ve been observing my son Sunny’s control patterns. (He’s four and a half). One of his is using the words “have to” and “can’t” – both words that he knows I don’t enjoy, that I avoid using, and that he has picked up from other people. As soon as he is upset, he says something like, “You can’t do that,” or “you have to give me that.” It’s as clear as day that as soon as he feels upset, he says that we have to or can’t do something!
To me, this is the essence of the function of a control pattern – to protect us from painful feelings about experiencing things that we don’t want to experience. In that moment, I see Sunny wanting to avoid the pain of loss, or of not getting to choose, or of others not doing what he wants.
Seeing the reflection
Nowadays I look to see what Sunny is showing me. I open my eyes to the ways that, like him, I am avoiding seeing what is going on, and protecting myself from painful feelings by trying to make others do what I want them to do. Most obvious recently has been in relating to my now ex-husband. I had simply wanted to protect myself from the pain of losing him, and did everything I can to “make” him do what I want, which was stay.
And in the end, I see that I cannot ever make anyone ever do something that is not alive and true for them. I can only choose my way of being with what is happening.
Yet again I’m grateful to Sunny for showing me what I’ve been doing. I trust that the more I stop trying to control what others do, and instead take a stance of willingness and cooperation with what is, (whist staying true to myself), the more Sunny will be free to live this way in the world.
I see how my letting go of control and rigidity, and my willingness to be increasingly flexible, is also being reflected in Lana’s (9) lessening control patterns.
For some time, she had a control pattern around she and Sunny wearing similar clothes and shoes (shopping for clothes and shoes has been my control pattern; see my article http://www.parentingwithpresence.net/index.php?pageid=4589 about me letting go of these).
Now I am becoming more flexible, have let go of her dad (!), and have also let go of my shopping-for-clothes-and-shoes-control pattern, she is also becoming more relaxed and comfortable with wearing different clothes and shoes to Sunny.
Control patterns, loving limits, and the sweet spot
In the past Lana chose what her brother Sunny wore… and it used to be very specific, for example, if she wanted to wear a certain dress, she would choose for him the pair of shorts that we got in the same shop the same day. The same went with shoes; she’d want him to wear the similar pair to what she was choosing.
Just before the Christmas before last, Lana was nearly eight. She had been talking in an upset tone of voice all day, and I imagined that she had some feelings to express.
We were going out to the local shops to buy some Christmas gifts from the book shop. I went out the front door, and Sunny (then three-and-a-half) and I put on some sandals and went and got in the car.
Lana didn't follow, and when I went back to the front door, she was crying - she had wanted either Sunny or I to wear matching sandals to the ones she had chosen after us. I reminded myself that she could have chosen matching ones to ours. Aware that this had been a control pattern for her, this time I didn't aim to fix it, or change my shoes, and instead I said something like, "You really want us to wear matching shoes, and we have already chosen ours."
She started crying more, and came and got in the car, bringing two more pairs of sandals each for Sunny and I. She was crying in the car (the journey to town is about 4 minutes.)
We got to outside the book shop and I parked the car, and started to take my seat belt off, and said, "I'm going to go into the book shop now" (knowing full well that I wouldn’t go without her, or leave her when she was upset)… this was setting the loving limit – helping her connect with whatever painful feelings were underneath the control pattern of choosing what we wore.
With those words, she cried and raged.... as the crying tapered off, I got out and stood right outside the car door, and all the while looking at her through the open window, making eye contact, and offering warm presence.....
The sweet spot in setting loving limits
I call this, “finding the sweet spot”. Aletha Solter, the founder of Aware Parenting (see www.awareparenting.com) talks about the balance of attention required for healing to occur. The balance is between the safety of our loving presence on the one hand, and the stimulus for the feelings on the other hand. Somewhere in between (the exact point moves), is the sweet spot, that exact point where the loving empathic presence combines with the dive-in-point of the pain or fear, and out comes the healing tears (or laughter, in the case of therapeutic play).
So, I’d keep going for that sweet spot. Every time she stopped crying, I would say, "we're off to the book shop...are you coming?" or some kind of version of that. I spoke in a loving tone, I kept looking at her, I sent her my loving intentions, and I helped her go a step further to the feelings. Each time, she went to the sweet spot, and she wailed and screamed and cried; and I felt such compassion for her - I saw some deep hurts and pain there.
After about 15 minutes of this dance; her crying; my being with her; and the sweet spot, the book shop closed. However, she didn't know that, so I just kept on telling her that we would be going to the book shop soon! Her crying in the car lasted for about 40 minutes, after which that chunk of feelings seemed to have gone, and so I went and got some toothpaste from the gym next to the book shop, and then we all went home.
She was very relaxed after that! She made plenty of warm eye contact, her body was more relaxed, and she smiled more. It seemed to me that she had come home to herself again, to what is, to trust, and had less urgency to control things, or make things happen.
It also helped me see how varied control patterns can be, and how easy it is for me to keep control patterns going, and avoid that "sweet spot" where the feelings are. So much easier to fix things, to change the shoes, to ignore the signs and tightnesses and places of inflexibility – in myself and my children!!!
After that incident, she had about four big cries, over the subsequent few months, all at home, and all started when we were going to go out. Again, they were all related to Sunny or I wearing something different to her.
Each time, I set the loving limit, telling her warmly and affectionately that Sunny or I had chosen that item, and that I saw how painful it was for her to wear something different, and I talked about going out. Each time she had a huge cry, with tears rolling down her cheeks, with wailing and screaming. Each time the crying tapered off, I offered her empathy for how painful it was for her to wear different things, or reminded her that Sunny had chosen the shorts, or that we would be all leaving for the shops soon, all in a loving tone, and the sweet spot came and she moved back into the fullness of the feelings.
Each time, after the cry, she was so relaxed and happy and close with both of us. I was pleased to be finding the sweet spot with her – to do with choice and difference. And at the time, I was so grateful that she had "chosen" something that was so easy for me to see that was where she was needing help with some feelings - because I knew that she could easily choose to put on the matching clothes or shoes if she really wanted to, or let Sunny choose something apparently different.
When we “lose” the sweet spot
However, with time, I could no longer find that sweet spot, or that loving limit, because my own choosing-for-others control pattern was coming to a make-or-break point. It was getting stronger and stronger, until - like a balloon filled to bursting point, it could only pop.
It is those places where we feel “tight”, where we react, where we don’t seem to be able to think clearly, where we cannot seem to set the loving limit, where we feel helpless; those are the places that our children invite us to allow transformation in ourselves.
Our children invite us to grow
And our children will keep showing us these ripe places for change, in ways that get stronger and stronger, until it becomes obvious that we need to look to ourselves to find the tipping point.
And that is what happened for me; I could no longer set loving limits or find the sweet spot, and needed to look at how I was being rigid and trying to control my environment and others rather than being with the painful truth of the moment.
And so, I turned my attention to myself, and took the plunge to grow and shift in those ways, to keep letting go of trying to control others, and surrendering to a bigger truth, a trust in a bigger process than I know of.
Looking for the reflection or the sweet spot
I trust that my children will keep showing me what I need to learn. If I keep watching and keep connected, I am learning that I will know when it is time to see something in myself (the reflection bit), and when it is time to help them move into the sweet spot (with connection, loving limits, or laughter play).
It’s a dance, yes, just like a dance between us! Sometimes the spotlight is on my children, sometimes it’s on me, often-times we are doing the tango, the salsa, or some hip-hop together! It’s The Parenting Dance.
How is your parenting dance today? Is the reflection inviting you to look into the mirror at yourself, or are you being invited to find that sweet spot with your child, where deep connection and healing lies? I'll be dancing today too!