Aware Parenting Ourselves – Control Patterns and Loving Limits

I continue to be amazed how Aware Parenting principles and practices inform and nourish my own life as a parent.  Recently, I’ve been learning more about control patterns and loving limits for myself…

Through being with my children, and talking to other parents, I’ve learnt how subtle control patterns can be.  Control patterns are those habitual ways we protect ourselves from our painful feelings (often without realising that we are doing so).  

Control patterns
For more information about control patterns, see:

Control patterns protect us from pain, and may have been life-savers to us in painful times where we had no loving compassionate empathic listener.  However, the downside of control patterns is that they numb us from feeling a full sense of aliveness.  Control patterns dull the whole range of our feelings, not only the painful ones, so that we are less likely to experience joy and happiness and bliss.

Disconnected from what we are feeling in the moment takes us away from connecting with ourselves, with what is really going on, with what we believe, with what we want, and what alternatives we could choose apart from spacing out or dissociating.  

When we are disconnected from ourselves, we are also less available for true connection and intimacy with others.  In relationships this means avoiding intimacy, and in parenting relationships it means we are less present with our children and their feelings.  Thus they too are more likely to unwittingly use control patterns to avoid connecting with us, and connecting with themselves and their feelings.  

Control patterns – what can we do?
After nine years of practising Aware Parenting, I find myself gaining more awareness and choice about my own control patterns.  In the past, I have often approached them in more indirect ways, such as becoming increasingly friendly and close with my sadness and grief.   

Another compassionate and gentle approach I have found is that when I recognise that I am about to engage in a control pattern, and stop myself for a moment, and notice, and be curious about what I’m feeling…. When I connect with the feeling, and acknowledge it, it often shifts, and thus often means that the desire - whatever it is, just lifts….

Did I mention the subtleties of control patterns?  

I see it in my children, how easy control patterns are to miss, and how c.p.’s become more subtle with increasing age, such as reading a book to avoid painful feelings!  

Shopping as a control pattern
A couple of months ago, it became very clear to me that shopping, and accumulating certain things, especially clothes and shoes and toys, was a way that I kept myself out of the present moment.  Instead of feeling present in my body, I was subtly thinking about the next new outfit, or when playing with my children, thinking about the next new toy.  And it was subtle… I wasn’t actually thinking about those things consciously, it was more like an undertone, a way of focussing on the future rather than the present.  A way of avoiding the natural process of life… that we are constantly changing, growing, letting go of old ways of seeing the world… that everything gets older, grows, and death is an essential part of life.  The undertone of thinking about new things kept me from acknowledging the ending of things, and simply enjoying the present.

I thought about how with the context of Aware Parenting, I set loving limits with my children.  Loving limits are done with the awareness that my child is acting in ways that indicate they are feeling upset (reading all day, or picking their nails, or their noses!) and that they might need help to reconnect with their feelings.  Loving limits are compassionate, without any harshness, blame or criticism, and simply with the loving intention to help the child return to their natural state of presence.

I saw that with the shopping control pattern, I needed more than just being aware of it.  So I set a loving limit for myself, a time period in which I would buy no more clothes and shoes or toys except for birthdays and Christmas (we have a LOT of these things, by the way!)  A year without shopping for these items!  As soon as I set the limit for myself (and it was loving, with the intention of helping myself, no harshness or criticism of myself), I felt anxious – I’d been pondering on buying a new pair of flip flops and suddenly, I really really wanted those flip flops!!!  I really understood the urgency of wanting a control pattern.  I wanted them so much!!!!

After a while of feeling the anxiety, I started to feel relief, and a kind of clarity of thinking and presence.  

It was as though the control pattern of looking for new things to buy kept me away from simply being here, in the clothes I’m wearing now, in the present moment.  I could see colours more clearly, and felt more aliveness.  I started to focus on gratitude for all the things that I already have, and could really sink into having them now.  A sense of presence started to fill the space that the distraction had been taking up.

And since then, I’ve been doing lots more outside activities, bike rides, swimming, roller-blading, dancing, and have had much more of a sense of aliveness in my body.

I’d like to say a bit more about loving limits.  

Loving limits
In Aware Parenting, loving limits are - when we see that our children are doing things that indicate that they have pent up feelings, and we speak words in loving tones that stop children doing those things so that they can connect to the underlying feelings.  Behaviours such as hitting, biting, lack of cooperation, lack of care with people, pets and things, and so on, often indicate painful feelings.  With loving limits, there is no sense of punishment or shame, simply the understanding that what the child seems to want (like I really NEEDED those flip flops!!)…… is really a signal that they need some loving support to connect with the feelings that are the real root of their behaviour.

A while ago, I read this
as well as an article by a family who turned off all their devices on Sundays.

Computer use as a control pattern
Now, one of my other control patterns is computer use.  Like things like food as a control pattern, this is a slightly more challenging one to negotiate, because I use my computer to contribute in the world (like writing articles like this one, arranging consultations, writing email consultations, and engaging in the Parenting with Presence group).  

So I want to keep using the computer to contribute, and connect, and NOT as a way to help me disconnect from myself.

And yet, I have seen that it has become a strong control pattern.  So for the last several weeks I have limited my use.  And like loving limits with a child, there is no self-judgment, criticism, or harshness towards myself.  I simply see that I want to live a more alive, present, awake life.  

Identity and choice
And it is also about identity for me.  My ex-husband commented that I was a person who loved ideas and computers, and although that is true, a voice in me said, “I love nature, and cycling, and dancing!”  So the choice to give up the control pattern was part of a choice to be something more, to live a life more aligned with what I value.

Commonalities between different control patterns
I’ve realised is that the computer-use control pattern is like a feeding control pattern with a small child.  

Feelings are more likely to be around just before we go to sleep and just after we wake up, so just like giving our aware presence to our children at these times, rather than feeding them or distracting them in other ways, I have been avoiding using the computer at these times, and instead have been connecting with myself.  

Another thing I have noticed is that I used to use the computer little and often… it was so easy just to flip the lid and have a quick look at the Parenting with Presence group, or Facebook.  

And I think that the “little and often” approach has kept me in a bit of a spaced out state, just like control patterns do with babies and children.  It takes some time after using a control pattern (which numbs us from what we are feeling), to return to a state of presence and to connect with what is alive with us in the present.  

So, just like with limiting the frequency of something that is a control pattern and also a real need (like food), I have started limiting my computer use to much less often, but in bigger chunks.  For example, I’ve mostly been using the computer about twice a week for a chunk of hours, rather than using it between several-to-many times a day.

Because I am now using the computer more rarely, I notice what a different state of consciousness I soon get into once I do use it, and how it takes me time to transition from that state to one where I am available for connection again.

Learning all the time
I am navigating through this – learning more about presence, what takes me away, what contributes to my life and helps me to contribute to others, and what actually detracts from my relationships with my children and others in my life.

Non-mainstream parenting and computer use
I imagine this is quite pertinent to many people practising non-mainstream parenting approaches …. Our needs for community, learning, and ease of connection (ie. chatting to other parents with similar values when the children are asleep), means that we may find ourselves learning to differentiate between when computer use is contributing to a need, and when we are doing it to protect ourselves from what we are feeling in the moment, and thus from intimacy with ourselves and from finding like-minded families in our neighbourhood.

And computers have instant ways of meeting needs that are very valuable and also powerful.  If we want connection, or learning, or community, all we need is to flip the lid open and find it all there, waiting for us.  The trick I am learning is how to use that with respect and awareness, to use the resources with choice and presence.

The joyful thing in this for me is that as I grow in awareness of the subtleties of control patterns in my own life, I have more presence to offer my children, and more awareness about their control patterns, and how to help their natural state of presence flourish.  We have also been for bike rides nearly every day, are going to the beach more, spending time in nature, and having a lot more fun!

I invite you to explore beyond the limits of your control patterns, to find even more connection, intimacy, and aliveness…..

Edited March 2011