The Sweet Spot and Loving Limits for Parents

The idea of the sweet spot just came to me a few years ago – it’s like the sweet spot on a racquet, when you hit the ball or shuttlecock in just the exact place and it flies true.

The balance of attention in Aware Parenting is that exact point where the balance of the loving safety that we provide meets with the painful feelings, and thus the feelings flow freely. 

Aletha Solter (www.awareparenting.com) talks about this balance in Tears and Tantrums.  She says, “Children will spontaneously talk, laugh, engage in therapeutic play, cry, rage, sweat or even tremble when there is a … balance of attention between feeling emotional safety in the present and experiencing the emotional pain from the past.”  (p.107)

I first thought of the sweet spot as a bit like this balance of attention, but now I am seeing that it requires the balance of attention, yet is actually a bit different.

I see the balance of attention being like a see-saw, and the balance coming somewhere in between the two.  

For me the sweet spot is like the sweet spot on a raquet, where we get that exact point, where the feelings fly true and straight.... and I see it that there needs to be two opposites for that to happen, like the ball coming one way and the racquet the other.  With the loving limits, there is the yes of giving empathy for what they want, and the no of the limit. 

With laugher, there might be the no of the "you're not going to knock me over with the pillow again, are you?" and the yes of the child doing that.  

Last year, when my children were 9 and 4, I was thinking and learning lots about the sweet spot, and focused on finding the sweet spot with them.  I wrote about what I found.....

I discovered that the sweet spot doesn’t just work one way.  We present it to our children, and they also present it to us!

Here’s an example from last year;  I was going off to a dance class and my son Sunny (4) kept saying that he didn’t want to be with my mum whilst I was dancing, and he didn’t want to come with me and watch either.  Where I might usually focus on him, offer him empathy, find out his needs, and so on, this time I kept my focus on myself.  I had a cold, and just like happens with children, sickness and tiredness means my feelings are less easily repressed.  I started crying, and cried for about 10 minutes.  It wasn’t big intense crying, so I felt comfortable to keep with the feelings whilst still in the bedroom with my children.  

Whilst I was crying, what came clear to me was that I was wanting to do something that I love, and that I was telling myself that other people don’t want to help me.  Those were the two sides of the balance of attention see-saw; on one side that I want to do what I love; on the other side believing that others don’t want to support me doing that.  The two coming together was the sweet spot – the feelings of sadness and frustration and grief.  

Feeling the feelings, I listened to my thoughts, and got clear about those two things – 1. I want to do things that nurture my soul; 2. I’m believing that I need support to do that; I’m believing that others don’t want to support me.  In seeing those thoughts, I saw that those aren’t congruent with what I want to believe.  In seeing that, I felt a shift of being willing to go to the dance class and being willing to have support with that…. And I stood up with that resolve, and Sunny was then quite happy to go and stay with my mum while I went dancing.

I know how much finding the sweet spot for my children helps them release through laughter and crying.  If I see through the same lens, that when I am feeling upset or frustrated or sad when I am relating to them, it is probably that they have helped me connect to my sweet spot – that there are feelings I can feel, and beliefs to be accessed and understood.  Just like a loving limit with my child, “I see that you want to play with that, and I’m not willing for you to take it from her,” helps him connect to feelings, so do my feelings show me the way to an underlying contradiction between what I believe I want and what I believe I won’t get/have/be.

For me it is another reminder that, if I’m with my children and feeling something uncomfortable, rather than escaping the feelings, that sitting with them, feeling them, and letting them show me the underlying beliefs, will actually help me grow and move on.  Another reminder that my children do not “make me” feel anything, or even “trigger” feelings, rather they show me feelings and beliefs that are already there, and ready to be shifted.

After I wrote the first draft of this, and still with a cold, Sunny and I went to take Lana to her dance class.  On the way there, I wanted to go the health food shop to get some raw chocolate – as a control pattern!!  Sunny kept saying, “no, I won’t let you go and get some.”  I played along with it, and said things like, “I really want to go, I really want some chocolate.” He kept saying no, and I laughed, and I had another cry (that cold helped me cry easily) and then I had no desire to go and get it, and so just drove home.

Seeing what loving limits and the sweet spot are like on the receiving end helps me see their power and beauty, and to be very respectful with them when I am using them with my children.

Later on that week, my ex-husband arrived with some news that I found pretty painful.  I cried a lot but still there was a sense of needing completion.  So I phoned a dear friend who had been on the Aware Parenting camp, and I told her what happened.  She asked me what the sweet spot was and I told her, “it was the smile on his face when he told me,” and I burst into fresh tears, sobbing deeply…. And she repeated it, “the smile on his face”… and I cried more and some more.  And after a while, thinking of him smiling whilst saying it, whilst my friend kept listening to me, no longer brought any tears.  I experienced the beauty of going right to the pain, of being held in the pain, in the core of it, and the relief that came soon afterwards….  So, like finding the sweet spot with our children, the key to the healing was her loving presence with me (even on the other end of the phone) combined with the words/thoughts that got right to the pain.  It was different when I had been doing this alone, beforehand, as the completion didn’t come.  Just like with our children, it is the connection plus the sweet spot, that allows healing and peace to occur.

A few weeks later, I was doing lots of creating order, unpacking the suitcase from a trip, getting out winter clothes out.  (Tidying up was one of my control patterns!)  I took out my underwear drawer to sort it out, and Sunny (4 and a half then) was sitting on the bed with me.  He started to take things out and I could feel straight away some uncomfortable feelings emerging in me.  So I thought I would go with it and see if we could both have some laughter, and he went with this and started throwing things out, and I said in a mock voice, “No, don’t throw them out, please!” He was laughing and laughing and saying, “yes, yes,” and I could imagine he was releasing some feelings around living with a mum with an ordering-things control pattern!  And then he threw something and it hit me (lightly) and I started to cry. 

I saw that this was a sweet spot for me, that I had been upset already and the ordering things was to repress the feelings.  And that the laughter play and the underwear gently hitting me and the warm connection between us gave me the opportunity to have a cry for 10 minutes.  I explained to him that I was having a cry and that he had helped me connect to my feelings.  Afterwards, I felt much calmer and more present and free to stop ordering and connect with Sunny instead.

I was amazed, thinking back to previous years’ parenting, when I would simply go into the reaction – like feeling frustrated if one of my children that did something that didn’t meet my need for order.  

Another situation emerged last year to help me learn more about this.  I was out in town one afternoon with my children.  Sunny wanted to play with Lana and she didn’t want to.  He got upset.  And suddenly I was in tears.  On the way home, after shopping, I cried in the car.  And whilst I cried I enquired into the thoughts that went with the feelings… “they don’t care about me; they don’t want to help me.”  That was the sweet spot, and I cried some more.  And after crying for some while, I looked into those beliefs and used a Field training technique (www.fieldcenter.org) to let them shift.  

I have also found that the idea of the sweet spot helps me see how I have shifted beliefs and identity.  For example, I had a Facilitating session with the director of the Field Project, and shifted into a beautiful state of alignment, a friendliness between what I want and what I believe.  And since then, the usual sweet spots do not bring any emotion.  There is no charge there when I see something or start to think something that would have brought strong feelings.  They are so obviously not true to me now, and so there are no corresponding painful feelings to feel.  Where there was pain, there is now a sense of freedom and relief.  Yay!

I am seeing now that having the idea of the sweet spot, both for my children and myself, helped me sink into the moment and trust that the sticky and tricky things that come up are actually pathways home.  When I remembered the sweet spot, and stayed there, or help my child or friend stay there, then healing tears, laughter and new beliefs emerged.  

So the sweet spot really is sweet, after all!