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Getting Past the Parenting "Shoulds"

Compassionate Parenting Starts With Self-Acceptance

By Inbal Kashtan

“I love my children, but sometimes they drive me crazy!” Haven’t you heard parents say this? Have you thought it yourself? We want to meet our children with calm and compassion, no matter what, but we don’t always manage to experience calm and compassion.

Many parents judge themselves when they find their behavior falling short of their hopes: “I’m a terrible parent”; “If you saw how I behave with my children at home, you wouldn’t feel so compassionate toward me…”; “I just can’t do this NVC thing!” These are just a few of many statements I have heard from parents over the years.

The tendency so many parents have of judging themselves led me to focus more and more, on supporting parents to work on self-acceptance through self-connection. Without self-acceptance, any attempt at growth and transformation can easily become a path to self-judgments! NVC, with all its focus on transforming judgments, can itself become another yardstick against which to measure ourselves as falling short.

So how do we develop self-compassion, self-acceptance and even self-love? NVC has so much to offer us here! Beginning with the basic practice of self-empathy – checking inwardly with our own feelings and needs.

Self-empathy is a new habit for most people, a very different way to approach ourselves than the self-judgments and self-demands we are used to. Self-empathy can be as simple as getting curious about our feelings and needs, gently inquiring about our inner experience. What am I feeling? What am I needing?

Self-empathy can be taken to a deeper place by using judgments and self-judgments as welcome clues to the deeper life within you, as threads you can hold on to as you navigate your way into yourself.

Another avenue for deepening can be found in opening ourselves to the clues our bodies hold – sensations, movement, sounds – letting ourselves fully experience and make contact with our physical and emotional experience. Then there are various processes for engaging with and deepening our relationship to our needs, so we can move from the state of reactive grasping to get our needs met NOW, to a capacity to live in peace even when our needs are not met.

By reaching in repeatedly to connect with our human experience, we begin to develop compassion and acceptance for ourselves. We deepen our ability to welcome and embrace all of who we are, including on physical, emotional, mental and spiritual levels. Through fuller and deeper self-connection, healing of core patterns of thought and behavior can take place.

Many parents would ask now: “When am I supposed to do this?! I don’t have time for my own healing!” With much sadness, I recognize the reality that so many parents face in our world today: torn between so many tasks and projects and needs to attend to, sometimes not even able to provide basic sustainability for our families, our own needs – healing included – can fall by the wayside.

Yet I hold hope that many of the processes NVC invites us to do not have to take more time than what we have. We can engage in them while driving, brushing our teeth, making food, cleaning, or doing any task that does not involve serious engagement of our minds. While it may be ideal to set aside quiet time for self-connection, self-connection can happen with almost every breath we take.

How about trying this: set your watch or cell phone to beep once an hour. When it beeps, take a deep breath and ask yourself: “What’s alive in me right now? What is it like to be this human being that I am, right now? How am I feeling at this moment? What needs are moving me?” Take 1-2 minutes to let a response arise within you. Give yourself more time if you can, but even just one minute can make a difference.

Any or all of these questions can open a window into your heart. By nurturing a habit of checking in with yourself, you may be amazed to find that your relationship with yourself can, over time, become your haven, a home you are happy to return to each time. From this foundation of self-connection we can grow our capacity to meet our children with the calm and compassion we long to offer them.

Inbal Kashtan, author of Parenting From Your Heart, recently returned to sharing NVC after facing cancer. You can find out more about her work at www.baynvc.org, and her CD for parents, Connected Parenting: Nonviolent Communication in Family Life, by clicking here.

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