Balance tip #1: Strive to be a Very Good Parent, not the best

“Evaluate balance over a full day or week, not every single moment. Instead of wanting to be the ‘best’ parent who has to do everything right, choose to be a ‘very good’ parent who sometimes makes mistakes and learns from them. Parents have to learn ‘on the job’ and should give themselves a break — figuratively and literally. Parenting is hard work!” ~ Attached at the Heart: Eight Proven Parenting Principles for Raising Connected and Compassionate Children by Barbara Nicholson & Lysa Parker

Learn 16 tried-and-true tips for maintaining your sense of balance as a parent in this definitive guide to Attachment Parenting written by API’s cofounders. Purchase your copy through the Amazon link above to have a portion of the proceeds benefit Attachment Parenting International (API).

Editor’s pick: How your childhood shaped your adult personality

Parenting is largely undervalued in our society. So much discussion among politicians and policymakers centers on public education, gender equality, and poverty alleviation. These are all important areas, but parent support is glaringly missing from the list.

When I refer to parent support, I mean research-backed parenting education for all parents regardless of income class or at-risk group.

Relatively few parents seek out parenting classes when they’re not court-ordered. Many parents do pick up a parenting book from time to time, or seek out support from Facebook groups, or search for specific parenting questions on the Internet. But there is much to be considered whenever any parent solicits advice in how to raise their child. Most parents don’t feel they have the time do the homework necessary to make sure their references are up-to-date, accurate, and aligned with their family values and personal parenting goals.

Media Analysis Guidelines for Parents

It’s important that we all learn how to read between the lines on any media report about parenting, so we can make informed decisions on how to raise our children. Attachment Parenting International (API) created these guidelines to help parents to be able to better discern appropriate resources amid the clutter of information that bombards us everyday:

What’s fact or fiction in parenting news?

Get the most out of a scientific study

Trusted resources

API supports parents in raising their children in a way that meets all of their needs for healthy development, not only physically but also socioemotionally. Growing up without a close, warm, trusting, and sensitively responsive attachment to the parent can have serious, lifelong consequences for a child. These children grow into adults who then struggle with raising their own children in a way that is warm and loving. In many ways, we could view this as a mental health crisis.

Not only that, but research also demonstrates that certain childhood events can alter our biological stress responses, translating into physical health problems not only in the affected individual but in his or her DNA with the possibility of being passed down the family tree through epigenetics. From this perspective, the lack of consistent parenting education available and promoted to all parents is a public health crisis on many levels.

Attachment Matters

API explores the effects of insecure childhood attachment on adults in-depth in our latest ebook, Attachment Matters. Receive your copy of this ebook with a donation of $25 or more to API.

To get a better feel for the specific effects of parenting that is not in line with research, this API Editor’s Pick highlights the Psych Central post, “Unloved in Childhood: 10 Common Effects on Your Adult Self” by Peg Streep, a parenting book author from New York City, USA. It’s important to note that while this post refers specifically to mothers and daughters, the effects of a son feeling unloved is much the same. These 10 effects include:

  • Insecure attachment
  • Undeveloped emotional intelligence
  • Impaired sense of self
  • Lack of trust
  • Difficulties with boundaries
  • Tendency toward toxic friends and partners
  • Fear of failure
  • Feelings of isolation
  • Extreme sensitivity
  • Inner conflict.

What I particularly like about this post is how it draws attention to the fact that the problem is not so much how well the parent perceives he or she loves the child, but rather, what’s important to that child’s development is the sense of love from the child’s perspective. It’s all about how the child perceives he or she is loved her by the parent. That’s an important distinction.

The author has so much to impart on this subject, so be sure to read the entire post, but here’s a quote I found especially enlightening:

“Because the culture stubbornly believes that all mothers are loving and that mothering is instinctual, the unloved daughter mistakenly believes she’s the only child on the planet to find herself in this predicament. As a result, she feels isolated and afraid, and is likely to continue to self-isolate because of her deep shame. She’s not likely to tell anyone. More than anything, she wants to belong to the tribe — those girls who hug their moms and laugh with them.” ~ Peg Streep, Psych Central

Parents, I urge you to be the parent whose children — no matter their age — finds it easy to laugh with you and who feels completely comfortable in seeking out a hug with you anytime. Don’t be afraid to be warm toward your child, don’t be afraid to offer comfort to your child night and day, don’t be afraid to use positive discipline rather than spanking or timeout, and don’t be afraid to be different from your friends and family. Seek out your free parenting support from a local API Support Group or the API Warmline.

Attachment Parenting as the golden rule of parenting

What family legacy are you passing on to your children?

Home should be safe in every way

Understanding Shame, part 5: Healing emotional trauma

Editor’s note: This week, we offer you a 5-part series — originating in The Attached Family online magazine’s “Parenting Without Shame” issue — to help you better understand the development of toxic shame. Part 1 explained how trauma includes 3 components: Fear, Disconnection, and Shame. Part 2 explored Fear. Part 3 defined Disconnection. Part 4 discussed what it means to become “shame-based.” In this final Part 5, we take a look at the healing process.

One of the challenges for healing of emotional trauma is that although trauma-worlds are created in response to external events, once established, they form rigid and closed internal systems.

Locked inside these systems, our behavior sets us up to be retraumatized by other people. Additionally, the ways that we behave toward ourselves are invariably retraumatizing. Trauma-worlds are self-perpetuating.

Locked inside these systems, we also struggle to see trauma for what it is. That leaves us little choice but to focus on the visible symptoms and the chronic, deadening pain they create.

Healing Doesn’t Come Through Symptom Relief

Symptoms of emotional trauma include the fear, disconnection, and shame that lie at the heart of a trauma-world; also depression, meaninglessness, addictions, self-harm, rage, and unexplained physical pain, and ailments. Additionally, we are likely to struggle in our relationships and to sabotage things we care about.

Focusing on such symptoms, we — as individuals and as a society — put our resources into trying to alleviate them, perhaps through short-term therapy or psychotherapeutic drugs, or by pinning our hopes to something like success at work, a new romantic relationship, losing weight, or cosmetic surgery.

These “symptom relievers” can give us temporary respite, but it won’t free us from the internal systems that were set up in the wake of the traumatizing experiences, so in time, we fall back into our suffering.

Even when we can see beneath the symptoms to the underlying traumatizing experiences, we are unlikely to recognize the trauma-worlds in which we are living, so our first port of call is to blame whoever, or whatever, caused the original wounds and look for retribution.

That is a valuable first step and a necessary part of the process, for we do need to recognize what happened to us. We need to validate the experience and understand that it was not our fault. However, focusing on the traumatizing experience or on punishing the perpetrators is not enough by itself to bring deep healing, because that won’t change the embodied systems that form our trauma-worlds. It’s akin to being hit by a drunken driver and having our leg broken. Focusing on the accident and jailing the driver won’t heal our leg.

How Healing Happens

Healing trauma requires the courage to recognize that ultimately our lives are compromised not by the original traumatizing experiences themselves, but by the trauma-world that is created by our own minds and bodies as a response to those experiences. And we need to recognize this reality without blaming and judging ourselves — we need to understand that creating a trauma-world is what human beings do to survive.

At the same time, we have to take responsibility for our healing, and for moving out of our trauma-worlds.

Developing a cognitive awareness of the original traumatizing experiences, and of the systems created in their wake, is a good start to the process of taking responsibility for our own healing. But it is not enough.

To create lasting change, we have to enter into our emotional minds and bodies and slowly become aware of what we carry from the inside.

That means opening to the original traumatizing pain and fear, learning how to tolerate it, and integrating it into our sense of who we are. It is only when we find ways of relating to our buried pain and fear that our lives are no longer organized around the imperative to avoid anything which might trigger what we carry in our depths. However, this is an extremely challenging process: We need to do it slowly, taking one small step at a time.

Equally crucial is that we work with the fear, disconnection, and shame that form our trauma-worlds:

  1. First, we must enter into these systems and become conscious of how we feel in both our minds and bodies when they are active.
  2. Then, we have to challenge our shame, reconnect to the exiled parts of ourselves, and learn to live with our sensitized fear system.
  3. Finally, we need to develop new, and healthier, ways to protect ourselves.

It is hard, daunting, and arduous work. Our trauma-worlds were created to survive overwhelming pain and fear. When we try to transform them, we are besieged with the conviction that we will be annihilated. That conviction leaves us at risk of sabotaging the healing process. Thus, we need patience, perseverance, determination, and courage.

It is also imperative that we have support and guidance from those who have been through the process themselves.

Do Not Do It Alone

To heal trauma, we not only need an embodied consciousness of what we carry from our past, we also need new experiences. Real change happens in the present moment through lived experience.

This need for new experiences is one of the many reasons why we can’t heal trauma alone. Emotional trauma arises because something has gone awry in our relationships, so a healing relationship is crucially important if we are to learn how to connect to other people and to ourselves in healthier ways. Similarly, we need support if we are going to approach the unprocessed pain and fear that was once unbearable, and we also need guidance if we are to transform the fearfulness, disconnection, and shame that lie at the heart of our trauma-worlds.

A healing relationship can be provided by a therapist, counselor, teacher, social worker, spiritual guide, or healing group — the label doesn’t matter. What does matter is that whoever is accompanying us has worked deeply with his or her own trauma. Healing trauma is akin to learning to speak a language like Chinese: It is not enough that our teacher has a theoretical knowledge of the grammar and that she can recognize the characters when they are written on the page; rather she must speak the language herself.

What It Means to be Healed

When we embark on trying to heal trauma, we typically imagine that we will reach a place where our lives are free from the suffering that arises from our wounds, and where trauma no longer has any effect on our lives.

That is not what happens. We cannot change our past. Our trauma remains part of us. What can be changed is its impact. To achieve that, we have to find new and healthier ways of being with the pain and fear embedded in the traumatizing experiences, and just as importantly, we have to transform the trauma-world that developed around them.

It is a challenging process. It takes time. Many people, and indeed most public health services, look for an easier and faster route. But there is no easy route. To address trauma in a meaningful way, we need to commit ourselves to this challenge.

I believe it is vitally important that we make this commitment — not only to help ourselves — but also because when we carry unaddressed trauma, we have no choice but to relate to our children, family, neighbors, and colleagues in ways that are likely to result in them becoming traumatized.

In contrast, when we transform our trauma-worlds, we break that spiral and start relating to ourselves, other people, and the world around us in much healthier and more nurturing ways.

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Understanding Shame, part 4: Growing up shame-based

Editor’s note: This week, we offer you a 5-part series — originating in The Attached Family online magazine’s “Parenting Without Shame” issue — to help you better understand the development of toxic shame. Part 1 explained how trauma includes 3 components: Fear, Disconnection, and Shame. Part 2 explored Fear. Part 3 defined Disconnection. In this Part 4, we take a look at what it means to become shame-based.

Shame is a visceral and pervasive feeling of being fundamentally flawed and inadequate as a human being.

Shame is primarily relational: Although shame leaves us feeling absolutely alone, its roots lie in an implicit conviction that we are somehow unworthy of having meaningful relationships with other people.

Shame vs Guilt

Shame is often confused with guilt, but with guilt, we feel bad about things we have done. With shame, we feel bad about who we are.

Guilt is about our actions. Shame is about our being.

Shame is mediated by the emotional networks of the brain, so although shame is typically accompanied by self-critical thoughts like “I am stupid/useless/fat/pathetic,” it is ultimately lived as an embodied experience that resides deep beneath our awareness and sucks us into the psychological equivalent of a black hole.

When Shame Becomes Toxic

Shame is a product of evolution, and it is experienced as a passing emotion in almost everybody. It exists to tell us that we are at risk of losing important social relationships, or that we might be thrown out of our group.

However, if we’ve been traumatized, then shame becomes indelibly interwoven with our implicit sense of who we are, whereupon our identity becomes “shame-based.”

There are several routes to becoming shame-based:

  1. Shame can originate outside of us — When we are made to feel inadequate by our family, caregivers, teachers, peers, culture, or socio-political environment, we absorb that shame and make it our own. In this case, being shamed constitutes the original painful and frightening experience around which our trauma-world is built.
  2. Human infants need sensitive and responsive nurturing from caregivers — When this need is not met, children develop an embodied and nonverbal sense of being inadequate. They also develop an embodied and nonverbal sense of inadequacy around their actual need for nurturing — implicitly feeling that there must be something wrong with them for having the needs.
  3. Shame can originate inside us as a response to more overt traumatizing experiences — Painful and frightening experiences occur that have nothing to do with being shamed. However, we have evolved a need to understand why these things have happened to us, and for various reasons, we tend to believe that we are at fault. For example, children whose parents divorce commonly feel that if they had been “better,” their parents would have stayed together.
  4. Once we’ve entered a trauma-world, shame can be created in response to our own behavior — There are times when we know we are over-reacting. However, because we aren’t aware that our fear system is hyper-sensitive, we take our behavior as evidence of our own supposed inadequacy. In addition, when we bury parts of ourselves in order to make ourselves acceptable to others, we implicitly sense that we are being inauthentic, which in turn creates shame.

Irrespective of how our shame originates, once we’ve become shame-based, we can’t recognize shame for what it is. Thus, we see ourselves through a distorted lens. As a result, we are likely to experience ourselves as contemptible and feel a victim to our own believed inadequacy.

What Doesn’t Work to Heal Shame

In this state, we get sucked into a downward spiral of shame. We can become even more desperate to obliterate the parts of ourselves that we believe make us inadequate, redoubling our efforts to shame those parts into submission. However, when we use shame against ourselves, we retraumatize ourselves. Then, instead of fostering change, we reinforce the status quo and fortify the walls of our trauma-world.

At the same time, we try to cajole ourselves into success, believing that if we can force ourselves to become more than we are — or ideally perfect — then the gnawing pain of being shame-based will abate. However, if we are shame-based, then no amount of success will be enough. No matter what we do, we are never enough.

Being shame-based doesn’t only poison our relationship with ourselves, it also poisons our relationships with others. When we are shame-based, we will be terrified that if others get to know us, they will see us as the inadequate person we believe ourselves to be. In an unconscious attempt to prevent that from happening, we may put up barriers, push people away, and sabotage relationships. Alternatively, we may try to control others, hoping that we can prevent them from doing anything that might bring our shame to the surface.

We are generally not conscious of what we are doing, or indeed why we are doing it. However, we are left with a murky feeling that our relationships lack authenticity, trust, and intimacy. As a result, we feel increasingly isolated.

Also, because human beings are such a profoundly social species, when we don’t have meaningful relationships, we feel sub-human, and that, in turn, exacerbates our shame.

In short, shame creates more shame. Shame also generates isolation and fear. And shame reinforces the need to disconnect. Ultimately, shame keeps us locked in our trauma-worlds.

Tomorrow, in Part 4, we’ll explore what does work in healing shame

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Preparing for childbirth: The delicate dance between pushing out and letting go

Observing a friend struggling with, and complaining about, the last days of her pregnancy –constantly posting on Facebook about how she finally wanted her baby to make an appearance in the “real world,” listing details about all the activities she undertook in order to make this happen ASAP — made me reflect on the delicate dance that childbirth is. 

I get it. I’ve been there.

Ready to Push?

Feeling big — no, huge! Not being able to see my toes anymore, let alone tie my shoelaces. Feeling very swollen in the summer heat and out of breath after walking up the stairs to our apartment on the 4th floor. Rolling around on the mat in my prenatal yoga class feeling like a huge whale. Nights spent sleepless with heartburn, an active baby in the belly, and a bladder that never wanted to go to sleep.  

And then, there is all the excitement about finally getting to meet this tiny human being that you have lovingly and patiently grown in your belly for all these long months. The excitement about becoming a parent — for the first, second, third… time. There are all the people around you, asking when the baby is due — which does not really help or make waiting any easier — and so many other good reasons to finally push the baby out of your belly and into the world. 

But First…  

But there is another side to the story, which tends to be forgotten or at least does not enjoy a lot of spotlight.

A more delicate, more sensitive — even darker — side that might not be as limelight-worthy or Facebook post-worthy…a side, which in my opinion, is just as important as the “push side.”

It is the side that mindfully focuses on letting go.

On gentleness, on feeling, on making space for the baby to come into this world…and making space for what is to come and follow.

On becoming aware of and consciously reflecting what is transpiring inside of us: physically, spiritually, and emotionally. 

Facing Our Feelings

This includes facing our anxieties and deepest fears and doubts about birth and about parenthood, about our ability to “do a good job” at delivering and then protecting, nurturing, and growing this delicate, wonderful new being that we already love more than we could have ever imagined. It may also include acknowledging and confronting our fear of failure, our fear of pain, our fear of loss, and our fear of fear. 

Furthermore, it includes facing the reality that things are (again!) about to change tremendously. That not only our everyday life is about to get the next big overhaul, but also our whole universe: The way we relate to the world, and the way we relate to ourselves is going to drastically change.

It includes coping with our bodies changing — yet again — from the pregnant state to a postpartum state, which will look and feel very different from what we are accustomed to and from what we might actually enjoy or expect seeing and feeling. We might feel empty, tired, depleted, sore, and possibly a far cry from attractive and sexy for quite a while.  

I vividly remember mourning my “empty“ belly for several days following my daughter’s birth. It felt empty and somewhat sad to not feel my baby inside my belly anymore. While I was certainly very happy to finally be able to hold her and cuddle up with her in my arms, I missed this innate and exclusive feeling of connection to her.  

Bringing Together the ‘Pushing Out’ and the ‘Letting Go’

I believe that, in order to consciously and mindfully prepare for birthing our child, it is important to take the time to look at and ideally merge both sides of the equation: the “pushing out” and the “letting go.”  

The tiredness of being pregnant and the energetic eagerness to have baby out of my belly have certainly helped me tremendously in getting over my fear of giving birth and all the pain that would be — and certainly was — involved. However, being mindful, open, and receptive to the side of letting go, creating space, and facing anxiety, doubt and fear — even mourning during this transition — has certainly proven to be very helpful as well. I believe it might be one supportive part in the puzzle of alleviating or possibly even preventing feelings of the “baby blues.” 

So, I’m calling on all expecting moms: Take a deep breath and give yourself a mindful moment — and ideally many more — and some space to merge both ends of the continuum. By doing this, you will be giving your body, mind, and spirit a chance to holistically and soulfully prepare for what is to come instead of forcing it into birthing-action mode.

Photo source