Thanks again to all who participated in the call on Tuesday. We had a robust discussion! Unfortunately, in my enthusiasm for the discussion I failed to request permission to activate the recording until a few minutes into the call. Nevertheless, the available recording can be downloaded here.
Registration for August’s call is now available!
What is Resilience, and what does that have to do with being a parent?
Resiliency can be described as our individual ability to return to a desired state. We call this state “center.” Think of this like a stress toy. You can squeeze it or pull it but when the pressure is released, the toy returns to its original shape, ready and available for another set of hands to enjoy. In humans, when we are highly resilient, the day to day pressures that get on us may squeeze or try to bend us out of shape for a bit, but we adapt and quickly return to our initial state or our resilient center, ready to take on another challenge. What is this resilient center? Our resilient center is a place where we show up as the best version of ourselves. From here we are able to act or react from, or maintain our most powerful selves, creating positive possibilities for the future while inviting powerful relationships. This resilient center is our gift to our children, our families, our coworkers, our communities, and our world.
As parents we are constantly experiencing pressures from sources both internal and external. Externally we have the need to juggle schedules, temper tantrums, parent-teacher conferences, car pool, dirty dishes, auto maintenance, a babysitter who just quit, strep throat, and date nights. We have all been there. Then tack on the inner monologue, “I should be able to do it all, a better mom would do this differently, I have to breastfeed or my people will think I’m a bad mom, or I can’t breastfeed because my husband won’t touch me, or I don’t want to work but a stay-at-home dad isn’t a manly choice, or I feel guilty beause I just made partner at my firm and I missed a recital…” All of these pressures weigh on us, pushing and pulling us out of shape and eroding our ability to maintain our resilient center. As a result, we are parenting from a reactive state, also called survival mode.
Survival mode feels like being in a hurry. From here we tend to take action to protect personal security, often through control and dominance. We are not listening and taking in information from all around us, we’re listening for just that which we need to make decisions, take action, to get through the day. While this serves us from time to time, when we are in survival mode often we sometimes habitualize it, being perpetually rushed, pushing to get out the door as quickly as possible even when no one or nothing is waiting. We are protecting ourselves in the absence of risk and the result is we become skilled at creating distance from our resilient center. Think again of the stress toy — if pulled too far too often, it sometimes becomes misshapen and is no longer able to get back to its original shape. When this happens to us as people, our skills at finding our source of personal power starts to diminish and we find that we become less powerful, less creative, and perpetually exhausted.
How do I know if I’m in my resilient center? How do I know if I’m not?
To get to know, or to remember, where your center is, it sometimes helps to start by remembering what it feels like to be out of your center – and to be in survival mode. Both “center” and “survival mode” are coherences – it is experienced through our bodies, our emotions and our language. Let’s start with survival mode.
Think about a time when you’ve been at maximum stress. Re-immerse yourself in the experience. Who was there? What was happening? Where were you? What time was it? Work towards re-living this experience. When you feel like you’re completely in it, pause – and take note of what you’re experiencing:
Body: What do you notice about your current body posture? Where is there stiffness and stillness? Where is there movement? What shape is your spine in, where are your hands, what does your stomach feel like? What do you notice about your breathing? Is it fast and shallow and long and deep? Where is your gaze focused? Directly ahead, at the floor, up and to the right or the left? Take a mental snapshot (or write it down) of what your body is experiencing from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet.
Emotion: What emotions are you experiencing? Does it feel like anger? Fear? Desperation? Powerlessness? Add this to your snapshot or your notebook.
Language: Listen to your inner monologue. What is it saying? What assessments are you forming about yourself and your world? Fill in the blank: I am ______. Add this to your snapshot or your notebook.
And maybe breathe again.
If you really immersed yourself into this you are probably feeling very uncomfortable right now because you have probably triggered your flight or fight reflex. Take some time to breathe and release yourself from this. Perhaps a good shake or wiggle will help you release. Thank your body for allowing you to take the time to delve into the deep analysis of your personal coherence of for survival mode.
And now, let’s contrast the experience of survival mode with the coherence of center. Remember that centered is that focused, present feeling from which you are able to be your most powerful self. Conjure up a time in your memory when you have felt fantastic. Truly awesome. Perhaps you were feeling as though you were living your life’s deep and spiritual purpose. Immerse yourself in this experience. Where were you, what were you doing, who were you with?
Body: What do you notice now? Take a minute to get there and notice your breathing. Deep, shaollow or a measured in between? Is the breath in your chest or your belly? Let’s explore your body position. Where are your eyes focused? Ahead, up, down? The muscles in your face, are they tense, loose? Notice your shoulders, are they up towards your ears, or soft and down, rolled forward or rolled back? Notice your posture, your core, your hips… Notice your legs, are your knees locked or soft? Take a picture of where you are and memorize this feeling.
Emotion: Again, what emotion is forefront in your experience? Does it feel like peace? Enthusiasm? Delight?
Language: What assessments do you hold now from this space? What kind of person are you? What do you hold true about the world around you?
As we have done this exercise with different people we have discovered that each person has a very specific and unique take on what survival mode feels like and what center feels like. There isn’t a right or wrong answer, which is why when you practice this, you want to find your authentic coherence based on experiences in your memory. Some people in survival mode feel cagey – they pace or their eyes can’t seem to focus on a single thing. Others become stiff and stone like. Some people find themselves compulsively needing to control others “I need you to do what I say!” Similarly, center is not the same for everyone either. Some people feel peace or generally at ease with a soft and relaxed posture. Others are in movement, flowing even with language like “I am open to new thoughts and ideas.” It’s important to find your personal take on center – if your center is excited exhilaration, peace would not serve you as well.
Practice: Throughout the day, practice moving in and out of center. Think of it like training for a sport. We practice in a safe environment and the more we practice , the easier it is to conjure up at game time because our muscles are toned and ready to find the right position. Notice if you learn new things that feel more authentic to you about your center and continue to develop them as you go.
So how do I apply this to parenting?
As we become better at finding our center, we become better at getting there when the need arises. Noticing the first few triggers or signals that we are moving to survival mode (maybe you hear the voice in your head first, or maybe you realize your hands are curling into fists…) we can deliberately and intentionally shift to our place of center. This is as helpful during a difficult business meeting as it is over a contentious breakfast with a pair of toddlers.
But there’s another aspect to this. These coherences we built – we built them as children. Your children have probably already started to sink into their coherences for center as well as their coherences for survival mode. AND – it may not be the same as yours. My center is softly still and calm and filled with curious wonder. My daughter’s center is wiggly and happy and joyful. In her center she is poised to play. But when she is in survival mode she stiffens like a board (just before she collapses into tears).
When, as parents, we open ourselves to the possibility that our children are individuals, with their own unique presentations of center, we can coach them to find their center during times of stress. We can begin to teach them to build a practice of resiliency, now, when they are young and so very capable of learning.
Often, we as parents have an expectation that our children react in a particular way. We seek to control their behaviors with language like “settle down! stop moving!” and we may be doing so at the risk of teaching them to AVOID their center. And it’s not just parents – teachers, coaches, other authority figures are often seeking to mold our children to fit their model of appropriate behavior. When we become aware of how our children are showing up, how their behavior is SERVING them, we can also help them negotiate ways to have their needs met while still being productive and “appropriate” for their environments. For example, the child whose center is wiggly may find that motion is an integral part of being connected, focused, and engaged with his environment. Perhaps it isn’t appropriate, then, to stand up and shift from side to side in the middle of a physics exam, BUT, could he negotiate the ability to quietly chew some gum during tests?
Practice: What do you notice about your child’s center? Your child’s survival mode? What conversations can you have with your child to help them develop their own awareness?
Phew – that was a lot for one discussion! And we’re still not done. Next month we’ll continue to explore resiliency by tackling questions like (register here):
- What breaks down your ability to be resilient? What nourishes your resilience?
- What can you do when you find yourself stuck in survival mode? How can you break out?
Prep for the next call (if you don’t have a chance to do the prep, join the call anyway!):
- Think about and make a list: What are the things you do that build resilience? When was the last time you did them? Action: what can you commit to doing on a regular basis.
- Observe – when are you in / not in your resilient center? Pay attention to where you are when you are / are not, have the intention of going back to that place.
- Practice the coherence of being in your resilient center as often as possible.
- Observe – take note of your children’s bodies when they are centered or nervous. What do you see here?
We can’t wait to hear what you’ve learned! Comment below or bring your observations to the next call.