Q: I read The Aware Baby when my baby, Clementine, was one month old, and started Aware Parenting soon after that. Gradually my husband and I got into it. We are both counsellors and so we are used to the concept of the importance of expressing and mirroring feelings, although neither of us had experienced it with babies or children. We have both done a lot of counselling and crying ourselves, which has really helped. For us, the proof came in seeing how Clem was after we started giving her the space to cry in our arms once we were sure that all her needs were met. She had seemed a happy and contented baby before, but now she just seemed to shine. Being in her presence, especially after she had finished crying in my arms, was like sitting in meditation; she radiated peace, wholeness and awareness, just as Aletha talks about.
Anyway, my question isn’t so much about the doing or being of Aware Parenting, but about how I relate to family and friends. My family are telling me I should put Clem into a cot, and that I have to put her in a stroller rather than wear her in the sling or carrier. The mums I’ve met at the local mums group tell me to feed her to sleep, and tell me to feed her for comfort or walk her around in the sling when she is crying. I’m starting to get a bit fed up. My family, in particular, seem to be always judging me and telling me what to do. I don’t really know how to respond. I don’t know any other parents who are into Aware Parenting. Any suggestions?
A: Dear Annabelle,
Thanks for your post. I enjoy hearing how much Aware Parenting has resonated with you, and how reassuring it has been for you to see the difference in Clementine once you started practising Aware Parenting.
I hear how fed up you are when you hear your family and others suggest you do other things with your parenting. Sounds like you’d really like acceptance for how you choose to parent?
For things like this, I’ve found Non-violent Communication very helpful (http://www.cnvc.org/)
Have you heard of it? From this perspective, we all do things to meet our needs, and one of the most important needs we have is to contribute. Looked at this way, when the people in your life offer suggestions, they simply want to contribute to you and Clementine. Their beliefs about how that is most optimally done are just different to yours. Same need; different strategy.
When you hear others tell you to do things differently, one suggestion is to silently remind yourself that they are probably doing it because they want to contribute to you and Clementine.
You could then connect with what you need – it could be acceptance, or to be understood, or to be heard, or to choose…. Once you have connected with what the other might be needing, and with your own needs, then speaking to them honestly will probably become easier. For example, you could say something like, “I really appreciate you wanting to help. I see that you have found a style of parenting that fits for you. At the moment I’m enjoying this way of parenting. Do you want to talk more about the different ways we see things?”
Parenting seems to be something that most of us are very sensitive about – our choices are dear to our hearts and our values. Finding ways of communicating about different styles and models of parenting whilst staying warmly connected with others is a handy skill.
To me, this is part of the practice of Aware Parenting. With my children, I aim to be present, hear their feelings and needs, and express myself authentically and compassionately. This runs parallel with hearing the feelings and needs of other parents, and expressing my feelings and values to them. The outcome in both situations is warm connection and intimacy.
You mention not knowing other parents who are into Aware Parenting. Have you thought about finding some? Perhaps you’d like to put an advert in your local paper, or buy a spare copy of The Aware Baby and offer to lend it to parents whom you think might be interested? You might think of setting up an Aware Parenting group, using Aletha’s Aware Parenting workbook. (Available at http://www.awareparenting.com/books.htm#wb)
How about joining the yahoo group that I set up – you can find an empathy partner and meet other local Aware Parenting folk there. Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to join. Having a community of other parents to share experiences with makes such a difference, both in times of challenge, and times of celebration.
I trust that this is helpful. Enjoy your Aware Parenting journey!
I will be answering two questions per month here at Kindred. If you would like to ask a question about Aware Parenting, please email me at email@example.com and put “KIndred” in the subject heading.