Giving Presence To Our Children

‘I’m fat’, ‘I’m stupid’, ‘I’ll never be anything in my life’ and on and on the audio in my head plays. We all have some version of this audio playing in our heads all the time. It’s like the background or ambient music we observe as we eat dinner out at our favorite restaurant with a friend. Only for most of us it is not so innocent as background music.

The audio that we hear in our heads contains a lifetime of negative messaging that we have internalized as our personality with all of our quirks and limitations. These messages contain limiting beliefs formed throughout life in our attempts to make sense of experiences that caused us to feel negative emotions. Limiting beliefs also contain the programing we downloaded as young children when our brains acted as sponges taking in the constant barrage of input from our parents, preschool experiences and our environment. Our bodies and minds store a visceral record of our experiences and surroundings beginning in the womb at the time of conception. Most of these memories are implicit meaning they were stored without conscious awareness. Implicit memories remain in our subconscious mind influencing how we feel and experience life without us knowing of them.

While we are not conscious of our limiting beliefs most of the time, this does not make them any less powerful. The subconscious mind is our autopilot, or our programing enabling us to respond instantaneously to input from the environment in precisely the way in which it was programmed during our youth without us ever thinking about it. That’s right, all of this done without conscious thought or awareness. This accounts for our “buttons” and why every time one of our buttons is pushed we respond the same way. These buttons or triggers touch upon our early wiring and thus elicit the same visceral feelings, emotions and reactions we had the first time we experienced a similar situation earlier in life.

The power of the subconscious mind cannot be underestimated. Our brains were specifically wired to learn and adapt quickly to the environment. What we call the subconscious mind is largely responsible for our adaptability as it processes information at a much quicker rate than even the conscious mind and all without our even asking it do so. Our subconscious mind is also “in charge” most of the time. Essentially, if we are not completely conscious and aware in any given moment then we are operating on autopilot under the guidance of our subconscious and we are completely at the whim of its hardwired programming.

Our limiting beliefs exert a tremendous influence in our lives and largely without our awareness. This is because ultimately our beliefs, conscious or not, guide our actions. Limiting beliefs, like ‘I’m not worthy’ or ‘I am not lovable’ lead to self-sabotage in friendships, intimate relationships, job opportunities, and on and on the list goes. If all of this is new to you, you can rest at ease knowing that this is new to most of us. Many of us lead lives that do not resemble the lives that we truly desire, lives that are filled with constant pain and disappointment. Is there a solution? Yes, there is a way to come to resolution with subconscious limiting beliefs.

The answer lies in awareness, awareness that comes as a result of the open and curious mind we so often observe in young children. Strong feelings and emotions are the clues to where this detective work needs to begin. This is the unsettled residue from our past begging first for our awareness and then to be released. As we shine a light on what we are carrying from our past we are free to look at it consciously and decide whether or not the beliefs we carry under these feelings are actually serving us. As we become aware of what no longer serves us and we are willing to acknowledge that it truly no longer serves us, space is created to receive new beliefs that are in alignment with our higher purpose and deepest desires. This is the process of transmutation. We have the power to take all of our pain and suffering and transform into the fuel that bestows our greatest gift, self-actualization. In many ways our children are the greatest recipients of our awareness. When we are aware of our early programing and patterning we can choose to parent consciously giving our children the love, patience and emotional support needed for them to develop to their highest potentials free of many of the burdens we were saddled with during our own childhoods.

So if you are anything like me, this may seem airy-fairy or downright impossible. I can tell you from experience it is a bit on the airy-fairy side but it’s far from impossible. In fact the more that you delve into your feelings, really lean into them while staying open and curious about what is inside those feelings, the easier the process becomes.   I am at a point now that when painful memories and/or strong emotions surface, I immediately pause and offer myself gratitude and then I listen quietly and intently to whatever surfaces. I approach these experiences almost as if I am speaking to myself as the young scared child that experienced pain and suffering. I want to be open, kind, with no hint of judgment in the transaction. I want her to know that she is safe and that I can help her to internalize a new message around these experiences. I see it as an opportunity to re-parent myself in a supportive and loving way.

Everyday I feel a little safer and little more willing to explore what I previously deemed a very terrifying and unsafe world. Bit by bit I feel myself growing more resilient to my triggers. When previously I would have remained silent, I am finding a new sense of self-confidence to speak up for my self and my child. I am starting to recognize that everyone truly is fighting their own battle rather than taking things personally or as just another confirmation that people are unkind or that I am not worthy of loving. I get to choose which lenses to peer out of. I choose dignity, love, trust and joy. This process has not been instant, rather it has taken me years to evolve to the point I am today and there are moments or days or weeks even when I “regress” back to my old limiting beliefs. Overall, I can say without a doubt that I have experienced a forward progression toward awareness. I can also say without a doubt that I anticipate exponentially more growth as I continue on this journey.

Our brain is completely magnificent. With continual practice and the redirection we are empowered with through awareness, we have the capacity to rewire our brains over-riding early negative programming with whatever we choose to replace it with. The limiting belief, ‘I am stupid’, can be replaced with ‘I possess wisdom and creativity that are unique to my being’. Any negative belief can be transformed into a belief that serves one’s higher good. The key is practicing new empowering beliefs until eventually these neuropathways become so strong that the old negative ones fall away from disuse. Awareness is power. It is the key to unlocking your higher self and accessing deep presence, the kind of presence that allows you to show up unencumbered for all your loved ones. This is the ultimate gift every one of us is capable of giving to our children.

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A Piece of Peace

One cold gray day my two-year old son sat in front of his food, not eating. I reminded him a couple times gently to take bites and of the simple fact that his body needed food to grow. Meanwhile, my anxiety over how little he was eating and how long it was taking continued to build and eventually I exploded yelling at him to eat his food now!

My son has a history of being “failure to thrive.” As an infant and toddler he barely ingested any food. We saw many specialists and eventually learned that he was dairy and gluten intolerant. We also discovered that he has low muscle tone and some sensory sensitivities that further compounded his eating challenges.

While it was really helpful for me to understand what made eating difficult and for the most part utterly unenjoyable for my son, all the understanding in the world did nothing to quell my mounting anxiety. I was exhausted from my son’s multiple weekly therapies and spending HOURS every day trying to feed a child who seemingly had no internal desire to survive let alone thrive. I began to feel powerless and completely ineffective at meeting my child’s most basic needs for survival. I was terrified and resentful for having been dealt such a difficult kid to deal with. From where I sat, every other parent child relationship looked like a cakewalk. All those other children just ate, simple as that.

Fast-forward now about five years. My son is seven going on eight. He takes the bus up and down a mountain every day to get to school. He is funny, kind and smart. He loves science, nature and anything having to do with animals. And he still has a challenging relationship with food. Every day when he comes home from school I unpack his lunch bag and more often than not there is a significant amount of food left.

On a “bad” day I will still explode and go off on a tirade about how he needs to eat and how on earth can he possibly expect to grow up big and strong when he eats like a bird!?!? But most of the time I catch myself, and I am able to give myself empathy for my anxiety and feeling of inadequacy as a mother and I am able to apply my empathy for him as well. I know that eating is still a challenge for him, especially in a large social context where there are a lot of other distractions.

I call this silent self-talk my little piece of peace. This tiny moment in time literally has a palpable feeling of ease and spaciousness and it is rejuvenating enough that all the anxiety I was feeling seconds ago just melts away. And in that space there is so much freedom. Sometimes I choose to throw the food away and not say anything, and sometimes I may say, “I noticed you did not eat much at lunch, do you need a big snack or shall we prepare a feast for dinner?” At other times I use it as an opportunity to check in about whether he is likes his lunches or whether he might desire something different.

I find I get a lot of really interesting information when I ask these questions. Sometimes I discover that someone was being especially funny at lunch and he was laughing too much to eat or that they had an interesting field trip and had to cut lunch time a bit shorter to make it happen. And occasionally I find out that he does not like a particular food right now or that a particular food combination does not work for him. Above and beyond the information I receive, there is a moment of connection, of conversation between us after a long day apart that I miss every time I slip up and yell at him.

Knowing that I get easily triggered at meal times with my son, I put some safe guards in place at home to make them as pleasurable as possible for both of us. The first thing I always do is to make sure he has some input on the menu options. I ask him to choose the veggie or the protein or both and I invite him to help prepare the meal so that he feels included. Choice is power for children.

Second, I keep a tool kit at the table for when meals tank and he is not eating much. This tool kit is a basket stocked with Mad Libs, a joke book, and a child magazine or two. The moment I get a whiff of stress in my system, I take out one of these tools and put it to use. Reading an interesting article or telling a few jokes keeps me from spiraling out and loosing my patience with him.

Each time that I remain centered, I find that my mind stays clear and I am able to find loving and sometimes funny ways to encourage eating. The other morning Dillan was not feeling well and seemed to have very little appetite. He was poking his food around his plate but nothing was going in. Instead of losing it, I picked up a raspberry and put it on my finger like a hat. I proceeded to pretend that I was a giant gobbling up helpless little elves with their cheerful hats. I joked that my son would not be so cruel as to do the same thing, that surely someone in the family had a heart for little people. Before I could finish my sentence, he was putting raspberry hats on all his fingers and pretending that they were pleading with him not to be eaten. Within seconds the bowl of raspberries had been devoured.

This is just one example where I succeeded in staying present with my son rather than reacting out of habit and yelling at him but I know that it made a significant impact on both of us. As parents we are brain-sculptors. Every action we take leaves a corresponding imprint on the developing brain of our children. When we model staying calm and remaining flexible or creative even, we help our children to form the same neuropathways in their brains. While none of us are perfect, our children, their vulnerable developing brains, are reason enough to strive to make every parenting moment brilliant. Like the saying goes, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you will land among the stars.”

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