I recently came across the book Positive Discipline by Jane Nelson, Ed.D., and read it voraciously. I have never considered myself a punitive parent, for we don't hit our kids and have tried to frame time-outs as calming down time. But reading this book I saw how we are still using shame and blame to try to coerce our children (mostly my daughter, for my son is only 14 months old) into behaving in ways we condone. Like getting angry at my daughter for interrupting, or sending her to her room for screaming at us. In Positive Discipline Nelson discusses how erroneous it is to think that a child will do better by being made to feel worse, that in fact a child doesn't sit there in time out or when mom is yelling at her and think, man, I need to be a better person. She just feels bad about herself and angry at mom. She feels powerless and acts accordingly. I highly recommend the book or its companion, Positive Discipline A-Z -- 1001 Solutions to Everyday Parenting Problems for any and every parent.
But beware. In evaluating and changing most of the ways I interact with my daughter (with whom I've been battling since birth), I'm going through a powerful and intense process. My rational brain says that "all" I'm doing is learning a new skill set in order to deal with something that hasn't been working (punitive discipline works in the moment but over time makes it all worse). But I'm exhausted, achy, and emotional. I'm angry and sad. I even woke up with a mild bout of mastitis (which is all about anger and boundaries and service).
Every time my daughter misbehaves or does something annoying or makes a request of me, I stop, notice my gut reaction, and then draw on this new skill set. This means 100 times a day I have to evaluate and change my patterns of relating. On an energetic level, I realized, this is huge. I'm changing the energy between me and my daughter, me and my husband, and even between me and my parents. I realized, for instance, that the sadness that plagued me the other morning was all the stuffed sadness and shame I felt as a child when punished. Again, my family was not terribly strict or punitive, nor were my parents overly permissive. I'm seeing, though, in reading this book, how subtle and pervasive our culture of shame and blame truly is. How we hand that shame down from generation to generation, an undetected language about the self and the world. I am feeling not only my unconscious sadness finally arising, but also sadness about how surprisingly difficult it is to be kind but firm all the time, telling my daughter with my actions, words, and tone of voice that she is valued, that she belongs, that I love her unconditionally - how awful that this is so hard! I am also, I suspect, feeling the sadness of all the generations past who were shamed and blamed and told they didn't matter because that is what people did and still do with each other, especially children.
For it is said that when you heal an emotional wound, you heal the seven generations behind you. I see them all, my parents, my grandparents, their parents, on back before my ancestors came to the United States, all carrying these weights of not belonging, not being good enough, being "bad" people. I can feel these weights. Feel the sadness and confusion and longing. Powerful and overwhelming.
And then there is the anger. I have a sneaky temper. I lash out, I realized, when I feel trapped and discouraged because I can't control others or myself. My father was the same way. Yelling or banging a wooden spoon on the sauce pan hard enough to break it are ways of releasing the fire of frustration that boils over with humbling regularity. I have worked so so hard to manage this anger, and even more so now as I use positive discipline techniques. The only problem is the anger is still there. It rises like bile when I am in my reaction phase. I breath, do snake breath (check "Managing Mama Rage" by Tera Freese in the November-December 2010 issue of Mothering magazine - a timely article for me), try to cool down, and then deal with my daughter or husband's offending behavior in a more enlightened manner. But by the end of the day, partly due to my being totally yin deficient, wherein the kidney cannot "cool" the liver, I have a very cranky bit of anger churning inside me. Not pretty. I'm doing meditation, talking, writing, and breathing. I'm noticing my anger. I'm noticing my usual patterns of reacting. I'm healing and changing and it isn't easy.
I have been a spiritually minded person my whole life. I have done therapy and bodywork. NET and Reiki. Retreats, expressive arts therapy, massage. But the most powerful and intense path of healing I've encountered is conscious parenting. Being a mom is hard work. It is healing work, for myself, my children, and the seven generations before me. I wish you guidance and strength on your healing journey. Blessed be.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Healing Shame: The Work of Seven Generations
Written by Clea Danaan
Clea Danaan grew up in the Pacific Northwest; she now lives in Colorado. she is the author of five books relating to nature-centered spirituality and natural family living. She writes about nature mysticism, chickens, homeschooling, permaculture, and more. Her books have been published in more than six countries and translated into several languages, including French and German.