Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Knowing God Better...Parenting in God-like Ways

This bookmark was given out at stake conference last year.  It has been our goal as a stake to "increase faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ by knowing them better."

The direction I have needed to goal on a personal level with this stake goal has been hand-in-hand with my answer to "what lack I yet" I asked God about 18 months ago.  Yet this goal has deepened it and taken it in a beautiful direction.  I am eager to continue to watch it unfold!

To String Things Together and Catch Up to Speed

Right before we found out we were moving almost 2 years ago, I felt prompted to finish up my current commitments, but to then be finished teaching classes.  It had been such a fun time and season in my life and brought huge leaps of growth for me. It wasn't long before I was very glad I could push my family through everything the move entailed without having to juggle as many commitments as I likely would have had if I had continued.

After we moved, my answer to "what lack I yet" was to focus 100% on my home (myself, my husband, and my children) and to keep my commitments outside of the home to the bare minimum.  At first it felt a bit silly because God and I had already spent much work together in this aspect of my life.  I already was a much different mom than I used to be.  It didn't take long of doing it though to realize that there was much more to learn and opportunities to learn it on a deeper level I hadn't been ready to understand before.  In addition to staying home, adoption has also been part of the answer.  Specifically we needed to do foster care.  Although we are still keeping foster care open as an option for the future at this point, our training in and of itself has been part of the answer to what I needed to do.  Mark and I spent a combined total of about 65 or 70 hours going through a parenting course focused around what they called "trauma informed parenting."  It was amazing what we learned about the ways we can really support children (biological, foster, adopted...any child) to process through difficulty.  It really made us stop and think, especially me.  Mark has had WAY more practice supporting a person through trauma than I have thanks to yours truly.  The training we received gave me things to work on for quite a while.

Then after putting it into practice, I hit a bit of a snag.  I began to panic.  I was worrying about what I was going to do to fix all the problems I had caused or Mark had caused in our children's lives.  We had blown it big, big, big BIG TIME.  I worried and experienced shame because even though I knew how crucial it was to parent well, I still was completely screwing it up day in and day out.  I was improving, but still making such a mess.  I allowed Satan to plant seeds of discouragement and hopeless and my continued fear allowed these seeds to grow.

Finally we had some things come to a head with one of our children I am still not ready to speak publicly about.  It was the perfect opportunity to get out of my own head about it.  Mark has gotten to the point that it is extremely rare that he can't hold whatever I bring to him.  He could hold it, but this time I worried with him being too close to the situation he was just being "too nice."  God sent two loving friends to be His mouth piece.  One to listen to all my irrational fears and to still love me even though I shared what I perceived to be the irreparable damage I had cause my child.  The other to teach me the doctrine.  I finally understood that parental error is part of God's plan.  Although I need to do my best and had learned well how important that is and what a difference it can make, God doesn't expect me to be a perfect parent.  Not yet.  I am still practicing.  For whatever reason I had prevented grace from shining it's light of hope in this part of my life.  Once I let the light in to this still dark corner, God and I have been working to clear it away and make it right.  This part of my heart finally open and receptive to His touch has created some beautiful growth.

Becoming a God-like Parent

As I have spent the past year pondering and taking action on this stake goal in my life, I have come to know Jesus Christ and God better and, therefore, have increased faith in several areas of my life.  Our Stake President recently taught us that it is faith that can help is bridge the gap between what we know and what we do.  The Spirit can help us when we need desire or are struggling even though we have all the faith and knowledge we need to do it. I began to pay attention and record when I came across one of their attributes.  As part of my scripture study one day I read a recent conference talk and it sunk deep into my heart that if I want to become like God and Jesus Christ, I must have experiences that can help me become like them.  What kinds of things would a person need to go through in order to become a compassionate person?  A tolerant person?  Someone filled with charity? etc.  It was a huge realization.  I began noticing God's attributes on how He parents over and over.  Just like in other aspects of my life,  I realized that if wanted to parent the way God parents, I was going to need some experiences to develop those attributes.  This is what I have come up with so far about the ways God parents:

~He loves first.
         He validates first/helps us feel felt first before teaching, giving instruction, or logic
~He parents in a way that invites attachment and connection.
~He is long-suffering.
~God is self-reliant.  He takes care of Himself first, then has a reserve for His children.
~He stops what He is doing and really listens.
~He honors agency (we learn through our own experience)
~Wants us to thrive, not just survive.  He is teaching us for the future.
~He communicates with love (because He is love).  No FEAR or threatening.
~"But He wants to change more than just our behaviors.  He wants to change our very natures.  He wants to change our hearts." (President Uchtdorf)
~"God motivates [his children] through persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, and love unfeigned." (President Uchtdorf referring to D&C 121:41)

This is a growing list and I would love to hear what you might add to it.  It started me really thinking about my desire to become like God and the ways I have been prompted to do so right now (to focus on parenting and parenting well).  It began to grow a faith in me that really somehow this is possible and added to my faith that because of Jesus Christ and His grace, I can work on it as long as it takes to get it right.

More Answers in Good Books

I thought that the timing of starting our foster care license was just to get the trauma informed parenting training.  Recently I realized there was another gold mine as to why that was our answer (so far) that it I was ready to uncover.  Our instructor recommended several books.  I had purchased  most of them immediately.  I started reading the first on the list, but lost interest shortly into it.  Recently on a "hard to be a parent day," I felt prompted to pick it up again.  It has been an answer to everything I was looking for!  It is everything I have been trying to do in my efforts to parent well and better, but didn't quite know how to do (plus more).  Although these books may not come as powerfully as an answer to everyone, they have definitely been my next step.

The first is called "Parenting from the Inside Out" by Daniel J. Siegel and Mary Hartzell.  Daniel is a neuropsychologist, yet he partners with child development specialists or physicians to write his books in a way that are readable, relatable and easy to follow.  It isn't a dry or difficult read.  What I really took from this first book is that unresolved childhood trauma can lead to unresolved adult trauma.  It's normal for us to come into adulthood with left over issues.  Maybe I need to broaden my circles, but I have yet to meet someone who has grown to adulthood completely unscathed from trauma or not carrying around Satan's lies in one form or another.:)  As we become parents, these left over issues (or from a gospel stand-point, our need for the atonement) can become easily pointed out if we realize that is what happening.  He talks about those moments as parents when we lose it and do stupid or hurtful things.  Those moments when we feel out of control crazy with anger or hurt feelings that we literally lose our minds.  It's those moments where our emotions are not reasonable for the situation that we need to take a closer look at.  He does acknowledge that sometimes as parents we rightfully feel overwhelmed or frustrated or angry.  As we take a moment to look around at what is happening, our feelings may be for an appropriate reason.  In this case though, it's those moments when we are overly upset by something that really shouldn't elicit that much of an emotional response we need to pay special attention to.  As we dig into our past and address the left over issues, we can be more present for our children.  Moments of our children's upset or needs can be about THEM and THEIR NEEDS instead of triggering something from our own past.  We are able to be present for our children rather than reliving the past.

He also talks about different kinds of attachment in this book.  Although we may have had unfavorable experiences in the past, we can overcome them and learn to attach in secure and healthy ways.  There has been a new category of attachment discovered more recently than the others called "earned attachment."  It means a person has sifted through their life story and come to terms with the experiences that have made them who they are.  They are at peace with it, even if it includes negative or ugly things.  Parents who are securely attached, either from a healthy upbringing or earned attachment later in life, statistically raise children who thrive more so than the other forms of attachment do.

This book fit well with what I have experienced over the past 5ish years and have written in more details HERE.  As I read I also thought about how important taking care of myself every day is to this process on a micro scale of day to day or even minute to minute.  When I take the time to do my best to clear away all the left over issues from the previous day and to do everything I can to take care of myself with a good spiritual connection to God (so whatever that requires specifically for me), my physical needs are met (the things that square that away for me), and my emotional needs are met (again, whatever that entails for me), then I have a better chance of parenting in ways that are thoughtful and conscious rather than feeling on my last leg, burnt out, and parenting in knee-jerk or reactive ways.  NOW, remember to add a generous helping of grace to all of this because it is only through grace that we can have the strength to do any of this!  Life is life.  We don't live in a sterile bottle where everything is perfect all of the time.  Sometimes we may think that we would have benefitted from more sleep we didn't get the night before.  Maybe we really would have benefitted from it, but sick kids up all night is what we got.  We have to be flexible and work with what we are able to do for ourselves each day.  Regardless of what self care we didn't get or even did get, we need grace to be able to be good parents.  Hopefully that makes sense.

The second book is called "The Whole-Brain Child."  Daniel gives 12 strategies to implement in not just surviving through the intense moments, but taking those very same moments of near insanity and turning them around to help our kids thrive.  It is not just about getting through whatever seems to be the obstacle before us in these hairy moments, but the opportunities to teach self-awareness and skills to problem solve for themselves.  It is focused on not just getting through today, but teaching for the future.  We don't have to create special set-aside experiences to teach our children what the really need to know.  We can use the every day moments to teach them.  The crazier, potentially, the better the teaching moment.  The title "whole-brain" comes from learning about how separate parts of the brain works and how to bring each part together or, to integrate them.  He teaches you how to encourage left (logic and reasoning) and right (emotions and awareness of the body) brain to work together.  He teaches how to bring downstairs brain (survival: fight/flight/freeze) and upstairs brain (awareness of self) together.  He teaches how to also integrate "me" with "we" and has some great insights on teaching children not only insight (awareness of self), but also to combine it with empathy (awareness of others) to bring "mind sight."  He describes mind sight that just as our eyes can see, our minds can see what others may be thinking or feeling.  He speaks of how we as parents can guide these processes to integrate the whole brain and encourage the integration with others.  I loved that at the end of each chapter there was a section that helps you teach your children what you learned.  Also at the end of each chapter is a section to apply what you learned in that chapter into your own life as a parent.  I have taught most of it to may 3 oldest and have applied these strategies with noticeable success.  It has been a perfect fit for what I have been seeking to accomplish with the ways that I parent, and to parent in more God-like ways.  I would highly recommend these books and will be making my way back through again once I finish the list.

I still have "No-Drama Discipline," (self explanatory) "Brain Storm," (discusses teens and the important changes that happen in their brains during adolescence), and "Mindsight" (emotional and social intelligence) left to read, but was eager to share so far what I have learned.  Some others you may enjoy that Mark & I have found helpful in the past are: "Positive Discipline" by Jane Nelsen, "Attachment Parenting" by Sears, and "How to talk so kids will listen & listen so kids will talk" by Faber & Mazlish.  Ultimately, I would encourage any parent to speak with He who also parents our children.  These books may not mean to you what they have meant to us or maybe only parts are important for you to focus on, etc.  Ask Him!


In summary, as much as we would like to parent in ways that never do harm and to always be perceptive to our children and their difficulties, it isn't possible.  That doesn't mean that we throw in the towel though.  We must meet in the middle, understanding that God's plan for his children on this earth is to have experience---both experience as parents that point out the things that still need to be addressed to become more God-like and also the experience as children that hurt and confuse.  Yes, we should do all we can as parents to prevent hurt or emotional harm.  Yes, we should do all we can to "own our stuff" so we can parent clearly and as completely as we can.  As we address unresolved issues, we can and should do our best to be available to guide our children through difficulty in a way that they can make sense of it and come out having a positive experience from it.  But we won't always do it.  We will miss something.  When we realize there has been a "rupture" (a disconnection between us and our child), as Daniel calls it, we need to make a "repair."  When the Spirit brings it to our attention that we messed up, we need to do all we can to make it right to our children.  It doesn't matter if the rupture happened 5 minutes ago or 5 decades ago. Even if they are adults with children now of their own, it's never too late to make it right and do better.  What I am trying to say is this.  We simply do the very best we can.  That is all.  Realizing that we will miss things and mess thing up---realizing we (hopefully) are learning every day and we parent better as we have more practice.  God's plan covers all of this too.  As I wrote about months back, parenthood can be covered by grace...if we allow it to be.  God already knows this.  We must know it too.  We must come to recognize that we not only can't do it all, but we also need grace to even do our very best.  We need Jesus Christ every step of the way.

Because of Him we can keep trying.

Because of Him we can improve.

Because of Him all isn't "lost" when we blow it.

Because of Him we can become God-like parents.

Because of Him we can succeed.

Listen to what Daniel said in "The Whole-Brained Child."  It gave me chills to read!
"It's extraordinary when you think about the generational impact of the whole-brain approach.  Do you realize the power you now have to effect positive change in the future?  By giving your children the gift of using their whole brain, you're impacting not just their lives, but also those of the people with whom they interact..."(page 146)

Now really listen to this:
"You can see how this kind of self-awareness [you are teaching your children] would lead to healthier relationships down the road, and especially what it could mean for your children's own kids when they become parents...For a moment, close your eyes and imagine your child holding his child, and realize the power of what you are passing on.  And it won't stop there.  Your grandchildren can take what they learn from their parents and pass it further along as a continuing legacy of joy and happiness.  Imagine watching your own children connect and redirect with your grandchildren!  This is how we integrate our lives across the generations." (page 147)

I can see that my answer to focus on my home, to know God better through seeking to become a better parent, has been about me and my children.  It has been about me becoming more God-like.  It has been about really honing in on my children and teaching them skills and awareness I was unable to teach them in the past because of what I needed to address first.  It is about further into the future and the ways that my choices, for good or ill, are shaping my posterity.  I am thankful that God hears and answers my prayers.  I know He has a plan for each one of us to bring us back to Him.  Such a lofty gift requires, what feels like at the time, incredible stretching beyond what is possible.  Yet, as Sister Reeves said, "...it is my personal feeling that the reward [of returning to God and Jesus Christ's presence] is so great, so eternal and everlasting, so joyful and beyond our understanding that in that day of reward, we may feel to say to our merciful, loving Father, 'Was that all that was required?'"

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