This Sunday night I am doing my third and final talk in a series to parents of teens in a youth group. I have played with various ways to introduce the practices of Compassionate (Nonviolent) Communication (NVC), the work of Marshall Rosenberg, PhD. Because I parent a teen, tween, and a toddler, I'm beginning to think that we could spend several hours just practicing to get out of our heads and into our hearts. I think (pun intended), that we think too much. I think we value thinking too much. Teens, and to some degree toddlers too, think remarkably different than we adults do. This can make it hard for us to get on the same mental page.
This week I am going to challenge us to get out of our heads and into our hearts. If between us and our teens, there is a lack of trust, if there is a pattern of conflict, strategies that clash, there may need to be some soul bolstering that happens first. If you're like me, thoughts of "I'm not good enough, I'm a terrible parent", keep me from really hearing and empathizing with my kids. The more tired I am, the more prominent this pattern of thinking and defending becomes. What I am suggesting is that we do some serious self care, prayer, and inner work. There may be a need for some support and downright, overwhelming grace.
Can we get out of our heads this week?
If it is our thoughts that cause suffering, can we attempt to give them less credibility and weight in our interactions? Our egos engage with our minds and we are swept away from each other. Connection is a matter of the heart, it is at the soul level. If you are like me, you may need to practice this a lot to get in contact with your own needs before you are grounded enough to open the door to your heart with your child(ren).
If you believe the teenage brain processes information differently than our adult brains, then why not side step this long enough to start letting go of our perceived control? We may have very effective strategies that we can teach our children. Our children may be very clever and creative and may need our wisdom and support to engage their own strategies. In order to make this process collaborative and cooperative, we must deeply know that there is love, respect, and connection. I think we build these outside the function of our mental capacity. Have you ever been able to convince yourself, using your mind, that you love someone else?
I think we, as parents, must be willing to create the space to pause and get out of our brains and stop trying to figure out our teens way of thinking. We must connect at the heart level. If we can identify the needs behind the strategies (behaviors) our children are using, we can empathize and build the heart connection that allows us to work in cooperation.
This is a vulnerable proposition. It takes strength, courage, patience, and grace. I don't think we can ask for our children to be authentic, respectful, and trust us without this leap of faith. This is what I think is the most difficult and most rewarding work we can do as parents, as humans really.
If you are willing to do this, please give your(true)self the firm foundation first. Some of the strategies that teens employ, especially if they have been feeling mistrusted, misunderstood, and not capable of meeting their own needs, can be hurtful, and painful to watch. If we are perceived to be responsible for their efforts to meet their own needs failing, brace yourself. If we are deeply rooted in our contemplative (unknowing) life, we can see that their reactions can be met with our empathy rather than with our ego's defense mechanisms. Sound too hard? Why would you want to go to this much trouble? Think of it this way;
To be seen, known, and accepted for exactly who you are and where you are, as a teen, by your parent, how do you think that would feel? What kind of basis would that give you to grow into who you were before you were born, to grow into the gifts, purpose, and passion that the sacred knows and intends you to grow into?
We are called to be the father in the Return of the Prodigal Son. None of the actions were perceived to be "about" him or "at" him.
Ronald Rolheiser says, in his book on prayer, that as parents, we live in a sort of "domestic monastery." We are constantly given opportunities to put others first, to serve others, and to learn to love deeply. Consider yourselves accidental monastics, don't miss this opportunity to let your daily life be the transformative spiritual practice of loving unconditionally, to bring your whole heart to the opportunity of loving your teen through this important transition.
It is my belief and experience that the wisdom of NVC provides effective tools for this daily spiritual practice.
Grace in, peace out,