Has it really been two weeks since I last posted? I've been running around like a whirling dervish, applying for jobs and going for interviews. It's been both nerve-wracking and exhilirating. I'm sad at having to let go of my Stay at Home mom role, but necessity calls now that I am officially a single mom. Big transitions all round. I'm doing a trial first day at a new part-time job next week - nothing creative or particularly inspiring, alas, but in a way I like to save my creative energies for my writing and parenting. The main considerations right now are, of course, money, and using as little childcare as possible - so, this audio transcription job having flexible hours appealed to me.
Being faced with the prospect of less time with J has brought me more into the present moment with him: I'm appreciating our time together more, almost soaking up his every smile and joke - and even enjoying the truly boring moments of watching him move his little cars around. Part of letting go of SAHM-hood is letting go of the notion that I can control every aspect of my son's experience. The reality is that he will now be spending fairly significant amounts of time with other care-givers than me (although I'm not doing group care, I believe he is too young for that), and this can feel scary! But a book I've read recently, 'Raising our Children, Raising Ourselves' by Naomi Aldort (listed on my recent post about my top 13 inspiring books) has helped me to feel more confident that I can ride the wave with my son, whatever happens, and stay connnected to him and myself in the process.
This is a really mind-blowing book - beware! It is all about letting go of control, in favour of authenticity. I think if everyone parented this way, we'd have a hell of a lot less neuroticism and fascism in the world. It's all about treating your child with the same respect you would any adult. Letting go of the notion that you can control any other human being. All you can do is gently guide and show them through your own behaviour, how to treat other people, and help them to deal with their emotions lovingly.
It's more than a little radical! Most of us have been brought up with rewards and punishment and other forms of manipulation to get us to 'behave'. And I think most of us struggle at least a little with self-esteem and figuring out what WE really want to do. Although there's no way to bring up a child that guarantees they will be secure, Aldort describes a formula called 'SALVE' that allows us to parent more authentically, and thus help our children to keep their own authenticity.
The SALVE formula involves first of all, separating yourself from your child's behaviour and emotions with a silent self-talk. When our child does something, an automatic tape starts to play in our head: for example 'He is naughty. He shouldn't do that. If I don't stop it, he'll be an out of control brat' - sound familiar? When you can work through that in your own head, realise that it is only old beliefs and not 'the truth' in this moment, you are able to resist reacting automatically, and give yourself space to respond authentically and lovingly. You are then able to apply the 'A' of the formula: 'Attention on your child'.
'L' stands for 'Listen to your child's words and non-verbal communication'. This will help you understand where he/she is coming from, and what he/she may need. 'V' is for 'Validate your child's feelings and the needs he expresses'. So, for example: 'You feel angry because you really wanted that toy. It's hard to share sometimes' instead of 'You must share. Give that toy back right now!' which only disempowers the child and causes resentment, not a genuine desire to share.
Finally, 'E' stands for 'Empower your child to resolve his own upset by getting out of his way and trusting him'. This means not rushing to fix everything, and trusting that children can come up with their own solutions when they feel trusted, safe and free of parents' expectations. Aldort gives many practical examples of how this works, and how important it is for a child to genuinely make a free choice to do something, rather than be forced to. It's no use if someone is being kind only to earn brownie points - we want to give space for the inherent kindness of children to develop, and that involves not being unkind to them with manipulation.
Aldort's book gave me the practical understanding and tools to apply the concepts I first read about in Alfie Kohn's 'Unconditional Parenting', which I've also written about previously on here. In applying the 'SALVE' formula, and trying to understand J through the different needs that Aldort describes - love, freedom of expression, emotional safety, autonomy and power, self-confidence - I have found a huge difference in our relationship. Mostly, I'm simply enjoying it more, because it takes the struggle out of parenting. So much of our struggle comes from these old tapes that play in our head, and not being in the moment. When we can let go of those, it's hugely liberating. Still, it takes a lot of faith and trust to let go of old control models! I'm reassured by comments from other mothers who practice this kind of parenting, who say that others often remark on how well-adjusted and kind their children are - and of adults who were brought up in this way, saying how much self-confidence and security they've always had.
I'll end with a quote from the book: 'At each tough moment with your child, you have a choice: to stop the child's way of being so you can stay devoted to your old ways or to grow into the greater person you can become by flowing with your child's journey. She is your teacher. Self-directed and self-realized people grow in families where parents are growing up side by side with their children.' (Aldort, 2005, xvi).