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Through all my struggles with mothering, I never stopped striving — for insight, for healing, for wholeness. And that changed everything, and I believe it is why my son and daughter have both flourished into their early adulthood.
What does this miraculous striving look like day to day? Presence. Mindfulness. Renouncing multi-tasking in favor of uni-tasking. Being fully engaged with all of you in whatever you’re doing. (RIE parents have an advantage, since RIE practice is essentially mindfulness!)
UCLA psychiatrist and Buddhist meditator Jeffrey Schwartz discovered that mindfulness (the willful mastering of the flow of thoughts and feelings) could successfully treat serious OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) and writes in his amazing book, The Mind and the Brain,” “…the exertion of willful effort generates a physical force that has the power to change how the brain works and even its physical structure. The result is neuroplasticity.”
This mental force that can change the brain, can certainly change the download of the mommy mind meld. What we hand down to our children as we parent is not simply a linear, one-for-one duplicate of ourselves, and that is where the stunning possibilities of parenting for peace lie: through refining our own consciousness we throw the door open on our children’s potential.
Where’s Your Head At?
All this fascinating neurobiology of attachment, including the Mommy Mind Meld, is why the “biggest bang” intervention you can make in your parenting skill set (i.e., one thing you can do that yields maximum benefit across multiple dimensions of your and your child’s wellbeing) is to begin cultivating your inner life, and mastery over the flow of your own thoughts. Meditation, yoga, mindfulness, contemplative prayer, journaling — these are all avenues by which to do this.
Engaging in a practice of gratitude is also a big-bang parenting tool, beginning as early as possible. Why? The fields of positive psychology and psychoneuroimmunology (mind-body science) have revealed gratitude as one of the most surefire ways to amp up your physical and emotional wellbeing. And epigenetics (which refers to the potent influence we have on whether certain genes we carry are expressed or not) shows us that we have far more power over our own selves and our own destinies than we ever before imagined. And a good deal of that power comes through the influence of our attitudes, our feelings and our perceptions. Here’s a handy list of seven ways to rewire a negative mindset and move toward more gratitude at any time!
Nature’s Own Head Start Program
The reflection of our own inner lives in our children doesn’t wait till the mommy mind meld in infancy to begin. Pregnancy is Nature’s Head Start Program, when a baby’s organs and tissues, including the lifelong foundations of basic brain infrastructure, develop in direct response to lessons they receive about the world — lessons that come from Mom’s diet, her behavior and her state of mind.
It is Nature’s job to create organisms as well-suited as possible to their environment, so the unceasing question asked by the baby in the womb — which is answered chemically and energetically via the mother’s thoughts, feelings, behaviors (and of course nutrition) — is, What kind of world am I coming into, Mommy, through your eyes? Chronic, unremitting stress teaches the baby via Mom’s biochemistry that it’s a dangerous world out there, and foundational brain circuitry wires up to thrive in a dangerous world. (So if you had undue stress during pregnancy, and your infant startles easily, seems hyperreactive, cries a lot — or the converse, seems “zoned out” — is hard to soothe and settle, this can help you understand why. This isn’t about blame or guilt, but about the empowerment that comes with understanding. It’s never too late to harness neuroplasticity!)
I’m not suggesting anyone become a blandly response-free Stepford Mom — either before or after birth. Normal, occasional stresses are part of life and part of normal development, but I’m inviting pregnant moms to orient themselves toward a posture of holding a protective, buffering space of appreciation — one of my clients used an image of a crystalline, pink bubble for her baby when she was having a stressful day — so that your baby can flourish as robustly as possible.
And always keep in mind that during pregnancy and beyond, you are your child’s living example: your child’s biological mandate is to shape himself — including the intricate circuitry of his brain — to match the promise of the world you portray.
by Marcy Axness, PhD, author of Parenting for Peace: Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers
(Photo by Jason-Morrison on Flickr)
Please share your comments with Marcy!
So on that note, I’ll start with some appreciation of both you, Marcy and Janet as well for sharing such incredibly exciting and forward-feeling posts. I feel appreciation for Magda Gerber and Emmi Pikler on a regular basis, but I am over-flowing with it upon reading and letting this all sink in. These were woman ahead of their time. I am so proud to be giving my daughter the mindfulness, observation, connection, quiet and clarity that RIE continues to inspire in me. I am so eager to read more. And, I love being reminded that in prioritizing my own alignment I will then naturally portray my best version of the world for my girl. Very good news…Thank you, thank you.
Also, I would love to hear how this might tie-in with expectation. How the expectations that we hold for a child seem to influence the child so directly. Is there a connection here?
Thank you, Julie, I’m honored to be considered in the same mental breath as Magda and Emmi! Interesting question about expectations. First of all, it’s probably mostly a symantic thing, but I doubt I use that word much at all in the book. I still can hear the mantra in my head that I learned way back when, “Expectations are planned resentments.” But I certainly invite parents to dream of and envision (and cultivate in themselves!) the kinds of wonderful qualities they would like to see in their children, and yes, I deeply believe this has a significant influence — even (and especially) during pregnancy and even before. (But that’s a whole other blog post, eh?!)
Here’s one practical application of the word I tend to use more, which is “conviction” — holding an inner, tranquil conviction regarding daily life events and issues with our children. This, right from the book: “Over-explaining almost always covers up a lack of truth or conviction in the exchange. We need to always check the reason why we want to say something to a child: Is it based on our wisdom or our anxiety? Does it come from a place of real knowing, or a place of fear? If it comes from a place of real knowing and complete conviction within you that it is correct, the child will usually behave in harmony with it. (A good example is that children almost never fuss over putting on seat belts, largely because within the mind of the parent there is 100% conviction: seat belts are an utter non-negotiable and the child picks up on this conviction.) If it’s coming from worry or insecurity, we best refrain from speaking. Yes, we’re still feeling the fear, but it is your self-discipline in containing the feeling the child picks up on.”
So there it is again at work, the transformative power of mental force of which Schwartz writes!
Thank you, Marcy. Your example with the seat buckle makes perfect sense to me. I mentioned expectation because I’ve been thinking lately about how children frequently behave differently for different people. Specifically, my daughter naps easily for a babysitter, but has more of a struggle when it’s me putting her in bed. And I’ve been realizing that I have to be responsible for what I’m putting forth around sleep. Meaning, it seems it’s time to take seriously the thoughts and ideas, the worries and fears I hold about sleep and her capabilities around that topic, that seem to affecting our dynamic at nap time. I guess it’s time to practice, in your perfect words: “holding an inner tranquil conviction” about sleep and napping. Thanks again for sharing such fascination information. I look forward to reading the book.
I sometimes have difficulty telling what is written by whom. Is the blue portion something someone has written to Janet? I understand there is a guest writer but which part is hers? Sorry to be confused!
Hi Kate, I can answer this… Part 2 is all written by Marcy, including the blue bit. I usually provide an intro, but since I did that on Part 1, I didn’t do it on this one. Thanks for asking, Kate!