Articles / Conscious Parenting
by Teresa and Bernard Villegas MD
Benefit Number One: The Telling. As parents, we stand in front of our children and we experience first hand reflections of ourselves at our best and at our worst. Our children are teachers, our mirrors to how we feel about our own identity and authenticity. Their beautiful little faces, looking up at us with their innate predisposition of pure-nonjudgemental-joy-filled-hearts. They have the super powers to reflect anything we give them; our love, attention and appreciation as well as anything we are not giving them. They also have the ability to reflect and/or absorb, anything that we are feeling uncomfortable about within ourselves.
Bringing up the topic of when and how to tell your child about their donor conceived origins, may be one of those uncomfortable feelings facing you now. Going through the demands of IVF and pregnancy, and now being a new parent (some of us to twins like we were) are already exhausted both physically and mentally. This topic could easily be classified as one of those "we'll cross that bridge when we get to it" kind of topics. Well, realistically, once your baby is born, that bridge is already here, but you don't have to cross it quite yet. Just knowing that it's there, and that it's really much easier to cross than you think, will put your mind at ease.
In our opinion, (as well as professional psychologists) parenting a donor conceived child has the added responsibility of sharing their birth (and genetic) origins in a way that they can understand at every age level of their development. Sharing the fact that we have children because someone else, outside of our partnership (– or ourselves, if you are a single parent by choice) and outside of our genetic makeup, helped us to create our family has led us to many thoughtful and bonding conversations we could never have imagined. It wasn't an easy topic to broach but discovered that telling them early on was much easier than we thought.
Telling your child can best be thought of as a process. An ongoing open conversation throughout the life of your child as they grow and mature in their thinking and feeling. Most of the time, now and in the future, donor conception issues will not be in the forefront of your daily lives. However, it's a really good idea to begin looking for casual opportunities to begin the conversation while your child is young, about 1-2 years old.
You will find opportunities that offer openings into the conversation. Such as when you are holding them or cuddling with them. Tell them about how much you love them, and how much you wanted them. Making positive emotional connections they can feel and relate to at such a young age. An example might be to say "We are so happy to finally have you, we have been waiting and loving you forever! We are so fortunate and grateful to the kind man (or woman) who helped us to have you."
At this early age, telling is really more for you than for your child. By practicing to say the words, and hearing yourself saying the words in different ways will allow you to begin to feel more comfortable and at ease. Reading children's books specifically written for donor conceived children at an early age are great ways to introduce the subject in an easy and casual way.
Other opportunities as they grow from 2-3 years old, can include your experiences nonchalantly into your conversations. Such as when you are making a visit to the pediatrician for a check up. You could say something like "I remember when we were having a hard time getting pregnant, and had to visit many different doctors' offices before you were born. We were so fortunate that we got such good care and help from others so that you could be born."
Other situations where they need the help of another person to accomplish something are great conversation lead ins such as ”I’d be happy to help tie your shoes, I know what it's like to need someone's help. The best help we ever received was from your egg donor." As our children got older from 4-8 in addition to all the children's books about nature and baby animals, we included videos about the natural world, as teaching moments to open conversations about making babies and families.
When we take road trips, or in the car for extended periods of time, we like to leverage our captive audience; and keep ourselves sane too since we have to listen to it by playing "teacher movies" as our children affectionately call them. Some of our family's favorites include the fabulous BBC Earth video series "Life" that are brilliantly and soothingly narrated by naturalist David Attenborough. His other videos "Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life" when they were in k-2nd grade. Recently we've exposed them to Novas "The Elegant Universe" and "Cracking The Code of Life" now that they are in 3rd-4th grade. These shows, along with the information we have been telling them about their own genetic beginnings, have already informed them immensely about the natural world, mating, and how their birth story relates. And this leads us to our next benefit for being parents of a donor conceived child.
Benefit Number 2: Early Sex Education. Because we are parenting donor conceived children, perhaps our kids have gotten a head start in their education when it comes to physiology and biology. From everything we have shared with them starting early on, and in open dialogue with them over the years, we discovered something else that they were getting that we never anticipated: basic sex education awareness.
With their understanding of what it takes to make a baby, weather it be an animal baby or a human baby, the same three parts are needed; an egg, a sperm and a gestational carrier or a safe gestational place -typically a female (tho not so with seahorses!) They have learned that when animals are "mating" they are making offspring aka “babies.”
"Yes kids, mating is "having sex" but there's more to it, and we can talk about it whenever you want."
Our children attend public school and have been coming home with many questions about what they hear on the school playground. At age six, they asked "What does 'sexy' mean?" because of a pop song kids were singing at school. Now that our children are 8 years old (boy/girl twins) and 9yr old boy, we talk frequently about about "sex" and how it's used in derogatory slang words, cussing, and sexual innuendos they hear more often as they get older.
This is the perfect age to tell them the specifics because of the "yuck" factor.
Answering their question "exactly how does the sperm get to the egg, mom?" I simply told them the truth in the nonchalant-matter-of-fact, medical terminology way like we have been doing for the last 8 years; "Well, basically, it's similar to animals mating -we humans are animals after all. The male puts his erect penis inside the female's vagina." I didn't need to go any further, and just paused. What we heard were their shrieks of "oh, that's so gross, yuck!" Exactly. We looked at each other and smiled. Laughter, humor, giggles, and fun; an honest and satisfied answer to their question for now.
Of course, we've talked more with them about sex and we again turned to books to read with them. These are the ones we've really liked and you might too:
- "It's Perfectly Normal" by Harris and Emberly
- "Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (but were afraid they'd ask)" by Richardson and Schuster
- For our daughter "The Care and Keeping of You 2: The Body Book for Older Girls
- For our sons "My Body, My Self for Boys: Revised Edition (What's Happening to My Body?) " by Lynda Madaras and Area Madaras.
Us parents in the Unites States have much to learn about teaching sex education. There has been a huge effort in countries like the Netherlands and Switzerland addressing the topic of sexuality and sex education classes beginning in kindergarten. Statistics back up the benefits with the lowest teen pregnancy, birth and abortion rates in-the-world: about 6 per 1,000 women.
These are some examples of how we have approached the process of telling our children so far. Stay tuned for more posts. We welcome you to our parenting community and trust that together we will grow. Any comments or examples for telling are welcome, feel free to contribute below.
Early on in parenting advice we are told to tell our children "use your words." This is something we parents can practice too, no matter what the topic, including the most challenging ones with our partners.
“I feel…, when you…, because…, and I would like for you to….” is a good template for us to follow as well. It takes a lot of courage to stand up for ourselves and others, so practice with the little things first, then you'll feel more comfortable with the more prickly topics. Here is an example from a couple who shared with us this conversation starter that helped them move forward in their family.
when you…are reluctant to tell the truth about our children's genetic origins.
because… they need to know how much we love and respect them and want them to feel secure and safe in who they are. I want them to know they can always hear the truth from us first about this or any subject no matter how uncomfortable it might make us feel. They are growing up fast, and I don't want them to discover the truth from someone else and then question if we had lied to them about other things in their life.
I would like for you… to respect and be proud of our choices in how we brought our child into our family. I'd also like you to be honest and open in telling our child the truth of their genetic origins, or at least allow me to tell them. If you are still having a hard time with this, I will support you in any way that I can to find a way for you to feel good about this.
Research and history show that as with adopted children and decades of donor conceived children; that the earlier we tell our child about their origins, the easier it is for everyone.
Mindful and Just Parenting: Cultivating the Courage of Radical Compassion
by Teresa Graham Brett -ParentingForSocialChange.com
If we are redefining adult-child relationships in order to parent from a place of trust and respect, we must bring to consciousness the underpinnings of the institutions that we grew up within. We must also understand how the experiences we had within those institutions (including within the family) created a particular view of how the world works. Our families are reflections of the broader culture as well. A culture based on power and control. Fear, isolation, separation, ignorance, and disconnection are all characteristics of a culture that is based on power and control. (Harro, 2001) Power and control are embedded in almost all of the institutions and systems in our culture, including families, schools, religious institutions, the legal system, and the medical system. They are, for the most part, all based on the top down, hierarchical models that operate from a base of power and control.
As individuals grow up in our culture, they are trained within these systems to accept the use of power and control over them.
Individuals grow up and take their place in society and take up the work of socializing younger, less powerful members of our social structures to internalize and accept the use of power and control as normal. Fear, ignorance, and shame are the tools used by the more powerful to ensure compliance. The most challenging part about these tools, is that we all had them used on us and we learned how to use them. Because power, control, fear, and shame are so commonplace in the majority of child-adult relationships, they become unremarkable. This is how they become part of our subconscious. We see them as normal.
If you are an adult, you have more power over children. And because you (and I) learned that these tools are "normal," we have to become aware of when and how we might be using them unconsciously.
What begins as externally imposed fear and shame, quickly becomes internalized during childhood. Children looking to the adults around them for safety, food, shelter, and love, seek to please those adults in order to survive. Children internalize the ways in which the family, group, and society are structured and conform to those structures.
This internalization of shame and fear works to separate individuals from each other.
More importantly as individuals are properly trained and socialized in the cultural norms of power and control, they begin to question their inherent goodness and their humanity. How could we not question our humanity and the inherent goodness with which we are born? We learn on a daily basis that we are not good enough from adults around us. We are expected to perform others' expectations or else face judgment from them. The wholeness with which all individuals are born is fractured and replaced systematically with external authority, fear of failure, and the need to do what others expect in order to be cared for and protected (or to feel "safe").
The normalization of the more powerful controlling the less powerful and the use of shame and fear to control creates the foundation from which oppression and discrimination thrive.
Using fear and shame to control ourselves Even as we seek to reconnect to our wholeness through a practice of mindfulness, we use fear and shame internally to control our own thoughts and behaviors when we deem them unacceptable. We learn that certain parts of ourselves are not "right" or "good," that they need to be hidden because we were punished as children for showing them. As a side note, when I do these workshops, many people only think of punishment as coming from parents. Punishment against those who do not conform occurs in the majority of institutions, groups and relationships in our culture. Additionally, if we cannot hide parts of ourselves we bear the additional burden of systematic oppression. This discrimination is based not just on our status as children or young people but also based on our gender identity, race, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, national origin, and language, for example.
Though we may grow up and move into the more powerful role of adult, we still face that oppression based on other identities. A reality for our culture is that we have all faced at least one common experience of oppression and discrimination. We were all once children. And the vast majority of us faced the pain of being treated as less than human. This loss of our humanity, or wholeness, means that we continue to seek love and acceptance outside of ourselves to relieve the pain of the loss of unconditional love in childhood. The common oppression of childhood, of being part of a social identity group that is seen as less than, has created deep shame and emotional harm that continues to haunt us as we grow up. We internalize the oppression of childhood. And we learn to effectively use power over others who are deemed as “less than” in our society.
This compassion begins with internal work. It is about creating compassion for ourselves and our experiences, thoughts, behaviors, and beliefs. We can learn acceptance of all the parts of ourselves, even those that were used as weapons of shame and fear against us. We begin with a journey that invites the unconscious to come to consciousness. Those things we have hidden from ourselves, we must be willing to shine the light of day on. We must begin to accept that those things are still with us. Radical compassion, then, begins with the self.
So many parents who are committed to trust and respect want to be able to offer radical compassion to the children in their lives. But we will have only limited success if we cannot practice that radical compassion for ourselves.
Radical self-compassion opens the door to a more authentic and just relationship to self, which can then lead to more authentic, just, and compassionate relationships with others. As we practice radical compassion it has the ability to lead us to the understanding of the interconnectedness of all the parts of ourselves. The "good" and the "bad." The enemy within us becomes a friend. The internal process can be externalized to others.
This article is an excerpt from "Mindful and Just Parenting: Cultivating the Courage of Radical Compassion" by Teresa Graham Brett -ParentingForSocialChange.com To read the entire article (highly recommended) go to: http://www.parentingforsocialchange.com/mindful-parenting-radical-compassion.html
by Miriam Katz
Like most parents, I have resolved to be the best parent I can be. And for me, that means integrating proven best practices as I come across them, incorporating them into my parenting tool belt. The end of the year is a time when many of us start looking to the future, reflecting on the positive changes we’d like to make in our lives. In the spirit of New Year’s, I’ve consolidated my top parenting resolutions here.
1. To love unconditionally. Most western parents today were raised using a model where we were given or withheld love based on our behavior. Our desired behavior was rewarded and undesirable behavior, punished. While this type of reinforcement is effective with animals, with whom these techniques originated, they also send our children strong messages that shape their self image and self esteem. Love is contingent upon children satisfying our expectations, we communicate. On the contrary, when children are given unconditional approval, which can be expressed through the absence of praise and punishment, they learn that – at their core – they are loved. Conversations about acceptable behavior can take place without communicating to a child that they are “good” or bad”.
2. To validate emotions and experience. Little children experience big feelings. If adults can be overwhelmed by strong emotion, imagine the experience of a child who has no coping tools and very little power. We can help children move through the turbulence of emotion by naming and validating their emotions. By making their emotions both relatable and acceptable, we give our children a safe space within which to grow. “You’re feeling angry because Johnny took the ball away from you,” we might say after witnessing our toddler’s rage. Offering to hold your child or speaking together to Johnny about the incident may help the child work through their feelings.
3. To instruct using positive language. As newbies to our world, children have tons to learn about appropriate social behavior. The word “no” in isolation is minimally instructive, as it provides no actionable information about what is desirable. Spoken over and over to a baby or toddler – or teenager for that matter – it can evoke strong frustration. Practical information about what is acceptable maximizes support while minimizing frustration. “Food is for eating, balls are for throwing,” can be a helpful response to a child who throws his food. While challenging at first, aspiring to reduce or eliminate the use of the word “no” can be a powerful tool for parents. A child’s boundaries can be set even more powerfully when the realm of acceptable behavior is clearly defined.
4. To model what I wish to elicit. Children learn by watching what we do, not by listening to what we say. While it’s tempting to demand respect from our children, one of the most productive – and fulfilling – ways to elicit respect is by extending it to them. Using polite language like please and thank you, responding to their requests with love and understanding – especially when they can’t be granted – and providing a safe space for them to create and make mistakes all send powerful messages about love. When we honor our children as separate beings with equally valid preferences – keeping in mind that it’s our responsibility in advance to limit their options to those that are supportive of their healthful development – we create a mutually respectful relationship.
5. To assume the best of intentions. Have you ever noticed how the world rises to our expectations? Expect to have a bad day, and you’ll notice the frustration of hitting an empty tank of gas. Expect to have a good day, and you’ll pay special attention when that lady lets you go ahead at the supermarket. Children are extremely responsive to our moods and expectations. We can avoid some huge potholes by refraining from labeling our children, i.e. “she’s the smart one” or “he’s the aggressive one”. We can also do our children a huge service by assuming that they have the best of intentions. Your child wants a strong relationship with you, filled with love, affection and mutual respect. And as long as you assume the best, even when he’s pulling the cat by her tail and throwing rice across the room, you can educate and nurture in a way that preserves a loving relationship. Remember, we’re all students here. And perhaps never more so than as parents.
6. To learn from my child. Children come into the world with a lack of inhibition that is tremendously instructive. They show no shame in asking for what they desire, and they act instantly upon their most primal instincts to meet their needs. Ever notice how young children will suddenly start running around, or singing at the top of their lungs? While most adults have learned to repress their desires, children are in touch with their basic needs – food, love, and exercise. When your child demands attention, take a cuddle break and relish the opportunity to love and be loved. When your child declares a dance party or initiates a wrestling match, join in! These feel-good games raise your heart rate and release your natural joy. What could be better?
7. To be present. So often, we get caught up in our thoughts or to-do lists. While we can experience a sense of temporary relief or satisfaction by making progress on standing projects, the high only goes so far. Children live the grace-filled experience of being in the moment, each and every moment. By letting our agendas go and allowing a child to draw us into his world, we experience the aliveness of living in the present moment. While we’re giving the child a gift by attentively joining his game, that gift returns to us tenfold in each moment that we’re consciously present. This year and every year, above all, I aspire to embrace the gifts that parenthood and life have to offer. I wish the same for you, in 2013 and beyond. I couldn't have said this better. This post was written by Miriam Katz on December 28, 2012view original post here