Friday, November 11th, 2011

In The Beginning…

In every phenomenon the beginning remains always the most notable moment.Thomas Carlyle•

One thing I’ve learned, through both painful and positive experience, is that the successful flourishing of any project, product, event… or person, is seeded right at the beginning. Imagine setting off in a boat with the intention of sailing to a distant island, but having miscalculated your route by even just a tiny degree: everything will seem fine and dandy for awhile, maybe even for days. But as those tiny degrees of misdirection exponentially add up over many miles, you will at some point realize you are ending up far from where you wanted to be.

A mantra from chaos theory goes, “Sensitive dependence on initial conditions.”

This applies whenever something new is brought into being: cookies, crops, houses, stories, songs, sweaters, people. Read the rest of this entry »

Monday, January 13th, 2020

7 Principles for Peaceful Parenting

Is it me?? Is our world is tilting toward the brink, or are we merely witnessing normal global growing pains?

Oh how I wish the premise of my book Parenting for Peace had become obsolete in the 7+ years since it was published. But alas, the premise of my book could not be more relevant right now:

If we really want change the world, we need to raise a generation “built for peace”—hardwired at brain level with the capacities needed to foster empathic interdependence and innovative solutions in our challenged world.

At this point in human history, I guess I would dare to ask, “Why be a parent if not to try and bring a peacemaker on earth?” It might be peace through embroidery or engineering or being a CEO. Ultimately, our consciously enacted wish for our children becomes that they unfold as individuals with the heart to embrace and exemplify peacefulness, the psyche to experience joy and intimacy, the mind to innovate solutions to social and ecological challenges, and the will to enact such innovations.

That kind of human is never a genetically predetermined given, but the result of dynamic interactions between genetics and environment — with parents being the most influential environmental variable.

Yikes, that is pretty daunting, right?!

In 25 years of being a parent, a student of human development, a human in constant development, an impassioned researcher of the human sciences, and a parent counselor engaged with the challenges and triumphs of real moms and dads, I have gathered a superabundance of excellent information. But I’ve also come to recognize that one of the greatest gifts in this era of information overload is to arrive at the other side of a gazillion helpful facts to essential “nuggets” that are simplified without being simplistic.

In the spirit of today’s love of “listicles,” I offer you the seven solid-gold nuggets that beat at the heart of my book. They are informed by research in an array of fields ranging from neuroscience to theology, prenatal psychology to quantum physics.

While these 7 Principles of Parenting for Peace “accordion out” to include more basics than I have room to include here, these are the foundational principles for effective, healthy and joyful parenting.

Marcy Axness, PhD | Parenting for PeacePresence: This is the ability to be completely here, right now in the moment, fully engaged with all of you – your thoughts, feelings and attention. Connected. One of the greatest needs of the child is a regular dose of your undistracted presence. Try “Nothing Else” time: Sit on the floor, amidst the blocks, the books, the dolls… and be available to your child.

This is when you allow yourself to be taught by your child: curiosity, playfulness, spontaneity. If you can carve out 20 minutes, 15 minutes, even 10 minutes of this quality of presence in a day, it’s like a magic vitamin to the relationship mix – not just nourishing, but also buffering and protective against other disrupting elements of daily life. And it fosters the true self-esteem that flourishes with your child’s experience that she is worth your time, your attention, your presence.

Awareness: This includes the “book learning” part of the job – all the stuff you need to know to be effective as a parent. Essential parental awareness includes everything from “micro” details such as knowing when the last time your child ate some protein or essential fatty acids (brain food is essential for the ability to “keep it together”)… had some water… or got some sleep… to the kinds of “big picture” awareness like where your child is in the scheme of unfolding brain development, and the capacities unique to that stage. This includes knowing, for example, that a young child’s primary modes of learning are through sensing (seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling and touching — indeed, lots of touching!) and doing. This understanding helps parents with a basic “discipline” issue: for a child to touch something is similar to an adult thinking about that same thing.

Another essential aspect of awareness for parents is a connected sense of our own childhood, and what parenting awakens within us in terms of our history and our story. We all travel with an entourage: us at each age we ever were! When a mother holds a baby in her arms, the baby she once was is also there, with all of the feelings she had then. Ditto the toddler, the preschooler, the kindergartner, the teen… you get the idea. This is often the biggest challenge in parenting!

Rhythm: Rhythm can be a parent’s best friend. Rhythm is one of the greatest needs of the young child, but also a fundamental human principle, often forgotten in our supercharged, 24/7 world. Young children thrive on and crave rhythmicity to their days, their weeks, even the seasons: “This is when we eat, this is when we nap, this is when we have play time… Tuesdays we go to the park, Wednesdays we go to the Farmer’s Market, Sunday we visit Grandma, and summer is beach time!”

Seems monotonous to us as adults, because we’re essentially different creatures inside our skulls. The limbic or “feeling brain” structures developing in the early years are critical to the formation of all later brain-based capacities. Rhythm’s external consistency and predictability allow the growing child to gradually internalize regulation & stability – which we now know is the foundation for all human success, including intelligence, relationships, and joy.

Example: Rudolf Steiner said that the young child is really an eye, taking in everything, registering everything, without analysis! And they imitate everything. They don’t so much hear your words, but pick up and emulate everything else.

So the question must always be, “Am I worthy of my child’s unquestioning imitation?” If you complain about chores – even just in the way you make the gesture of doing the chore – it will be emulated (perhaps not right away, but years from now). So, for example, take care that the books you read to your little one also interest you; if I read to my child forcing myself to do it, I shouldn’t be surprised later by his avoidance of reading! Also, careful about taking pleasure in matter-of-factly criticizing friends, acquaintances, politicians. By contrast, children learn important lessons from our striving to elevate our inner selves. Children take our cues about everything from our example, and become our most exquisite mirrors. Be (or strive toward) the noble qualities you dream of for your child!

Nurturance: This is the practical demonstration of love, the giving of ourselves to the other: how we cuddle them, feed them, smile at them. Everything is an opportunity for nurturance of your children, from how you choose their toys and books, their clothing, the colors for their rooms, what to feed them, even the attitude you hold while preparing their meals! Beauty, reverence, a sense of awe—these are all important ways of nurturing the young child.

And, how we discipline, keeping in mind that humans of all ages are always either in “growth or protection” mode, and that harsh reprimands – including the popular exile of “Time Out” – elicit defense/protection mode physically and psychologically, which is counterproductive on all mind/body levels. This doesn’t mean we never say “no” or set limits, but that we repair the ruptured relationship after a break happens.

Trust: It’s the most potent anti-anxiety secret, and perhaps the most subversive act on this list. Everything in our consumerist culture teaches us that we’re not quite enough, but something we can purchase will make up for our lack – like the myriad “educational” techno-gizmos marketed at anxiously devoted parents. Together with the other six principles, trust is an antidote for this anxiety. When I have a new rose that is just budding in my garden, do I tinker with the petals, or do anything with that flower to “optimize” it? No, I enrich and fertilize the soil that the rose is growing in, and I trust in the process of Life unfolding. I also trust that the rosebush can weather storms without me over-sheltering it!

Simplicity: It is the portal to joy, and joy lies at the very foundation of health, well-being and peace. Definitely with a child younger than 6 or 7, but also with older kids, the more we can simplify life, the more peace we will have in the home and woven into the fabric of the child’s developing brain; it becomes a feedback loop.

The child’s deepest need is to be seen and known. Simplifying daily life helps that to happen more: “When we overbook, we overlook.” Research has found that just simplifying dramatically reduces symptoms of clinically diagnosed ADHD. Cultivating a sense of wonder and imagination helps guarantee simplicity, because then everything becomes something amazing: wind through the trees is fairies dancing… a piece of wood becomes an alligator or a doll… a spoon becomes a great flag or a king’s scepter. Then we don’t need to constantly purchase things. And a child – or parent – who can imagine is on a path toward unlimited horizons.

Wednesday, September 4th, 2019

Wired Wednesday: Good for Facebook Users to Know

Digital-Dependence-Parenting-for-Peace

I’ve been doing “Wired Wednesday” for a couple years now, writing about various concerns related to our collective digital dependence. Over that time, yes, I have become more mindful about some of my own digital dependencies. Yes, I (most nights) disable WiFi so we can sleep free of excess EMF exposure. Yes, my basic hygiene includes not looking at my smartphone when someone is speaking to me (and encouraging the same courtesy from them). But no, I have not jumped ship from Facebook.

All I can say is, if you’re a Facebook user, regardless of how infrequently, take a look at this Slate article by Katie Day Good: “Why I Printed My Facebook.” It simply describes what Good found when she decided to download and print out her entire Facebook dossier. It totaled 10,057 pages, 4,612 of which were nothing but “disembodied ‘likes'” that Good chose not to print.

Consider it as part of your own due-diligence—knowing with more specific clarity the implications of your participation in that social media juggernaut. A couple highlights:

“It seemed absurd to print something so massive, and with so much disaggregated data that I’d never want to read in full, but I was glad I did it. I had no illusions about ‘reclaiming my data’—I knew all of this was Zuckerberg’s to keep —but I felt a smidgen of empowerment in finally getting a grasp of the mountain of information I had given him.”

“Other files were less amusing. ‘Advertisers Who Uploaded a Contact List With Your Information’ was a 116-page roster of companies, most of which I had never heard of, that have used my data to try to sell me things. The document called ‘Facial Recognition Code’ was disturbingly brief and indecipherable, translating my face into a solid block of jumbled text—a code that only Facebook’s proprietary technology can unlock—about 15 rows deep.”

“Why I Printed My Facebook” by Katie Day Good

Whether you’re curious, captivated or concerned about our digital dependence and device devotion, join me on (most) Wednesdays so we can explore it together. (Sign up here if you want to be sure not to miss anything!) ….. …..

Stay in the Wired Wednesdays Loop:

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Tuesday, July 16th, 2019

Wired Wednesday: Losing a Child to Online Extremists

 

Wired Wednesdays | Marcy Axness, PhD | Parenting for Peace

I did not write this. I am curating this. It is a mind-blowing article that appeared in Washingtonian magazine.

This story chillingly details a phenomenon that every parent should be aware of in today’s wired world. It sheds light on a fearful dimension of the digital age that I have not yet explored in this blog…and, in fact, of which I was unaware until I read this article.

This isn’t something that just happens to other people. The writer sounds like me, her son sounds like my son. Their family, their values, sound like ours… and, I’m guessing if you’re into Parenting for Peace stuff… maybe like yours. She writes,

“I couldn’t understand how this had happened. … My husband and I poured everything we had into nurturing an empathetic, observant child. Until then, it had seemed to be working. Teachers and family friends had always commented on Sam’s kindness and especially his gentleness toward the ‘underdog’.”

Read Anonymous’ article, “What Happened After My 13-Year-Old Son Joined the Alt-Right: A Washington family’s nightmare year” at Washingtonian’s site here.

Whether you’re curious, captivated or concerned about our digital dependence and device devotion, join me on (most) Wednesdays so we can explore it together. (Sign up here if you want to be sure not to miss anything!) ….. …..

Stay in the Wired Wednesdays Loop:

I’ll Notify You About New Posts

Photo-illustration by C.J. Burton for Washingtonian

Saturday, May 11th, 2019

My Three Mothers: An Appreciation

I had three mothers and I needed them all. I’m dedicating this Mother’s Day reflection to all you mamas out there who fill so many roles and wear so many hats in meeting your children’s needs — and you’re just one mother! You are masters of the bob-and-weave, performing complex multi-task maneuvering to cover the many bases required of moms.

My three mothers divvied up the task, though certainly not by design. It just sorta worked out that way. Read the rest of this entry »

Wednesday, March 20th, 2019

Wired Wednesday: Saving Our Smartphone Brains

Digital-Dependence-Parenting-for-Peace

Adoption Insight by Marcy Axness, PhD | Parenting for PeaceWhen my book Parenting for Peace came out in 2012, the handheld device revolution hadn’t yet reached its tipping point, so smartphone brain wasn’t yet a thing.

The screens I discussed in my book were DVDs in the backs of SUV seats, video games, computer screens, television and other such notions that have become quaint-sounding in just a few years.

But even before the smartphone brain era had taken hold, I posed in my book the idea that we’re faced with a “Peaceful Parenting Conundrum” that goes as follows:

  • Technology has careened forward and changed our world dramatically, even in just the past fifty years; and…
  • Human beings haven’t much changed—in how we’re built or how we function—in thousands of years!

One of the most urgent questions for parents today is, How do we most gracefully and fruitfully navigate these dual realities?! Read the rest of this entry »

Monday, February 18th, 2019

Once Removed: Residue of Separation

Adoption Insight by Marcy Axness, PhD | Parenting for Peace

I had originally intended to post a different article “for my birthday” this year, but this one raised its hand and spoke to me loudly. This one, this day, feels alive and real and timeless.

Twenty years ago I wrote the following essay to serve as a prelude in Jane Guttman’s powerful 1999 book, The Gift Wrapped in Sorrow. In her book, Jane chronicled the pain, surrender and healing she had experienced as a birthmother. In her introduction to my essay, Jane wrote, “In the course of writing this book I have become intimately related to the pain of adoption. But I can only truly know my pain. It has been of the utmost importance to me to also become aware of what it feels like to be surrendered. I believe it is essential to include an impression of that experience as well.”

I’ve been aware these many decades that many adoptees get sad around their birthday. Some therapists see this as an “anniversary reaction”—irritability, sadness, anxiety, depression, or less-defined, unsettling feelings that occur at the anniversary of a traumatic experience. (The whole issue of newborn separation as a trauma that is rememberable is another topic, discussed elsewhere.)

That was never me. Yes, I was separated from my biological mother right at birth, and yes, I spent six days in the hospital nursery before going to my adoptive home. But I have always loved my birthday, who knows why.

Read the rest of this entry »
Wednesday, October 31st, 2018

How Adoption Is Unique

Adoption Insight by Marcy Axness, PhD | Parenting for Peace When November rolls around—National Adoption Month—I’m obliged as a good adoptee to give even more thought than usual to my entry into this world. While so many adoption institutions and Hallmark cards are devoted to de-emphasizing the differences in adoptive families, I want to discuss some ways that adoption is unique. Before getting my degree and writing Parenting for Peace, my previous body of work explored the psychological and social issues in adoption. Understanding how adoption is unique can help bring healing and wholeness to everyone involved.

“Out of Everydayness”: One Way Adoption is Unique

One of my favorite places is Hawaii, and I’m enchanted by the uniquely Hawaiian concepts of hanaiand ‘ohana. These have to do with family connections that expand and expand, without anyone losing one’s own history. One fascinating piece of research that has informed my understanding of how adoption is unique analyzed the narratives of adopted adolescents to identify common, consistent themes. The common themes in how these adopted youth described themselves were “alien,” “rootless,” “flotsam,” and “in limbo.” Read the rest of this entry »

Monday, August 13th, 2018

Crisis Pregnancy Is Age-Old: Adoption’s Beginnings

 

Adoption Insight by Marcy Axness, PhD | Parenting for Peace

I published two Adoption Insight booklets exactly twenty years ago, and how happy I would be if the contents of those booklets had become obsolete in that time. Oh how I wish they were relics of an outdated, reformed adoption system. Alas, that isn’t the case. Women facing crisis pregnancy is a situation as old as human history.

Volume III of Adoption Insight was going to be titled, Nurturing This Untimely Miracle ~ Insights for the Mother with a Crisis Pregnancy. It was going to dispel common myths, like the misguided one that says,  if you are planning or even considering adoption for your baby, it is your “job” to begin the process of detaching now, while you’re pregnant… that it will make it easier to separate when the time comes. Read the rest of this entry »

Thursday, July 26th, 2018

It Matters to Adoptees How We Got Here!

Adoption Insight by Marcy Axness, PhD | Parenting for Peace

I had a great run of success in the 90s getting Letters to the Editor about adoption published: Harper’s Bazaar and Time magazine and USA Today, Los Angeles Times and various smaller regional newspapers. (Newspapers—how quaint!)

I came to hold that particular genre in high regard. I dubbed it “micro-journalism”: a way for readers to get small but potent doses of new awareness about important issues like adoption. Mind you, this was in the 90s, long before the epidemic shrinking of attention span that plagues us writers in today’s impatient, “just-give-me-a-listicle” era. Read the rest of this entry »

Tuesday, July 17th, 2018

The Primal Wound: Separation Trauma IS Trauma…At Any Age

Adoption Insight by Marcy Axness, PhD | Parenting for Peace

As a society we are rightly outraged by the separation of immigrant parents and children. That these children will suffer emotional wounds due to this separation, amidst such chaotic circumstances, is collectively, instinctively assumed. But where is the outrage—or even a drip of compassion—over the separation of mothers and babies in the case of adoption?

This glaring double standard regarding separation trauma was one of the forces that impelled Nancy Verrier to begin writing about this elephant in the room. You see, by the 1980s it was increasingly accepted by many progressive doctors and theorists that separation of mother and newborn was best avoided in general. But there was a cultural blind spot when it came to adoption!

[In case you’re new to this Adoption Insight 25th Anniversary situation, all year I’m reissuing my trove of adoption articles I wrote in the 90s. Usually I include a brief introduction and/or a bit of never-before-shared behind-the-scenes scoop on how it came to be. Today’s introduction is an article in itself… but you will in fact come to the original article below, “In Appreciation of The Primal Wound.”]

Honesty in adoption—the last American taboo?

Read the rest of this entry »