II. Some Good Things To Know

Attention, Moms! Whether your kids are babes in arms, are almost old enough to join the Army or maybe even have their own army of kids, sometimes you get grumpy with them. Irritated, frustrated, impatient, angry, resentful.

You will probably think the reason you are grumpy is something like: your little one dumped her oatmeal on the carpet, your son got a parking ticket or the bacon burned.

But your grumpiness isn’t caused by the oatmeal, ticket, bacon or anything your kids do or say. You are grumpy because of what you are thinking about, for example, your daughter dumping the oatmeal. Perhaps that she shouldn’t have done that, or now you’ll be late for work, or she did that out of spite, or clumsiness, or whatever. 

How do I know this? Because no matter what happens, you get to choose how you respond to it. What you make it mean. You can choose what to think about the oatmeal or anything else. How you feel will depend on what you think.

That said, let’s say you are irritated about the oatmeal. You might feel like slamming a door and yelling at your little one. 

If you are able to stop yourself from acting out of irritation, from speaking unkind words, is that the end of it? What then happens with your negative feelings, with your negative thoughts?

Irritation or anger that is turned inward will eventually make its way out, perhaps as a slow drip, perhaps in a outburst. The thought that caused the irritation also still remains, unexamined and unprocessed. How we behave with our kids is important, but so too is how we feel and what we think. 

I have read that our brains produce 60 thousand thoughts a day, and 80% of those thoughts tend to be negative. This is because our brain is constantly looking for problems, alerting us, protecting us from danger.

So, when negative thoughts pop up, we can remind ourselves that nothing has gone wrong, that our brain is just doing its job. 

We can remind ourselves that no matter what happens with oatmeal, bacon, tickets or our kids, we can choose what we want to think about it. 

We can learn healthy ways to deal with negative emotions.

Next week we’ll get into specifics. See you back here for III. What’s a Mom to Actually Do?

Want a Better Relationship with Your Adult Kid?

Do you wish you had a better relationship with your adult kid? 

What would it take to make it better?

If you answered something like: 

If she would be nicer to me, if he would call more often, if they would make better choices or settle down or work harder or drink less or or or… then I would feel better about them, then we could have a better relationship.

A lot of people will agree with you, and commiserate with you… because you are powerless to do anything, the relationship is out of your hands. You are at the mercy of your kid’s behavior. It is a very painful place to be. 

But is that the way it has to be? 

Here is what I believe is true: 

You, and I, and everyone, cannot make other people behave differently than they do. Even our kids.

People get to be and do what they choose.

When we set rules, expectations, “shoulds” for others, we often end up feeling disappointed, angry or hurt.

How we feel is because of how we are thinking. We think we feel hurt because our son didn’t call, but if it wasn’t for our thought “he should call” we wouldn’t be feeling hurt. 

It seems like a nice thought, a reasonable expectation: my son should call. A kid should call his mother. 

But let’s look at the reality: when we have that thought about our kid, we feel disappointed and hurt, and then how do we behave? Most likely we complain, we pout, we decide to “show him” by not calling him, or maybe we call and chew him out… And what is the result of all that?

Can you see where that reasonable thought turns out to be a kind of poison? 

So what can we do differently? 

We can start trying out different ways of thinking about our kid. So he’s not big on calling- what if we worked on making that okay. Not making it mean he is selfish or doesn’t love us. Or that we are a bad mom or have a bad relationship. But maybe instead, thinking, he is living his life, as we all are. What else? Busy, doing things, taking care of stuff, minding his business, being a grownup, just being himself. I’ve raised an independent man, living his own life.

Can you feel the relief, the easing off? 

Ultimately, our relationships with our kids are based on what we choose to think about them. Our thoughts, the emotions they generate, and the way we behave are what end up creating the relationship. 

So… what kind of relationship will you create?

Equally Beloved

It has been an interesting time politically, these past four years. A lot of opportunity for me to work on anger, frustration, judgement, disappointment. A lot of opportunity to think about truth, integrity, honesty. To grieve for all the partisanship, small-mindedness, meanness.

To figure out how much news input I can handle. 

Sometimes I want to get away from my anger. Sometimes I want to indulge it, stoke it.

The covid pandemic has brought all this to new heights and lows.

I’ve been asking myself, if I value and work toward acceptance and unconditional love toward all humans, how is it okay to judge and condemn our current president? To feel such animosity and anger? 

I zoom up and imagine a Big Mama, Higher Vantage Point, GodsEye View, etc., looking down at Me and Donny in the playground, duking it out. Both her children. Equally beloved to her. 

What does she say to me? People are people. They get to be who they are. You know this. You are who you are and he is who he is. Do you want to hate him? Punish him? Is that how you want to feel? Is that how you want to spend your energy?

Here is what I can do now. I can decide not to hate. I know how to do that. I know how to pay attention to my thoughts and choose thoughts that are not hateful, that do not denigrate. 

I can think, he is a human being. He a human being who says a lot of things. He is a human being acting out of the feelings and thoughts he has- just as I am, just as we all are.

I don’t have to approve of him. Like him. Agree with him. 

I can accept that he is who he is, what he does and says are what he does and says. 

I can focus on what is important to me, focus on my own integrity, find my own truth, stand up for what I believe to be good, thoughtful and valuable. I can appreciate all the amazing wonderful good stuff in the world, all around me. Work toward more of that. 

And I can accept my anger, when it arises, as an outcome of how I choose to view the world. I hope not to stoke that anger, but to feel it, own it, listen to it, and use it to sharpen my commitment to what I value.

I hope to always keep my mind and heart open. To keep growing, changing, reaching for whatever is next. To question myself. Clearly there is so much more for me to learn and to understand about life, about being human.

Real Life Coaching

I have a client I’ll call Lora, who has an adult son I’ll call Chad. (Note: My coaching sessions are always confidential. Express permission has been given by this client to use the following, with some details changed in addition to the names.)

Lora had always worried Chad wasn’t capable of taking care of himself, of being responsible, of making good choices. They had a pattern: Chad would call and tell Lora his problems, Lora would rush in to fix the problems and rescue Chad, and then he would end up being mad at her.

At some point, awhile back, Lora had recognized the futility of this. She decided to stop “helping” Chad in this way, and to instead trust that he knew best how to live his life.

Last weekend Chad called and told Lora he’d just spent the last of his money. Lora knew not to try to rescue Chad, and she knew she didn’t want to criticize or scold him. Bit she felt frustrated and upset, got off the phone quickly, and felt depressed for the next few days. She had a lot of “noise in her head” with thoughts like:

Chad’s not managing his money and his life

Chad’s in trouble, and I want to help him but I can’t

Lora had successfully avoided taking on Chad’s work. Now she was ready to take on her own work, and consciously look at what was going on within herself. Lora had worked through much of her relationship with her son over the past couple of years, so this session was mostly about remembering and realigning with the conscious decisions she had made for herself.

As we talked about her recent conversation with Chad, here is a look at how her thoughts developed:

I know how stuck he feels and how bad that feels

This is his life, it was always supposed to be his life

It’s okay if it’s hard for me, if I feel sad

I understand that it’s hard for Chad

I love him

I want to believe in him

I want to believe he is capable, that he can handle his life

I can hold space for him to be himself

I was struck by how beautifully Lora came around to discover for herself what she now could offer Chad. When she stops viewing him as unable and incapable, there is nothing to fix, no one to rescue.

I want to be clear: it isn’t necessary for Lora to see evidence of Chad’s success at financial planning, for example, in order to believe in him, to believe he is capable, to believe that he can handle his life, on his own terms. 

Like all humans, Chad is learning life by living it. On the job training. He may be struggling with one or more of life’s issues now, and maybe he will his whole life, but it is his life to work with all these things we have to deal with on planet Earth. 

And Lora gets to love him, enjoy him, practice holding space for him, practice believing in him and his amazing unique existence. She gets to support and appreciate and be interested in how he figures it out. She gets to feel the relief of letting go of judgement and frustration, of the need to fix and rescue.

She gets to just love her son.

Choosing Love

Is there someone you are “supposed to” love – but who you find it hard to feel loving toward? Your son or daughter, your spouse, a sister or parent?

You think: if they were more considerate, if they would tell the truth, stop drinking, be more responsible, did what they were supposed to do, if they just appreciated all you do… it would be so much easier to love them.

Dear friends: do you know you can just decide to love them, exactly as they are right now?  Instead of resentment, judgement, disappointment, you could feel love.

This doesn’t mean that you have to approve of everything they do.

This doesn’t mean that you have to let yourself be treated poorly.

It doesn’t mean that you have to spend more time with them or even stay married to them.

It just means that you get to feel love. It’s a gift that you can give yourself. It feels amazing to set down resentment, a huge relief to let go of judgement. You can stop trying to control others, stop reacting to them, and just let them be as they are.

How to do this? 

Own your feelings. Understand that you (never anyone else, no matter what they do) are responsible for how you feel.

Stop focusing on the behaviors and qualities you have been letting bother you. There are many other qualities. Open yourself to seeing them. Open yourself to the fullness, the mystery, the humanness of your child (husband, brother, etc.).

Consider that you may not be seeing the whole picture. That no one can ever completely know another person’s experience. That where each of us is right now is temporary. There are always countless possibilities. And, that other people get to live their own lives in their own way. Just as you do.

Choose loving thoughts. It may help to scope out, focus on the bigger picture: All beings are worthy of love. We are all humans, doing the best we can, from where we stand. I chose love because it feels better than resentment. I chose to add more love to the world.

Practice creating and feeling the physical sensation of love, on purpose. For a few minutes, sit quietly with closed eyes. Breathe deeply and evenly, in and out, centering your attention in your body. Feel your chest expand and contract. Imagine breathing in love, breathing out resentment, hurt, judgement. Let your in breath fill your limbs, your throat, your face. Let the warmth, expansiveness, stillness, and energy fill you and soften you. As thoughts and feelings rise up, gently notice them, and return to your breath. When able, on your out breath begin to imagine the feelings of love flowing out of you into the space around you, into the world. 

Allow the love and compassion to encompass yourself as well. Know your own worthiness and value. Respect yourself. Take good care of yourself. Speak your truth, as best you can. If you need to set boundaries, have them address your actions, what you are willing to be around, how you will behave- as opposed to rules of how others should be or behave.

When we stop thinking that love is something that needs to be earned, when we unhitch our love from all conditions, we can practice unconditional love. We can chose this because it stops us from creating unnecessary suffering, for ourselves, for our loved ones, for the world.  We can do it because it just feels good. Because it brings us freedom and grace. 

We can chose love on purpose because it aligns us with the best, truest, deepest part of ourselves. 

Staying Informed, Keeping Sane

I’ve been consciously working on finding a balance between staying informed about our national politics and keeping myself sane.

Last night before getting ready for bed, I checked my facebook page. I clicked open an article about current political disinformation campaigns. I sensed it was a bad time to do so, but I read it anyway as I flossed my teeth.

Angry, dire and judgmental thoughts flooded my head as I went on to brush my teeth, wash my face and push the button on my alarm clock. I slipped into bed and lay there, feeling a tide of panic and despair. I tried to recall more balanced, rational thoughts. Soothing thoughts that might allow me to at least set my concerns aside until morning, but they couldn’t find purchase in the clamor going on in my head. 

Self judgment joined the din: why did I need to check Facebook at eleven pm? why did I click open that article, which I knew would rile me up? And then my inability to coach myself, to talk myself down.  

On and on. One am, one thirty. Thoughts of the alarm going off at six, with no hope of sleep in sight, panic rising. 

I thought of the Ann Patchett novel next to me on the bedside table. A book light next to it. Would that help? And would I be proving my inability to self coach?

I remembered a story a teacher of mine told: a car at the top of a hill, parking brake failing. The slight possibility that one could, if noticed right away, use physical force to hold it back before it began to roll, or maybe jump into the car and get control of it before got going. But that once that car got moving the momentum would cause it to pick up speed and the best thing to do at that point would be to wait til it got the the bottom of the hill, or hit something that would stop it. The wisest thing would be to get out of the way, knowing it will eventually come to a standstill, and then assess and deal with the consequences.

I felt around in the dark for my book and clip on book light. The story diverted my attention and eventually gratefully I clicked off the light, slipped the bookmark between the pages and rolled over to get some sleep. When the alarm went off at six, I turned it off and slept until nine. 

In the morning I assessed the damage: I slept through Zumba class. 

What I gained: a reminder to listen to my gut, a renewed commitment to calm evenings and the value of good sleep. And a reminder for a compassionate approach to self coaching- it’s not a contest, it’s just a tool to be used when helpful and practical. 

In the light of morning, I was able to think about the article I’d read online with less anger, less despair. I recommitted to compassion, as well as truth and integrity. I recommitted to my faith in humans and the human experience. I felt clear and calm. Mind and heart open and engaged.

Staying informed, keeping sane.

Credit: Photo by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash

The Truth about Emotions

Emotions are everything. When we feel good, life is good. When we don’t, everything feels off, everything feels wrong.

Because of this, it would seem important to know what causes our emotions, and how to have some control over how we feel. 

It isn’t something we’re taught, but most of us hear and internalize the message that how we feel is a reaction to events, situations, circumstances. What happens to us. What other people do and say.

We say: I’ll feel better when this project is done. I’ll be so happy when the kids are home for the holidays. I worry because my dad is getting old. That guy’s voice is so irritating. This rain is depressing.

But here’s the truth: We can feel better whether or not the project is done. We can be happy (or sad) when the kids are home and when they aren’t. Your dad aging is not the cause of your worry. The guy’s voice is what it is. The weather doesn’t have the power to depress or elate us.

The reason? Because every feeling we have is a result of what happens inside our brain. What we are thinking about the project and our kids, what we believe about our dad and about aging. What we make of that guy’s voice. What we are thinking about the rain. Our thoughts about all of it. 

Which means that if we believe all these things have the power to determine how we feel, then they do. We hand over our freedom and passively react to what comes at us.

The truth is that to feel better, we don’t have to wait, see what happens, check the weather forecast. We don’t need other people to do anything different. We don’t need to control what happens in the world. 

We can create our emotions, because we can chose what we think. Even what we believe. And this shifts everything else: how we feel, how we show up in the world, what our lives are and become.

We start by being curious and paying attention in new ways. To our lives, to our thoughts and feelings, to the world around us. 

It also helps to learn a few more things about how we humans operate. And then we try things out, we test the concepts. It requires some intention and practice. And desire to grow and move forward. Or simply desire for relief.

What do we gain? Freedom- which has always been there. Exhilaration. New ideas and fresh energy. We take power and authority over our lives, and full responsibility for ourselves: the good, the bad, the ugly. We grow up. Stop blaming others, circumstances, bad luck. 

We don’t have to wait, we can feel love right now. Confidence. Compassion. Ease. Appreciation. Delight. We can chose to feel sad too, and angry and frustrated, at times- and own all those feelings as well.

Sound airy-fairy? Next week I’ll go into how this all works and how you can test it for yourself.

What If Your Loneliness

What if your loneliness
          your grief
                   your frustration
                             your anger

holds within it a message for you, 
          carefully worded to meet you here, now?

What if you invited your grief, your anger in
and sat
and listened
as long as it took

as if it were a visitor from some inner world
that speaks in dream images
and in the feelings that flood your body and color your days?

What if your loneliness
          your grief
                    your frustration
                              your anger

is the perfect vehicle to move toward the not yet you 
who patiently waits, watching with love
as long as it takes?

Gratitude: When the Mind Balks

Giving thanks. Appreciating. Looking for goodness. Amplifying the best in every being, every thing with our attention. 

Seeking to find value even in the difficult, the awkward, the painful.

A wonderful attitude to practice now and any time.

And if your mind balks, your heart clenches tight, your inner dialogue is “but, but, but…” at all the talk of gratitude: that is where you are right now. It’s okay. You’re human and human beings get sad, feel anger, feel pain. We can’t always reach gratitude from where we are standing.

Can I say, though: be your own best friend. Try not to use Thanksgiving and gratitude that you can’t feel right now as an excuse to beat yourself up, or to beat up others. Do yourself that favor, if you can.

Be curious about what is going on in your brain. Curious and open and compassionate. About your life. About what you are thinking, and feeling.

Can you be okay with where you are right now, okay with the difficult, the awkward, the painful? 

Perhaps you can give yourself this gift.

Thanks, Coach!

I was like a little kid who was mad at the world, kicking at the dirt. Throwing rocks. Finding excuses, pointing fingers, resenting others who I thought had achieved what I wanted so badly.

I was talking to my life coach; she listened for awhile, and asked questions. 

I told her I was about to give up, to walk away from a goal I’d been working toward for two years. It wasn’t happening the way I thought it should. I thought I should be further along. 

As we talked and I answered her questions I realized that underneath my resentment and blame were some very painful thoughts: 

I must not have what it takes to succeed. 

I’m not smart enough, I don’t have enough grit, 

I’m not disciplined enough.

You know that feeling, like a dam breaking, that tells you when you hit on something? The dam broke when I uncovered those thoughts. (Read: lots of tears.) It felt terrible. I felt heartbroken. If I believed those thoughts were true I would have to give up something that I loved, something that represented to me my highest self.

By lashing out at the world, I had been avoiding looking inward.

But when I did look, after the waterworks subsided, I realized that I didn’t believe those disturbing thoughts. Or maybe a little, but certainly not completely. I knew I had learned and accomplished and created so much already. I was well on my way toward my goal… just maybe not as fast as I had expected. 

What is the truth here? Neither: all these are subjective thoughts, opinions I could have about myself.

But let’s look at what happens when I choose to believe, even if unconsciously, that I must not have what it takes to succeed- not enough smarts, determination and discipline. I feel terrible, heartbroken. And then, fueled by that feeling: I blame and resent others, look for excuses, don’t work to figure out the hard stuff I need to master, I avoid coaching myself on my thoughts, and I want to give up. Basically, I kick dirt and throw rocks. 

Can you guess what the result of all that is? The result that originated with my “not good enough” thought? I am not using all I have- all my smarts, determination and discipline- that I need to succeed.

Now that is something I have complete control over! And it starts with choosing different thoughts.

What if instead, I consciously think these thoughts? I’m well on my way. I’m learning and growing every day. I’m creating something new, something valuable, out of my love, vision and dedication.