Our parenting experience starts long before the birth of our first baby. How we were parented and what happens to us along the way informs the parents we become. Any form of trauma is worth revisiting when contemplating parenthood. Traumatic events in childhood and adulthood can complicate how we feel about many things associated with becoming a parent and many are buried deep, often to enable us to continue to function.
Embracing Fluid Parenting Styles
Yet our parenting style it is not set in stone. The parents we become remain fluid if combined with insight and intention to be the parent you want to be. Each decision and choice we make can be reversed and redirected with reflection and courage.
The Challenge of Being the Parent You Needed
It is not easy to be the parent you needed but did not have. It will stretch you into your own grief, your sadness and sense of loss whilst asking you to be the adult in the room, stronger, kinder, and wise. I can’t think of another life experience that requires this fundamental shift in selfhood.
Recognising Unconscious Patterns in Parenting
I say courage because it truly does take a tangible, felt experience of gut-wrenching clarity that you just did or said something to your child that you thought you would never repeat or hear come out of your mouth. We often don’t want to repeat the errors of our own parents, but it does not have to mean a complete swing away from the model they presented us with. Rather than a knee jerk alternative we would do well to sit with that duality and take control in thoughtful decision making by making different choices that may have been harmful or hurtful in the past.
Impact of Family Narratives on Parenthood
How we were raised may also impact our very desire to be a parent. Family stories can shroud any feeling of delight or reward that might be possible if you were treated poorly, devalued, disrespected, or disregarded. Similarly, the choice to not parent can become fraught if the family narrative only holds parenthood as the established value of worth. Reproductive adversity on the way to parenthood can truly mark us. Much of what can happen can be traumatic. How do you then flip that and suddenly be happy about pending parenthood when the cost has been so great.
Coping with Reproductive Adversity
There is no shortage of material when talking about this legacy in counselling. Many do not realise the mark life has left on them when thinking about raising children. Meeting your newborn baby carries you into your own newborn state of parenthood. Just like your newborn you will need to feel your way with your senses and what your sensible, adult brain thinks should happen often does not transpire. What you want your baby to do does not match with how they are and the adjustments you do or do not make are likely to either make or break you.
Counselling: Navigating Parenthood’s Challenges
How you learn to care for your children will be informed by how you were cared for by your parents. Even the things you cannot directly remember are often held within us to be revealed in time. Big and strong emotions often accompany parenthood in ways that confound us. It is so common to have a client say to me I am so different to how I thought I would be, and I don’t understand where this is coming from. Then the work begins. In counselling, we thread our way through the many experiences life has provided in order to make sense of our responses and take charge of what we want to do differently.
Empowering Positive Changes in Parenthood
It can feel very scary and make us very vulnerable, but it is possible to make great changes. We don’t have to continue to harm and hurt our children just because that is what was done to us. It is possible to hold a profound intention to do it differently just with an intention to do so. Allow the intention to take you into action and demonstrate to yourself and your family what is in your heart. Learning to understand the legacy of your life experiences and how it might impact your behaviour is to be applauded. What better investment is there in caring for those that are considering, trying to, or encountering themselves as parents.
What do you love about your work as an educator and counsellor in Aware Parenting?
There is so much to love in working with families. Over the years I have worked from pregnancy counseling and education to guiding families with Aware Parenting as their children grow and issues pop up through to working with teenagers around sexuality and relationships. I love seeing how information and insights can change behavior and dynamics with families. Especially when parents can make a link between patterns in their own childhoods and how that may affect the way they parent.
Why did you choose to specialise in Aware Parenting?
Before we have children I think we all have these grand ideas as to the type of parent we will be and then your child comes along and all those fantasies often fade into the background as life can be tricky and raising kids is an intense job. When I discovered Aware Parenting when my kids were little, I felt like I had found the magical key to raising kids with compassion, empathy and awareness. I saw such a shift within my own family, that I knew I wanted to share this with others. To me it encompasses what we all want in the bigger picture of raising children. Kids that are emotionally aware, connected to themselves and their families as well as being attuned to who they are and what they want to do in the world. Without having to overpower them or use punishments and rewards to get your needs met. It is a great balance of respect, love and boundaries.
How do you juggle being an author, birth consultant for couples and professionals, Aware Parenting and sexual educator for teens, plus running a business, parenting your own children AND everything else that day to day life throws at you?
Well – great question! It is a juggle. The secret for me is to take time for myself. Every week I have a day or two where I don’t speak to anyone, I stay quiet and fill up my cup. My work can be emotionally intense, so I need the quiet time to stay attuned to myself (mind you this is just in school hours). That means that when I am working I am fully present. When I am with my kids my aim is to be really present with them and when I am working, I get clear on what I can achieve and what may need to wait. Sometimes I outsource things and I have an amazing husband who supports me in so many ways. I have found that I can keep all the balls in the air if I take really good care of myself as well as set excellent boundaries on what I am willing to do. I am not afraid to say no to something.
What is the most common fear (or block) you find parents are facing when preparing to speak to their teenage children about sex? What do you recommend for them?
One of the biggest fears I see is that parents are often worried about saying too much. I encourage parents to start having age-appropriate conversations about sex from a young age so that it doesn’t become “a talk” it is many conversations over there life. This helps to normalise the topic so that children know it is something that is safe to talk about with parents. When parents are worried about saying too much or that it may encourage kids to be sexual – I show them all the data that says, educating kids often delays their first sexual experience as well as imprinting good messages around safety and consent.
Up until puberty, sex and sexuality education is just biology for kids, its the same as how digestion works or how we breathe. Helping them understand their bodies is gifting them with great information so they are more aware. When kids don’t want to hear something, they just switch off and conversations around sexuality often have to be repeated many times over the different ages. If you can practice lots when your kids are little, by the time they become teens, the conversations are often easier and children are more willing to come to you with a problem or question.
My other suggestion is to use books! There are loads of great books out there for all ages on all topics and they are a wonderful place to start if as a parent you feel nervous or think you will get it wrong. Give your child a book to read or better still read it with them and open up the conversation that way.
What is your best piece of advice for someone who is struggling with tears and tantrums in their child?
Do some research or reading or come to a workshop and understand what is happening in your child’s brain and how you can support them to move through it. Tears and Tantrums are a completely normal process for younger children to help reset their nervous system. A 3-year-old doesn’t have the cognitive capabilities to use their words and express their hurts or fears when something happens. Often the only way the can come back into balance and reset is through raging and crying. I firstly like to explain to parents that it is so normal. What little ones need in times like this is a calm parent to hold a space for them as it passes. When kids are isolated and sent to there room or smacked or shamed for having these big feelings, it often pushes all these big feelings inside and children here a clear message that when I am upset, it is not a good thing and love is withdrawn. We want children to be able to express themselves and each time we hold a calm space for a child when they cry or rage, we are showing them through mirror imprinting that the emotions will move and pass and they will come back into balance. As children’s prefrontal cortex grows, they are able to express themselves with words and the need to rage and tantrum becomes less and less. They have also learned that you as the parent are a safe place to come, even when they are at their most upset.
What part of your work has ever brought you to tears?
So many parts have brought me to tears. When I was attending births, watching a woman overcome her fears would bring me undone. Or witnessing a baby arriving into the world and watching the parents step into this new role. I often have tears when parents make connections around what is the block between them and their child and how they can shift it. I am a big fan of tears. A great deal of my work is embracing emotions and supporting the healing that crying can bring – so tears flow easily for me. I see that as a great trait to have in my work and I really support it in others. Many clients say that I am the Crying whisper 🙂 They come to me so they can cry freely and easily without judgment and that is the biggest compliment I can receive.
According to the bureau of statistics, the average person has 10 jobs in their lifetime. What did you do before becoming a parenting and sexual educator? Do you ever see yourself doing anything different?
Before I moved into parenting, I was working in birth as a doula and childbirth educator, but even before that, I was a Children’s Entertainer!! I started my entertainment company when I was 19yrs old and we would put on big shows and pantomimes all over Melbourne. We would entertain at birthday parties and functions and I had a team of performers who worked for me. We would write and create all our shows. It was a lot of fun and taught me a great deal about public speaking and holding an audience and it also taught me a great deal about play, which is something I use in my work now with Aware Parenting and children.
I have always run my own businesses and I absolutely love the work I do now. I am a very passionate person and have to love the work I do, or else to me there is no point. So I am sure as I grow more, other passions will ignite and new work will evolve.
Do you recommend parents and their child see a naturopath to assist with behavioural issues? Why?
I am a big fan of supporting the body in whatever way we can. For some children, their diet plays a huge part in their behaviour. I like to look at the whole picture and explore what is going on at home and in the environment as well as how the body is feeling. I think it all works together. I have seen some families who have cleaned up a child’s diet but the behavior has stayed the same, as what is happening in the home is actually what the child is responding to – so I believe that looking at all elements is needed.
What other modalities do you find your clients and their children get benefit from?
I am also a big fan of Osteopathy, particularly Cranial Osteopathy for children. Children’s nervous systems can be very wired and that can have a big impact on there ability to sleep and regulate and express themselves. Many of my clients also use Homeopathics and Chinese Medicine with their kids. I also have some that use Subconscious reprogramming at night whilst the child is sleeping. I think its good to find a modality that resonates with you and your child.
What is your all-time best success story that you can share?
Every time a parent realises how they can do it differently or bring more connection and attachment to their dynamic – I feel like that is such a great win. I have many stories of parents owning and healing their own pains and hurts and as they support themselves within that – their child’s behavior shifts and the family dynamic totally changes. There have been so many transformations in families over the years. One story that stands out is with a child who refused to eat (it was a big control pattern for him) and after I worked with the Mum on some games and ways to create more connection, they ended up having a huge food fight in their backyard. Lots of laughing and silliness and mess and that night he ate more than he had in a week. The parents realised what was going on for the child on a deeper level and looked to heal that instead of trying to bribe him to eat food. His eating patterns completely changed after that one game and they began to focus more on connection and power reversal instead of disconnection and resistance.
What are your favourite books to recommend on parenting?
Oh so many!!! My top 6 are :
Listen by Patty Wipfler
Cooperative and Connected by Aletha Solter
Attachment Play by Aletha Solter
Brainstorm by Dan Siegel (for understanding the teenage brain)
Patenting from the Inside Out by Dan Siegel and Mary Hartzell
Hold on to Your Kids by Gabor Mate and Gordon Neufeld
How can people contact you if they would like more information?