Recently, we introduced a new column, written by teenagers, called Teen Voices. The idea behind it is to help parents (and other adults) get a glimpse of the world through a teen’s eyes. In raising my own four children, I found striving to better understand their world through their eyes was one of the most powerful tools I could use. This simple approach does help build a foundation of trust; however, building trust with a teenager is a day-to-day business. Some days, you are best friends. The next day, one of us is from another planet. As in most things, it is a process. Listening (when my 15-year-old talks to me) is more important than speaking. No Einstein moment here. The goal is to learn something, not tell something, and keeping that in focus is paramount to building trust. But let’s step back to the beginning, long before the teen years.
Hooray for vacation season! I’m feeling blessed to get away, writing from a dorm room at The Garrison Institute, in New York’s renowned Hudson Valley. I’m at a weeklong retreat to learn the communication and self-awareness process called nonviolent communication. It’s intensive work, softened by the exquisite view of the Hudson River from my window.
The philosophy is that in order to be clear and effective in our communications with others, we need to be in touch with what’s alive inside ourselves. Only through self-empathy can we come to have true and meaningful empathy for others.
Our group comprises parents and “parents in waiting” like me. My husband and I are in the process of adopting a child, with both anticipation and nervousness. Will we do it right, and what does that mean? With all the conflicting opinions, theories and ideas circulating, it’s tough to know. Will others judge our decision in ways that may affect our child?
I take heart from the advice of Dr. Adriana Moise, a board-certified pediatrician and Integrative Medicine Fellow who studied with Dr. Andrew Weil. In her Quakertown practice, she encourages parents to ask questions that they may be reluctant or otherwise embarrassed to ask, without fear of being judged.
I’m also grateful when the moms and dads in my retreat circle look at me with love and vulnerability in their eyes and say, “No one knows what they’re doing. We’re just all doing our very best.”
So we huddle around notebooks, coffee mugs in hand, our minds and hearts eager to learn new tools for bringing mindfulness into our family life. We’re all grateful to be provided some kind of “awareness roadmap” for the relational challenges inherent in the parenting journey. Although no one claims to be an expert, we can share what’s working for us.
Like my friend and colleague Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayers, of Elkins Park, who began teaching cooking to her son George in order to address his need to connect with others and stay focused. In her words, “When we cook, George and I work easily in relationship. I may pour and he may stir, or vice versa. We measure, mix and mash in a healthy back and forth way.” Her book, The Kitchen Classroom, and related classes offer a way that parents and kids can practice awareness of one another in a way that’s mutually rewarding, fun and inexpensive (page 22).
I loved learning that at Tinicum Art and Science, cooking is part of the curriculum. For those that prefer sticking close to their own kitchens, Ellen Sue Spicer-Jacobson, of Bala Cynwd, offers a kid-capable recipe from her cookbook, The Whole Foods Experience (page 21).
Kathleen Krol and Jacquelyn O’Malley have excellent suggestions about how we can create the conditions for peaceful communication in the home and steer clear of “tantrum territory” (pages 17 and 18). By minimizing distractions and limiting the number of stimuli in the home environment, we create space and time for both parties to more fully process what’s happening and to respond thoughtfully.
No matter what our parenting philosophy, we can support one another in our shared intention to build strong, happy families. In letting go of our anxieties about what’s good and what’s bad, we can more easily drop into the moment of clarity, love and connection with our kids and ourselves.
To doing our best,
by Kathleen Krol
When we are communicating well, both parties walk away with the same understanding from the conversation. However, many times we may find we are working to express ourselves but not feeling heard—and hearing another person talking without really comprehending what it is they are trying to say. When we are busy and caught up in the daily in and out of our routines, clear communication can be lost along the way. For adults interacting with children, there are added complexities.