It goes without saying that parenting isn’t always the image we have in our head. We plan an event or a trip. It’s going to be perfect, it’s going to be fun- and then we add children to the mix, and things often end up very different then we plan, amen? We learn very quickly as parents to adapt.
I recently read Peter Levine’s Healing Trauma that gives some great exercises one can do to alleviate symptoms of trauma in their life (I recommend the book if that is something you need to explore!). Several of my children have trauma in their pasts as part of their adoption story, so I was excited to try several of the recommended exercises as a family. As I posted earlier, for our family, it is easier to try new calming techniques and stress management as a family together so no one child feels singled out for their issues, it’s fun as a family and there are no excuses not to try, we are making the time right now to do it together. Anyway, one of the exercises I wanted to try was a bit of pet therapy. Pets are calming. The child can match their breathing pattern to the pet, feel the pet’s calmness, regulate through repetitive motions such as stroking the animal’s fur and let the calmness wash over them. I have 5 kids, 3 dogs and 2 guinea pigs, so I had a one to one ratio. I asked all the kids to get a pet and we talked about deep breathing and mindfulness and I asked them to just be with the pet and feel the pet’s calmness as I read a story. (I usually read a chapter book out loud to the whole family before bedtime.) Well, it seemed like it was going to be a beautiful idea, but it didn’t really go as I envisioned it. The dogs were so excited to have all the kids on the floor with them that they wouldn’t stay with the assigned kid and kept wandering from one child to another. One dog just wanted to play, and the kids did a lot of giggling instead of relaxed deep breathing. I think the kids holding the guinea pigs got the most out of it as they laid on their backs and set the guinea pigs on their bellies and felt the weight of the little pets as they did deep breathing and watched the guinea pigs rise up and down on their chests.
It kind of reminds me of the John Denver song- “We didn’t get much mindfulness but we had a lot of fun…” It didn’t go as I was hoping, but I rolled with it.
In learning new ways to connect with your children, you may find that things don’t go as you envisioned it. You plan to respond instead of react to your child’s needs, and somehow it just doesn’t happen that way. You want to try a connected family exercise together, and it may go something like our pet therapy night. Please don’t be hard on yourself. If things don’t go as planned, roll with it, keep your shoulders relaxed and stay calm- maybe have fun anyway. If you react to your child in a non-connected way by yelling, shaming or criticizing, just be real with yourself and your child and ask for a do over or apologize and try to better next time. You will not be perfect any more than your child will, and that’s ok. Just like any relationship, you will not get it right all the time, the important part is to make the relationship right as many times as you need to. That’s a big part of connected parenting.
And if things don’t go as planned, roll with it and figure out how you can still have a connected moment with your child.
*If you want some ideas of family connection times read the post 5 Ways to Build Resiliency as a Family.
References: Levine, P. (2008). Healing Trauma. Sounds True, Boulder, CO.