The Missing Piece of the Personal Growth Puzzle

There are more than a few entry points for personal growth and just as many reasons why we get motivated to make some changes. Often the motivation comes from a painful experience or major adversity. But what if we could take an entirely different approach to personal growth? What if we reframed it as a part of the natural maturing process as we move through life?

Many of us begin our personal growth journey exploring the self-help section of the bookstore or library, discovering a podcast, participating in a support group, or seeking professional counseling. There is a tendency to keep our efforts under wraps even when we learn that many people struggle with the same issues we do.

In many instances, our personal growth work is cobbled together in a haphazard way. We migrate to teachings or tools that resonate with us. We are drawn to those whose stories are relatable and we strive to overcome our adversities just as they did. Our progress is often slow and some days it is hard to tell if we are actually making headway.

We hear that personal growth work is hard. It is.

We hear that personal growth work is worth it. It is.

Perhaps what has been missing in the personal growth field is a piece of the puzzle that would shift both the process and our motivation in a transformational way. The fundamental missing piece is neuroscience — discovering how our brains are working from childhood into adulthood.

Understanding the role our brains are playing as we navigate adulthood can become the catalyst for proactive personal growth work, enriching our wellbeing and improving the quality of our relationships. It would no longer be necessary to hide the fact that we need a little help to support our natural evolution. In fact, if we reframed personal growth as a foundational building block like exercise and nutrition, we would have a brand-new approachable and desirable entry point for investing in ourselves.

Think about this: Our brain is one of the most phenomenal devices we possess. Yet we know very little about all its capabilities and even less about how to care for and support its optimization. We take it for granted – yet it faithfully serves us through every single experience we have every day for our entire lifetime.

What if we changed our perspective about caring for and utilizing our brain’s full potential? What if we recognized the value of “upgrading” our internal operating systems as we go through life, building on what we have learned from our past experiences and proactively engaging in creating new neural pathways to meet our ever-changing goals.

Let’s see how that might be an optimum pathway for personal growth work by taking a closer look at a subject often discussed when we embark on self-help: how our childhood behavioral patterns and attachment styles often do not serve us well in adulthood.

In a February 2022 episode of the Huberman Lab Podcast, neurobiologist Andrew Huberman explained in great detail how our childhood attachment styles influence our adult attachment styles.

“How we attached, or did not attach, to our primary caregivers in our childhood has much to do with how we attach or fail to attach to romantic partners as adults because the same neural circuits (the neurons and their connections in the brain and body) that underlie attachment between infant and caregiver, between toddler and parent or other caregiver entering adolescence and in our teenager years are repurposed for adult romantic attachments. I know that might be a little eery to think about but indeed that is true.” Andrew Huberman, The Huberman Lab Podcast (2/14/2022)

Dr. Huberman’s insights here are astounding. Our brains “repurpose” attachment styles we developed as kids to help us create our attachment styles with our life partners. It doesn’t take a big stretch of one’s imagination to see how our repurposed adult attachment styles would also impact our friendships, relationships with co-workers and parenting.

The fortunate thing is that regardless of our childhood attachment styles and experiences, the neural circuits for desire, love and attachment are quite plastic — they are amenable to change in response to both what we think and what we feel, as well as what we do. However, all three aspects being discussed today desire, love and attachment — are also strongly biologically driven. (hormones, neurochemicals like dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin) and neural circuits (brain areas and areas of the body that interact with the brain). Andrew Huberman, The Huberman Lab Podcast (2/14/2022)

Dr. Huberman then delivers the “good news” about this phenomenon of “repurposing”. The neuroplasticity of our incredible brains opens up the vast potential to support this “repurposing” in a healthy, proactive, beneficial way. We can engage in this process in a very meaningful – and game-changing way.

We would be able to circumvent some of those awkward, cumbersome forays into adult relationships because we would have greater awareness and access to better tools. Regardless of the stability or chaotic nature of our childhoods, we need to be involved in this repurposing process. It is where we tap into our true nature and free ourselves from old narratives and limiting beliefs.

Imagine entering adulthood without constrictive adaptive childhood behavioral patterns. We all have them, regardless of our childhood experiences (even really good childhoods). Adaptive childhood behavioral patterns are how we made sense of our world as kids. Baked into those behavioral patterns are the armor we used to feel safe, the behaviors we relied on to get attention and feel loved, valued. These childhood behavioral patterns are inextricably linked to our childhood attachment styles.

I’ve written several posts on parenting and on the benefits of breaking generational chains of dysfunctional family patterns. Even when we are well intentioned about wanting to “do better” as parents for our own children, it is only natural that unconscious, residual adaptive patterns will seep into our own parenting. Our default childhood brain and body settings will make our best efforts more challenging than need be.

Dr. Dan Siegel, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA, is a renowned resource for parents who desire to create and maintain secure attachments with their children. He emphasizes how important it is for parents to identify their own childhood attachment style first and foremost. He encourages parents to do their own healing and personal growth work as a fundamental part of parenting their own children with healthy, secure attachment styles.

Neuroscience has been exploding with game-changing breakthroughs for mental health, for personal growth, for the brain challenges that come with aging such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. Brain imaging is helping all of us see more clearly all the changes that our brains are subjected to — and are capable of. We have both an invested interest and a dynamic opportunity to actively participate in helping our brains stay healthy, stay upgraded and function with greater ease.

Maybe personal growth will become the new brain health. The more we know, the more we can participate in our healthy growth and evolution.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Dr. Dan Siegel YouTube Discussion:

The 4 S’s of Attachment-Based Parenting

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7zV2nLEeh0c&t=2780s

The Science of Love, Desire and Attachment
February 14, 2022
https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/huberman-lab/id1545953110

Nuggets of Wisdom — Lessons Learned from Children

One of my most rewarding facets of the personal growth journey is learning how we can best support our children. So many of us go into parenthood with the list of things we will do differently than our parents, but only from the perspective of how their actions and behaviors felt to us as a child. Dig a little deeper into what was going on with our parents to cause them to behave as they did and add a healthy dose of what society deemed acceptable at that time — and you will come away with a better understanding of how invaluable doing personal growth and healing work can be for generations of families.

I’m a huge fan of the dynamic work of Dr. Bruce Perry and Dr. Dan Seigel. Both these distinguished researchers offer us insights into how a child’s brain develops, the effects of trauma and neglect in the first few months of life, and the importance of relationship scaffolding for children and their caregivers. As Maya Angelou so wisely tells us “When we know better, we do better.” Understanding that a young child does not have the top down emotional and intellectual capacity to self regulate gives us a whole new insight into our expectations of a child’s behavior and what is possible in reality. The onus goes directly back to us as adults to utilize our own self-regulation, effective distraction and empathy to respond to a child in emotional distress. Imagine how the power struggle shifts, and possibly even evaporates, with this knowledge. Recognizing that some of the fidgeting can be a child’s organic way of self-soothing and calming would stop us in our tracks before we tell them one more time to stop.

When I was a young mother, I relied on Dr. Spock for parenting advice. Today I would encourage parents to read the books that Dr. Perry and Dr. Siegel have written. A companion tool for parents is the enneagram. Even if you don’t want to go to deep with the enneagram personally, a quick review of the core motivations and fears for each of the nine types provides a primer to many of the reasons we choose to armor up, dial back and bully our way through life. A little knowledge can go a long way in preventing your own child from needing to make these adjustments to feel safe, loved and to feel like they fit in.

Too often, we are so caught up in our “to do” list, personal agendas or lack of awareness, that we dismiss our child’s feelings. We don’t really mean to do this of course, but it happens. With the best of intentions, we might say “Oh honey, you shouldn’t feel that way. Look at all these things you’ve got going for you.” Wrong. Trust me, they feel exactly as they feel. And those old familiar words intended to bring comfort only bring shame and guilt to a young person already struggling with big emotions.

Get curious when you child is displaying big emotions. You can probably sense the hurricane-like storm that is swirling around in them. Sitting down together – calmly – and inviting your child to open up about their honest feelings is incredibly powerful. Responding with words like “that must be really hard” or “that must feel so painful” is so empathic and respectful. You don’t have to solve the problem or soothe the discomfort away. Just being present, listening to learn and understand, offering compassion and a hug are incredible gifts to receive when emotions are strong (whether you are a young child, a teenager or an adult). Rather than inserting our will, leaning in and holding space for young people who simply do not possess the capacity to understand, yet alone process, their emotions is a better path for parent and child.

There is no doubt that we live in a world where there are many demands on our time and attention. Technology has managed to eat up snippets of our day that accumulate into hours without us even recognizing it.

Take a look around when you are out to lunch, in a coffee shop, at the local park or grocery store. Adults everywhere are staring at their screens instead of each other, and this includes their rambunctious, adventurous toddlers.

It’s easy to see how we can miss the little “bids for connection” that children make all day — with their moms and dads, grandparents, teachers and caregivers. We may not be able to catch every one of those bids but my guess is that there is big room for improvement. Challenge yourself to pay attention to the excited little voices calling to you repeatedly, the tug on your pant leg, or the crashing of toys being dumped in the middle of the floor. It only takes a few seconds to answer that bid for connection, and the reward is huge — for both adult and child. Eye contact, a smile, an encouraging word, a hug or tap on the head are all meaningful responses to these tiny bids for connection that our children seek every single day. If we can jump to respond to the ding of a text or email, we can re-program ourselves to do the same for those who look up to us.

True confession — I came up with this one big question when my sons were teenagers. I’m not sure how it came to be, except that I do remember pondering how to make the lessons stick. Having them be part of the conversation about consequences, accountability and responsibility seemed worth a try. When my sons would balk thought-provoking question and beg for a grounding or daunting chore, I knew that I was on to something.

Now my daughter has been using this question consistently for her young children, ages 4 and 6. The other day I was delighted to discover that this poignant question is entering the third generation. My six year old granddaughter, Charlotte, was knee deep in a silent assessment of the results of a choice she had just made. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see her mom patiently watching for her next move. She turned to her mom and said boldly “Well, that was a learning experience!” Then she sighed and added, “I don’t care for learning experiences.”

My daughter looked at me and winked, both of us hiding smiles that tugged at the corners of our mouth. That’s when my daughter knelt down and made eye contact with her sweet girl and reminded her that learning experiences help us make better choices the next time. “I get it, mom”, Charlotte responded.

The reason I have come to like this question as an invaluable parenting tool, is that it not only gives a child information to draw on in the future, it plants the seeds of agency. It also opens up lots of meaningful conversation about trial and error, using good judgment, asking for help, being resourceful. My daughter is not waiting til her kids are teenagers to employ this skill, she is using it now when her children are young — when it sticks like velcro.

The other morning, Charlotte was sitting in the kitchen with her young brother as he was assembling legos. It was clear that he was struggling a bit with his design by the sounds he was making. Charlotte turned to him and sweetly asked, “How can I help you?”

I was in the laundry room and chuckled with delight to myself. She sounds just like me. I confess I loved it.

Skillfully learning how to approach others when it appears they might need help was a hard lesson for me and one that I truly only got after a few years of personal growth work. Thank you to the enneagram and Brene Brown for helping me discover that we can help too much, steamroller people, and even take away growth opportunities when we insert ourselves too much. Who taught me this lesson in the most remarkable way? None other than spunky, strong willed Charlotte. When she hit that age of “I can do it myself”, I got many chances to practice skillful approaches. Charlotte wanted –and deserved — the chance to do things for herself. Whether it was learning to ride a bike, bake cupcakes, or follow instructions for a science project, she wanted autonomy and agency. I remember telling her “I respect you Charlotte and I promise not to help.” She beamed.

What we are all learning together is that when you ask before just inserting yourself, it is a show of self-restraint and respect. Asking “how can I help you” opens up the space for someone to speak their truth — “I don’t want help. I don’t need help, I’m just frustrated. Could you hold this end for me? That would be great.”

I used to help too much. I have done this since I was a child. Always believing I needed to keep the peace, pick up the pieces, resolve the issue. These childhood patterns can lead to enabling and co-dependency in adulthood. It can also be dismissive to others, making them feel incapable or instilling a sense of neediness.

Brene Brown offers this great question for our adult relationships – “What does support look like to you right now?” Wow — isn’t that an awesome, clarifying and supportive question to ask your friend, your partner or your colleague. Rather than assuming we know what they might need or want, invite them to share honestly with you. The other caveat to this question is that it invites someone to ask us for the help they legitimately need or want – without having to feel guilty or ashamed of asking for help.

I’m including this “reframing” of what we often call triggers, because of a touching note I received from a follower recently. Her 11 year old son struggles with PTSD and she read this “reframing” to him because it felt relatable and comforting. My heart melted as I read her note to me. This is how we can help our children heal, by being aware of the hurts and traumas they have experienced and conscious of how they might show up from time to time. Our children are deeply impacted by divorce, by the loss of loved ones, by the pandemic and virtual school, by incidents at school…..the list goes on. How we show up for them when they have bad dreams or bad days, is crucial. We don’t have to be perfect, we simply have to care enough to put ourselves in their smaller shoes.

Sending love and encouragement out to all parents, grandparents,caregivers, teachers, mentors and coaches who lead with their hearts and their ears….showing our precious children that they matter.

Recommended Resources:

My prior blog posts:

Profoundly Helping The Next Generation https://inspirednewhorizons.com/2021/09/21/profoundly-helping-the-next-generation/

Older and Wiser Parenthood https://inspirednewhorizons.com/2021/07/09/older-and-wiser-parenthood/

Empathy- Essential and Endangered https://inspirednewhorizons.com/2021/06/19/empathy-essential-and-endangered/

Go to YouTube and search for conversations with Dr. Bruce Perry and Dr. Dan Siegel to listen and learn from two of the best resources on childhood development and how we as adults can make an incredible difference to the quality of their future lives by showing up in meaningful, helpful, responsive and respectful ways.

The Journey

It dawned on me as I was chatting with my lifelong friend Judy that our big immersive conversations have shifted quite a bit as we progress on our personal growth journey. A few years ago, our focus was on ourselves –behaviors we wanted to change, what we wanted to heal and what lessons we were learning. While we continue to do this inner work, we have discovered that we are now more naturally attuning ourselves and our focus to others. As a direct result, our conversations reveal that we are more proactively participating in healthy ways to helping others find their own path. We feel more energized, fulfilled and purposeful. The feedback we are getting from others is reinforcing that how we are showing up for others these days is landing just as we had always hoped it would — in positive, helpful and constructive ways.

I recall telling Judy years ago about some wisdom from Pema Chodrun. In essence, Pema said that doing our own personal work was not just for ourselves, but also for others. As we peeled off layers of old baggage and outgrown behavioral patterns, others would notice we were changing. At first they might not care for it because it would feel awkward to them. Over time however, they’d witness how much calmer and present we were and they too might be inclined to do some personal growth work. Pema offered that this is how we pave the way for others. She also explained that as our energy shifts to more positive, resourceful ways to respond to life, we will organically begin to attract more of that same growth mindset energy from others. Judy and I marvel at all the truth that is packed into Pema Chodrun’s wisdom. We have witnessed this transformation in our own lives and in each other. I don’t think we will ever lose sight of all the hard work we did together over these past few years and where it lead us.

Judy and I are both Type 2’s on the Enneagram — the helper. For most of our lives, we were like first responders for family and friends. Although our life paths took us in very different directions, as we revealed our stories to each other, we could easily recognize the all-too familiar patterns of helping too much, exhausting ourselves, enabling others and diminishing our own value. That would be the unhealthy end of the spectrum for a Type 2. We made a commitment to get to the healthy end of that spectrum — together. We would help each other stay on track. To be honest, we knew that there would be times that this might be really hard especially when the truth might hurt. Yet we had a strong foundation of trust to help us with our commitment.

A trusted friend is invaluable when it comes to discovering and addressing our blind spots, tunnel vision and insecurities. It is often so much easier to divulge our fears and vulnerabilities to a friend than to our family members. It just feels safer. Brene Brown calls these our “marble jar” friends.

A marble jar friend is your advocate – and they want you to be successful, happy and to flourish. They hold your confidences, can be trusted implicitly and aren’t judgmental. They are also realists who can sit with you in your darkest hours and hold space for you to cry, to vent, to pick up the pieces. If you have one, you are so fortunate. If you have several, you are truly blessed.

So often, I have heard a soft refrain of “me too” from one of my marble jar friends when I shared something painful or shameful. I can almost feel a space opening up to pour out hard stories when those words are uttered. It feels like a trust fall — “let go, you are safe – I will catch you.”

Judy and I have certainly deepened our friendship as we ventured hand in hand on our personal growth journey. We have also witnessed how our daughters have been watching us – how we maintained a lifelong friendship (with and without social media), how we have celebrated and supported each other through many life events, and most especially how we’ve transformed into healthy versions of our type 2 selves over recent years.

It is this “witnessing” of personal growth work in action that has become the most meaningful aspect of the journey for me. My own daughter sees and feels it in my relationship with her. The same is true for Judy and her daughters. Old patterns that we once had with our daughters have faded away giving us a more expansive space for connection, encouragement and wisdom. Judy and I love helping our daughters navigate the challenges of parenting, marriage, careers, friendship, family and life with the wisdom gained from the lessons we learned the hard way and the benefits of better responses.

Others in our lives have also witnessed — and experiencedhow we are showing up much more authentically now. Just as Pema Chodrun pointed out, others are drawn to the changes they’ve noticed and are asking us about our resources and tools. We are calmer, more energetic and resourceful. We listen more and ask better questions to learn more.

Here is another heartwarming aspect of the journey for me. Where once I was often interjecting my help where it may not have been needed or wanted, I am now legitimately helping others who are expressing a desire to learn and understand.

As we moved the needle toward the healthy end of being a Helper, Judy and I also ended up more closely aligned with our true nature and our purpose, especially at this chapter of our lives. We have always had good intentions, and now we have better tools and skills to support us.

I’ve been witnessing this same progression with my several of my dearest friends. The more we are engaging in growth mindset conversations, the more we are reading, experimenting with new tools and resources and sharing ideas.

I get so inspired by my friends as they share their stories of how they are evolving in their relationships with their adult children. Especially when it becomes so evident that all the work we are doing is shining a light on a new path for that generation — that they are shedding their armor much earlier than we did.

And with any luck at all, we will help our grandchildren travel through their lives with strong emotional intelligence, a firm grasp on their own authenticity and worth, and the confidence to pursue their passions with our wholehearted support.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Being Well Podcast (Two parts) with Dr. Rick Hanson and Forrest Hanson- Debunking Self Help Myths:

https://www.rickhanson.net/being-well-podcast-dealing-therapy-trauma-and-resilience/

https://www.rickhanson.net/being-well-podcast-self-helps-biggest-misconceptions-part-2-no-pain-no-gain-hedonic-adaptation-and-meditation/

Such a great introduction to the Enneagram for anyone curious to learn more. The more you learn about all nine types, the less likely you are to take things personally — and the more likely you are to open up to understanding how another person is hard-wired and responding to life differently than you.

Profoundly Helping the Next Generation

Now that we know just how much our childhood experiences can impact us far into our adult lives, what are the big takeaways that can guide us in helping our little ones to avoid some of those emotional and behavioral pitfalls?

This has been on my heart a lot lately. I watch my young grandchildren, who range in ages from 4 – 8, and I delight in witnessing how their little personalities are developing. It’s not surprising that they remind me quite a bit of their parents at those ages. It makes me ponder what I might have done differently had I known about their early childhood brain development, emotional regulation development and the enneagram.

Admittedly I was pretty naive about parenthood at age 25. I relied on a paperback Dr. Spock baby and child care book and my budding maternal instincts. And yes, I had that list in my head of all the things I vowed I would never say or do to my children that came from my own childhood experiences.

I was often baffled how three kids raised in pretty much the same environment could all be so different. While I laughed about this with other young mothers, I’m pretty sure that few of us really adapted our parenting approaches to the unique personalities of each of our children.

This is where I am finding the enneagram to be such a useful tool. Maybe we can’t truly identify which of the 9 enneagram types a child might be. However, I do think that having an understanding of our own dominant enneagram type can be really helpful in finding better ways to relate and interact with children.

My two sons are now in their mid-40’s and my daughter is 34. We’ve each figured out our own enneagram types and frankly it has been eye-opening for me. I wish I had this insight when they were teenagers. I think it would have alleviated some of my frustration and it certainly would have been beneficial for my kids to understand their own natural hard-wiring.

My oldest son was always on the go as a child. He was the life of the party, sometimes impetuous and always full of big ideas. It was no real surprise to me that he’s an enneagram type 7 — The Enthusiast — fun loving, spontaneous and distractible. Teachers might have labeled him with attention deficit but I just thought he was smart, easily bored and needed an outlet for his artistic talents. I agreed to hold him back a year in school, but supplemented his education with art classes. His teen years were the most challenging for us when his impulsiveness would often clash with his responsibilities. If I had understood his personality better, I think we could have found resourceful ways to strike a balance. Today when he describes his own son’s antics, I wonder if he too might be a little Enthusiast in the making.

My middle son is an enneagram type 9, The Peacemaker. When he was younger, I’d get so frustrated because he appeared so indecisive. If I had known that he would rather harmonize than rock the boat by stating his personal choice for dinner or weekend activity, I could have navigated many conversations much better and empowered him to make meaningful decisions for himself. I often thought he was an introvert, but in hindsight, I think he preferred collecting information and reading a room before engaging — a consummate harmonizer and conflict avoider.

When my daughter was in elementary school, I often described her as my M & M that had been left in the warm sun. She had a very hard outer shell, but inside she was soft and mushy. She was strong-willed and not afraid to push back — and she had a sensitive, tender, loving heart and carefree spirit. She’s an enneagram type 8 — The Challenger. Turns out that my M & M description of her was spot on for a type 8. Her four year old son is so much like her we often comment on the mold not changing much. He can drive her crazy and melt her heart all in 30 seconds flat. Understanding how he is hard-wired diffuses a lot of frustration and points us toward ways to interact to help him feel heard and understood.

As for me, I am a certifiable Enneagram type 2 — The Helper. Over recent years, I have become acutely aware that I often “over-helped” and in doing so may have unintentionally disempowered my children. And because I was so sensitive to their feelings, I would often swoop in to soothe with ice cream, or inadvertently dismiss what they were feeling by telling them “not to feel that way”. What I should have been doing is fully acknowledging their true emotions and adjusting my parenting skills to meet their unique needs.

My middle son recently described his eight year old daughter to me with positive adjectives that I would have used to describe his feisty sister at that age. At the same time, my granddaughter’s mother often experiences the more challenging behaviors she possesses as well. This has me intrigued. I am wondering what enneagram type my eight year old granddaughter might be. Can we find some clues about how she’s hard-wired to help her navigate her emotions and circumstances in healthy ways? I’m also curious about the impact of the pandemic, virtual school and a major change in her familial life.

Like my own daughter at that age, my granddaughter is experiencing divorce. She is now in that challenging stage of dealing with co-parenting, two homes and merging into a new family with dad, his fiancee and her nine year old daughter.

It is only natural that my granddaughter will struggle with her emotions as she’s trying to fit into all the changes. Understanding how things land in her heart, and what she needs to feel safe and valued, will be key in helping her navigate it in healthy ways.

Kids often do not have the skills or language to articulate everything they are feeling, especially when it is a very confusing concoction. This requires some special parenting skills and a lot of patience. I’m beginning to understand more clearly the relevance of that relational scaffolding that Dr. Bruce Perry says is critical for children who are experiencing any kind of trauma and disruption. This is where other family members — and especially grandparents — can provide so much support and continuity for young children and their parents.

I can look back at my own divorce now and have a better understanding of how it impacted my children and especially my daughter who was only 8. When a parent forgets that their innocent children should not be paying the price for an unhealthy marriage or divorce, poor choices and actions can have long-lasting debilitating consequences. It was a compelling reason why I stressed the importance of healthy co-parenting when my son and daughter-in-law separated. I also recognized how extended family members can provide a safety net through divorce and transition. Not choosing sides, but choosing to be emotional glue and unbiased support, can ease a lot of the turbulence.

What if we had a parenting resource that would help us balance “nature and nurture”? I believe that the enneagram just might be the field guide we need.

The enneagram sheds light on the core fears for each of the nine types — and it is easy to spot the correlation to childhood experiences. Core fears include feeling unwanted, unloved, unworthy, disrespected, controlled, or a fear of chaos or of being wrong. These unaddressed fears become the root cause of problematic behavioral patterns that can follow us into adulthood.

The enneagram also helps us identify the core motivations for each type such as having integrity and being good; being admired and successful; being unique and special; having security and guidance; protecting yourself and your inner circle; being wanted and loved; being fully satisfied; and having inner stability and peace. When we are aware of the importance of these core motivations for each child, we can become more skillful at fostering and respecting those needs in healthy ways.

This brings me to another invaluable tool for parenting. Dr. Dan Siegel refers to it as “rupture and repair”. We often have this hope that we won’t mess up or that we will be nearly perfect parents. This isn’t reality — we are beautiful, complex, messy human beings. Disagreements, hurts and conflicts happen in all relationships. Repair is critical — and the sooner it happens, the better. Repair means making up for a momentary and impulsive loss of control. What if we reframe these moments of “rupture and repair” as meaningful experiences in raising kind, respectful and resilient children?

Ruptures are opportunities to strengthen our relationships. If a rupture can be repaired, it demonstrates that the relationship is solid enough to withstand when things get bad, and even ugly.” (Psychologist Adam Rodrigues) Repair builds trust and resiliency.

Painful ruptures can be amplified for our children when they are caught in the cross-fire of divorce. Trust is the one crucial element that gets tested most fiercely for children of divorce.

I found Dr. Siegel’s and Tina Payne Bryson’s book, The Power of Showing Up” to be a phenomenal parenting resource, especially for divorced parents who have the added pressure of rebuilding trust and showing up in new ways for their children.

We now know that the way to help a child develop optimally is to help create connections in her brain –her whole brain — that develops skills that lead to better relationships, better mental health, and more meaningful lives. You could call it brain sculpting – or brain nourishing – or brain building. Whatever phrase you prefer, the point is crucial, and thrilling; as a result of the words we use and the actions we take, children’s brains will actually change, and be built, as they undergo new experiences.” — Dr. Dan Siegel

What I am observing is that being present with our young children, giving them eye contact and fully engaging with them and their wide range of emotions is a key component for effective parenting and grandparenting. Often children simply need our full attention and a safe space to share their honest feelings. Too often, we are distracted by our devices, our own emotions or own agenda in the moment.

Dr. Seigel describes “showing up” as bringing your whole being — your attention and awareness–into the present moment when you interact with your child. When you show up with your whole being you are mentally and emotionally present for your child. It is this power of presence that enables you to create an empowered mind for your children — even when you mess up.

Admittedly this takes a lot of practice but the payoff is worth it. That’s the remarkable thing about kids — you will see a shift in their reactions and responses almost immediately. Over time, with consistency, you will see that your child is gaining some agency over his emotions and reactions. It’s that brain re-wiring taking place and it is exciting, just as Dr. Siegel has noted.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t put a little plug in for mindfulness and meditation right here. It’s really hard to shift gears, clear your mind and de-escalate your own emotions so that you can “show up” for your children. Yet it is not impossible. Awareness and practice will help you earn your “calm” badge especially for quality parenting. A bonus is that mindfulness and meditation are invaluable skills in our emotional regulation toolbox that we should be teaching our children, just like good manners.

I believe that each generation embarks on parenting with ideas on how to improve. It’s so encouraging to see young parents today who are knowledgeable about their own personal growth, coping skills and core values. In my heart, I am hopeful that our younger generations will grow and thrive in parenting environments that open them up to their full potential.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Rupture and Repair Article by Nick Bowditch (This article, written by a dad about his relationship with his young daughter is so relatable, honest and encouraging)

https://medium.com/@nickbowditch/rupture-and-repair-48a2d3e408b8

Typology Podcast – The Enneagram & Parenting series

In 2020, Ian Morgan Cron presented a series called the Enneagram & Parenting, and each week did an episode for each of the 9 enneagram types. I listened to them all and derived so much insight and ideas. I’ve shared this series with family and friends and I highly recommend it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_moAPp2fXVg