"Whatever the question, love is the answer." - The Dalai Lama

"Behind the anger, behind the disrespect, and behind the manipulation is a scared child in desperate need of connection, love, and acceptance. ... If you show up for your child in a different state, he can only be different...When you are in a loving state, you automatically do the right thing...Love never fails." - Heather T. Forbes

What does Valentine’s Day have to do with parenting?  Love. The purpose of Valentines Day is to celebrate love of all kinds.

The purpose of parenting, quite obviously, is to raise children. But I believe that parenting has a secret purpose -- to transform us, the parents. Loving our child helps us to heal ourselves, so that we can live more fully. 

We all forget that, of course. We think raising children is about "teaching" them. And everyday life with children often falls a notch below teaching and ends up as controlling, a seemingly endless series of struggles to get our kids to sleep through the night, use the potty, brush their teeth, eat their dinner, stop teasing their sibling, do their homework, clean up their room. Those struggles can take all the joy out of parenting.

But it doesn't have to be that way.  It's true that we don't actually have control over our kids, who, after all, are human beings and will make their own choices. And it's true that our ideas of what our child "should" do often won't align with our child's ideas. But there are ways to avoid many of the struggles to begin with, by:

  • Staying connected.
  • Seeing things from your child's perspective and acknowledging their feelings.
  • Staying calm.
  • Looking for win/win solutions.
  • Helping kids with the upset feelings that drive them to act out.
  • Delighting in each child.

But what if you feel trapped in resentment? What if there are hurt feelings and anger on both sides?  What if you find yourself blowing up at your child, over and over? There's still a way out.

The way out is love. Not some lofty, grand idea of love. Not the feeling of love, which can be hard to access when you're in a state of fight, flight or freeze and your child looks like the enemy.

By love, I mean an action. That nitty-gritty, courageous thing you do in that moment when your child is acting like he's possessed and you're at the end of your rope, ready to give up. The choice that faces you in those really terrible moments, when you're hot with rage and cold, deep inside, with fright. The choice between love and fear. 

It's not complicated, really. You just forget everything you've been taught about what you're supposed to do as a parent. Tell yourself: "Whatever the question, love is the answer." Take a deep breath and blow it out slowly, to shift yourself back into belly breathing, which calms your nervous system.

Remind yourself that your child's behavior is not a reflection on you; only your reaction to his behavior is a reflection on you. Breathe. Let go of all those fearful thoughts about how your child is turning out. Every moment you have a new choice of how to react. 

Then, look at this beautiful child you love, who is acting in such an upsetting way at this moment.  Consider how terrible she must feel inside to be acting like this. Remind yourself that her upset is a physiological state. Someone this out of control can't listen to reason and can't learn at this moment. What she needs is to feel safe enough to move from "fight or flight" back into a state of equilibrium. Only you can help her re-regulate.

How do you help your child feel safe? Love.

Forget about the behavior for now. You can talk about that later, when you're both able to reason. Right now, dig deep and go beyond the behavior to heal the cause. Just pour your love into your child. Stay present. Breathe. Accept who she's being at this moment--all the tears and rage and rebellion. Soften yourself, and she'll soften, too.

Love your child back to feeling safe, and you'll find that affection and cooperation return too. Love never fails.

Not complicated, but not easy. In fact, this is one of the hardest things you'll ever do. Shifting ourselves out of that state of fear and into love takes all the courage and strength you can summon. But it always works. No child is beyond your love. No love you give is ever wasted. And each time you do this, it gets easier. You're laying down neural pathways, so you're rewiring your brain. 

So my Valentines wish for you is that you find the courage to shift, over and over in those tough moments, from fear into love. That these shifts bring you fewer tough moments and more melt-your-heart moments with your child. That you find yourself really enjoying your precious, unique, amazing child. That you love being your child's parent. That you rediscover the joy in parenting.

Love never fails. Whatever the question, love is the answer.

Happy Valentines Day.