Tis' the Season to become, um, a little disconnected from your spouse or significant other. The strain and stress of the holidays can certainly turn even the most peaceful and harmonious relationship on its head.
Today I am thrilled beyond words to share (again) a beautiful guest post from one of my most passionate readers. Wolfmother from The Fabulous Mama Chronicles has really outdone herself on this topic. She has really inspired me to reevaluate a few aspects of my relationship with my husband. I think that this is a GREAT post to help you in your relationship as you move into 2012.
I hope that you all enjoy this post as much as I did.
Conscious Parenting and Spousal Relationships
**For the sake of continuity I will be referring to the relationship between partners as being spousal however I am not excluding the many different family dynamics there are out there. Whether the parents are biological, married or common-law, same-sex or not makes no difference. It is essentially the relationship between the two persons that is the focus. **
I was inspired by Hybrid Rasta Mama's Mindful Mothering Challenge #4 to explore the importance of spousal relationships in parenting children consciously. Within the attachment-parenting community, there are certain principles that are generally followed when it comes to making choices about how we interact with our children but what is often overlooked is how these very same principles can be applied to our spousal relationships to build a strong base from which to parent from.
“The essence of Attachment Parenting is about forming and nurturing strong connections between parents and their children. Attachment Parenting challenges us as parents to treat our children with kindness, respect and dignity, and to model in our interactions with them the way we'd like them to interact with others.” – API's Eight Principles of Parenting
Take a moment to compare how you handle your children's temper tantrums with how you interact with your partner during disagreements. Do you follow the same problem-solving steps of acknowledging their feelings, then finding the motivation behind their behaviour and then helping them to find a solution or better way to express those feelings? Or perhaps do you react with hurtful words, blame your partner for their behaviour, or dredge up past conflicts to prove a point? Do you sometimes yell at them, tell them they are being unreasonable, or walk out during a discussion in exasperation? Is there a tangible difference in how you approach them? Sometimes there is a discrepancy in our conduct between interacting with our spouse and our children despite both parties having similar emotional needs. Perhaps it is because we believe that our partners are resilient enough to handle our raw emotions or we are too concerned with expressing our own needs in the moment to consider our partner's but regardless of the reason, the outcome is the same. They might be made to feel devalued, disrespected, and invalidated, if we don't seek to interact with them as authentically as we try to do with our children.
When we resort to the same control tactics we are seeking to avoid with our children to manipulate our spouses to prove a point or force them to acquiesce to a particular request, we are dishonouring them as thinking, feeling individuals. Whether it is to convince them to do something we want or to bring awareness to certain behaviours, how we approach them matters greatly in how it will be perceived and considered. Moreover, every interaction we have with our partners will shape the way the relationship is viewed and will influence how we work as a couple to tackle family matters effectively. That is why the very same ideals we embrace for our children need to be sought out within our romantic relationships to reap the full benefits of raising our consciousness to parent positively.
I would then like to share with you some of the ways that my partner and I try to incorporate attachment-parenting ideals to our marriage to support each other's personal growth so we can parent consciously.
If conflicts should occur, strive to listen to each other's views without judgement, seeking to understand guiding motivations before reacting. Though emotions are not always expressed appropriately, they are always legitimate and deserve to be addressed. Sometimes it makes it easier to relate to a person's experience if you take the time to understand what is motivating them.
I am personally notorious for reacting initially and then thinking about it later, usually under the patient guidance of my husband who allows me to vent first then helps me to sift through my feelings afterwards. By allowing me to express my feelings, I feel validated and then am more open to listening to his perspective on the situation and considering his advice. Sometimes all I need is to let off some steam without judgement and he allows me to do so in a safe environment. When we take the time to go back and forth with our impressions, a bigger picture emerges and we are able to make more progress in finding a solution that satisfies everyone's needs.
Aim to resolve problems in a way that keeps everyone's dignity intact. Focus on the issue that needs solving rather than criticising your partner to keep the lines of communication open. It is difficult to be responsive to a person's grievance when they are condemning you as a person.
When I am feeling overwhelmed and find that my partner is not being supportive enough, I let him know how his actions are making me feel and offer different ways that he can help me. Often it is just that he isn't sure how to contribute or he just didn't notice that I even needed help. It is not enough to point out flaws without offering ways to rectify it.
Accept your part in the argument/miscommunication, even if it means apologising. It is often hard to swallow pride and accept our personal failings but it is the biggest step to healing the hurt between spouses. Do not apologise if it is not sincere however, just to keep the peace. There is no growth from faked apologies.
Verbally apologising is by far the most difficult aspect for me. In my family growing up, saying sorry was often forced even if the feelings were not genuine which has made me resent saying it. It is almost a gesture of defeat for me, and I struggle to change that belief. More often than not, my husband apologises to me first after an argument and this humbles me enough to extend the same sentiment in return, sincerely. I personally need to make the effort to offer it without prompting and strive to perceive it as a way to make amends when feelings are hurt.
Discuss family values openly and agree upon parenting methods beforehand to prevent engaging in arguments because of a difference in expectations. If both parents are familiar with each other's ideals and consciously strive to meet each other's needs, it will encourage more cooperative exchanges to happen and everyone is likely to feel satisfied with the decisions made.
Before having children, my partner and I discussed at length what we expected from each other in our relationship and explored our own childhoods to pinpoint what we wanted to incorporate in our parenting style and what we wanted to leave behind. This required a lot of honesty regarding our past experiences and how it affected us and accepting our responsibility in establishing the family harmony. We realised that there are many things we needed to consciously change about ourselves in order to provide the nurturing home we desired. If we had not discussed our values beforehand, I am sure we would have butt heads on many issues but because our basic goals were aligned, it made making parenting decisions that much easier.
Discuss parenting issues with your partner before implementing them, even if you have to temporarily postpone making any decisions so you can show a united front and communicate your expectations effectively.
I tend to be the one that brings up the bulk of the parenting issues in our family because I am passionate about researching such things but we discuss them as a couple before implementing them. In order for any change in the family to be effective, both partners need to be on the same page and support one another. Discussing it first and then coming to a compromise ensures its success.
Honour yourself and look after your needs, setting appropriate boundaries to ensure that you are not consistently overwhelmed from tending to everyone else. If this means having to say no to some requests, it is within your right. If the person making the request has the ability to delay their needs/desires, encourage them to do so while you recharge. Both partners need to practice this regularly.
Breastfeeding mothers especially tend to feel ‘touched-out' often and need to have some personal time to recharge. There are days that I spend so much of my time tending to my son, that by the evening, all I want to do is absolutely nothing. No housework, no writing, and even forgoing intimacy with my husband. During these days I need him to pick up the slack around the home and pamper me so that I can renew my emotional stores. Likewise, there are times when my husband feels as though he has been treated like an errand-boy and needs to tell me to fend for myself for a while so he can relax a bit too. It goes both ways but each person needs to make the effort to assert themselves so that their needs are met.
Taking preventative measures is really the most effective way we maintain a healthy relationship. This might include responding consistently to each other's needs with respect and empathy and dealing with issues as they arise instead of waiting for them to become crises. We also make the effort to reconnect through creating couple time here and there and often relive our most affectionate memories to remind each other why we fell in love with each other in the first place. I believe the key here is that we put in as much effort into our marriage as we do in our parenting. We believe that we need to continue growing as people, not just parents.
When we practice attachment parenting with our families, a high level of mindful awareness and personal responsibility is required and so it is crucial that we re-energize regularly in order to upkeep that level of performance. When we are overwhelmed, our communication skills suffer and we are more likely to engage in arguments than effective interactions with each other. Since children are astute observers of their environment, how we interact has an impact on their social and emotional development. How we resolve our own conflicts will teach them about problem solving in their own lives, which is why demonstrating effective communication is so important. A stable relationship will provide the much needed support to prevent burn-out so that we can parent from a relaxed state. The more connected we are as parents, the more our children can learn to connect to others and have healthy, fulfilling relationships in their lives as well.