This year the Zen Parenting Radio Conference highlighted nine themes and discussed them with us on the first night why they chose these themes and how we might integrate them throughout the conference that weekend, and into our communities once we go home. These themes are useful for any parent and provide thought provoking perspectives in how you want to show up in your day to day lives as a parent and member of your community.
Let's dive in.
Theme 1: We are Here
Initially this is simple. We were all literally there, at the conference, ready to soak up all the goodness and absorb it into our lives. While it's a simple thought, they encouraged us to sit and think about that for a minute. We are Here. For whatever reason, probably most being that we are parents and avid listeners of the ZPR podcast, we all made it a priority to get to that Westin in Lombard and be present for this zen parenting movement. It was also a reminder that as a parent, being present and "here" with your families can single handedly be one of the most powerful and useful tools in parenting alone.
You know when you are attempting to multi-task a few things at once, and at that very second your child seems to be chiming in their needs and you can't seem to get a clear thought? That's the moment that needs your presence. You need it, and your child needs it. Stopping what you are doing, breathing consciously and checking into your child for just a second, could relieve you of an otherwise tense moment, and open up a wholeness you both crave. Saying "we are here" or "I am here" is sometimes, all a child needs. A nod to the phrase, "I see you", which is like a verbal hug to our kids.
Finally, "We are Here" is a way to check into yourself before passing along to your next task or to-do. About feeling a moment before it passes. We've all probably had that moment where you pause and find yourself wondering how you got to your destination, or when you stopped actually watching your movie. It's those moments, we could all use a little reminder to be present.
Theme 2: Generate Peace
In everything you do.
This one is about bringing a sense of meaning and purpose to your actions, big and small. Modelling peace as a person and parent in your community and in your home. Showing your children that even if you are met with anger or aggression, that you give peace back. A smile is contagious and a kind word can go a long way. Hurt people hurt people and if we meet every hurt person with peace we give them a new opportunity to choose peace themselves. A gift that costs you nothing.
This entire conference was filled with like-minded parents who put their best foot forward as often as they can, those who make conscious choices to generate peace on a daily basis. An environment like that feels electric. Everyone is smiling, and you all feel like instant friends. It's a feeling nearly impossible to put into words but can be felt for days after it's over. It is the reason I will always go back, to my people. For a short 2 days, we generate an energy so big that when we each get home, we get to share it and spread it. Hence this post for all of you.
Theme 3: Create Meaning
This one is about choices. It is about being the decider of your mood, your feelings and your experiences. It is about enriching your life.
Todd talked to us about "the line". He had us imagine ourselves when we are at our best. When we are feeling mindful and seem to be meeting every situation with our children with an open and empathetic mindset. This is being above the line. Then, on the reverse side, he had us imagine the tough days. The days where we are easily frustrated, with low patience and tending to jump to reactive responses. This is being below the line. What I love about Cathy and Todd is that they share their good and bad with all of us. They make parenting struggles normal, and while they don't share every aspect of their lives, they make sure to talk to other parents about the power of reflection and how they made it right.
The important lesson in the line analogy is that no-one is always above the line. So loosen up the expectations on yourself parents, we all have bad days. What matters is that in a "below the line" situation, that you can identify that you are currently acting below the line and can remove yourself from the situation. Wether it be a deep breath or a walk, you can realize you are not at your best and that you need some time to think things through, on your own, separating yourself from the situation. Giving yourself space and creating meaning in who you are and what person you are meeting your children with, moment to moment.
If you can understand when you are above or below the line, you are in control. That is creating meaning.
Theme 4: Just Do Right
In this theme they played a beautiful clip of Maya Angelou talking about a lesson her mother had passed on to her. The take-home here was that there will be situations that seem to test you, or knock you down from following your dreams, but if you can simply, in any moment, remind yourself to just do right, then you're gunna be alright. Nothing can hurt you. Nothing can change your course.
We all have passions. We all have things that make us feel most alive while we do them. If you can honour that, and follow that drive and come alive in what makes you your best, then it will resonate and spread contagiously. If everyone you interact with feels good having interacted with you and everyone you cross paths with remembers your spark, then you are making a difference.
If you can be regarded by everyone you've had a relationship with in a good way, it is because they felt good while they were with you. The gift that keeps on giving. As Maya said "pick up any battle, and just do right, by yourself and by others. If you teach, you have to live your teaching".
Theme 5: If not you, then who?
Who are your kids learning from? If not you, then who?
There are uncomfortable topics or those some might think are taboo to talk about with your kids. Our children are growing up in a very different time then we did. We weren't able to google all our questions, nor could our friends. Children are learning more and more at younger ages and it's something we can't really prevent from happening. Access to computers is everywhere. We are at a time in our world where we need to be honest and real with our kids, educate them from a loving place and give them a person to come to with their questions.
Cathy teaches sex-ed to young girls in the Chicagoland area and spoke about parents who have said things like, "oh I don't have to talk about that, the school will teach that". She laughed and said, "well yeah, for one hour." Is that enough? Probably not.
Our children will quickly learn where our comfort levels lie, and if we don't provide them with a trusted place to come for answers, then who will be providing them? The friend that is allowed on google whenever they want?
In another way, this theme had a lot to do with our expectations of our children, and how we may be losing site of what that means for us as their parents. We expect our children to be these great people, i.e. strong, confident and brave. Do we show that in ourselves? Do we demonstrate what strength, confidence and bravery look like?
Miserable children are just that, miserable. Children don't wake up wanting to be sad or disconnected, that is the symptom to how they feel. It might not have anything to do with you per se, but this is something worth looking into deeper. If you are not happy, then who? Who will show them happiness? If you are not confident, then who? Who will show them confidence? Cathy said it perfectly, "we can shift people by shifting ourselves". If we have hopes and dreams for our children, lead them in a way that teaches them how to do that.
This theme felt like an a-ha moment to me.
Theme 6: Bring the light
This one was simple. Whenever you can, bring the light. Bring kindness with you wherever you go. To each moment, to every room or place.
There was a courageous woman who spoke up on this night about her issue with rage. She was a mindful mama who explained that most days her and her daughter are in total sync. They are connected and they are close. However she was human, like all of us are, and due to a deep seeded issue she carried anger. Having nothing to do with her daughter, she had these moments where she would lose herself to rage. Crying for help this woman talked about how outside the moment she could apologize, explain to her daughter that mommy's rage wasn't about her, and that it was about something completely different. That they would have these talks, and her daughter always seemed to understand. What had this mom so upset was the look on her daughters face while it happened. The change in her body language and the disconnect she would feel in the heat of that moment, crushed her. Even though she was doing her best on both sides of these moments, she was devastated at the idea of her daughter ever one day accepting that she be treated like that by anyone else.
Not only was this woman surrounded by support (literally), but the first thing she was told was that she was brave and that she was an amazing mother. Something her expression showed to not be the response she had expected to receive. What mattered at the end of the day was that between these "below the line moments" she talked to her daughter, soul to soul. She showed her that apologizing is not only easy, it's important. She showed her daughter that writing your wrongs matters and that she was working on herself and that it was not being swept under the rug. It was a powerful moment about bringing the light, even if you've missed it in the previous moment, as it is never to late to shine bright.
Todd and Cathy also related this theme to the commonly used, "well my parents did just fine with me, I'm sure I will figure it out" phrase around parenting. While that might be how you feel and a truth in your heart, don't just settle in that and not give parenting another thought. Who you are and what you do as a parent matters. If you feel you had amazing parents who demonstrated all the characteristics you hope to one day see in your child, that's great, but think about that. Think about what made them great parents and why you want to be just like them. And if you really do think about it and find that there were things they could have done better, then admit that, and think about how you will do your best not to make those same mistakes. Don't just fly on auto-parent. Think about what matters to you. It's the least we can do for the little ones we love so much, right?
They asked the audience who there thought that they had perfect parents growing up and no-one raised their hand. Chances are, there will always be something we feel we might be able to work on or improve. You don't always have to be so sure.
Theme 8: Love Louder
This was a perfect theme for the current state of our world. I don't know about you but my social media is riddled with negativity some days and I consider myself pretty good at unfollowing the culprits of constant negativity. However the news is the news and hate is happening all around us. Love louder is about being heard above the mess of it all. As Cathy said, "be willing to keep showing up". As mentioned before, hurt people hurt people. Those hurt people are having their own experience and they, just like the rest of the hurt people in this world, need positivity and love. There isn't a human on this earth that doesn't long to be loved. It is something that unites us all as humans.
This one hit home for me. I am on a very specific pursuit to follow my passion, raise parents up and unite us together to not only be stronger as a whole, but to raise the next generation to be even better versions of what we are today. This matters to me and is a deep seeded calling within me. So when I read those posts about "stop always pretending to be happy" or "your perfect family makes us sick" I won't stop. My family is constantly working on ourselves, and we all choose to love louder and I wouldn't change it for the world. Sometimes, seeing what's possible, is all it takes to lift another person up, and that is all that matters.
Theme 9: Let's take care of each other
The final theme was a great way to set the tone for the conference. We were all there, ready to love loudly, bring the light back to our communities and just do right. We were together for the same reason and each recognize that the world needs us to take care of ourselves so that we can take good care of each other. If we can do that, then as Rob Bell (the keynote speaker) said to Oprah in an interview, "we are going to be fine". This world may be chaotic, and we might be experiencing uncomfortable change, but if we can take care of ourselves and in turn take care of each other, then I do believe we will be just fine.