Blog: Conscious Parenting while Sheltering in Place

Blog: Conscious Parenting while Sheltering in Place

By Joanna Adler, PsyD, CHT

Editors’ Note: Joanna Adler, PsyD, CHT is a licensed clinical psychologist and certified Depth Hypnosis Practitioner. Joanna is the moderator of Mamas Resource Network in San Francisco, and the Founder of the Marin Perinatal and Parenting Group. She teaches on the national level and in the Bay Area on issues related to perinatal mental health, and the spiritual path of service called parenting. Joanna has a private practice in San Francisco and San Rafael, California.

The demands of parenthood have perhaps never been so daunting as they are now during this Shelter in Place. Parents now need to be their children’s teacher, coach, friend, and parent, without assistance or break, while also doing their own jobs, caring for their house, etc. Parenting is already the toughest job there is, but add in the uncertainty and overwhelm of COVID-19, and uninterrupted childcare duties for months with no end in sight, and we have an incredibly tall order.

As a Depth Hypnosis Practitioner and clinical psychologist, I have had the opportunity to counsel many parents over the last months, and as you all probably know, parents are struggling!! The effect of being thrown together 24 hours a day is wearing on even the most skilled of parents.

During this time, as parents we are confronted with both the wonderful things about our kids, and the places our children are struggling. And, of course, their struggles can match and reflect our own struggles in life. We rub up against the places where they are hurting, or scared, or manipulative, or difficult, and we have to find how to meet those places in our children, while navigating all that is brought up in us as adults in the process. It can be quite a tangle, especially under stressful circumstances and when there are no breaks.

At the Foundation of the Sacred Stream, I teach a couple of classes (Conscious Parenting and Coming to Peace: Conflict Resolution Techniques) that were created by Dr. Isa Gucciardi our Founding Director. In Conscious Parenting, one of the things we do is look at the patterns of behavior our children are engaging in, as well as examine what they are triggering in us as parents. This time of COVID-19 has brought us this opportunity in spades. It’s like the volume has been turned up loud on all of our ways in the world (our greatest strengths, our deepest fears, and our craziest coping strategies) — for both kids and parents.

With this as the situation, I’ve been thinking about what skills it might be helpful to offer to parents at this time, in order to support them in managing all they are trying to manage, and I thought I would share with you a way to use the conflict resolution strategies of Coming to Peace in a family setting.

Dr. Isa Gucciardi developed the Coming to Peace model, which offers a transformative process that allows for the mediation and resolution of conflict. These methods give us a pathway out of the turmoil that can arise and get locked into family dynamics. I thought it might be helpful then to lay out the principles of this process, in case there were parents out there that might want to implement them to support themselves and their families during this demanding time.

When we set up a Coming to Peace conflict resolution circle, we set the structure of the circle in several ways. One important aspect of this is to ask the participants if they are willing to agree to the Core Principles of Coming to Peace, which set a framework for ethical relating, where everyone’s needs and experience are taken into account. (If you want to read more on this, please refer to Isa’s book Coming to Peace: Resolving Conflict Within Ourselves and With Others). Here are the principles:

1. Equality: Each person will be given equal time to speak, and every person’s experience will be considered of equal value to the experience of every other member of the group.

2. Mutual Respect: Each person strives to treat other participants and the practitioner with respect. This means not interrupting someone when they are speaking and not making negative comments or characterizations.

3. Honesty: Each person strives to tell the truth of their experience and be forthcoming about their actions.

4. Commitment to Personal Responsibility: Each person remains fully accountable for their actions and agrees to seriously consider the effects those actions may have had on others.

5. Compassion: Each person strives to hold a compassionate space for themselves and the other members of the group.

6. Tolerance: Each person agrees to practice tolerance even when they do not agree with what is being presented by the other members of the group.

7. Patience: Each person agrees to practice patience even when they feel upset by what is being presented by other members of the group.

8. Willingness to Engage: Each person agrees to participate in the process even when things become difficult, or when they do not like what is being brought forth in each session.

9. Cultivation of Inner Wisdom: Each person agrees to do their best to attune to their inner wisdom by using the methods offered or by other practices they have studied.

These principles offer an incredibly helpful structure for relating to one another in a family system. When these principles are implemented, everyone’s experience in the family is taken into account equally. All family members agree to take responsibility for how they are behaving and how they are affecting others. There is room to be compassionately present with one’s own experience as well as that of others. There is no stonewalling (refusal to engage), and if harm is being caused, there is a common understanding that can be referred back to, in order to address any misunderstanding or pain that might be at the root of the harmful reaction and take responsibility for any harm that was caused. Ultimately, a fully supportive, compassionate, and kind family system can evolve.

So, how would you implement this? Here are some of the details of the process:

As parents, you would want to do your best to get on the same page as your partner regarding the structure and goals of the family meeting. Then, ask all members of the family to show up for a family meeting — including kids. You can say that this meeting will be conducted differently than you would normally communicate with each other. A talking stick of some kind can be used, so that only one person at a time is speaking; there is no cross talk, and you go around the circle talking one at a time.

It is quite helpful here at the beginning of this process to lead the family in a guided meditation that allows everyone to have an experience of the deep resourcing that is available for them, within themselves. This allows each person to rest in their highest intentions for themselves and others, and creates an internal space to hold and even heal pain, fear and trauma. (For more information on how to do this, check out the Sacred Stream’s Spirit Guide Meditation).

The Core Principles of Coming to Peace above can then be offered here. Each person in turn takes the talking stick and states whether or not they are willing to do their best to abide by these principles. If someone is not willing, then the effect of this unwillingness on others is the subject of discussion for the next rounds until all members have agreed to heed these principles of ethical, compassionate conduct. Do not move forward until the structure for relating is agreed upon! This is incredibly important, as just the act of implementing the principles can shift difficult family dynamics.

Once these principles are agreed upon, the talking stick is again sent around the circle, and each family member has the opportunity to speak in turn stating their current experience in the family. The next round is the opportunity to state one’s feelings about what others have said. This can continue until a conflict or difficulty has been addressed and a peaceful resolution is achieved, or a circle can end after a certain amount of time, with each person encouraged to rest and be curious about their experience within the holding of the inner resources they discovered in the meditation.

The tone of the circle facilitator should be patient, calm, and compassionate — like you feel when in contact with your highest intentions. This is not an opportunity to “catch” someone doing the wrong thing. This kind of meeting can be held as often as it is helpful, to give family members the opportunity to just check in, and talk about their experiences in general; but it also offers a powerful structure within which to resolve the natural conflicts that arise in a family, especially when in stressful conditions while Sheltering in Place.