My name is Annabel Ruffell and I am the founder of Journey for Earth, a global awareness company committed to inspiring change for humanity, the environment and animals, one choice at a time.
I loved Amy’s site which is really supportive and helps parents to navigate their daily lives with love and to be the best person, best parent they can be.
Amy Phoenix is a mom of five who used to be angry more often than she liked. Even though she was loving much of the time, anger lurked beneath the surface waiting to pounce. It was scary, and she wanted it to stop – especially when it spilled over onto her children. One stark experience with lashing out at her kids led to a series of wake-up calls that evolved into lasting change – and freedom from rage. Amy shares her experience and helpful tools with others who want to transform reactivity and become clear about discipline so they can enjoy the kids in their lives – and their lives overall. Along with meditation and mothering, Amy is working on a few books including Force Free Parenting while providing support to stewards of children at Presence Parenting and sharing mindfulness with people from various walks of life at Innate Wholeness.
1) I love your site Amy…helping parents to navigate the journey of raising their children with presence….As you say parenting is amazing, and challenging. Describe the journey leading up to when you decided to create “Presence Parenting’?
When I became a mom it was the fulfilling of a dream I’d had since I was a child, except that the moment labor began everything I thought I knew about children, babies and being a mom flew right out the window. I left the hospital in full panic attack mode and the overwhelm I felt continued in between moments of exceptional gratitude for being able to witness the growth of another human being.
As I experienced various struggles of my own I noticed the need for support and I reached out and became a member of La Leche League, a breastfeeding support organization. Soon after, I decided to become a leader to provide support for other moms and families. As a leader I noticed that the struggles we were experiencing went beyond just how to feed our babies. There were so many questions about how to parent these little people, how to be there for them, how to guide them, how to nurture them.
I continued to struggle with anger, how to discipline and how to balance their needs with my needs. The struggles I was experiencing were not something I was proud of and I was actually afraid to reach out for help because of the judgment that I might receive. Sometimes I experienced anger and rage such that I lashed out at my oldest child when all I wanted to do was exactly the opposite. I wanted to just care for and nurture her and be the best mom I could be.
That all came to a head for me after my third child was born and when my life, as I knew it, was falling apart. I had one really stark experience of lashing out that brought it home to me that I needed to get help. So I reached out again. I did some coaching with Scott Noelle of Enjoy Parenting and it really helped me get in touch with the fact that I was stuffing feelings. I was pushing them down so far inside myself because I didn’t have any other skills – and then I would explode. So, I started to acknowledge feelings and learn from them. In time I realized I was ready to move into helping parents in another way, to be able to address the presence they bring to parenting, especially when they feel frustration, anger or rage. Because when everything’s good and we’re feeling content and appreciating our children and our role we don’t particularly feel like we need support or information.
When frustration, anger, rage, discontent, confusion or lack of clarity are part of the picture then it can be muddy, unpleasant and uncomfortable for everyone – and there are ways to work with these issues. So, in essence, the space of Presence Parenting was born when I became a mom and has grown into serving others as I’ve learned there are viable ways to deal with our feelings and there are non-punitive ways to nurture children and utilize discipline as a way to clarify ourselves, connect with our children and create collaboration in our families.
2) What has been one of your greatest challenges over the years, either with the work that you do or in another area of your life, and how did you work through it/overcome it?
Anger and assumed inadequacy go hand in hand for me, like a vicious cycle. I’ve come to realize that I can’t overcome anything, but I can befriend all of the parts of me and replace ineffective patterns with new ones that help me live out my values. In order to transform the anger I felt plagued with I first needed to embrace it, stop pushing it away and learn why I was feeling so angry. I recently wrote an article for Natural Mother Magazine titled “Be Glad When You’re Mad!” (link http://issuu.com/naturalmothermagazine/docs/nov_dec2014/33) describing the three aspects of anger that I’ve learned to address so it doesn’t become a problem and instead use it to my advantage. Anger, at its base, is thwarted personal power – or feeling like I don’t have a choice. It can also communicate other emotions and a lack of knowing what to do. The key for me continues to be the willingness to explore the anger, to dive in, be with the sensations in my body, to notice the thoughts and stories relating to what I am feeling, along with the ties to past conditioning and trauma – with gentle curiosity and a commitment to non-harmful action. Mindfulness is an integral piece of how I work through what I feel –whether it’s anger, assumed inadequacy or something else. With the willingness to be honest with myself and gradually learn to choose my responses to my feelings and perceptions in life I’m not owned by anything outside or inside of me. I can experience clarity and the awareness that I get to choose how I experience my life – challenges included. It’s not easy, but it is doable and it is important to me. I’m not going backwards. I value how far I’ve come as well as where I’m headed.
3) What are the first steps we can take as a parent in the moment that we feel overwhelmed by intense emotion towards our child? How can we change our response?
Stop and learn how to take steps towards safety – physical and emotional. When parents feel angry they fall somewhere on a continuum between rage, where they may hurt someone, and emotional responsibility, where they can process their emotions responsibly. Ultimately, we are where we are and we can change from reactions to conscious responses by implementing new behaviors when we feel what we feel.
I share SAFE – an invitation to feel what you feel fully and safely – to help us transform our reactions in the moments we are experiencing them (link http://presenceparenting.com/feel-safely/) . S stands for stop and notice. First, stop talking, reaching, grabbing, whatever you’re doing that’s exacerbating the situation. Gently move your hands towards your body and close your mouth. Notice your breath, bring your attention into your body, really noticing what it feels like to breathe. Imagine the focus of your attention is like a flashlight and it’s all pointing to your breath and body. This can feel intense when we’re angry, but with practice it can be extremely helpful. It’s different than trying to calm down; it’s more about where and how we use our focus in the moment. Notice what you’re thinking, feeling, sensing, seeing. Just notice.
A stands for acknowledge and accept. Acknowledge what you are feeling and experiencing. Name the feeling if that feels helpful, say to yourself that it’s okay to feel what you feel, and accept that what you feel is what you feel here and now. This turns the tendency to push feelings away into an effort to embrace them and accept them as they are while you refrain from harmful action.
F stands for feel fully. This isn’t a head game. We need to feel what we feel in our bodies and allow it the space to process through. Bringing attention into the breath and body provides this space, and as we keep our attention inside we can notice how the energy of emotion shifts, builds and rolls through much like waves. For people who have experienced trauma, it may be helpful to do this with a trusted friend, coach or professional. Feeling safe enough to process our emotions is often part of the process. Doing so with someone you trust can help this along so if you get stuck, seek out help.
E stands for exit when necessary and express when helpful. Learning that we need to exit (by either stopping a conversation or interaction or leaving the room) can be painful and a stab in our pride, but it can save our relationships and prevent harm – both physical and emotional. Choosing how we exit by talking to our children (and others) ahead of time to make a smooth exit or have a sit down (links – http://presenceparenting.com/the-smooth-exit/ and http://presenceparenting.com/the-sit-down/) changes a potential blow up into an opportunity to model emotional responsibility. When we’re ready, we can express without blame how we’re feeling and what we’re needing with a focus on collaborative problem solving.
SAFE is an in the moment exercise to preserve our relationships when we feel angry. Each piece may need to be practiced independently for a while before someone can put it all together and handle emotions responsibly. Changing patterns takes time, and diligence. Along with SAFE, we can also benefit from mindfulness practice to learn about ourselves and affirm our inner strengths as well as taking steps to become clear about discipline (how we model for and teach our children). Lack of clarity regarding discipline feeds anger so it’s a vital piece of the puzzle as well.
4) You say: The challenges of parenting are opportunities in disguise…How so exactly?
Parenting is full of invitations to clarify how we express our humanity and the example of being human we share with our children. Each problem offers the opportunity for this and instead of seeing them as solely struggles we can grow when we start to look for how we can blossom through them. You know those moments when we feel impatient? They are opportunities to practice patience through presence – really soaking up the moments, finding appreciation deep inside, noticing our tendencies to circumvent the amazing nature of life with downtrodden thoughts – and making new choices.
Aristotle spoke about virtues and vices, sharing that our challenges are opportunities to practice and strengthen our virtues. Parenting is full of these hidden gifts masked by irritation. We just need to be willing to transition the idea that challenges are a pain in the rear end and instead use them to our benefit and choose to grow. Not always easy, but the results can be both subtle and profound.
5) A question you pose on your site which I feel is very powerful is: How am I choosing to be in this moment? What if though the stress and anger and tiredness in the moment override this thought like a tidal wave and we don’t realize this until after we have already lashed out?
Even in these moments we still get to choose. Gradually we can learn to become aware of ourselves in the heat of the moment so we will notice sooner the next time and continue to implement ways of being that align more with our intentions and values. When we’ve acted out of line, these are times for recovery – modeling how to make amends when we make mistakes – and they do happen. As a parent who has transitioned slowly out of a punishment mindset I can really relate to this plight. Guilt is a heavy anchor that can easily drag us into the hell it created in the first place – and it’s not pretty. I will share that in time, with plenty of determination and practice, we can learn to handle these situations more intentionally and skillfully, so first remind yourself to keep moving forward.
Recovery, as shared in Positive Discipline, is a four step process. It’s better than a band-aid. Heartfelt recovery actually helps us heal the wounds we have and create, while learning how to do differently next time. The first step is recognition – being aware of the mistake you made. Notice that it doesn’t work, allow yourself to feel what you feel in response and move to step two: responsibility. See your part in the situation and decide to do something about it. Step three is reconciliation. Apologize and share how you hurt your child. Ask if there’s anything they want to share about how it was for them. Step four is resolution. When children are very young it’s up to us to find solutions, ways to make sure we’re learning alternatives. As they get older we can problem solve together, asking for their input and coming up with an approach you can work on together to change the outcome when life gets tough.
In a nutshell, recognize the mistake, own your part and ability to change, reconcile and resolve. Humbling ourselves enough to not only admit mistakes and responsibility, but also do the work to create different responses in the future models how to learn from our mistakes and it has the potential to strengthen our relationships and rebuild trust. It’s a process and it’s important to be gentle with ourselves, as gentle as we’d like to be with our children.
If you’re really struggling, reach out for help from a trusted friend, mentor, coach, counselor or other guide. Sometimes we need help along the road of parenting. We all come to it with baggage and that baggage didn’t come to us in isolation; we may need help from caring others to make the changes we’d like to make.
6) If you had to name 3 things that you have learnt from your children what would they be?
Perspective is everything. Mistakes are learning opportunities. Instead of taking life ultra-seriously, lighten up and enjoy the gift that it is… and so much more. I’m continually learning from them and appreciate the opportunity to be their mom more than they’ll likely ever know.
7) What is your greatest hope for our planet at this time?
I have many, but at the base is the hope that we realize and fully utilize our potential to create a collaborative world where all life is valued and respected.
What Journey are YOU on?