The LAYERS Approach

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The cool thing about sandwiches is that you can make it however you like. You can make classics the way you learned from someone else, or you can completely come up with your own mix and match of flavours. You really can only put together a sandwich with the ingredients you have on hand. Some are pretty standard like bread or butter, while others can be totally different from what anyone else would put in their sandwich — oh, like thousand island dressing!

Each person makes their own sandwich according to what they like and what they have. If your layers are sturdy, your sandwich will be too. The best part? If it all falls apart, you can always put it back together again with the ingredients you have! You can have a sandwich with just one ingredient for now, you can experiment with ingredients, and you can change things in and out.

Learn More about Each of the LAYERS

Sandwich Parenting’s LAYERS approach is about helping you on your parenting journey. Each layer addresses different aspects of yourself that you can design to be the parent you want to be.

As a unique person with your own set of circumstances, personalities, and goals, your combination of layers will be unique to you.

A LAYERS approach may help you shift from overwhelmed to surviving, from surviving to thriving. At each state, our best may look a little different. Be kind to yourself. You are not alone.

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LOVE: Prioritize Relationships

When…focus on…
OverwhelmedBecoming aware: Notice when acting unloving towards our children and apologize for unloving behaviour
SurvivingInvesting in the relationship: Prioritize our relationship with our children over their achievement and be curious about emotional outbursts (both ours and theirs)
ThrivingPracticing unconditional love: Model how to love ourselves and show love to our children regardless of their behaviour

Love is essential for developing a healthy and happy life. Children need love to thrive and their first experience with love is with their parents. We parents are busy creating a safe world for our children. But often our reactions to our children’s behaviour stem from fear, for their safety, for their future. We intend to do what is best for our children. If, however, our children do not feel love through interactions, they create unhelpful narratives in their minds, develop unhealthy coping mechanisms, and hear judgmental voices that sabotage their efforts.

When we are overwhelmed by life and not aware of how our behaviours impact our children, the first step is just to be aware when we are behaving in a hurtful, unloving manner. Learn to apologize and explain that they do not deserve to be treated badly, but that we are human and may over-react due to our stresses, but that we do not want them to feel that they deserve to be treated badly. When we shift to a state of surviving, we can start to prioritize our relationship with our kids over our expectations of them. That’s when we have headspace to be more curious about their perspective and why they may be resistant or upset. A thriving relationship is one when we can model how to love ourselves and others, when they trust that we love them no matter what.

Designing our Layer:
For children, love is the only language they truly understand. They feel loved when they are well cared for and given the opportunity to develop into the best version of themselves. Love means accepting them as they are, not what they potentially can be. Love is keeping them safe, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Love is when they know they can always come to me for help and support, when they trust in my love.

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ASPIRATIONS: Live Your Values

Whenfocus on…
OverwhelmedBecoming aware: Review our inherited parental playbook and seek like-minded parents, experts, and tribe
SurvivingDeveloping our parental approach: Articulate our parental values and test out new parental approach(es) with our children
ThrivingEvolving and sustaining our parental approach: Apply our parental approach to every interaction with our children, adjusting them as we and they grow and develop

Many of us come preprogrammed with a parental approach that we did not consciously plan, such as Authoritarian Parenting (or Tiger or Helicopter or Lawnmower). When my children were little, I Tiger-Mom-roared at them whenever they did not behave the way I wanted them to. One day, I saw the fear in their eyes and realized that my parenting approach did NOT align with my values. That started my journey to become the parent I wanted them to have.

As part of developing our aspirations, we may first need to deconstruct the parenting playbook we unconsciously inherited from our caregivers and culture. There are many other approaches: such as Attachment Parenting, Conscious Parenting, Gentle Parenting, Free Range Parenting, or Peaceful Parenting. Pick and choose what works for your family. Test things out a bit. It all depends on what you think about the relationship with your children, nature of rules, approach to discipline, consequences for ‘inappropriate’ behaviour, locus of control, right to be respected, reciprocity of communication, and societal expectations.

Designing our Layer:
Depending on the intersection of your circumstances, resources, interests, and values, you might align with others who have already started their journey. Such as ‘Christian + homeschooling’ or ‘urban + limited finances’ or ‘Asian + CPTSD’. As a recovering Chinese Tiger Mom, I was delighted to see my parental aspirations articulated in UnTigering by Iris Chen and The Conscious Parent by Dr. Shefali Tsabary.

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YOU: Cherish the Real You

Whenfocus on…
OverwhelmedBecoming aware: Forgive our imperfections and identify underlying health issues
SurvivingFinding the fun and fixing the problems: Do activities that delight us and work with professionals to fix health issues
ThrivingEvolving and sustaining self-care: Protect “me” time and practice self-care

You hold it all together. Know you, love you, and take care of you. You are the “I” that holds it all together. Are you strategically taking care of this “I” that is holding everything together? What we actually need to do is cherish the core of who we are and figure out what self-care means to us. The point of thinking about this topic is to make sure that you aim to cherish yourself and practice self-care, if not right this moment, eventually. If you aren’t there yet, just be aware of that state without putting more pressure on yourself to be there right now. It’s a journey, a lifelong journey.

Start with forgiving your imperfections and seeking help for common health issues. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating healthy? Are you getting enough exercise? Do you have chronic pain you have been ignoring? You can’t be your best if you aren’t taking care of the basics. Without mental and physical health, we will not be able to sustain anything. Then move on to finding things that delight you, we need that. Finally, when you are thriving, you can sustain it all by prioritizing and protecting your “me” time so that you can practice self-care.

Designing our Layer:
This layer requires a holistic approach to thinking about who you are and what you want to accomplish. I really liked Ben Angel’s Unstoppable 90-day program. It helped me think about different aspects of ME that I need to take care before I can expect myself to function well.

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EMOTIONS: Learn from Emotions

When…focus on…
OverwhelmedBecoming aware: Feel our emotions without judgment, then rest and reset after emotional outbursts (both ours and theirs)
SurvivingAnalyzing the emotions: Assess the gap between reality and our expectations, then interpret emotions as symptoms of the gap
ThrivingRegulating our responses: Control the controllable, accept what we cannot control, or leave the situation

This layer is really about being aware of our emotions and what our emotions are trying to tell us. Think of emotions as the unconscious part of you (or your child) that holds memory, tries to keep you safe, thinks outside of the box, and can foresee challenges that may not be obvious. Being aware of our emotions and then understanding what they are trying to tell us is the key to developing good relationships with our children.

If you easily get triggered (are overreacting to things), you may want to check if you are suffering from CEN (Childhood Emotional Neglect) or CPTSD (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Any culture that is traditional hierarchical or have strict social expectations will have impact on how people judge themselves and others. If you find everything highly stimulating and you often feel overwhelmed, you may be an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person). Consider using a therapist to work through some of those issues, so that you won’t be passing on intergenerational trauma. After working through unconscious or past traumas to heal, it can be helpful to learn more about the science behind happiness: Positive Intelligence, Learning to Forgive, and Positive Psychology. There’s also great work done by Brené Brown and Gabor Maté.

This layer is all about being mindful of our emotions and what those emotions are trying to tell us. That does not mean always being positive. To set a goal of always having positive emotions is not healthy and may lead to repression of emotions. We all know that repression only leads to eruptions in the future.

Keep in mind that the challenge to many self-help books is that they are trying to get us to thrive when we are still in the overwhelmed stage. I highly recommend that you start with being aware before you ambitiously try to ‘fix’ things. I know that when I try to accomplish ambitious things when I’m overwhelmed, I often end up feeling like a failure, when success would have been just to get through the day!

Designing our Layer:
To get to ‘thriving’ means we must not add a layer of extra suffering on top of normal life challenges. Instead, we focus our attention on what we can learn, develop, and change, depending on the stage we are in. If you are at the ‘overwhelmed’ stage, you may want to consider working with a therapist. If you suffer from CPTSD like I do, I recommend reading Pete Walker’s Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving or working with someone like Linda Meredith of Healing from CPTSD. If you are ready to take things to the next level and thrive in your life, try Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements or Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now.

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ROUTINES: Build Habits into Routines

When…focus on…
OverwhelmedBecoming aware: Identify and assess habits without judgment
SurvivingDeveloping routines: Maximize productive habits and minimize destructive habits and form them into routines
ThrivingEvolving and sustaining our routines: Adjust habits and routines to align with our short-term and long-term goals

YOU hold everything together; ROUTINES hold you together. The concept of routines is the secret sauce to Sandwich Parenting. We start with love, but our daily to dos are based on routines.

Routines (making habits part of an organized system) is the key to making anything truly work. A goal without a plan is just a dream; a plan without routines is just a statement of intention; and routine without the right habits is not going to help us achieve our goals. Well planned and thoughtfully developed routines will take us closer to our goals, one baby step at a time. Routines have to be sustainable to work, and they can only be sustainable if they are “evolvable”. A routine is a collection of habits.

Designing our Layer:
If you are serious about creating routines that work, I highly recommend James Clear of Atomic Habits. He sends the best weekly emails, has a website with a wealth of resources, and published a book for developing good habits and breaking bad ones.

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STORYTELLING: Control the Narrative

When…focus on…
OverwhelmedBecoming aware: Recognize how our stories affect us and articulate the stories we want to tell ourselves
SurvivingFlipping the perspective: Turn failure stories into lessons learned and turn barriers into challenges that take hard work to figure out
ThrivingInspiring with stories: Share our stories with our children and build new stories with them

Completing the Sandwich Parenting LAYERS approach is storytelling. Storytelling creates meaning to who we are, who we want to be, what we feel, and what we do. For many, their faith and beliefs help them with this important aspect of life.

Storytelling is the way humans make sense of the world. Storytelling is how we make people react to what we want them to know or remember. It helps us stay motivated and dedicated to our goals. The stories we tell about ourselves past, present, and future drive our journey. The stories we tell about our children dictate our behaviours towards them. The act of storytelling does not negate the reality of the story, it is just the act of helping it come to life to learn and to remember. Stories are how people connect with facts and potential. Stories either cause us more suffering or inspire hope for the future. Thriving is about holding ourselves accountable for the stories we tell ourselves, embracing storytelling to reframe how we see the world, and giving our children the opportunity to create meaning in their lives.

Using stories, we can weave the bonds of love, the direction of our aspirations, the boundaries of ourselves, the wisdom of our emotions, and the implementation of routines so that we can be the parents we want to be.

Designing our Layer:
For me, storytelling came to life when I took the Biology of Story course. Through short engaging lectures, an illuminating selection of examples, connections to science, and writing tasks, Biology of Story explains in twelve classes why stories are have been around for as long (if not longer) than communication. It helped me realize that we can empower our storytelling to support us in reaching our goals or allow it to sabotage our efforts.

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