BOOK REVIEW, PARENTAL ASPIRATIONS

Parenting from the Inside Out by Siegel and Hartzell

This book is on the reading list for the parent coaching certificate program I started a couple of months ago. This reading list included many books I had been eyeing or had heard great things about.

Parenting from the Inside Out: How a Deeper Self-Understanding Can Help You Raise Children Who Thrive by Daniel J. Siegel and Mary Hartzell is a book I would definitely classify as a handbook for parents, a must read for those who overreact to their children’s “misdeeds.” I wish I had read this while I was pregnant or on maternity leave. But I remind myself what they said in the book: We have to be gentle with ourselves because we can only do our best under the circumstances of our lives. (Note: not including abuse, physical or emotional, of course.)

The book mostly explains why we behave the way we behave when our children behave the way they behave. Chapter titles are: 1) How We Remember: Experience Shapes Who We Are 2) How We Perceive Reality: Constructing the Stories of Our Lives 3) How We Feel: Emotion in Our Internal and Interpersonal Worlds 4) How We Communicate: Making Connections 5) How We Attach: Relationships Between Children and Parents 6) How We Make Sense of Our Lives: Adult Attachment 7) How We Keep It Together and How We Fall Apart: The High Road and the Low Road 8) How We Disconnect and Reconnect: Rupture and Repair and 9) How We Develop Mindsight: Compassion and Reflective Dialogues.

Each chapter includes some reflective questions called “Inside-Out Exercises” to spend time with concepts like “Think of an issue in your life that is impairing your ability to connect flexibly with your child. Focus on the past, present, and future aspects of this issue. Do any themes or general patterns come to mind from past interactions? What implicit emotions and bodily sensations emerge when this issue comes to your mind in the present?”

Each chapter also has an extensive section called “Spotlight on Science,” sharing research and studies as well as biological explanations on why we ‘lose it’ with our kids. These sections are particularly helpful for those of us who really, really want to understand our reactions.

I highly recommend the book because I personally had a lot of ‘ah-ha’ moments that normalized my experience as an Untigering parent. But if you are a super busy parent and just want the “Coles Notes” version: We have unresolved issues from our childhood. That can cause us to react with strong emotions when dealing with our children. We need to be aware of what we are doing, understand why, and do the work to build connecting relationships with our children. That takes mindfulness and reflection. And work, but it is well worth it, not just because it improves our relationships with our children, but it helps them become more resilient in facing their own challenges.

You’d think a parenting book that is telling you to change or else you will mess up your children would bring you a lot of shame and guilt. But surprisingly, it just helps you understand where it comes from so that you DON’T feel shame and guilt, which will leave you in a much better place to actually make the changes you need to make to be the kind of parent you want to be!

STORYTELLING, UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONS

I Hear You, Panic Attack, I’m Listening

Panic attacks.

I get them when I’m triggered.

I get them at 3 am in the morning.

I get them at 5 am in the morning.

I get them when I have to wake up to start my day.

I get them after reading an email.

They scare me and they demoralize me. They bring me to my knees.

My panic attacks can feel like a thousand chaotic voices.

This isn’t good.

That isn’t done.

You aren’t good enough.

What a failure.

When they start, I end up with waves of fear from my futile attempts to ward off the attacks.

I try silencing the voices.

I recoil in terror from all their accusations and predictions of doom and gloom.

My brain vibrates from the yelling and the shrinking, the pointing and the defending.

* * * * *

I’m learning to thank them, yes, appreciate their intention to protect me from — well — danger.

Danger from harm to the core of who I am.

Somehow, I ended up with a blinding fear of criticism about my judgment and decision-making abilities.

I have had to change my attitude of fear of criticism about my past unchangeable decisions.

* * * * *

Now I try to to tell myself:

  • I accept the past
  • I did the best that I could with what I had
  • There are consequences to all decisions
  • The only thing I can do is think about moving forward
  • My new decisions might still not be ideal
  • In the future I will be dealing with the consequences of my choices today
  • A knee-jerk reaction will be counterproductive
  • What’s the one baby step I can take right now that at least moves me in the right direction?

Okay panic attacks.

I’m ready for you.

I’m ready to listen to your warnings.

But I’m going to respond in a calm way to let you know that I can only do my best, that I did my best in the past, and that hounding me about what a terrible person I am is not going to make my life better. It’s making my present and future worse.

But I thank you for trying to protect me.

I thank you for trying to teach me.

So — now that I’ve heard you, I need you to be quiet so that I can figure out what next step to take.

BOOK REVIEW, DEVELOPING ROUTINES

Atomic Habits by James Clear

Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous book.

James Clear’s book is all about how to build productive habits (make them easy, attractive, and enjoyable) and how to stop destructive habits (make them difficult and uncomfortable). He presents his case and breaks it down. I have actually already started developing better habit management due to reading his book!

Most people think that building better habits or changing your actions is all about willpower or motivation. But the more I learn, the more I believe that the number one driver of better habits and behavior change is the choice architecture of your environment.

–Excerpt from Atomic Habits by James

His book helps you understand WHY we end up with counterproductive habits that are difficult to change.  Through his research, he has developed simple structured ways for us to work with ourselves.  I like that it removes some of the self-bashing and turns it into better planning.

But wait… there’s more!

One of my all time favourite business models lately is the “freemium” model from writers and experts. They create content, but they give a lot of it away for free, whether on their website, via videos/webinars or by regular email messages. It’s like the great bands who would play in local pubs and bars. You feel like you get to know them well and you start to like them personally because you can feel them authentically sharing themselves. The author of this book engages with his readers in many ways and you get so much value that you feel GREAT about buying his book.

Valuable and Short Emails

I’m a sucker for subscribing to emails.  The website looks interesting and I hit ‘subscribe’ – and then after a month or so of ignoring and deleting the emails, I unsubscribe. I used to think, Maybe I’m just a loser, I pick bad emails. Or maybe I’m just lazy, I don’t read emails I should read. No, no, I’ve got it, I can’t commit to anything I should do. 

Then I decided to be kind to myself: I have a lot of curiosity and I like to give everyone a chance. So I subscribe and check them out, then I delete when they don’t delight me. And given that I’m still subscribed to his list 2 months later, you can guess what I think of James Clear’s emails–they are the BEST! My favourite is his weekly 3-2-1 newsletter: 3 ideas from him, 2 quotes from others and 1 question for you to ponder.  Easy read, but definitely a positive pick-me-upper.

Informative and Easy to Read Website

His website is also a great resource for information about better habits, better performance, better thinking, and optimal health. It’s simply organized and chock full of science-backed studies written in simple language. It gives you a taste of how his book is written and organized. I love how this is not one of those self-help sites that almost make you feel worse for not being able to do it. He actually explains WHY it’s hard to do the right thing.

Free Bonus Materials!

He even makes you feel really good for buying his book by immediately giving you bonus materials, like a chapter on how to apply it to parenting. It takes the structure that you learn from his book and gives you real life examples of how you can help your kids develop better habits. I’m excitedly starting to use this and fingers crossed the kids will not catch on too quickly. Shhh! Don’t tell them I’m testing his suggestions out on them! 

Summary

I don’t have to feel shame and guilt for having limited willpower and motivation. I can spend the time and headspace to design the architecture of my environment and make little adjustments.

In conclusion, one of the most impactful self-help books I’ve ever read.