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The 5 “A’s” of Mindful Loving for Parents – Part 2: Attention

Loving Presence arises when you can say, “This belongs.”

~ Tara Brach, author of Radical Acceptance and True Refuge

In this series of articles we’re taking a look at Dave Richo’s 5 “A’s” – those aspects of loving that when combined provide the nutrients the developing heart/mind needs for healthy human development. Most parents excel in at least one of the “A’s.” Many parents excel in several of the “A’s” and struggle with others.

The idea is pretty straightforward and sensible: we tend to give to our children more easily those nutrients we have plenty of in store, and we struggle to give what we haven’t received. Fortunately, the plasticity of the brain – and the mystery of its interface with mind/heart – makes it possible to be fed in those areas we’ve lacked, so that we can pass along all aspects of love but this requires becoming conscious of what we need.

Acceptance is one of the more challenging “A’s” for most people, and we’d like for you to consider the following in terms of your own development.

Acceptance is experienced by children as the feeling that who they are and what they feel is welcomed by the family most of the time. If you received acceptance when growing up, your gender was welcomed and celebrated. Your temperament – whether flexible or slow-to-adjust, playful or serious – was respected as part of your human condition and not an affront (or adornment) to your parents.

If you received ideal acceptance, not just who you were, but what you liked to do, your talents and interests, were okay, welcomed and cared about by those who mattered to you most. This was true even if you were an artist in a family of athletes, or a scholar in a family of salesmen. It was okay if you were outgoing or shy, a socialite or a homebody. And on top of it all, there was a sense that you were allowed the full range of feeling. No one shushed you if you laughed loudly, no one became alarmed if you felt anxious or angry, and so with help you learned to respond rather than react to your own feelings.

Of course, most of us did not have this ideal situation, maybe not even some of the time, so we need persistence to find external communities that offer us that experience now. Depending on where you live and the resources available, you may find that experience in therapy or recovery groups, or a Non Violent Communication practice group. Those are some good external resources.

The regular practice of mindfulness can help develop internal resources for meeting all parts of ourselves and our feelings with acceptance.

Even in families where who we are is accepted, there may still be a struggle to accept unwanted feelings, so that we are in the “red zone” before we address them. For parents, it can be frightening sometimes to recognize aggressive or otherwise disagreeable feelings showing up even toward our own children. Paradoxically, troublesome feelings actually cause less trouble when met with acceptance, when treated as a “yellow caution” signal that we are feeling undernourished or under-nurtured ourselves.

Mindfulness allows us to access internal resources – whether for you this means connecting with a “still, small voice” within or some other experience of spiritual nourishment. With regular practice, we develop attitudes that we are able to pass along to children.

It is not hard to see the difference it can make when we are able to respond rather than react to our own feelings and experiences. Think what it might have meant for you as a child to hear one of your parents say, “Yes, you’re right, we grownups are struggling to get along right now but we’ll take care of it. And you’re allowed not to like how we are treating each other, but you are not needed to take sides.”

Or perhaps even harder to imagine, “It makes sense to me that you’re ______ (nervous, sad, angry, excited) about ______ (the dance, the test, the game, being away for a month.) Let me know if you need a hug or a pep talk or anything. Otherwise I’ll assume you’re okay.”

What messages or experiences would you have needed to receive to feel more accepted in your family as a child? What are some of the ways you might meet those needs now?

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