Aware Parenting – the third path
Note: “AWARE” Parenting stands for ATTITUDE, WELL-BEING, AWARENESS, REFLECTION and EMPATHY
Part One – my own journey to Aware Parenting
I know you want to give your children everything that you didn’t receive as a child. I know you want to see them, understand them, and give them the loving nourishment that helps them stay connected with their deepest selves, so that they can have fulfilling and satisfying lives, with fun, meaning, connection and the joy of giving them gifts.
And yet,each of us is not only influenced by the vision we have for our child/ren, but also two other powerful things.
The first is our own experiences as babies and children. These experiences sit on our shoulder, in our gut, and in our heart. They are the screen through which we experience everything.
The second is the parenting paradigm that most resonates with us. Each parenting paradigm has, at its heart, beliefs about the true nature of being human; about what motivates us to do what we do.
Of course none of us actually fits into a category, because each of us blends together our own flavour of vision, history and parenting paradigm.
However, I’d like to share with you the parenting paradigm that I love, and have loved for the last 13 and a half years.
And for me, as for most of us mothers, the reasons that I resonate with this paradigm are intimately related to my vision for my children, and my own history.
I’m going to tell you about my own history, so that you can see where I am coming from.
I was born 10 weeks prematurely, and was in an incubator for the first 5 weeks of my life. By the time I was in my mid-
teens, I began to realise that these early experiences were having a profound impact on my life
. My desire to understand myself, and be freed from a crippling shyness and sense of being different and alone, took me on an outer search.
I did a degree on psychology and was most intrigued by developmental psychology and how parenting styles are passed on from generation to generation.
I went on to do my Ph.D. at Cambridge University, where I looked at the effect of post-natal depression on the mother-infant relationship.
It was there where all the pieces started to come together. I learnt all about the importance of mirroring, attachment, and the power of our early experiences.
I came across The Continuum Concept
in a little second hand bookshop in 1992 and that changed my life.
So, I began visiting and interviewing and videoing mothers and babies day after day, learning everything I could about early infant development. Meanwhile I was also on my own inner journey of healing, having weekly therapy, going to new-age groups, and learning new ways of seeing things.
However, I knew this wasn’t enough. I wanted to dive deeper.
My whole twenties became an intensive study of the effects of our birth and early years on our later lives.
I did a 6 year training in Psychosynthesis Psychotherapy and started seeing clients. At the same time, for two years, I worked as a Post-Doctoral Fellow studying newborn babies and their cognitive abilities. For the next two years after that, I taught the Therapeutic Relationship to MA students.
Why do I tell you all this?
It’s so that you can see that my search was to understand myself and understand what it was actually like to be a baby.
What was it like to be held in warm arms, or be in a plastic box with bright lights and tubes everywhere? How did those early experiences affect every relationship and every experience afterwards?
And this strive to understand and heal continued in my thirties.
I moved to Australia, and was ready to have my own baby. However, despite 10 years of therapy, and various other experiences such as rebirthing, holotropic breathwork, and many other healing modalities, I was still terrified of giving birth.
I was Googling something, and happened to see that there was the first HypnoBirthing training happening in Australia. A synchronous event told me that that was exactly my next step to take.
At the HypnoBirthing training I met Peter Jackson, who was one of the few HB practitioners in Australia at that time. He told me about P.S.H., which he was also trained in. “Private Subconscious-mind Healing”, he said, helped create massive internal shifts.
So, I went and had a couple of sessions, and my fear totally left me. I easily fell pregnant, and then trained in P.S.H. whilst I was pregnant. And it was true, I went from terrified, to totally trusting of my body, to the extent that I had a free birth, and the 86 hour posterior birth was amazingly empowering and an amazing experience.
Peter Jackson went on to develop calm birth – http://www.calmbirth.com.au
– which I trained in and later used in the birth of my son, which was another amazing, but this time very fast, posterior birth.
I now knew that deep and lasting change was possible. I knew that I had healed so much, and my healing meant that I could give my daughter what I had missed out on.
My children didn’t need to experience the traumatic birth that I had had, and they didn’t need to experience the disconnection that I had experienced after birth.
When I was pregnant, I had again been Googling, and again had found my next step on the path.
I found out about “Aware Parenting“.
And when I read about it, I was amazed to find that not only did it resonate with everything I’d learnt in my academic and research experiences, it also fitted with everything I’d discovered in my psychotherapy training and practice. Attachment theory, the power of early mirroring and closeness and sensitivity to actually understanding what it felt like to be a baby, and what babies actually need.
AND it had a magic extra element.
What was that magic extra element?
Well that element was that ALL babies, however much we aim to meet all of their attachment needs, listen to their cues, understand them sensitively, and respond empathically, experience uncomfortable feelings.
AND that we can help them release those uncomfortable experiences, as well as any stresses or traumas that they might experience, FROM BIRTH ONWARDS.
Aletha Solter, founder of “The Aware Parenting Institute”
This was a revelation.
All my therapy training had been based on the idea that most healing needed to happen when we were adults. That we needed to suffer from our parents’ own blindspots, and have our personalities formed, before we could heal from our past.
And here was Aletha Solter, founder of The Aware Parenting Institute, in her book The Aware Baby and Tears and Tantrums, telling me that my daughter didn’t need to wait that long.
That as well as holding her in my arms and responding sensitively to her, I could also listen to her feelings, from birth onwards.
And that was when my love of “Aware Parenting” was born.
Part Two – the next 13 years, and why I still love Aware Parenting.
Marion with her daughter ( a 13 year old’s “selfie” with her Mum )
And Aware Parenting did not disappoint in its calling.
13 years on, and my daughter is of course 13, and my son is 8.
I am a level 2 Aware Parenting Instructor and my passion is about helping spread awareness of Aware Parenting, so that parents know that they have this third way as a choice, and if their vision and history fit, that they might resonate with it too.
I’ve created a course for people who want support in being Aware Parenting Instructors themselves.
So, why do I still love it, and why do I think it is a wonderful thing for babies and children, parents, families, and our world?
To answer that question, I want to go back to parenting paradigms and the core beliefs that lie underneath them.
And I want to preface this with my deep honouring and acceptance of the parenting path each of us take. I believe that we make this choice for very important reasons. Our core beliefs, our childhood experiences, and our vision and purpose all affect which parenting path we take.
So, you may well not resonate with what I talk about, and I honour that.
I write so that parents who might resonate, know that there is this third path.
Why do I keep calling it a third path? Because I see that there are three main paradigms, (although again, each of us create our own unique paradigm!)
1. The first is the more mainstream perspective, which is still influenced by beliefs about human beings that have been around for the last two hundred years. That babies and children come into the world needing to be trained and socialised into being helpful members of society, into co-operating, sleeping, and learning.
2. The second is Classical Attachment Parenting, that came into being in the sixties alongside the “human potential” movement. As we began to learn about the power of empathy and mirroring, and to heal from our own childhood experiences, so we began to see the needs of babies and children. In this paradigm, the needs of babies and children for closeness, understanding, suppport and nourishment, are honoured and understood.
3. “Aware Parenting” came into being in the late seventies.
It is a form of “attachment parenting”
, because it also deeply values a baby and child’s attachment needs
, and yet it has this extra piece
, that piece that was such an ‘aha’ for me when I came across it.
The extra piece is this – that babies and children have real feelings, feelings that aren’t just about calling out for an immediate need to be met.
They have feelings just like us adults. And just as we need to cry when we are upset, and to be heard by a loving other so that we can let those feelings and experiences go, so do babies and children.
We come into the world with these amazing healing mechanisms – to cry, rage, tantrum, laugh, sweat, shake and yawn to release painful feelings from our bodies.
Just as we need to be heard when we are crying so that the crying is healing, so do babies need to be held with deep presence and without distraction, so that their true feelings are deeply honoured and understood, so that their experiences, so raw and true, can be held and made friends with, and released.
And that is one of the things that I loved about Aware Parenting right from the start. I had spent so long on my own journey of really going in and experiencing what it was like as a baby being in an incubator, and many other experiences, and it is my vision and calling to support all parents to do whatever they can in their own journey so that they can really listen to what is really going on for their baby or child. To really understand what they feel and what they need.
To deeply honour and validate every feeling, both joyful and painful.
And that, for me, is one of the core gifts of Aware Parenting.
To really get our baby and child’s feelings, so that they feel deeply understood, and so that they don’t need to repress these feelings in themselves.
Another thing I love about Aware Parenting is it gives us the chance to help our babies stay deeply connected with their true selves.
I believe that at heart, every human being is loving, and wants what I call the 3 C’s – Connection, to Co-operate, and to Contribute.
And that is key to Aware Parenting. Babies and children do not need to be taught these things. It is their true nature. But it gets covered over with repressed feelings.
When we repetitively try to cover up our baby or child’s feelings, through distraction, movement, or feeding for comfort, these uncomfortable feelings don’t go away. They accumulate.
They show up as symptoms like: avoiding eye contact; waking more frequently at night; being agitated; not seeming very happy most of the time; tense muscles; taking a long time to go to sleep; avoiding moulding into arms when they are cuddled; and a spaced out look in the eyes (in babies), and: avoiding eye contact; night waking; not cooperating; agitation; not being able to concentrate for long; not being able to sit still for long; biting, hitting, throwing things; and sibling rivalry (in children).
When babies and children repress feelings, they need to do something with those feelings, to stop that natural healing mechanism from operating. And they need to keep on doing those things over and over
And those things, and those pent-up feelings, act like a kind of screen. The screen prevents us from seeing their true self – that true self that sparkles out of their eyes as pure presence and pure joy. That true self that makes deep and loving eye contact. That true self that follows their true desires – eating when they’re hungry, sleeping when they’re tired, exploring the world when they’re alert, connecting deeply, wanting to co-operate and contribute to those around them.
It gets covered up gradually.
And from this paradigm, most of what parents find challenging in parenting – frequent night waking, whining, not cooperating, sibling rivalry, not listening, agitation, and so on, are all symptoms simply of accumulated feelings.
And this is another thing I love about Aware Parenting – it’s simplicity. No need for complex theories. This is a simple theory. If a baby or child is showing any of these symptoms, all we need to do is:
- Do whatever is needed so that we can help ourselves be truly present with our baby or child (this might mean listening to our own feelings from when we were this age, or having a cry about how the birth went, or how hard it can be sometimes, or how we don’t have the support we need)
- Create more connection with our baby or child. This means not distracting, but being deeply present. Playing and inviting laughter (as laughter also releases feelings, of fear and anxiety and powerlessness).
- Listen lovingly and empathically to the crying, raging or tantrums. In babies this means always holding them. From toddlerhood onwards, we provide closeness, but let the toddler choose the amount of closeness she needs.
Over 10 years as an Aware Parenting Instructor, I have seen again and again how amazingly beautiful this process is, and the profound effects that it has.
* Older babies and toddlers who had been waking every hour or two, once their feelings are heard, don’t need to wake up to try to express those feelings. They get to be securely attached AND sleep easily.
* Parents beside themselves with fear about why their baby is crying despite all the carrying and co-sleeping their baby is
doing, understand what is going on, and embrace the crying. Instead of frantically trying to stop it, they relax, can listen calmly with their baby crying in their arms, and their baby gets to heal from their birth experiences
rather than needing to wait until rebirthing 30 years later.
* Parents of toddlers who never sit still learn to understand the power of Attachment Play and tantrums, and their toddler naturally begins to be able to be present with himself in his own body, and thus to relax, concentrate, and enjoy times of stillness.
* Parents at their wits end with their child’s hitting and biting learn simple ways of creating deep connection, and helping their child release the fear, powerlessness and sadness underlying these behaviours, through Aware Parenting practices of Present Time, Attachment Play and Loving Limits.
* Parents heal from their own childhood experiences and the beliefs they acquired about feelings, through listening to their own feelings, so that they can really clearly see their baby/child and what she is really feeling.
* Dads can be as involved as mums with things like sleep-times and crying-in-arms.
No longer are mums seen as the only ones who can give what babies and toddlers really need. Dads can listen just as well as mums to painful feelings, which often come up before sleep, so that they can be beautifully released, thus letting restful sleep come.
* Parents learn the power of Attachment Play, and release old beliefs about parenting as sacrifice, or parenting as seriousness, or parenting as needing strict boundaries. Joy and intimacy and connection come, and stay.
* Children grow up still feeling connected with their parents as teenagers, and vice versa.
And this is why I am still passionate about Aware Parenting 13 years later.
Seeing my own children, my friends’ children, talking to thousands of parents, has given me an ever deeper sense of passion about the power of this paradigm of parenting to create a different world.
A world where adults do not need to numb their feelings through food, distraction, movement, or substances.
A world where we are all deeply connected to our true nature, loving, connected, wanting to make a difference to others, and knowing why we are here and what our gifts to the world are.
A world free of the violence and destruction that is simply caused by unhealed-from stress and trauma.
A world where we stay in touch with who we really are.
A world of connection, community, and meaning.
If “Aware Parenting” resonates with you, and you’d like to find out more about it, you can find out more about Aletha Solter’s work at www.awareparenting.com
She also has five books, all of which I recommend very highly: The Aware Baby, Tears and Tantrums, Helping Young Children Flourish, Raising Drug-free Kids, and Attachment Play.
The five books written by Aletha Solter
My daughter and her dad are on the cover of Tears and Tantrums, and my son and I are on the cover of Attachment Play.
Below: Aletha Solter introduces her books:-
If this is newer information to you, and your children are older, it is never too late for them to catch up with expressing their feelings!
B.Sc. Ph.D. Dip.Couns. Dip.Psych. FPCF FPCC
Level Two Aware Parenting Instructor
Ultimate Support for Mothers
[Editor’s Note: A huge “thank you” to Marion Rose who wrote this article especially for “The Forever Years”].