Thank you for joining me in some collaborative parenting discussion.
We all have one. It goes something like… I’m this type of parent (crabby, angry, perfectionist, lazy, doting, creative, silent, or maybe even adventurous) and my child is this sort of child (bratty, loving, high needs, testy, artistic, funny, resistant, sullen, jumpy, self-reliant, pushy, patient, or maybe even mean).
The surface stories may change from day to day, but underlying themes and stories weave their way through the background, contributing to the views we have of ourselves, our lives and those we love.
Thankfully, these stories can be changed.
Thoughts are part of life. The ways we think are influenced by our upbringing, experiences and cultural conditioning. Life experience contributes to patterns and programs of thinking, or believing, and we act from these beliefs. Some thoughts came from others outside of us and some came from how we experienced certain life happenings. Either way, we internalized something about ourselves, others or life.
Until we become aware that we have the ability to choose how we think, we unconsciously accept, argue with or absorb the ideas that surround us. As we become aware that we can choose to change the ways we think, we can do so to more accurately reflect reality and the movement toward our goals.
Thoughts can also get tied up with emotions, which makes things kind of sticky at times, but affirmative statements are one way to clean up the messes of not-so-helpful thinking patterns.
What are affirmative statements?
I use the phrase affirmative statements to distinguish from affirmations, or similar pop psychology techniques for positive thinking. I’m not advocating a denial of reality. Quite the opposite. I also feel we are contributing to the reality we are living so it can be extremely beneficial to meet the moment honestly to decide where we go from here.
My definition of an affirmative statement is a present tense statement of truth that a person is putting forth into the future. In simple terms, the process of creating and utilizing affirmative statements contributes to a re-conditioning of our base beliefs and resulting thoughts. We get to choose what we believe about ourselves, loved ones and the nature of life. 100% responsibility includes intentionally directing our lives through weeding out deception, creating affirmative statements and being accountable to who we are and what we are creating in the world.
Let’s Get Started
Erroneous thoughts (those that lead nowhere helpful) are critical, judgmental and harsh. We certainly need to be honest with ourselves, but we do not need to be cruel. Harshness is common in the world; it does not need to be common in our experience. Affirmative statements address harshness head on while offering more accurate, compassionate responses to parenting and life. The mind is a tool, not a director. Utilize and direct your mind in the ways you choose instead of the other way around.
Here are six steps to create and utilize affirmative statements to rewrite your own parenting and life experience. I encourage you to write and revise them as helpful, read them daily and watch your life transform little by little. (Write. Read. Watch. is also a book in progress).
1. Be Painfully Honest
Denial gets us nowhere. Really. Start by noticing the erroneous thoughts you have or negative ways of being you produce in your life.
Since this is an ongoing process you can simply sit down with a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle from the top to the bottom. On the left side, write down all of this negativity you experience. Use “I” statements when referring to yourself. For example, “I’m short and distant with the kids” or “I threaten too much”.
Maybe you yell, feel like you are the worst parent on the planet, the kids are constantly misbehaving, you’ve lashed out at them, they’re wonderful but you don’t know how to parent them, there’s not enough of you to go around, the house is a mess, yada yada.
Except it’s not yada yada. It’s what’s going on in your head so it’s really important to get at least some of it out onto paper. Alternatively you could chat with a friend about these issues, or make a recording.
Do this for a few minutes at a time and if you don’t put it on paper right now, start to make mental notes. Watch how you talk to yourself and think about life. It’s quite an insightful process.
2. Be Real
Okay, so you’re looking at the negativity. Now, be real with yourself.
Are you really a bad mom? Is your child really a brat? Are you certain your family is out to get you? Is the world really going to hell in a hand basket? Or maybe the thoughts you harbor are of a completely different variety.
Start to notice when you’re judging harshly and choose to extract what really needs attention. For example, why do you feel like you’re a bad mom? You yell? You’re distracted? You’ve lashed out and hurt your child? Be very specific and peel back the layers of condemnation. We need to get to the root of the negativity to get inside of the societal shame for being the way we are (or for our children and partners being the way they are).
Yes, some stuff needs attention. Dig deep to find out exactly what’s in there.
If your child is a brat, what behaviors specifically contribute to the brattyness? Does she talk in a certain tone, say certain words, not come when you call? Write these down (for yourself, partner, family and the world, too). Notice the difference between condemnation and facts.
Continue writing down the negatives on the left side of your paper. In a moment, we’re going to witness the transformation of these negatives into active statements of intention.
3. Transform Negatives into Present Moment Truth
Start with a statement like this, “I am learning to be fully responsible for my life.” This does leave room for the mystery. This isn’t about control, it’s about doing our part and using our faculties to their full capacity.
With this basis, bring out your piece of paper with all of the negatives. In the right hand column, write what you would like to experience in contrast to the negative you wrote down. For example, if you wrote “I yell too much”, on the right side write something like, “I am learning to notice when I feel tension and lower my voice when I feel inclined to yell” or “I am learning to notice when I feel upset before I yell” or “I am learning to be compassionate with myself when I yell” or “I am learning alternatives to yelling”. Come up with as many true statements as you can to counter each negative thought.
It is vital that the affirmative statements you create feel true to you in the moment and that you experience them as true at least occasionally. (Which is why I won’t even get into the “I am a billionaire” affirmation conversation – I’ll stick to parenting, thank you)! Why? Because if we put more delusion in our heads we are defeating the purpose of this exercise in re-conditioning our minds. We might as well quit while we’re ahead.
Let’s just stay on the course, shall we?
As you will be able to tell quite quickly, there are oodles of thoughts roaming around in your head that could benefit from attention. Now, some are just fly by night nonsense that come and go. They don’t really bother you or contribute to the stories you are working to change. Thoughts aren’t problematic. Adhering to thoughts as if they are absolute truth fuels the negative story infused experiences we have in life.
Continue taking note of disturbing thoughts and create alternative affirmative statements of present tense truth. Why is it important to create the statements in present tense? Because the present moment is all that exists. We can be honest with ourselves about the past, saying something like, “Up to this point in time, I have been late – a lot” or “In the past, I was angry and harmful to those around me”. However, if I claim in the present that I’m a witch of a mother with no hope of ever being the mother I want to be, well I am my own worst enemy. There’s enough negativity in the world, I don’t need to bring it on myself any longer – neither do you.
4. Incorporate the Statements Into Your Life
While it’s helpful to create affirmative statements, actually incorporating them into your life at every turn is what will bring about different results in your mind, body, parenting experience and life. I encourage you to do this with any and every challenge you face. This isn’t just an exercise you do one Saturday afternoon, this is a practice to continually fold into your life.
Experiment and find a pace that works for you. If you are finding that it’s stressful, ease up and go slower. If you’re experiencing the exhilaration of creating your life from the inside out, make it a daily and then moment-by-moment practice. Eventually, you will be able to transform negative thoughts into present moment truth quickly in your head. (No rush, though).
First, use the affirmative statements when you face challenges. Notice the initial thoughts you have, breathe into what you are feeling and affirm what you are working toward, a new perspective and way of being with the challenge.
For example, if you’re faced with the stress of trying to figure out how to fulfill your parenting role (and maybe your child isn’t making things easier in this moment), notice how you’re thinking. Maybe thoughts such as “I’m so overwhelmed” or “I didn’t sign up for this” or “Why does this feel so difficult” swarm in your mind, coalescing with tense feelings in your body. Meet the moment by acknowledging what’s present for you while supporting yourself with healthier thoughts such as “Okay, I’m stressed, but I’m learning new ways to address stress” or “I am stopping to notice my breath and how I feel” or “Maybe I didn’t sign up for this, but I’m learning to find opportunities in the challenges”.
When you write about specific challenges, and creative supportive statements to counter your knee jerk resistance, feel yourself making a choice in the direction of what you are affirming. If you’re working on not yelling, say the pertinent statement to yourself as you see yourself lowering your voice.
Here are some additional ways you can incorporate affirmative statements into your life. Experiment and come up with some ideas of your own. Write them down and review each morning, bedtime or another specific time each day. Review the list of statements during meditation, relaxation, waiting times or when you have a break at work. Use an app on your phone such as Notifications of Mindfulness to input affirmative statements and be reminded of them throughout the day. Post statements around your home in prominent places (mirrors, doorways, walls, computer monitor and light switches).
Write statements on bookmarks, index cards, mini notes or a notebook to put in your pocket, in a letter you hide for yourself somewhere or in a journal where you can reflect on or draw them in picture form. Say them out loud each time you read. See and feel yourself in the present moment truth you are affirming. Connect with what it feels like for this to be true for you – even if for a moment. Savor and intend to remember this feeling. These feelings aren’t manufactured by thinking certain thoughts of illusion, they are feelings inside of us that we can acknowledge when we affirm the truth.
5. Watch Your Life Transform
Notice how your life is gradually shifting. Most likely, some very uncomfortable stuff will come to the surface to be dealt with. One surefire way to deal with is to meet it with present moment awareness.
However, it’s not always practical to meet stuff in the moment and sit with it for a while. So, if you experience a lot of resistance or upset as you progress towards affirming truth in new ways, learn how to feel what you feel safely.
Start noticing and assessing your life with more accuracy. As you choose to discern between condemnation and truth, trade condemnation for honesty. Notice that there are probably many more moments you breathe that you can be appreciating yourself, your children, your family and your life. Notice that things are starting to feel brighter, even when they’re bleak.
Notice the desire to move toward your goals, make peace with your idiosyncracies and appreciate your parenting experience just as it is while you take action steps to make helpful changes. Watch your life transform through choosing to take responsibility for the direction of your mind.
6. Seek Assistance With Problem Areas
100% responsibility doesn’t mean you do this all by yourself. 100% responsibility also means recognizing when help is necessary. That’s why there are helpers in the world! Sometimes we need help. It’s okay to ask for help! So, if I’m not clear – you don’t have to struggle endlessly. Sure, there will be some struggle and some tough times. If you feel like you’re drowning, though, reach out for a life preserver – seek assistance.
There are many ways to address problems. The use of affirmative statements described here is a creative application of cognitive behavior and narrative therapy techniques. I’m not a licensed therapist; I’m currently an undergraduate student studying psychology and human services.
I’m also a meditation facilitator, but mostly – I’m determined to transform my experience of parenting and life. I share what I do here at Presence Parenting from my own experience and encourage you to seek professional assistance if you feel that could be helpful for you.
The creation and use of affirmative statements can be life changing. Experiment with what is outlined here to see how this may be true for you.
Are you are struggling as a parent? If so, I’d like to share something invaluable with you: hope. If you would like to change how you respond when parenting feels intense, I invite you to consider this challenge.