I’m a big fan of Becky Bailey’s work. My daughter attended a preschool that based their teaching approach on her Loving Guidance principles. Since then Becky’s book, Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline has been my parenting Bible. This morning, I happened to flip to a page titled THE POWER OF POSITIVE INTENT. It said the following:
When you attribute positive motives to yourself and to others, you achieve an amazing number of good ends. Among them:
• You uphold the highest image of yourself and of others
• You foster cooperation by joining with others to solve a problem
• You foster a sense of security
• You foster responsibility
• You set your child up for a teaching moment
• You convey healthy responses to your child that will help him handle and embrace diversity
• You encourage your child to develop his own will by acknowledging that he does not need to obey you in order to keep your love
• You model unconditional love
Strangely enough, I was having a rather intense conversation until 1:30 am last night (or this morning) on this very subject (more specifically, the mirror you hold up for someone is who they become). I kid you NOT… coincidence… right?
So… hang on there, sister! You can actually teach unconditional love?! Like, to your children?! They don’t have to wait until they’re grown-ups and learn the hard way?! I can just see Zen Mommy laughing at me now… um, yeah… THAT IS YOUR JOB!
I’ve spent the last few months intensely processing the idea of loving without reservation and with the help of a few incredibly enlightened teachers have come to realize that this concept of positive intent is the KEY to it all. In order to love unconditionally, we have to hold the image of someone’s Best Self in our minds. We have to interact with this person as if they are already everything they could be, not necessarily how they are behaving at the moment. Like Pema Chodron alludes to in her book… the blue sky is always behind the clouds. We are already perfect. Your child is always perfect, even if they are acting like the biggest brats in the world!
So let’s take an example, your baby whacks you on the arm. You have a choice. You can get angry and say “We DO NOT hit!” or you can say, “You wanted my attention so you hit my arm.” And then follow it by saying, “You may not hit because that hurts. When you want my attention you can touch my arm or my hand or say, “Mama! Let’s try it now.” This is paraphrasing an example from the book but one that I have experienced myself many times as I redirected my own children. The success of this tactic is very much tied to the emotion that I’ve felt at the time. If I can say these words calmly, with no anger in my voice, I receive cooperation. If I feel myself tighten up and just go through the motions, these are the times when my kids (especially my son), will dig in and escalate the conflict.
So what’s the difference? If I am angry, I can usually bet that the sponsoring thought is something like, “OMG! You are driving me nuts! Why are you so difficult?” If I am centered and calm, the sponsoring thought is more along the lines of… “I’m distracted. He wants my attention and I’m not being fully present. And he is frustrated.” And I can be grateful that he wants my love! Obviously, the latter is ascribing positive intent and it changes the way I respond to my child.
What does this teach my children? It teaches them that I love them unconditionally, regardless of the choices they make. It teaches them to respect other people’s choices, even if they do not agree with them. It teaches them to take responsibility for all their choices because none of them mean that they are “bad” people (maybe just a poor choice at the time). It teaches them to discover their True Selves rather than be slaves to the approval of others.
Unconditional love. Powerful stuff. And guess what? It works with grown-ups too!