Building intimacy

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How to mend navigation: 1. How to mend * 2. Models of mending * 3. How to be a grown up * 4. Hold me tight * 5. Becoming vulnerable * 6. Emotional bids * 7. Constructive fights * 8. Exits from intimacy * 9. The answer

Last edit of this page 05/11/12

yes is a world

& in this world of

yes live

(skilfully curled)

all worlds

e. e. cummings, "love is a place" No Thanks (1935)

Whatever you do, sooner or later some expert will tell you that you've done the wrong thing. Raisingkids

If the classroom in this documentary were the norm I would be out of a job.

It features a 4th grade class in Kanazawa, where the teacher encourages students to keep journals, read them out loud in class, and then share deep, ordinarily inaccessible emotions with the rest of the students. For example, in the first section, they talk about death. Most teachers would shy away from talking about such subjects in class — they might deem it inappropriate, or opt to spend the time doing other stuff, or maybe it's just not customary to talk openly about such deep emotions in school. Source


1.0 Family and the growth of psychological intimacy

Loving behaviour doesn't grind you down, keep you off balance, or create feelings of self-hatred. Love doesn't hurt, it feels good. Loving behaviour nourishes your emotional well-being. When someone is being loving to you, you feel accepted, cared for, valued, and respected. Genuine love creates feelings of warmth, pleasure, safety, stability, and inner peace. Susan Forward

When satisfaction or security of another person becomes as significant to one's own satisfaction or security, then love exists. Harry Stack-Sullivan

Intimacy is not the same as intensity, although we confuse these two words. 'The Dance of Intimacy' by Harriet Lerner

Love is a much misunderstood and misused term. Being noun and verb it is a set of things and a set of actions.

Love is not a single feeling but an emotion built from two or more feelings. It is

a label we give to a range of transient emotional experiences always complicated by past, present and future considerations. It is not correct that our partners simply and constantly feel love for us. (Levine 2007).

Anything important to us creates more than one feeling, and we also have feelings about our feelings (and thoughts about our feelings). This array of feelings is an emotion - something that moves us.

Loving behaviour requires both inner and outer work ongoingly for its health.


Our attachments are so powerful that our brains code them as “safety.” Any perceived distance or separation in our close relationships is interpreted as danger because losing the connection to a loved one jeopardizes our sense of security. Source

Sue Johnson, who developed Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, views close relationships as attachment bonds. A secure bond provides a safe haven for security and support, and a base from which to explore the world. Bonds are maintained by accessibility and responsiveness and by emotional engagement and contact.

Think for a minute, who did you go to for comfort as a child? When that was absent or insecure how did it affect you? Every one needs at least one place in life where they feel secure, known - where they can be themselves and can lean into the support of that place when hurt or troubled. As a child it might have been just sitting on a secure lap.

From the home base of a secure attachment we orient ourselves to the world, look out to the world and make sense of it within the context of home. If our secure base is away from home in a peer group or another significant emotional attachment, then that orients us to the world with greater influence.

This creates a loss of orientation to those back home and the confusion of conflicting orientations. Disorientation is one of the most difficult experiences for humans to deal with. We all need to get our bearings in order to move. Without a compass or with one that simultaneously points in two directions, we can be completely immobilized.

Distress in a couple is most often due to insecure attachment and this leads to protest behaviour and eventually withdrawal. Criticism is a form of protest and an attempt (albeit misdirected) to re-engage attachment to the loved one.

That seems odd doesn't it. The very thing that drives people apart is an attempt to draw them closer. When attachment bonds become insecure protest, clinging, despair and detachment tend to follow.

Attachment style

Perhaps the most provocative and controversial implication of adult attachment theory is that a person's attachment style as an adult is shaped by his or her interactions with parental attachment figures. Although the idea that early attachment experiences might have an influence on attachment style in romantic relationships is relatively uncontroversial, hypotheses about the source and degree of overlap between the two kinds of attachment orientations have been controversial. Source

Do this 36 item survey to locate yourself on the dimensions above. Read the related article for some background (if link broken go here).

Closeness - intimacy

One aspect of love or attachment is psychological intimacy, inviting someone inside your head, drawing them into your life, your hopes, dreams, fears and longings. Another is physical intimacy, bringing your body to another for sexual expression.

Society sets rules about the contexts in which both can occur. Psychological intimacies do not occur in the majority of social situations. The vast majority of physical intimacies occur in private.

Psychological intimacy is about attachment, connection, being safe to express tenderness and vulnerability with family, close friends as well as in sexual relationships.

You can not make someone bond to you or open up to you. You can appear to be available and responsive whilst remaining at heart, deeply hidden. True, a long term relationship requires that some thoughts and feelings be hidden or at least tempered by diplomacy and good timing. But intimacy can only really grow to the extent that it is safe to be vulnerable.

Psychological intimacy is not a static moment like a statue but a reciprocal movement like a dance. It grows with trust, courage, self-disclosure and feedback and withers without them. This movement unfolds between separateness and togetherness, nourishing each others self-differentiation rather than each meshed in a dissolution of selves like a scrambled egg.

Differentiation requires identity development - you have to know yourself and your innards in order to share your self with another. Knowing oneself requires the ability to stand for yourself without taking over another or losing yourself in another. This is an unlikely occurrence in youth. Yet the peer orientation of our culture means that kids are looking to their peers for secure attachment and intimacy.

Some lose themselves in the first flush of love but 'falling in love' is a little different from psychological intimacy.

Some are engulfed by their families - not close nor intimate even though they say they came from a 'very close family'. The mafia could be described as a 'close' family, even a caring family. Some know no other pattern than the fuser/isolator, pursuer/distancer as the norm.

Poor development of psychological intimacy can lead to getting too close too quickly; struggling to find a boundary that sustains connection; being poorly skilled as a friend, rejecting self-disclosure or even rejecting friendships and those who have them.

Functional/dysfunctional healthy/unhealthy relationship are epic and false dichotomies. There are significant variations in any relationship over a decade, a year and even within a day.

If you get these relationship processes working well, psychological intimacy and good parenting will most likely follow. Parenting is one way psychological intimacy.

Peer orientation

The main event that precipitates suicide in young people is peer bullying, victimization or rejection.

It is not the bad behaviour of parents (though that may have thrown them into the arms of their peer group).

Children cannot bring each other up.

Yet youth culture replaces parents with peers who are not willing to sacrifice their own growth for a peer as a parent would do. The natural line of attachment in warm blooded creatures is vertical to the parents not horizontal to the peers.

The peer orientation has become so commonplace that it is now perceived as the norm. When children are asked to define themselves they often do not even refer to their parents.

We now get research results like that demonstrating 50% of the influence on who the person becomes in adult life are the genes and the other 50% of influence are the peers. Those results are not wrong but they ought to be a wake up call.

Peers cannot provide the experience of secure attachment or a safe harbour where the brain responds with hormones that tranquillize the body, soothe the soul and teach the benefits of intimacy, so kids reach for drugs both prescription and illicit.

The breakdown of this natural pattern of child development since WWII has contributed to a widespread loss of healthy development of attachment and intimacy in young people. I recommend the book "Hold on to your kids - why parents need to matter more than peers" by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate.

1.01 Healthy relationship

Healthy families are built around secure attachment bonds of loving adults living humanely. We tend to mature into the adult who loves and cares for themselves as we were cared for as children. This manifests in how we love and care for others, including family pets and working animals.

Many of my clients have exceeded the limitations of terrible childhoods through the presence of a secure attachment in marriage.

A healthy parental relationship is securely contained in boundaries that delineate or differentiate parents/partners from the generation below and the generations above. Family members can be close whilst maintaining a sense of personal identity and agency. Implicit and explicit communication is satisfying.

These are the foundations of safety and intimacy in childhood and in adult life. Deficient in these we are likely to feel more isolated than is useful to creativity and mental health. More on Erik Erickson's view of intimacy and isolation.

In a healthy relationship:

  • There is spoken and unspoken dialogue. It is frank and direct with space for difference in world views.
  • There is empathy, that accurate under-standing of the other's world as seen, felt and understood from the inside.
  • We are curious about how the other thinks as well as what they think.
  • There is room for individuality and at the same time the couple is unambiguously cohesive.
  • Power is thus distributed equally and conflict handled transparently through negotiation, without force or threat.
  • Each can fully express strong emotion and deepest fear without abuse or causing harm.
  • They show consistent discipline with the kids, not involving them in the normal disagreements of the adults.
  • There is forgiveness and redemption, which releases each without charge, from bondage to past, present or future.
  • Together, these provide conditions hostile to dishonesty and entrapment and welcoming of deep democracy.

Just as significant as good parenting are the genes you carry and the ones you gave your kids. Next in significance are the peer groups you can select (or they fall into) as your kids grow.

Necessarily, each adult relationship recapitulates how psychological intimacy was expressed or implied in the family of origin. Where there is wounding in this vulnerability, healthy psychological intimacy will provide an opportunity for healing.

External Resources:

  • Here's the Australian raising kids site and two US parenting sites: child development institute and zero to three.
  • We have found parent line very useful for everyday ideas and for support in challenging times. Here are telephone numbers in each state of Australia or call 1300 30 1300. Here are links to parentline worldwide.
  • Dr Green's website is useful for all things pediatric.
  • More on nature/nurture and on twins studies, on site.

1.1 Unhealthy family process

What all unhealthy families have in common is their inability to discuss "root" problems. There may be other problems that are discussed, often ad nauseam, but these often cover up the underlying secrets. Robin Norwood

All forms of psychological dysfunction are attempts at simplifying experience, alleviating uncomfortable feelings or managing difficult adjustments. Therefore, they are considered creative adaptations to inhospitable situations in a person's life. In dysfunction there is a loss of a clear internal awareness (needs, wants, and desires) and self-responsiveness (experiences and good contact). Free flowing and flexible contact is blocked and/or distorted; erroneous conclusions about the world, other people and him/herself are drawn and acted upon." Quoted from this overview.

It is unhealthy when at least two people (and their extended families and even their nation) are joined on a journey that fills one or other's perceived deficiencies in a way that damages either or both. The resultant relationship may be described as pathological enmeshment and/or pathological distance - two sides of the same coin. This results in the anomie, alienation or estrangement that travels alongside a feeling of exclusion, unbelonging and loneliness.

The kids in these families get stuck in some of these roles: family hero, placator, scapegoat, lost child and mastermind. The roles tend to outlive the family and self-replicate in a family of the next generation. Members also tend to reproduce the imbalances across time and place. For example, many struggle with repetitive dysfunctions in achievement, power and affiliation in friendship, community groups and at work.

Employees in a dysfunctional culture ... persist in applying old (and irrelevant) strategies to new problems denying their obsolescence and blaming external causes and individuals for their failure, rather than violate the culture. Source

This is a kind of transgenerational entrapment. A member of this kind of family or organisation feels disloyal if they choose autonomy and health. Just as a government whistle blower can expect ostracism and scapegoating as a disgruntled traitor, so too will a family member who blows the whistle on abuse.

Some of the most destructive family interactions take place in cross generational alliances violating boundaries that protect the integrity and safety of children or the solidarity of the parental/marital relationship. Perverse triangles portray a parent-child alliance pitted against the other parent, often posing split loyalty conflicts for the child where the love of the one parent comes at the cost of discounting the other parent. In contrast, when boundaries are overly restrictive and prohibitive, interpersonal connections are also impaired, often experienced in a sense of isolation and alienation. Source

Family life is depicted here in these observations of 6 family types attending a neuro trauma intensive care unit: supportive, culturally diverse, overbearing, demanding, dysfunctional, and nonexistent. There are more ideas about dysfunctional family here.

In fiction there are limitless sources in black comedy; in cartoons like The Simpsons and in the lives and eviscerating genius of play write Tennessee Williams and artist Francis Bacon.

I came from the dysfunctional family and am still thriving! Resilience, the kindness of strangers and genetics make a difference. And there is good luck, which is hard to account for.

1.2 Signs at the border of healthy

When you love someone, you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same way, from moment to moment. It is an impossibility. It is even a lie to pretend to. And yet this is exactly what most of us demand. We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity - in freedom, in the sense that the dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern.

The only real security is not in owning or possessing, not in demanding or expecting, not in hoping, even. Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now. Relationships must be like islands, one must accept them for what they are here and now, within their limits - islands, surrounded and interrupted by the sea, and continually visited and abandoned by the tides. Anne Morrow Lindbergh 1906 - 2001

A. One way to mark the border between healthy and unhealthy relationship is by the ratio of positive to negative interactions.

The optimal ratio is five positive interactions to one negative. Loving behaviour is positive and leaves you feeling good about yourself, feeling accepted and cared for by another. Negative behaviour leaves you feeling diminished or belittled. As the interactions increasingly deteriorate to below that optimum ratio, reaching five negatives to one positive and worse, the situation becomes more damaging to respect, esteem and dignity.

Put downs, the silent treatment, stonewalling, feeling like you fail every test they set you and emotional blackmail delivered without a word are all negative and leave you feeling yuk.

B. Another way to notice the crossing is by the presence of learned helplessness. This is based on three things:

  • Internal blaming - "It's me!"
  • Global distortion - "It'll affect everything I do!"
  • Stability generalization - "It will last forever!"

Constant criticism of children teaches helplessness and can manifest in their adulthood as clinical depression.

C. The presence of chronic and likely psychosomatic illness (now an outdated term) and depression in one of the partners or kids is also an indicator that your family has entered a damaging cycle. Significantly, one of the most effective treatments for depression is couples therapy.

D. The sense that interactions accumulate debt or avoid re-payment signal an interaction that is more strategic than intimate. Strategic interactions are conditional - you rub my back I'll rub yours, screw with me and you'll never work in this town again. They are necessary in commerce but indebtedness and emotional tradeoffs make a mess of intimacy. 'Emotional Blackmail - When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation and Guilt To Manipulate You' by Susan Forward - review on site.

1.3 Minimizing the damage at the border

People crossing from unhealthy to healthy relationship behaviour become aware of how they have minimized the legacy of damage from their parents behaviour. They start to catch themselves behaving in a similar way when, for example, they automatically put their loved ones down.

One way to cope with disrespect and neglect in childhood is by not feeling its impact and minimizing the effects. Even physical abuse by a violent, alcoholic parent will be minimized in our minds in order to survive the uncertainty. My article on mending a broken relationship describes how good people get to behave monstrously at home.

Most dysfunctional families are not loud nor obviously damaging.

Two parents quietly living separate lives with no expression of affection between them - no drama or abuse. Just a dead marriage held together by kids who themselves can feel in the way or a burden. All the toys in the world and money as teenagers only keeps the kids away from emotionally unavailable parents.

Perhaps one of the parents meets their emotional needs through one of the kids, but not always. Perhaps there is no clear boundary where the parents end and the kids begin - like a happy hour club of children and grown up children (the biological parents) that has lost its way.

Sometimes one of the kids, the eldest usually, takes over. That pattern continues into that child's 30's and 40's, when I get to see them exhausted from keeping their own and their sibling's families together. Sometimes even of keeping their parent's marriage together. Sometimes they marry someone who needs looking after - which might be fun until their own kids come along.

About a third of my work is assisting mid life adults to separate from their parents and families of origin.

As grown ups we tell ourselves we are over it or it's in the past or 'that was just the way they were, they couldn't help it' or 'others have had worse'. We can then talk in an off handed way about how truly terrible our parents were, even laughing about it (which is healthy) and not noticing either that we were damaged by their behaviour nor that we inflict the same on those near and dear to us, without reflecting on the consequences.

Loved ones may remind us that we behave in a similar way, but as one injured in childhood and unaware of its cost, we don't easily come to a recognition of the injuries we inflict on our children or lovers. More likely we deny it.

Accusations like 'you're just like your mother/father' hinder coming to terms with the obvious when we are still defending against knowing that truth about ourselves.

Often it is the last person we would ever want to be like, or the one we most fear we will become.

Numb blocks it all out until we begin to move cross the border to a shocking awakening.

1.4 Dysfunction is often a clue to desire

In breaking up the structures and securities of which we were once so sure, pathology can also lead to moral development as we take a fresh perspective on ourselves and our relationships. In bringing ourselves face to face with the darkest corners of our experience we become deeper and more complete as individuals. Source.

One of my friends went in to a severe depression after the birth of his first son. They had a completely exhausting first six months following birth complications. He was effectively on duty 24 hours a day for mother and babe. He reached a place where he didn't care if the child lived or died, if his wife survived or not. He became secretive and suicidal. At the bottom of this pit, he heard himself say, 'This has gone far enough. She is just a baby. I'm the grown up here'. And at that point he recalls the turn around, which has marked the rest of his life for the good.

He had a deep desire for a health but had struggled to find it since his own childhood had been marred by parental neglect. Asleep in his 'pathology' was growth and maturity. It took the birth of his child to send him down and his love for that child to bring him back up.

1.5 Parenting in a troubled marriage

Infants born to parents in marriages rated as troubled by the researchers cried and fussed more and were less engaged with their mothers and fathers, compared with infants born to happy couples, according to the study, which was conducted by Alyson Shapiro, working with Dr. Gottman. Parents in unhappy marriages cooperated less in playing with their babies, and spoke less positively to them.

While happily married dads tended to support their babies' play and heed the infants' signals, unhappily married dads tended to withdraw or over stimulate their babies, making them cry. Unhappily married mothers also tended to over stimulate the babies, giving them less space to regain self-control and causing them to stop paying attention. "You can see the conflict between parents reflected" in the babies' responses, says Dr. Gottman. Source

1.6 Good parenting

Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant. R L Stevenson. Seedsmen reckon that their stock in trade is not seeds at all ... it's optimism. Geoff Hamilton

If you get the right balance of high functional and low dysfunctional most of the time, good parenting is a likely outcome.

This can depend a lot on who your co-parent is, the cards you and they were dealt and with how each exceeds those historical limitations. More on my pre-marriage education page.

The studies of twins separated at birth indicate that apart from genes, the influence of parents on their child's adult behaviour and attitudes is negligible. This is both relieving and humbling - we are the fruit of many lives. And yet this is also a self-limiting view, since we teach children our language in the womb and in arms; we teach and show a set of values and demonstrate tools for thinking. Together these influence the course of many lives.

To fully understand our child and any adult with whom we might consider shared parenting, we would do well to observe or learn about their grandparents and great grandparents - their influence, values and their genes.

Each party to a marriage brings an established and proven culture (or a rejection of that culture) of leisure activities, child rearing, partnership, of its stable values, rituals and roles. With:

  • a set of spoken and unspoken rules, for example whether to stew on conflict, hide it under the carpet, use the silent treatment or manage the underlying differences early and consciously
  • a set of rules about rule making for example, I'm the boss and you'll do what I say, not what I do; we're a collaborative team or no-one has a monopoly on solutions, and
  • rules about rule breaking for example, you hurt me so it's okay for me to break rules until you say you're sorry
  • with preferred methods for expressing conflict, for resolving conflict or even denying it exists
  • for hearing and of being heard
  • of thinking for oneself
  • for saying hello and good bye

These also will be married or not. Each are built on inherited temperaments that make certain attitudes and behaviours more preferable than others.

On these are built a family's culture.

Whether you know it or not, like it or lump it, you marry a family, its history, culture and its genes. They are carried, often asleep in your beloved's and your children's habits.

Your habits and theirs, agreed or not, will grow your family and your kids, in which ever combinations you choose to know and meld them or not.

Inconsistent parenting styles, conflicts in philosophies of child rearing and poor boundaries between generations arise from differences in family histories and temperaments.

Ignored, they can make the task of child rearing and problem solving a living hell for all those affected.

Respected and managed consciously and intentionally, the differences will nourish responsible, respectful and resilient kids who celebrate difference as well as sameness and who have a range of options to choose from for a happy and fulfilling life.

Virginia's Satir's 5 freedoms:

To See and Hear what is here instead of what should be, was, or will be.
• To Say what one feels and thinks instead of what one should.
• To Feel what one feels instead of what one ought.
• To Ask for what one wants, instead of always waiting for permission.
• To Take Risks in one's own behalf, instead of choosing to be only 'secure' and not rocking the boat.

On spirituality and mental maps. And an excerpt from John Cleese on families.

1.7 Resilience and esteem

Feelings of worth can flourish only in an atmosphere where individual differences are appreciated, mistakes are tolerated, communication is open, and rules are flexible - the kind of atmosphere that is found in a nurturing family. Virginia Satir

I think the goal of parenting is to produce resilient, stress hardy kids who love life, think critically about it and live it in a balanced way. Here is how to raise resilient kids.

An obvious outcome is self-esteem and learned optimism.

The foundation of good parenting are in healthy attachment, in due care and free attention, each explored in the sections immediately below:

1.8 Bonding and attachment patterns

'Bonding patterns are often characterised by an incredibly high level of 'not seeing' or 'not noticing' on both sides, yet identifying the underlying vulnerability is essential if you are to understand a bonding pattern. If you can stay in awareness long enough to see the primary self driving the pattern (and separate from it) then see your own underlying vulnerability (and your partner's too) you can get yourself out of the pattern.' Quoted from growing aware.

How to get out of adverse bonding patterns.

'We have such a close family, I feel everything my mother is going through', said one of my friends in her 30's about her mum in her 60's. On closer examination this points to her parent's marriage, which many years ago proved unable to support her mum emotionally. It was a large family in the bread winner father, home maker mother hierarchical, 17th Century model.

As an example of this model, my friend's mum inevitably gravitated to the support of her children who in effect became spouses, help-mates and confidants. Where one ended and the other began was not at all clear. The primary relationships in the family thus became that between mum and the kids, and that between dad and his work.

Two half people do not make a whole and their relationship tends to draw children into a desperate togetherness described as a close family, as in: we're a very close family. Sticky is the feeling, like molasses. Death of that parent usually returns a sense of power and agency to the affected, adult children.

A signature of a healthy family is that each individual has agency to the extent their maturity allows and that the primary relationship is the marriage. The kids are kept outside that marital boundary. But in the type of family above, each child may come to feel or reject the feeling of enmeshment and of being responsible for mum. Some of the adult kids may experience this as a burden and some may blame others for not doing enough yet, all can describe this as a 'close family'.

If the adult children are also coupled, their partners may experience these in-laws as ever present and not always when the extended family is 'in crisis'.

Not surprisingly most of the kids have troubled adult relationships, since in effect each has a prior commitment to mum and to their siblings to whom they are 'very close'. As part of the pattern, they may also distance their own partners to the position their dad occupied in the emotional landscape of his marriage or choose distant partners who occupy that spot naturally.

They too may 'marry' one or a number of children to compensate for the shortfall in emotional support of the marriage and maybe their kids (the grandchildren of the pattern makers) may describe a very close family around the distant marriage of their own parents. The 'closeness' is in that sense unreal.

Generations of kids could hold these marriages together, putting other's needs ahead of their own, whilst themselves feeling emotionally empty and continue to promote the mythology of a 'close family' to themselves and others. This would feel weird sometimes, when believing in a close family and experiencing the lack of it or the emptiness inside.

Sometimes the partners run down their own spouse to the others as a kind of in-joke, which re-iterates the criticism they heard from mum when dad left on a number of occasions, later to return.

I know this family dynamic so well, it is my own foster family, and it is the family of some of my friends and some of my clients. The enmeshed parent can instead be the father, with mother as the distant one and similarly in same sex relationships.

It is the Anglo-Celtic owning class family, possibly with an academic or workaholic professional parent or parents. It is the cultural background of our government. It describes the emotional life of this nation, our clinging to Empire values (a close family, save the world) and to colonial relationships with Asia (they need us), longing for that bond with the old family (roots), sticking to the national flag and hugging the edges of the Australian continent, a vast (empty) space in the centre that we're afraid to inhabit, where we hide from ourselves the disavowed and the dispossessed. Among the worst indigenous health housing in the world.

1.9 Due care includes

  • tender, response-able parent/s having a moral centre of gravity akin to tough love
  • who respect their bodies, themselves and their children, and
  • welcome self-expression, even of uncomfortable thoughts and feelings and have
  • empathy for each other's feelings, interest in what each other has to say, and this expectation of being understood encourages members to respond to each other with concern and action. Beavers
  • knowing, agreeing, setting and maintaining clear boundaries and limits, which kids will test
  • with a family life rich in ritual e.g. eating together, long hellos and goodbyes, shared leisure activities
  • with a 'good enough' sense of belonging and acceptance where each person is held in esteem and
  • each feels valued and useful through their acts of service, words of affirmation, quality time, thoughtful gifts, and physical touching
  • in a family that does not revolve around the children or one of them nor around third parties such as in-laws, friends, alcohol and/or work, and with
  • a straightforward or unambiguous love-hate relationship with the parent/s that can be spoken about. When you love you love, when hate you hate, and
  • without a crazy making mix of the two that takes the rest of an adult life to untangle.

Love and hate, envy and gratitude, guilt and reparation are basic pairs present (and sometimes denied) in every significant relationship. Awareness, understanding and articulation of each is necessary for growth to maturity and in the capacity for concern.

1.10 Free attention

It is that part of my awareness that is not preoccupied with internal noise, external distractions or being upset or re-stimulated by our children's behaviour. It is about how present I can be in the moment. I want to have enough free attention to deal effectively with what is happening, to anticipate likely consequences of my failure to do so and yet to enjoy the moment with the innocence of beginners mind:

not knowing is most intimate. dizan

Many wonderful things come in from left field, just out of awareness. There is a sense of perfection when that happens and one has the free attention to notice it and to engage with it fully. I love happy surprises especially when I have the time to savor them. However, some terrible things can come at you from from left field.

Most accidents at home occur in a moment, where there is insufficient attention to attend to a foreseeable risk. Such as non-enzyme based dishwashing powder left open on the bench top whilst answering the front door. Swallow a little of that and you can look forward to three or more years of reconstructive surgery before the child can eat normally, if they survive. 60% of cases in NZ reportedly invovle one brand of powder, which is in a brightly-coloured bottle, has a wide mouth nozzle and a non-child-resistant lid.

Poisons Information Centre 13 11 26 Australia wide, 24 hours

A child can drown in 10 cm of water in the time it takes to answer a phone. Toddlers drown in buckets, toilet bowls and through hair entrapment hazards in spas that are without an automatic shut off switch when obstructed. The majority drown in bath tubs. Swimming pool fences and gates are poorly maintained in Australia. You can't rely on your neighbour to maintain their pool gate locks.

To free up attention requires setting priorities for how we spend our time and to whom we give our attention, including ourselves. Especially ourselves, when we have a busy family. Lack of attention to our own needs and wants teaches the very thing many adults lack in making effective choices - the skill and the time to reflect. It is the basis of relationship risk management and of defensive driving, for example.

Good modeling of this process can set a lifetime pattern of wisdom in relationship at home and at work.

To not do so is placing unwanted limitations on our kids capacity to enjoy spaciousness in their own heads - drug and anxiety free.

And it places unnecessary pressure on us to fulfil our duty of care and attention.

These processes grow together into how the adult loves and cares for themselves or not, whether full and empty in free attention, rich or poor in tenderness and vulnerability, with clear boundaries and capacity for concern. It grows with how they love and care for significant others, including the family pets or working animals.

Failure to grow leads to a denial of life and of lived experience and perverting the course of love and sex.

Some accept and care more for their belongings or other people than they do for their primary relationships. Many a mid life crisis is born of this neglect.

1.11 Managing problems

People become more degenerate, argumentative, agitated, and aggressive at home than at work. Conflicts lie at the core of emotional distress; effective conflict resolution brings resumption of emotional well being.

When life issues are unexpressed or un-acknowledged, they become locked in 'frozen blocks of time'. These frozen blocks of time stop the normal grief process, denying the child the ability to grieve. It can feel as if life stops and time stands still. The natural flow of feelings is inhibited. There is no movement forward until the issues are resolved and the feelings released. Quoted from childrens grief site.

Kids can suss when they're being conned, when parents say everything's cool and it is not - some kids more so than others. Depending on their age and awareness, children's needs are for a consistent, effective parenting style; safety; security; peace and parental fidelity. What parents say is what they mean and that is what they do.

Kids are naturally resilient and they respond well to age appropriate information. They can sense unfinished business and that can keep them hunting for information they don't actually want or need. They thrive on love, respect and honesty. They grow to embrace the crazy world we live in because they were believed in by one person who never gave up on them. No matter how tough their life's challenges might be, no matter what the cards they were dealt, one person stood by them, all the way.

That teaches them to first support themselves when facing adversity and then to reach out and help others. It is the oxygen mask rule that we hear every time we board a plane. Put the mask on yourself first and then attend to the children.

When there is absence of malice, time to think and the will of both parents to develop win-win, collaborative solutions, there are few family crises that can't be honoured and cared for through to a robust reconciliation and healing. If there are insufficient resources within the couple, extended family or close friends to facilitate it, there are competent family counselors and child psychologists available both in face to face contact, over the phone and some via email.

In rural and remote areas the latter methods are vital. The first aid page has some useful first contacts. Many parent help lines are free calls. A sensible resource is here and a pamphlet on helping children and resources on talking to youth about crisis.

Here is information on how a family system works and the triangles that shape family life. Here are resources on empathic listening; emotional intelligence; and turning points in relationship.

1.12 Food/mood connection

As many as 75% of the adult population have some kind of food intolerance, selectively managed without awareness of the particular natural food chemical that causes the problem. Children are not so selective nor observant of mood changes in reaction to food.

With fractious child behaviour and persistent developmental problems, consider food intolerances or allergy first. It can save the child (and parent) from intrusive and prognostically worthless medical interventions. Common intolerances are to: dairy, wheat, soya, salicylates, amines (or histamine like substances) and free glutamates.

Food allergy is somewhat easier to pick than intolerance. Food intolerance manifests after enough of the natural food chemical is accumulated from a range of foods over a number of days to exhibit a perceptible reaction.

With the support of a dietitian, the RPAH elimination diet interspersed with food challenges (to establish the threshold for a perceptible reaction) is the failsafe, empirical way to test for single or combined food intolerances in children and adults. It can take some months to accurately identify the problem food chemical/s in this way.

Unrecognised food intolerances lead to significant disease risks later in life, so the time spent sorting it out is also an investment in the future.

© Ziji Fox 2005 - 2012 All Rights Reserved

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