My little sister doesn’t yet have children of her own, and I notice that she has a great many more beefs than I do about how our mother raised us. Now that her maternal clock is ticking in overdrive, sometimes I wish I could impress upon her that mothering takes a LONG TIME, and in that duration of eighteen plus years, major change is going to rock the boat at some point. You can count on it.
In the face of such upheaval, our performance as parents and heck, even our values, are put to the test. Still, these are the times our children are likely to remember, just as we often look back on them with some dismay ourselves. But take heart! It’s possible to build healthy habits now in times of peace that will help us parent gracefully through those challenging times that are waiting just around the corner.
Here’s how I found out the hard way…
I had a six week old and a three-year old when our house caught fire. But wait – that was the easy part! Four weeks after that, my husband told me he felt most comfortable wearing women’s clothes. (This is the part where you are invited to smack your palm against your forehead. I did.) Fortunately, we had been happily married for several years when these events snuck up on us, and I’d set some of the following practices in place without knowing it. The others, I picked up pronto.
My daily recipe for inner peace…
If the above story provides me with anything like credentials, I urge you to cook up some part of this recipe daily.
- One part empathy. If you don’t feel proficient in giving or receiving non-judgmental empathy, check out Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication model at cnvc.org. Whatever practice you choose to follow, remember it’s important to cultivate focused presence, curiosity about core feelings and needs, and an intention to connect (not heal, get your way, or calm someone down). I give myself empathy, too, but it is often most effective at first to find a trained or naturally talented listener to help us process our emotions so we have space to then listen to our partners and children empathetically and without judgment.
- One part self care. I’m not talking about watching my favorite show on T.V. By all means, that can be self care if I am consciously choosing it, but not if I plop down out of habit or to escape. I find that my most effective self care is time spent doing things that make me feel alive and connected to my source/God/Spirit. I write, dance, create, and spend time in nature. I do yoga and meditate. This self care plan helps me feel restored and rejuvenated and can put hard times in perspective.
- One part radical honesty. It is dangerous to withhold one’s personal truth for long, even for the sake of keeping the peace. When I was not yet ready to be honest with my husband about how I felt about gender dysphoria (a condition where one does not identify with the gender one is assigned at birth) disrupting our marriage, I actively processed my darker feelings to get clarity for later self expression. Then I shared my truth with “I” language and objective observations. I took ownership and responsibility for my feelings and needs then followed them up with effective, doable, and considerate requests.
- One part gratitude. Research shows that when we share or journal at least three new gratitudes a day, we develop an experienced eye to find more things to be grateful for. Expressing gratitude is a way to inspire the same in others and cultivate a habit of joy in ourselves. And gratitude, like humor, offers us a special ringside seat to the mud wrestling pit of our personal transformation. The view from there is infinitely superior.
- Three parts connection to your deepest value(s). A parenting mentor of mine called this the “taproot” to our tree of motherhood. What do you hold most dear as a parent, perhaps as a human? Spend time with that. Likely it’s a value that you want your kids to absorb and carry on. For me, that value is to see the good in everyone and trust that every behavior is an attempt to meet a need. This core value helps me find compassion and curiosity, even when I am in pain. If we are clear about what our taproot value is, we find strength in it even when the strongest winds blow. We remember in times of stress: Oh yes, this is why I’m still here trying.
In the end, my husband’s transgender experience initiated a transformation in me and our family that has reshaped our constellation entirely. With empathy, my husband and I kept our hearts open to one another during a massive restructuring. Radical honesty supported us in expressing our truths in caring and respectful ways. Self care and gratitude restored me to my personal best so I had the spaciousness to connect with my core values and could walk my talk, parenting and partnering in my integrity.
Our kids know they can talk to us about anything and that we are committed to each other as a family at all costs. We have been creative in problem-solving through this transition and have not given up on our personal needs as parents. My former husband is now my parenting partner, a woman named Seda, and she lives in her own wing. I have a sweetheart, Richard, who cooks for us (he’s a chef) five nights a week. All five of us, six with Richard’s son, play football, board games, and watch movies together under one roof.
Our home is harmonious and happy in ways I’d never dreamt it could be. Not that I would have gone looking for it! Turns out that inner peace can contribute to outer peace in the most unexpected and glorious of ways. I’m grateful for that learning.
Kristin K. Collier is an educator and writer from Eugene, OR. Her words have appeared in The Sun magazine, and her poetry is a frontispiece for Michael and Kathleen O’Neal Gear’s People of the Sea. She has been teaching Compassionate Communication since 2004. Collier and her spouse were featured in NPR’s program, Snap Judgment, in their Valentine’s 2012 edition. Housewife: Home-remaking in a Transgender Marriage available on Amazon and at all major bookstores. For more information, please visit www.kristinkcollier.com and connect on Facebook and Twitter.