Monday, March 02, 2009

Mom to Mom: Inessa Love

I keep saying time and again that I'm the luckiest person on earth and having the opportunity to meet Inessa Love is just another example of why I believe it is so. I need to back up a bit in order to explain how I met Inessa.

For me motherhood is a constant learning experience. As I learn more about my son, I learn more about myself. And I come here to my diary and record my experience so that my son will have the story of our journey together and also so that those who feel compelled to read my journal might find some sort of foothold that saves them from the stumbling that I do along this path.

My third year of motherhood is the most challenging for me. For instance, when my triggers are pushed, I tend to revert to baggage from my own childhood...I raise my voice when I lose my patience. By nature I have a very soft and quiet voice so it actually takes quite a bit of energy and a LOT of frustration for me to get to that point. And I don't want to get to THAT point. I've been thinking so much about why this happens, why I raise my voice when I'm pushed beyond my limits and I believe it's because I feel that I'm not being heard, but not because I'm half Italian. So, if I feel like I'm not being heard, then perhaps I need to find a more effective way of communicating, right? And here is where I happened upon Nonviolent Communication...I read up on it, I watched Marshall speak about it and I thought that this can enrich every aspect of life, including parenting. My search led me to a parenting workshop in DC where I met Inessa....

Inessa Love
Of: Sebastian, 4.5 years old
Where: Washington DC
Website: Connection Times

1. In what ways has becoming a mother changed you?

I became a more loving person. I guess I must have been a loving person before that too, but becoming a mother helped me access that well of love inside of me. I had no idea I can experience so much love. Sometimes I go into my son’s room when he is sleeping and I sit there and watch him and I feel so much love for him that I cry. As I watch him learning new things every day, I admire this amazing little person that helps me remember the beauty and mystery of human experience.

I also became more confident. Before I had my son, I had no idea what this will be like and I had a lot of fear and anxiety about whether I will be able to handle being a mother; I felt very insecure. I was never a “baby person” – if anyone gave me a baby to hold, the baby will start crying within a matter of minutes. That has not changed since I had my son – I did fine with him when he was a baby, but I still don’t do well with other people’s babies :-)

But now, 4.5 years into it, I feel more confident than ever. It did not happen overnight, in fact this confidence is growing, as I am learning how to navigate this ever changing relationship, discovering what works and what does not, and experiencing “mini successes” (and sometimes major setbacks too). But I am very confident in the approach to parenting that I have chosen – which is inspired by Nonviolent Communication that I will speak about below.

2. What is one tip you would like to share about mothering?

I would say the major tip is being intentional about how you are as a parent. I am afraid that many people are “parenting by default,” either using the approaches they absorbed from their parents, or allowing themselves to be influenced by what others think they should do, or applying discipline techniques according to the latest book, without looking deeply into what kind of relationship they want to create with their children.

Yes, as parents we all, no matter how skillful we are, will do things we regret later. When it happens, the first thing I’d say is to have compassion for yourself. You are a human being, and you are here to learn (I believe). Be gentle with yourself; it’s no use to start beating yourself up – that is not the way we learn. I believe we learn best in the atmosphere of peace and compassion. So my second tip will be for parents to cultivate compassion for themselves.

Next, be intentional about what you want to do the next time a similar trigger happens. I believe it is very important to be intentional and ask yourself some important questions, such as: what kind of parent do I want to be, what is really important to me, what kind of person do I want my child to become, and what kind of relationship do I want to have with this person now and when he is grown up. Sometimes we are too busy to ask ourselves these questions, but I believe they are crucial to our satisfaction and enjoyment of parenting.

3. What is NVC and how did you find this path?

NVC, stands for Nonviolent Communication, is a way of relating to ourselves and each other that honors each individual and looks to find the beauty inside every one of us. This beauty is found through connecting to the deep yearnings we all share as human beings and qualities we all want to experience in life - such as love, friendship, understanding, empathy, choice, trust, meaning, harmony and many others. We refer to these qualities as “needs” although the word “need” does not really capture what we mean by it. The “needs” in NVC is what makes our hearts sing, which is not the same as it is used in common vernacular.

After being married for a few years, I had this sobering realization that I had to learn a different way of relating to my husband if I did not want to end up like my parents – divorced. My main way of coping with conflict was to have a few shots of vodka (to honor my Russian roots), but this never really helped. Then I came to NVC and it changed. Not overnight, in fact, it’s been a long process, sometimes painful and discouraging. One of the things I am really blessed with in this life is perseverance. I am so grateful I never gave up on our relationship. And now, after 6 years of consciously practicing NVC, I can say my relationship with my husband is better than ever and I am looking forward to our 10th anniversary that is coming up this August. I also have the best relationship with my Dad I’ve had in years; my Mom lives with us and we all get along great. But most of all, as I said above, I feel this has been the biggest blessing for me as a mother to have these skills for creating a relationship with my son that is mutually nourishing and fulfilling.

4. How can NVC be applied to parenting?

It has everything to do with how I am as a parent. NVC approach is what I would refer as a “partnership” approach to parenting. It’s in contrast to authoritarian, coercive, or “power-over” approach, in which the parent is “the boss”: “do as I say or else…” “because I said so” or “you have to … now!” Conversely, NVC is not a “permissive” approach either – i.e. “do whatever you want.”

In NVC both needs matter - my needs and my son’s needs. And it is not the case that my needs are more important because I am bigger and stronger. I let my son know that his needs matter to me. And gradually, I see signs that my needs and my well-being matter to him. Just the other night I had a bit of a rough time brushing his teeth (which took 10 minutes instead of regular 2 minutes, and I was exhausted by the process, but he seemed to be having fun). So after we were done, I said with some frustration in my voice: “Sometimes it is very difficult for me to brush your teeth, and I don’t like it” to which he replied in an empathetic tone: “I don’t like giving you a hard time.” That made up for those 10 minutes for me.

When we have a disagreement, I like to call it a dilemma, rather than a conflict. In conflict one person is up against the other one. In a dilemma, two people are thinking together how to resolve it. I say to my son: “here is a dilemma: you want X and I want Y, what are we going to do about it?” Sometimes he has an idea, which I welcome, and sometimes he says “I don’t know” and then I say: “ok, here is my proposal” and I describe my idea and then I ask what he thinks about it. If he does not agree, I ask him if he has another idea or proposal. (He learned the word proposal when he was barely 3 years old.) In the end we find what works for both of us. I invite him to be a partner in finding ways we resolve our differences. I share my power with him – I am not the boss. But I don’t give up on my needs either. It is a “beautiful dance.” Do you like to dance?

5. Please share how you used NVC in a difficult situation with son?

Please read this story that I wrote here
(Scroll to Connection Feature Article)

6. How has NVC enriched your relationship with your son?

Imagine trying to tune in the radio station that plays a beautiful song, but there is so much static that you can barely hear the song.

Now, think about relationships - there is a lot of potential for “static” in any relationship, and especially in parenting. The “static” is all the little or big conflicts we experience daily: getting dressed in the morning, eating, getting into the car, watching (or not watching) TV, cleaning the room, doing the homework, managing anger and aggression, taking things that belong to others, not telling the truth, you name it. Without skills, such as those taught by NVC, these conflicts break the connection between us and our children. This “static” blocks the love for each other that we all have in our hearts. Sometimes the static is so loud, we cannot hear the beautiful song - we cannot access that love. I think the reason I feel so much love for my son is because of my NVC skills, there is very little static in our relationship, and I can hear the song so clearly. And it is the biggest blessing I have experienced in life.

7. Where can others find NVC parenting workshops?

There are sometimes parenting workshops offered in Washington DC area – you could visit Capital NVC and sign up for our monthly newsletter to find out the next one. You could also attend non-parenting NVC workshops since all the tools of NVC could be applied to parenting situations. I am intending to teach another parenting class in April-May – so stay tuned.

8. I am thrilled to learn that you are organizing a Family Heart Camp on the East Coast. The thought of like-minded families all coming together for the sole purpose of learning, and growing for the greater good moves me deeply. Please share more about it.

I really want to support parents because I have so much compassion for parents. Parent-child relationship is a very meaningful relationship that has the power to shape the child’s life (and the parent’s life, for that matter). I also have so much compassion for children, who are often powerless, and don’t have access to resources, who are vulnerable and easily get hurt and misunderstood. The pain the children experience and the deep wounds they might be left with for the rest of their lives deeply concerns me. The parent-child bond is so strong, so archetypal, there is so much potential for joy and for pain in this relationship. My heart goes out to all parents and all children, who experience suffering.

Parenting is such a difficult job, and most unfortunately, in our society it is often a very solitary job. Parents are often struggling because of lack of skills and support, stretching between a day job, taking care of the home, maintaining the marriage and raising the family. It does not have to be that way! Family camp is a place where parents get the support they need and learn the skills to help create fulfilling relationships with their children that last a life time.

Click here to learn more about our Family Camp and come play with us. There will be free informational teleclasses about the Camp on March 2 and 7 – please visit the website for more info.

9. What grounds you, moves you, fills your well?

So many things. Being creative is one thing – writing, creating something. For example, I am finishing a CD with meditations inspired by NVC, called “The Heart of Connection.” This was very meaningful and fulfilling project. If you sign up for my newsletter, you will hear about it coming out in April. Last year I created a 5 minute video clip that I enjoyed creating (see below)

I also like working with people in private practice (I help individuals and couples learn these vital skills and rediscover the joy of connection) and I like giving workshops. I like spending quality time with my husband and I like to play. I like going for a walk, exercising, dancing, meditation, prayer and going on spiritual retreats.

Thank you for the questions! As I was writing the answers, I was really in touch with how grateful I am for all the blessings in my life!

*Most Alive Monday will resume next week.
OH!..and Happy Birthday, Ted!!!


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posted by Wendy at 5:54 AM


Blogger Spicy Sister said...

Nice to "meet" Inessa! Thanks for sharing this! And thanks Wendy for sharing about NVC - it is something I would love to learn more about as I came from a family rich with conflict and thick with old patterns of dealing with it. I see how I carry those patterns into my marriage and other relationships and how when I feel I must "win" - it means we both lose something. I want to relate to my son in new ways and I want him to see me relating to others in new ways that aren't about winning or being right or defeating someone else to get what we need - I am eager to find tools to do so.

10:20 AM  
Anonymous Stacy (mama-om) said...

When my son turned three, that was the beginning of my triggers, too. Parenting seemed to move into more emotional territory for me, and dredged up stuff I didn't know was there. There have been many discouraging times, but I try to think of them as part of the process of moving through.

I like Inessa's word "dilemma" -- I use the phrase "you would like X and your brother would like Y" often but I hadn't used dilemma before. I like it.

Thank you for a wonderful interview.

Blessings on your path (to you and Satch and your family; and to Inessa and her family, too)...


8:29 PM  
Anonymous pixie said...

I'm so happy to meet Inessa-W, thank you for bringing her to us! I love the premise and application of NVC and am grateful to have learned similar "skills" on the other side of the country before M was a year old. I do think it made the twos and now threes much, much easier on all of us. The sooner we can make peace with ourselves and our babes, the sooner we can have that deep relationship with them that isn't flavored by a constant struggle. I have learned many things here to add to the soup that is evolving parenthood! Thank you again, your interviews are so thoughtful! x0x0 pixie

11:20 PM  

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