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How to Parent in Captivity

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We are now eight weeks into Covid-19. For most of us, this isn’t what we signed up for.

We imagined what parenting would look like. We imagined we would send our children off to school with a healthy lunch, make them a snack when they come home, help them with their homework, make sure they get an hour or two outdoors, enjoy each other’s company around the family dinner table and later, send the kids off to bed. Afterward, you and your partner would enjoy some one-on-one time before getting some sleep. Tomorrow would be rinse and repeat.

Instead, we’re navigating working from home, while policing our children’s online schooling, nagging them over too much screen time, keeping them from going outside, and are the front line of defense when they crave entertainment.

And, though it’s hopefully going better than expected, it’s not going as well as you had hoped. “This is parenting in captivity,” according to John P. Morgan, coach, philosopher, and family man. John helps entrepreneurs and creatives around the world to find true freedom, feel more love, and have more power to create what they want. And he has some wise words to share about not just how to survive this pandemic, but how to thrive.

I spoke with John, himself a father of two, in the height of the stay-at-home ordinances. He likened parenting in captivity to the physics concept of thermodynamics, which goes as follows. Whenever you shrink the volume of a container, the intensity and heat inside the container increase. You can shrink the volume of a fishbowl by adding more fish, and you can shrink the volume of a household by adding more people at any one time. As a result, the intensity and heat inside our homes are increasing.

He explains, “When I make bone broth in my slow cooker it can take 48 hours, whereas if I do so in my pressure cooker it takes only two hours. The difference is obviously that the pressure cooker is under higher pressure. But the reason it can be under higher pressure is that the container is strong enough to contain the pressure. As a result, the container is able to cook and transform its contents.”

In the age of Covid, many of us are realizing our containers are not always up to the task. As intensity increases, the top blows off, we lose our composure, are reactive and quick to anger.

So I asked John, how do you strengthen the container in a relationship? He answered with one word - love. The stronger the love, the more intensity the container can hold. And the more intensity the container can hold, the more transformation, evolution, and creativity of everyone and everything inside of it. High-pressure environments require an intense amount of love in order to hold that intensity.

What does intense love look like?

John describes intense love this way. When things heat up in our relationships, we can choose to either fight or run from it. For example, when your child doesn’t want to do her homework, you can fight with her and force her to do so, or you can wash your hands of it and give up. These are the two classic options, neither of which is ideal. When you stay and fight, it eats you up on the outside, and when you walk away, it eats you up on the inside. As a result, your relationship oscillates between fight and flight, neither of which feels good to you or your daughter.

But there is a third option -- the transcendent one. The transcendent option is when you take a stand for and with your daughter about how much she will grow and thrive when she does her homework.

Having similar struggles with my own child, I asked for more details.

“The difference sounds subtle, but it’s night and day,” he told me. “When you take a stand for what your daughter will gain when she does her homework, you are not walking away from the situation, but neither are you compelling her to do her homework. You obviously want what’s best for her, but at the same time, you don’t presume that your preconception of what’s best for her is indeed true for her. When you take a stand for your daughter and her homework from a place of love, and not from a place of stress and fear, you enable your daughter to find the inspiration within herself to do her work.”

I spoke with one of John’s clients, who described for me his own journey toward intense love.

“John helped me with the distinction between having unconditional love, and being unconditionally loving,” he explained. “This distinction came up in the context of wanting to change my son. He was very involved in his PlayStation, and I was seeing it as a problem for the future. I was becoming rigid in the way I was approaching him and kind of adamant that he had to comply with my desire for him to come off of this thing.

“John asked me to consider how he was experiencing me as somebody who claimed to have unconditional love for him. He also challenged me to see that the quality of the relationship that we shared and the connection we had was far more important than any one particular behavior or activity that he was engaged in. I saw that being so rigid was actually driving a rift between us, which was far more damaging than the actual activity that he was engaging in.

“The effect was a softening of the heart. Instead of being triggered by him, seeing him and feeling anger and a sense of urgency arise and reacting in a confrontation, there was a softening, I would say allowing, of what he was doing. And John’s challenge was actually even more fundamental than that. Can you love him playing PlayStation? Can you actually love that he's doing that right now? You know, it's taken me some time. And that's what's happened. I can see that he's happy. He's engaging in some kind of social connection with his friends.”

He chose the transcendent option. He neither walked away from his son’s abundant screen time nor did he fight it. He unconditionally loved his son through it. He and his son grew closer. And, over time, his son started putting down his video games all on his own and asked for his father’s help with college applications.

In order to be able to find that third option, the transcendent perspective, you must begin with a peaceful heart. A peaceful heart is one without judgement, without story. If anything you do or don’t do leads you to feel that you’re not a good parent or good partner, it’s the story of what a good parent or partner is that’s causing the harm, not you.

For example, if your son doesn’t brush his teeth, you tell yourself you’re not a good mother. If your daughter doesn’t obey you, you tell yourself you’re not a good father. If your child plays video games all day, he’s destroying his future which you tell yourself means you’ve done a bad job.

It’s not the teeth, the disobedience, or the video games that are causing your heart to not be at peace. Rather, it’s how you judge yourself and your child that does so.

After all, a peaceful heart does not judge.

Dropping the story frees your heart.

John teaches that you can start dropping your story today. Here’s how.

  1. The next time your child or partner triggers a story in you that you’re not good enough, notice the story. What are you telling yourself? Is there something wrong with you? Or wrong with your child or partner?

  2. Notice whether the story you’re telling yourself is bringing you peace or bringing you stress. If the story brings you peace. Keep it.

  3. If the story brings you stress, ask yourself if the stress you’re feeling is helping or hurting the relationship.

  4. If you can, imagine how you’d engage with your child (or partner, friend, et. al.) without that stressful story.

  5. The story will probably not disappear all at once. But, the more you shine light on who you’d be without the story, without the stress, the story loosens its hold, little by little.

An example will help elucidate this.

  1. Let’s say you just found out your child has not been keeping up with his online school work during Covid-19. You tell yourself that your child is failing school, that he’ll never get into college, and never get a good job. You also tell yourself that you’ve failed as a parent because you should have been checking up on your child and not letting him fall behind.

  2. The story you’re telling yourself about how you’re failing as a parent, and that your child is failing out of school, is bringing you stress.

  3. Ask yourself if the stress you’re feeling is helping or hurting the relationship. If I had to guess, the stress is not only hurting your relationship, but you’ve probably already said some things that you wish you could take back.

  4. Now imagine you and your child interacting without the story that he’s failing school or you’re failing him. Without the story, you and your child would just be interacting and engaging. Maybe you’d be working together on his school work, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company.

  5. The story will probably not disappear all at once. But, the more you shine light onto who you’d be without the story, without the stress, the story loosens its hold, little by little.

I have to admit. I have this fear that, if let go of the story that my son needs to do his homework, then he’ll end up becoming a high school dropout and it’ll be my fault.

John challenges us to question if this really true. As he’s experienced with hundreds of clients, getting rid of the story simply gets rid of the fighting, anger, and resentment. Dropping the story opens us up to the third possibility, of joining forces, finding the joy and love in both doing school work and in our relationship.

Once the story disappears, you can begin to access the transcendent option, where there is neither right nor wrong, good nor bad, but the possibility of creating through being unconditionally loving.

This is the container that is strong enough to transform anything inside. This is the home that is strong enough to transform anyone inside. By bringing intense love to our homes and relationships, we will not only survive this pandemic but will come out of it closer, stronger, and better than ever.

John works with leaders, entrepreneurs and artists to build beautiful relationships through a powerfully loving state of being. Sign up to receive John's Creating Insights by email and follow on social media

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