3 Things Motherhood Has Taught Me About NVC
[Please note: The views and opinions expressed in each post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of BayNVC as a whole.]
Eight months ago my husband and I welcomed an adorable baby boy whom we named Sol. Transitioning into parenthood has been a whirlwind — lots of changes and novelty as we navigate this new territory. There has been a lot of learning about life, our new son, but also NVC, and I want to share what I’ve learned with you. Here are three lessons that I hope you’ll find useful too.
CURIOSITY CRUMBLES CONFLICT
One of the things I love about my son is that when I look into his eyes, I see wonder and curiosity. It seems to me he’s always asking the question, “What is that?” I notice that curiosity can be applied to conflict. In my experience, when I come to conflict with a sense of curiosity about the root of the situation as opposed to who did what wrong, then the conversation is smoother, there’s more flow, and I stay more connected to what’s important to me and the other person as opposed to my judgments about them. It connects me to life.
I stimulate curiosity by asking myself questions like, “What am I feeling? What’s up for me right now? What am I telling myself about my feelings? What’s going on for the other person?”
When my son gets frustrated or upset or cries out, I don’t get mad at him. (Side note: parenthood is hard and sometimes I do get upset when he expresses his feelings. Usually it’s because needs are up for me. But that is another blog article in the making). When I can stay curious, I ask, “What is he needing right now?” I don’t take it personally that Sol is having an experience of frustration, whereas if my partner expresses frustration that I haven’t made breakfast yet on my day to do so, I might. Sol doesn’t have language yet to say he’s frustrated, but they’re both essentially saying the same thing. “Help! I’m hungry. I need support and sustenance.”
EMOTIONS ARE MESSENGERS
Sol has, within one minute, I’d guess at least 20 different emotions. They’re quick and he experiences them fully. Together we explore sitting with those emotions and what those emotions are telling us. He doesn’t get caught up in the fact that he doesn’t like a certain emotion. He doesn’t worry that a certain emotion will never go away.
Sol reminds me that emotions are very useful. They tell us about our needs. I also know that if I try to push a feeling away, it will inevitably come back. I have the choice to deal with the emotion now and be present with what’s alive in me, or not. And if the answer is “not,” that decision is also serving a need.
Curiosity comes into play here too because I ask myself, “What is this feeling telling me? What need is trying to be served here and do I want to serve that need right now?” The “how” I meet a need is a strategy. Sol gets frustrated when I take the phone charger cord away from his mouth. My guess is he wants adventure and play, but as a parent who wants to keep her son from harm, I’m setting a boundary and saying, “You can fulfill that need, but you can’t use this strategy to do it.” I then offer an alternative strategy once Sol has had an opportunity to explore his emotions fully.
That’s something I’m learning for myself too. “Which strategies serve me? Which ones can attend to the majority of my needs?”
FRUSTRATION GETS A SEAT AT THE TABLE TOO
When Sol gets frustrated, my tendency is to want to fix it, to get rid of it. That’s a viable response when it comes to things like food or comfort. If he has a dirty diaper, then I want to change it so he doesn’t get a rash. However, I also want to allow for space where his feelings can be fully expressed rather than jump in with my own anxious “fix-it” attitude. After all, I can’t free Sol of his suffering even if I wanted to; there is wisdom in suffering. Frustration reminds us that we’re in need. So I let him express his frustration first and then we can have a diaper change that is calm rather than anxious. It doesn’t serve me or Sol to rush his diaper change because I want to get him to stop crying as soon as possible. He can cry and I can feel calm.
Taking Non-Action: An Exercise in NVC Empathy
1. Slow Your Roll
Next time you start to feel anxiety, frustration, or anger creeping into your reality, try taking a 60 second pause and stepping into another room alone. If there is another person involved in the conflict, let them know you are going to do this and why. Watch out for blame or judgment here. Instead of saying, “I’m leaving because you’re being a jerk,” you might say, “I’m getting angry and I’d like to calm down. I’m going to leave the room for one minute, and then I’ll come back.” Make sure you come back.
You can physically leave the room, close your eyes, or sit in silence. The more you experiment with this, the easier it is to practice it in the room with the other person. The purpose is to slow yourself down – your breathing, heart-rate, and judgments – and create a space of curiosity for yourself to figure out what’s beneath the feelings.
Place your hand over your belly-button and inhale deeply into your belly. Then exhale. Do this a few times. Your hand should rise and fall as you breathe. Then get curious. Ask yourself: “What is it (a need) that I really want right now that would make my situation have more flow and less reaction?”
For some, physical movement such as a walk or a run can help support this shift. I have a friend who buys and stores cheap thrift store dishes. When she needs to blow off some steam, she takes a friend or roommate down to the basement with her for support and throws the dishes against the wall. She swears it makes her feel better, and then she has a friend to help her clean up.
Kat Nadel lives in the Bay Area with her husband and son. Kat’s background (trained dancer/actress, movement and dance teacher, yoga, meditation, and travel enthusiast), along with her desire to skillfully and peacefully confront conflict head-on, led her to Nonviolent Communication.
Kat’s mission is to change the world one conversation at a time. She believes the way we do anything is the way we do everything and shares NVC as a way of life that engenders understanding and compassion. She is excited to lend her organizational and facilitation skills to BayNVC through her role as a Collaborative Trainer. Kat also runs a monthly empathy gathering for moms called Mother Together every first Friday of the month at The Rec Room in Berkeley.
To learn more about Kat, visit http://kat-with-a-k.info/