Growing (Our) Character: Using the Practice of Gratitude, Centering and Forgiveness

Contributed by Casey ORoarty

The most challenging parenting moments for me are keeping my own emotional triggers in check when I am confronted with conflict involving my kids. Before I even realize I am acting from a place of emotion I am acting like the mother I so desperately do not want to be. I feel hot and tingly all over my body and, well, out of control. Guess what follows these mommy meltdowns? Shame. Shame that I can’t hold it together, that I am treating a person I love more than life itself in a way that makes them feel bad. Shame that I work to teach parents the principles of Positive Discipline and that I have failed, yet again, to embody those principles. Ick!

Shame is that inner voice telling me I am not good enough and that I’m not worthy. Brené Brown, in her book Daring Greatly, defines shame as “the fear that something we’ve done or failed to do, or an ideal we have not lived up to…, makes us unworthy of connection.” Connection, she defines as “the energy that is created between two people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment.”
We all have different shame triggers. My triggers revolve around parenting and whether or not I am walking my talk. But shame also creeps in when dinner isn’t as creative as it “could” be, when I get really behind on the laundry, when my husband does a whirlwind house clean-up. I mean, what is that? Instead of being gracious, I’m irritated (a great way to cover up shame) that he can get it done.

I love the word “practice” because it describes action grounded in the here and now. Parenting practices are the choices we make each day to be kinder, gentler and more patient with our children and ourselves. A practice is the act of doing what we say we will do, regularly. Transformation happens in everyday practice.

The great news is that a handful of daily practices effectively combat the feeling of shame.

• Practice gratitude. In those times of conflict with your children (or spouse, or coworker, or checker at the grocery store), use the feelings of being out of control as a reminder to take the opportunity to stop and list off two things you are grateful for in that moment. This pause takes your brain from that place of emotion (our midbrain) to a place of thought (our prefrontal cortex). Gratitude helps us to give up being ruled by our emotions.

• Practice centering. It is actually possible to train your brain to work better, to react differently. I set an alarm on my phone that goes off twice a day that reminds me to take a few centering breaths that start at the core of my belly on the inhale, taking in all the goodness around me, and then spreading all of my own energy out into the world on my exhale. After a few of these, I allow my body to feel at peace; I let my face reflect that feeling of peace. The more I practice centering, the more I find myself able to call on this place of peace when my emotions try to hijack me.

• Practice forgiveness. We will continue to make lots of mistakes as parents. We should, because we need to model how to handle mistakes to our kids. We must forgive ourselves. Two steps forward and one step back is still taking us in the direction we want to head. It is a gift for our children to see the adults in their life handle their mistakes and move on.

About the Author
Casey O’Roarty is a Positive Discipline Trainer and owner of Joyful Courage, a company dedicated to training adults to create space for children to be their best selves. A former elementary school teacher with a master’s degree in education from the University of Washington, Casey has been sharing Positive Discipline with parents of the Skykomish Valley since 2007. She was recognized by the Council for Children and Families in February of 2011 and is passionate about the work she does, and about making her community and the world a better place for children. She lives in Monroe, Washington, with her husband and two children, a 10-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son.

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