AMA Family Services
Men and women are on this journey together. AMA seeks to offer support to both men and women in their personal development, relationships, parenting and building a happier, healthier life. Contact AMA to find out more about how we can help you.
Finding Fulfilment in Relationships
You've probably heard that “men are from Mars and women are from Venus”. The contrast between the sexes can be vast and we are often left scratching our heads as we attempt to understand our partner’s needs. Add to that our own personal backgrounds, the unconscious values and hidden belief systems that drive us and you may wonder how two people can manage to live in the same house let alone maintain a fulfilling relationship.
Here are few things to consider in your relationship. Whether you are a man or woman, I’m sure you’ll find them helpful.
It is a strange reality that as human beings, we are largely unaware of where our needs, desires and drives come from. We often chase what we think we need only to find that it does not satisfy us.
In a new relationship, our senses are flooded with feel-good pheromones. We can be convinced we've found the one thing our life has been missing in a new partner. But after several years together, it can be confusing and painful to wake up next to the man or woman who promised so much but now, delivers so little.
At this point, relationships may spiral into conflict or even separation as we wrestle with “what went wrong” and make lists of demands on our unsuspecting partner. However, our partner is not necessarily the problem. As we are faced with the familiar reality of day to day life together, the love-trance wears off and we are faced with the imperfections and frailties of our wonder-partner’s humanity. We believed this person would make us feel better forever. But as he or she becomes a source of pain and conflict in our lives (inevitable in any human relationship), we start fighting to resurrect the good-feelings we experienced early in the relationship.
This is a natural stage of the relationship. As we learn to work through conflict and are willing to face the inadequacies and insecurities being mirrored back to us by our partner, we experience satisfying personal growth and give the opportunity for the relationship to grow in maturity and intimacy. This can be incredibly rewarding and is often everything we are looking for.
Sadly, many couples get stuck in cycles of conflict and blame as partners are unwilling to reflect inwardly. Couples may separate or resign themselves to a less than satisfying relationship because they are afraid of moving on.
Even if your partner is unwilling to do the work necessary to help take the relationship to a new level, the opportunity presents itself for you to develop a deep sense of unconditional love and acceptance. Our partners can either be the scapegoats for our restlessness or inadvertently point us to our unresolved issues and insecurities.
We enter into relationships with the kind of love that could be summarised as “I love you because you make me feel good”. The reality that someone loves and wants to spend time with us temporarily eases our insecurities. We feel good, accepted, worthy and significant.
The truth is you already are worthy, significant and incredibly valuable. Take a moment to think about a newly born child. Imagine holding a child – perhaps your own – in your arms just minutes after birth. As you look into his or her eyes, what do you see?
No one I know ever imagines saying to that beautiful baby “you are ugly and will never amount to anything!” I’ve never known anyone to look at the miracle of a new born child and say “what a worthless piece of junk!”
When confronted with a new human life, we know intuitively that this is someone very special, very beautiful, full of potential and deeply worthwhile. I personally believe that we never lose that beauty, potential and value. We develop a few dysfunctional layers over the years, but at your core, you are an incredible human being of unlimited potential and immeasurable value. Despite his or her imperfections, your partner is too.
When we think our partners are not meeting our needs or righteously believe they need to change, we are denying the beauty and wholeness of our true selves. Equally, when we remain in an abusive relationship where we are being constantly hurt, we deny the value and wholeness of who we are. In either case, we become trapped in the erroneous belief that we need something more than ourselves in order to be complete.
When we are in touch with our innate value and worth, we become capable of unconditional love. Unconditional love asks the question “what can I give?” rather than “what can I get?” Unconditional love can only grow out of deep self-acceptance. As we learn to accept ourselves, we find everything we've ever wanted is already within us.
This level of self-acceptance requires a process of personal development. There are belief systems to change, painful experiences to release and deep needs to meet. AMA offers the opportunity and guidance to enhance your life and relationships as you undertake this amazing journey of personal development through personal counselling and short seminars for men and women and regular retreats, mentoring and groups for men.
Being a parent can be one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of your life. The models of parenting we have inherited are largely based on convenience and control. After all, our lives are busy and we've all seen the devastation created by children spiraling out of control.
It’s easy to switch to “automatic-pilot” in our parenting routines. This helps us get through a busy day, but on the flip-side we become less emotionally-available to our kids, automatically falling back on the strategies that were used by our parents. In this model of “unconscious parenting” we pass on both the strengths and the weaknesses of the parenting model we were raised with.
The challenge facing us today is to become conscious parents. That means challenging the basic assumptions of our parenting routines, sorting through the good, the bad and the ugly of the parenting style we were raised with and letting go of out-dated concepts. After all – the world is a very different place to the one we were raised in.
More importantly, this is your relationship with your child that we are talking about. The benefit of conscious parenting is that you get to choose and develop the kind of relationship you want to have with your child. To do that, you may need to let go of some expectations and assumptions that you were raised with. These thought-provoking insights on parenting are designed to help you sift through the beliefs and ideas you hold about being a parent and think creatively about the incredible role you play in his or her life.
Build respectful relationships with your children
As a young adult I studied youth work. I was fortunate to have a variety of lecturers who were veteran youth workers and taught from real life experience. One of the messages that consistently came through both my research and the lectures was if you want to have a relatively smooth experience of the teenage years – build a solid, healthy relationship with your children. Invest the time now and you will reap dividends in your child’s adolescent years.
I took this to heart and applied it extensively to raising my own boys. As they grew older (7-10) I realised that the rules and expectations I was parenting with (standard to many middle-class homes) were actually breaking down my relationship with my kids, rather than building one. I realised that the rules I thought were so essential were fueling rebellion and conflict. I decided if I didn't want my kids to rebel, I had to stop giving them something to rebel against!
Now I hear your alarm bells going off, but let me say this does not mean becoming a permissive parent. As I explored this concept, I began to discover that there is a difference between rules and boundaries. Institutions are built on rules, while relationships are built on boundaries. I discovered that having a meaning-ful relationship with my sons meant getting rid of my rules and working with boundaries. This is a much more complex idea than I can go into here, and is the heart of our Conscious Parenting course that I’d encourage you to attend.
At the time of writing, my eldest boys are 18 and 16. For years, the standard response I receive when when I tell people I have teenage boys is usually something like “that must be hell!”, coupled with an eye-roll or grimace. My response has always been “no, it’s great. I've got wonderful teenagers and we get along really well”. It’s true. I suspect it might have been different if I’d forced them to stick to my rules throughout their childhood, as my parents did to me.
Possibly the biggest lesson I learnt here was that it isn't what I say or teach my children that develops their character, it’s how I am. If I want my children to respect me, I need to respect them. For me, this means treating them as equals rather than demanding their obedience. It means expressing my feelings rather than enforcing my rules. My kids weren’t interested in much of what I had to teach them about life, but they valued how I related to them and developed a healthy sense of identity as a result.
Child Centred Parenting
For generations, children have been treated as an add-on or tag-along to their parents. They are expected to fit in, behave and be grateful for all the “sacrifices” their parents make for them. The old rules like “children should be seen and not heard” are great examples of this.
Child-centred parenting means that we see our child as a “small person”, rather than an extension of ourselves. This means taking the child’s needs into consideration and weighing them equally against our own desires.
When I was a child and solely dependent on my parents, I was forced to fit in to what they wanted to do and was rarely given a voice or choice. If they wanted to go shopping, I was dragged along. If they wanted to go visiting, I was dragged along (no matter how child-unfriendly the environment was). My father moved us around the country and even the world, following his career. I was dragged along. No one stopped to ask if I was tired, bored, scared or wanted to move house again, because I was just a kid and didn't get a vote.
Building a meaningful, two-way relationship with a child means giving him or her a voice. Taking into consideration the child’s needs and compromising like we would ask our partner or friends to do with our own needs. This means we may need to change our plans, cancel a visit, shorten our shopping trip and to a degree, plan our careers around the little people in our lives, rather than just doing what suits the adults in the family.
One of the biggest issues I encounter in counselling is egocentricity, or at the other end of the spectrum, ego collapse. Egocentricity arises out of hyper-vigilance around one’s own needs, or desperation to prove one’s worthiness. Ego collapse creates a victim who has little sense of identity, is self-effacing and has a low sense of personal worth. Both arise out of being under-valued as human beings.
It is my belief that the tendency to treat children as second-rate citizens, rather than seeing their needs as equal to our own has fueled these conditions to pandemic proportions. Children are little people and giving them a voice and a place of value in our families creates happy, healthy adults.
Everyone is different
Remember that every child is different, with different needs, different personalities, insecurities and different levels of resilience. What works for one may not work for another. What you expect from one should not be expected of the other. What worked for you growing up may devastate your own child. We are all different. I have worked with many parents whose unconscious expectations were the source of conflict and heartache in their parenting experience. Nurturing and empowering our children means celebrating and affirming their differences, rather than working with the “one size fits all” model.
As I began to evaluate the rules and expectations that I raised my children with, I realised that I was often being unreasonable. It was unreasonable to expect a child to pick up after themselves. It just didn’t happen. It was unreasonable to say “no you can’t go to the park” because I couldn’t be bothered to take them. It was equally unreasonable to expect them to play nicely together in my two-bedroom villa when I had refused to provide them with the much-needed outlet to burn of excess energy!
I realised how much my parenting revolved around my comfort, my interests, my energy levels and my agenda. It was easy to do that because the kids were dependent on me, so effectively, I had all the power.
After a while, I realised that I needed to extend myself for their benefit. If I was going to be a child centred parent, I needed to push through a little tiredness to go to the park, or drop them at the roller-skating rink. I needed to relax about my finances, put off some of my financial goals to allow them to experience life a little more in the way they wanted, rather than according to my desires.
Being reasonable is an essential quality in any relationship. I said “no” an awful lot in my early days as a father. This generated a lot of disappointment and conflict in my relationships with my children. As I began to examine my rationale and reasoning behind my “no’s” I realised I had it in me to say “yes” a whole lot more. It got to the point that my “yes’s” far outweighed my “no’s”. After a while I noticed an interesting pattern. When I had to say “no”, my kids just accepted it. No arguments. No tantrums. They knew if I could say “yes” that I would. They knew I was reasonable.
Love vs Fear
Fear has a big influence on how we raise our kids. We’re afraid for all the terrible, painful and even uncomfortable experiences our children could be exposed to, and often base our decisions about our children on this fear. Naturally, we love our kids and want to take measures to prevent these things from happening. But a choice based on fear is almost always restrictive and controlling. Fear disempowers our children and undermines our relationships with them rather than building them up and empowering them.
Fear is a powerful emotion. It triggers the flight, fight or freeze response. None of these responses are particularly productive in relationships. In working with many parents I've observed that the automatic response to fear is to restrict their children. As a result, children feel unreasonably controlled and tend to push back against these boundaries. The truth about fear is that it very rarely reflects reality. Most of the time it arises out of deep insecurities within the parent.
Consider doing the following exercise on fear. Write down all the things you are afraid of happening in your life and in the lives of your children. If you take some time and are really honest, you might be surprised by how much you are actually afraid of.
Think about each one of those fears swimming around in your unconscious mind, influencing your thoughts and decisions on a daily basis. You can begin to understand how we see fear when there is actually nothing to fear.
Now take it to a new level. Circle all the fears that are based on hear-say, things you’ve read about happening to someone else, things you were told growing up and the fears that you have no evidence to support or are very unlikely to happen. That should reduce the list. The reality is that these circled items are not based in reality. They are conjured up by fear-fuelled imagination.
Now look at the fears that are based on your own life experience. In these fears, we bring the past into the present and literally recreate it. We can see loving people as threats and block them out even when they are reaching out to us. We live without trust and we restrict our life experience because we are living out of the past and not giving the present a chance.
These are the fears we need to talk about – with partners, friends and even our child. Not in order to perpetuate them, but to take the power out of them. It’s actually ok to say “I’m afraid if you walk on that wall you will fall off and hurt yourself” rather than “get down off that wall!” It’s actually ok to say “I’m afraid those kids are a bad influence on you” rather than being overly strict and controlling. It’s also important that we work through our own past trauma and negative experiences so we are not bringing it into our relationships with our kids.
Now look at the items you have left on the list. These should be the items that are genuine and potential threats. It’s often said that fear protects us. This was true when we lived in caves and faced physical threats to our survival on a daily basis. From time to time it is useful in our modern era also. Fear is a helpful servant, but a terrible master.
I believe we have always had a more advanced capacity that protects us. That is the capacity for wisdom. It is ultimately wisdom that keeps us safe, a powerful protector without the side-effects of fear. Looking at the remaining items on your list, take a deep breath and let go of your fear. Now, thinking insightfully, wisely, rate your fears as to their level of serious threat (1 being low, 10 being high) and consider some reasonable, empowering and practical strategies to respond to those fears. Your children will thank you for it!
Everyone has expectations buried subconsciously in their minds. Expectations of self, others and especially of our children. You need to know that blocked or unfulfilled expectations generate anger. Anger is the psyche’s initial response when you expect something to happen and it doesn't. How we deal with or manage that anger is a different issue, however the anger is there.
experience, most of our expectations tend to be unreasonable, unrealistic or a
combination of both. You can evaluate your
expectations by writing a list of what you expect from life, from yourself,
from others, your kids and your partner. Once you get going you’ll probably be able to write pages, especially if
you return to the list over a few days when ever you identify a new
Focus on you’re expectations of your kids, evaluate whether they are unrealistic. You can tell if an expectation is unrealistic if it:
- Is never, ever or extremely rarely fulfilled (e.g. My kids will make their bed without me having to tell them)
- Is idealistic or a “perfect world” scenario (e.g. Will remember and follow my instructions)
- Is simply beyond the capabilities or age
capacity of your child (e.g. Achieving the grades you dream of at school)
Now evaluate whether your expectations are unreasonable. You can tell they are unreasonable if:
- You are putting undue pressure on your children
(e.g. three-minute showers)
- You have only taken your needs/wants into
consideration (e.g. “You’ll make me late for work!”)
- They create imbalance in the relationship (e.g.
“Do it my way because I’m the parent and you’re the child”)
The categories are similar and only exist to broaden our thinking around expectations. The point is that some expectations are realistic, but unreasonable, while others are reasonable, but unrealistic. At the end of the day, if an expectation is in either category you will experience anger more often than you need to and possibly take it out on your kids or partner. It can help to reality check your expectations with someone who will give you the honest truth!
Once you've categorised your expectations, try re-framing them so they feel more reasonable and realistic. For example, “I guess I just have to remind John to make his bed if I want it made.” Then on days that John does make his bed without prompting, you’ll be ecstatic! Another example is “There will be some days when I'm going to be late for work. It looks like today is one of those days!” Evaluating and re-framing our expectations will go a long way to reducing the anger that builds up on a daily basis and the amount of anger your kids wear when it all get too much!
Be Emotionally Available
Being emotionally available to your children is incredibly important. I’ve counselled many people with traumatic childhood experiences and deep emotional wounds that have caused distress their lives for years, sometimes decades. As I saw client after client I observed an interesting trend. I saw a lot of people with similar symptoms and life dysfunction who didn't have traumatic events or abuse in their childhood. These people were often perplexed as to why their lives had been so disrupted. All of these people had one thing in common – emotionally unavailable parents.
To be emotionally available means to be present to and fully participating in the life of your child. You don’t have to attend all the school and sporting events, but you do need to be genuinely interested and willing to celebrate with your child, hold your child in her disappointment and sadness, accept your child when he is angry, support her when she is afraid, and as often as you possibly can, in whatever way is most natural to you, communicate to your children that you love them.
This can feel awkward and unnatural for some people – especially for those who were raised by emotionally unavailable parents, or experienced trauma or abuse in their own lives. However, all that is necessary is to make sure your child knows you love them.
Don’t hope they will know you love them if you are not directly and regularly communicating it. Don’t take those kinds of risks. Say it, write it, express it through hugs, arm-wrestles and quality time. And do it regularly - whatever it takes.
Most parents want their children to become happy, well-adjusted adults. Education, wealth, talent or ability won’t necessarily make a happy adult, yet we invest a lot of energy into these areas of life. The presence, demonstration and communication of love provides an anchor point for your child's life and a secure foundation for well-being.