Tag Archives: loving attention

Devoted to Intimate Parenting

Even though sexism has always decreed that boy children have more status than girls, status and even the rewards of privilege are not the same as being loved. –The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love by bell hooks

In·ti·ma·cy (noun):  (1) the state of being intimate. (2) a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person or group. (3) a close association with or detailed knowledge or deep understanding of a place, subject, period of history, etc. (4) an act or expression serving as a token of familiarity, affection, or the like. (5) sexual intercourse.

Our world, and particularly its children, suffers from a chronic and debilitating lack of intimacy. Now, before you get triggered and label my intentions criminal, I don’t mean intimacy as its usually marketed and understood by western culture; that is, conflated with sexual intercourse. I mean the vulnerable space that exists between two people who are bonded through choice and intention. The example I’m going to use throughout this post is #2 from the above definition: a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person or group. So, when I use the term intimate parenting, you will come to know what I mean even as you may struggle with your reaction to what I’m describing.

What has been all but impossible to change is widespread cultural patriarchal propaganda. Yet we begin to protect the emotional well-being of boys and of all males when we call this propaganda by its true name, when we acknowledge that patriarchal culture requires that boys deny, suppress, and if all goes well, shut down their emotional awareness and their capacity to feel. –The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love

My husband, Brendan, and I parent our 4-1/2-year-old son, Avery, intimately. For us this means we choose to feel into the edgy, energetically-charged moments that occur as a natural course of interacting with a young child, and then model what healthy intimacy looks and feels like. Intimacy that isn’t conditional and doesn’t cross personal boundaries. Intimacy that isn’t filtered through the lens of patriarchy, which equates to disembodiment and disowning his feelings.

I would categorize our approach as a subset of peaceful or gentle parenting, which one source via Google search defines as: regulating our own emotions when dealing with our children and responding to problems with compassion. Based on that, I would define intimate parenting as:

Choosing to regulate my emotions when dealing with my son and responding to problems that arise with compassion instead of fear, shame, or punishment, always remembering that he is a human being worthy of love and respect.

During a late-night discussion with Brendan last week, I asked him what intimate parenting meant to him. His response was so good that I ended up recording the remainder of our conversation, and I’m going to include a condensed version of the portion that’s directly applicable to this topic since it beautifully explains our motivations and the container we seek to create as parents:

Parenting is a calling. Since what you’re called to is greater than you, you’re also called to develop skills you don’t have, to develop ways of being you don’t possess or yet have facility with. The process of becoming a better parent isn’t (or shouldn’t be) goal oriented; it’s context oriented and it’s ongoing. You won’t complete this task in an executive fashion and then stop because the experience goes beyond its immediate object (the child).

As part of our being committed to intimate parenting, we choose to devote our attention and express our calling in a way that recognizes there are parts of Avery that are eternally wise and divine. Those parts we’re speaking to in him can receive the love we’re giving, but they can’t return it in kind because they’re filtered through a 4-year-old’s understanding of the world. In essence, he can’t—without being trained and abused in traditional patriarchal ways—reciprocate our devotion.

By staying aware of our shame triggers and seeking balance, we can offer our love and attention from a position of devotion that recognizes his divinity without compromising his humanity. The devotion we’re offering him is appropriate to its object, which is a critical part of keeping the interaction both psychically clean and physically respectful. For example, fetishism is devotion inappropriate to its object, like making shoes into a god. In our case, Avery himself isn’t the object; it’s his divinity, which is the part we can relate to, can resonate with. That’s the part of him that we are nurturing and stimulating.

When we’re close to him, when we are lovingly intimate with him, and we can feel that humming in our chest? That’s resonance between his divinity and ours. As we attune to that, our divinity aligns with and comes into resonance with his divinity. So his becomes stronger, clearer, and develops more depth as we stimulate it in him. If we don’t, and it remains dormant for long enough, it will be disowned. He’ll have to reclaim it and endure the grief and loss process like we’ve both had to do.

What we’re trying to do is contradict the deeply damaging effects of patriarchy, to cultivate an alternative version of masculinity for Avery to embody—one that’s grounded in his body and his intuition. One that nurtures and cares, one that listens and understands, one that believes in its own worth and has a clear sense of identity. One that has no need to dominate or belittle or bully or rape anyone.

One of the tremendous failings of feminist theory and practice has been the lack of a concentrated study of boyhood, one that offers guidelines and strategies for alternative masculinity and ways of thinking about maleness. Indeed, the feminist rhetoric that insisted on identifying males as the enemy often closed down the space where boys could be considered, where they could be deemed as worthy of rescue from patriarchal exploitation and oppression as were their female counterparts. –The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love

So, intimacy and the direct modeling of it. Because if Brendan and I don’t model healthy intimacy, how is Avery supposed to know what it feels like when he encounters it in the adult world? If his child’s body is directed to deny its feelings, to suppress its need for love and affection, to react awkwardly and fearfully when someone tries to connect with him, then how can I possibly expect him to choose wisely? How can I entertain the hope that he will respect someone else’s boundaries; will consent to their wishes? How could he know what that looks and feels like if he’s never experienced it for himself?

Anatomy of an Interlocking Pattern: My Side

Patterns develop around our responses to significant (usually traumatic) life occurrences and manifest as a recording that, when played, seems to temporarily take control of us. It’s important to remember that the pattern is not the person; it’s actually an external, rigid, repeating, non-survival value recording that opposes the flexible, creative, loving behavior of the rational, thinking human. Patterns can affect every aspect of our existence—mental, physical, spiritual, behavioral—and when re-stimulated or triggered, prevent any forward movement or progress. Patterns are all about the past. — taken from Nekole Shapiro’s Holistic Peer Counseling (HPC) curriculum 

The last week has been an exceptionally difficult one for my husband and I because we’ve been uncovering more information about our core pattern complexes. In truth, whenever this happens—and no, this isn’t the first time—it totally fucking sucks; it’s painful and embarrassing; I get sunk intermittently in my shame; I want to disappear, maybe even die in that childish way that yearns for release from the responsibility of living.

Both Brendan and I were born into dysfunctional families suffering at the intersection of rape, oppression, isolation, abuse, depression, and neglect; his significantly more so than mine. The scars we bear as children of these families makes it obscenely hard for us to prioritize care for ourselves, have healthy boundaries, trust others, trust our bodies, be parents, and maintain consistent, nourishing social interactions.

When we met, we had both done personal work including Landmark Education, anger management group therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and embodiment work. By the time we decided to make a baby together 18 months later, we were committed to healing and re-parenting one another, an embodied birth, and raising our son in a way that was diametrically opposed to how we had been raised. We actually had no clue what we were in for when we made those commitments.

Patterns affect our inter-personal relationships all the time; in fact, it’s not uncommon to gravitate toward a relationship specifically because the other person’s patterns interlock with ours. — HPC curriculum

My mother was not adequately resourced when she gave birth to me. (I laugh even writing that because goddamn what an understatement.) My father kept her terrorized, abused, and isolated, which was pitifully easy given that she’d been brought up under the influence of a patriarchal church that taught her the man was in charge, taught her to honor and obey, taught her to be meek and never prideful. She thought all men were relatively honorable, upstanding men of the community like her conservative, wheat-farming father and her brothers.

As a result of her near-complete lack of support, she leaned on me more than was healthy for either one of us, especially after my baby sister was born when I was 2-1/2. I was her Big Girl; the reliable one, the helpful one, the one who learned to always make time and space for Mommy’s distress and pain. There was a lot of pain. Both she and I had to live with the consequences of her shameful marriage, his sexual abuse of me, his all-encompassing abuse of her, and his eventual abandonment of us when I was 5 for less-complicated pastures. We became emotionally enmeshed and fiercely co-dependent.

There was scant room for Little Chrissy’s pain, thoughts, dreams, or concerns. Because Mommy’s distress filled the room, sucked up all the air, and entertained no competitors—not even her daughters. I had no choice: I had to support her, had to supplant myself and keep her healthy because otherwise I would die or she would abandon me. She was my survival line and I loved her. After all, look how much she suffered just to keep her head up and food on the table; how hard it was for her to live with the daily shame of Going Back Home in disgrace after a violently failed marriage. Someone had to stand up for her.

As the years went by and my mother honed her Victim/Martyr patterns, I unconsciously began to hate and resent both her and her ever-present demands regarding who I should be and to whom I should give my attention. In fact, in addition to my growing perfectionism-bordering-on-OCPD, I developed an acute case of what I now know to be demand resistance. From Too Perfect: When Being in Control Gets Out of Control:

Somehow, “I want” turns into “I should.” In fact, the phrase “I want” is a rarity in their (the obsessive’s) thinking and their vocabulary. Instead of “I want to,” they usually experience and say “I ought to”, “I must,” or “I should.” Volition is replaced by obligation. […] This is a childhood safety-seeking maneuver that becomes ingrained in the obsessive’s character, a maneuver that comes to serve many motives:
  – People who need to be above reproach are often most comfortable when they feel their decisions/actions are being dictated by outside forces.
  – It’s harder to criticize someone who’s “only following orders,” as opposed to one doing something he initiated himself.

In the obsessive’s worldview, where conscientiousness is king, it’s better to be fulfilling one’s duty than satisfying one’s own needs. But the cost of unconsciously disowning one’s desires are high. […] When most of your activities feel like obligations, you can reach a point where nothing gives you pleasure, and life feels meaningless. You don’t feel like an active participant, but instead experience yourself as a passive recipient, grinding away at the obligations that are laid upon you. You may feel powerless; you may lack a clear, stable sense of self.

Without a clear identity, a solid sense of self, or a clear sense of what you want, you feel insubstantial, passive, and more vulnerable to external influences, especially the wishes of others. Because you feel (at an unconscious level) as if your sense of self can at any moment be overrun by more powerful outside forces, you are compelled to guard against people who seem strong or intrusive, or who get too close. […]

The obsessive learns that withholding gives them power, keeps them in control. “When I know somebody wants something from me, I don’t do it. It’s so automatic, it ends up being more important for me to hold back than to decide what I want. I balk at expectations simply because I perceive them as demands.

Demand resistance is closely connected with interpersonal control. First, it’s a way of safeguarding one’s fragile sense of self by refusing to be overpowered or controlled by others. Second, it is a way of reassuring oneself that one can have a subtle impact on—and control over—others by frustrating them.

This is exactly what I do to Brendan; it’s what I’ve done to him for the entirety of our six years together. Because (as the person I currently love and am beholden to the most) he represents Mother in my personal constellation. The problem is, Little Chrissy and her gang of feral compatriots don’t yet understand that we can make choices about who we help; that we now have tools and insight and loving compassion. That we now have an identity and a semi-solid sense of Self.

My side of the interlocking pattern is “IF I help you, I’m not going to do it unless you’re half-dead with need and bleeding out on the floor; because that’s the only way I’ll know you aren’t a threat.” Brendan’s side of the interlocking pattern (as I currently understand it) is “No one ever helps me because I don’t matter and am worth nothing except for what I give. So I will give until I’m dead.” See how nicely those fit together?

Brendan has pointed out facets of my pattern over the years, but because it’s SO core to who I am and permeates literally everything I touch, it’s been impossible for me to see in totality. More importantly, it’s a slippery fucker, needs to defend itself vigorously against attack, and the character of Brendan’s pattern allowed it to continue doing so.

The experience of falling into a pattern is generally unpleasant due to internal conflict and imbalance: while the pattern itself may be defensive, our psyches prefer to be rational and integrated. As a result, we may defend our patterned behaviors fiercely, which usually occurs because our psyches see no alternative and are deathly afraid to change

It’s important to remember that it is the hardest to see someone else’s pattern clearly when that pattern is triggering our own. — HPC curriculum

My pattern of demand resistance has been particularly hurtful and destructive toward Brendan because he is the primary parent to our 4-year-old son. And as any parent whose paying attention knows, the primary parent requires a LOT of support and help; in fact, I theoretically believe the majority of any family’s resources should be going to make that parent’s life easier because there is NOTHING in this world so hard as giving loving attention to a small child for 10–12 hours a day. Nothing.

But all the theory in the world hadn’t succeeded in making traction on loosening my patterned resistance to helping him any more than was required or convenient for me. I bring home a regular paycheck, help out with household chores, do the evening/bedtime routine, and take point with Avery on the weekends. Beyond that I get obstinate. Withholding. Resistant. In fact, I’ve been listening to him report an ever-increasing need for time and resources during the day for well over a year. Heard him say that he’s struggling specifically with X, Y, or Z.

I have offered my loving attention and given him heartfelt words of understanding. I have not offered concrete acts of support beyond what I already perform. I have watched his health and physical well-being deteriorate; watched his sleep suffer; watched his frustration rise. And I have waited. Resisted. Turned away.

I say these things not to beat myself up publicly, but to call attention to something I perceive is a fairly common pattern among women raised under patriarchy. And while our situation with Brendan playing the “mom at home” role and myself playing the “dad at the office” role isn’t conventional, it doesn’t really matter. Because we didn’t need to be parents for this pattern to show up in our lives. I certainly didn’t; it was present in my first, childless marriage too. Of course, the being parents part certainly intensifies the need and tightens the spiraling of our interlocked patterns, but they would have been here regardless.

It’s times like this past weekend—when we are furthest apart, when “I hate you” has been uttered—that I’m most grateful for our HPC community and the tools we’ve developed through doing this work. Because it means we can trust in the Balance of Attention and continue to love one another even as we hate the patterns; even if that love is only a single thread stretched thin between us, threatening to snap.

Rape: A Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, a baby boy was born to loving parents who had dreamed of his arrival for many years; they doted on him and he was their greatest treasure. Having recently been birthed from the source of all divine energy, the baby boy was whole and perfect, and he brought with him the possibility of unconditional love for his was a gentle and compassionate temperament.

But theirs was a kingdom of oppressive social and religious constructions, based on many thousands of years of cruelty, privilege, and domination. Not all the people were loved equally and even after much civil strife, the women and children were still considered to be only partially as important as the men.

So those loving parents strapped him down to a board and cut off their son’s foreskin, violating the sanctity of his body because that’s how it had always been done and they did not want him to feel badly about himself when compared to his father. Because to speak openly of bodily autonomy, differences, and sexuality with children was frowned upon in the kingdom.

And the boy’s body learned that skin was not a boundary worth respecting.

The adults in the kingdom worked as wage slaves, having internalized the precept that money was the ultimate commodity and that it could buy happiness, even freedom. Every day they exhausted their bodies by pushing to succeed in a world held paralyzed by lack, invisibility, and isolation—where they would never be enough, never have enough. Where they were praised for pushing past their bodies’ limits, for telling them to go faster and work harder, achieve more.

So those loving parents taught their son to sleep by putting him in a prettily-decorated cage and then shutting the door so that he could cry, unheard and isolated, until exhaustion took him. Because the parents knew little about respecting their own bodies’ signals, so couldn’t help their son and, instead, forced him to self sooth while flooded with stress hormones. Which was the daily reality for all the kingdom’s people.

And the boy’s body learned that its signals were to be neither trusted nor heeded.

The kingdom told its people that they must all be learned and productive in highly-specialized, narrowly-proscribed ways. So they trained the children rigidly: to value intellect over creativity, what is provable over what is felt. To sit still among strangers and learn the concepts of sharing space, following directions, and keeping your hands to yourself. None of which were intuitive or pleasant to learn because they forced smallness.

So the loving parents sent their son to school, where he was expected to get along, listen, share, pay attention, and do what he was told lest he receive bad marks and risk public embarrassment. Where the unspoken rule was shine too bright or act too big and you will be corrected, ultimately bringing dishonor to the family and shame upon himself.

And the boy learned that conforming to expectations kept him safe.

The boy felt a great sadness as his divine spirit and creative fire waned, slowly extinguished in service to tests and expectations and logic.

He sought comfort and understanding from his parents, but they were engrossed in the daily struggle of their own survival and in service to the notion that boys must be strong in the face of adversity. So they instructed him to be a little man; to not cry when frustrated; to not grieve as his feelings and experiences were belittled or dismissed.

Because he was now a little man, the parents no longer babied him. They curtailed their physical affections, hugged him less frequently, kissed him rarely; they admonished him not to cry and became frustrated when their attempts to toughen him up met with resistance. They worried that he was weak, that there might be something wrong with him; they became afraid and their eyes mirrored their thoughts.

And the boy learned that his feelings didn’t matter, that they could be minimized or ignored, especially if they were painful or inconvenient for someone else. He learned that being strong meant swallowing his grief and pretending it didn’t kill his spirit.

Finding no comfort with his parents, the boy turned to his peers, for he had heard it said that a true friend will love and see you. But the other boys had also been steeped in the propaganda of Be Strong and Don’t Feel and Never Cry, so even when their spirits bade them be kind with one another, domination arose in its stead for that was their experience and they had learned to be afraid of judgment. They teased and were cruel and played power games in an attempt to see who among them was a man, who could tough it out.

They punched in lieu of hugging because they were afraid of being called gay; they laughed in lieu of crying because they were afraid of being called pussy. None of them received from the pack what they had originally come to find: understanding, empowerment, and acceptance. Instead, they found twisted shadow versions that mocked their pain and required them to offer up their humanity on the Altar of Masculinity.

And the boy learned that all things feminine were weak, pathetic, and undesirable; that their body parts were insults; that their divine powers of compassion and empathy were less desirable than strength and reason. The boy learned that to be a man he must ignore, hobble, or kill all things feminine inside him; that to be loving and merciful left him open to attack; that to acquire what he wanted required swift action and much bravado.

His spirit in anguish, his body tormented, his psyche confused, the boy knew not what to do, where to turn. He wanted to believe that he was worthy of love, worthy of attention and affection—and yet all the kingdom’s lessons had taught him otherwise. Had proven to him time and again that he was born imperfect, flawed, unlovable.

His body had withered from lack of loving touch and he no longer heard its messages; he was disconnected from his own experience and utterly wretched.

Who could love such a creature? Who could see him for what he truly was? Who could help him feel strong even though he feared he would always be weak and alone?

And the kingdom, eager to find solutions for its people lest they become too aware through introspection, answered: Girls. The girls are the ones who will give you affection, the ones who will complete you, the ones who will see you. They are the ones we have chosen for you.

But how do I get them to give me what I need? asked the boy. The kingdom whispered to him about the ways of manipulation, coercion, and guilt. And the boy listened; his body and psyche understood, for they had internalized this lesson well.

The End.





Reclaiming a Sexual Identity

It’s a terrifying thing to consider: acquainting myself with an energy I don’t even remember possessing (before it was twisted by my father) and then reclaiming it as Me and mine. An energy that was my divine birthright, now manifested in a persona I call the Cronechild who, in her wisdom, wants so desperately to come out and play. It’s terrifying because it’s leading me to integrate my shame around things like sex and motherhood and status and identity. And power.

After a lifetime of giving her away from a position of powerlessness, convincing her other people’s desires were paramount, telling her she didn’t matter, and compressing her into a space so small and dark that she’d never see the light—I’m now beckoning her to come forward. I’m beseeching her to emerge and tell me, at long last, what she literally almost died to keep secret: what my bodily temple desires most in the world.

How I want to be touched and where. How I prefer a long slow building of energy based on what’s actually happening in my body, as opposed to imagining a fantasy about someone else’s experience and attempting to make it mine Right Fucking Now. How I require safety and an actual connection to really feel safe.

Now that I’m beginning to receive these messages attentively and compassionately, listening to her with an open heart, I realize that to some extent I’ve been able to hear her my whole life. I’d just never trusted what she had to say. I’d never before believed that I could ask for what I wanted and have anyone give it to me because what I wanted required trust and safety and a long, slow build. In a world where sex is often meted out rashly and aggressively on a whim, projected against a pornographic background of desensitized disconnection.

Trust, safety, slow…these are not sexy words according to my programming. And so, I have never believed myself to be sexy.

But the tides are turning and there’s a new Director of Messaging. Lucky for me, the person occupying that role is my husband: a man so beautiful, sensitive, courageous, and insightful that I sometimes think he’s imaginary. Because here is someone who wants to hear what Cronechild has to say and is willing to let her speak in her own time, which he ensures by guaranteeing my safety and building trust. By listening to me and going slowly.

Because he respects and honors me as a person, as a woman, as a sexual creature. Something that he has been able to do only because I did it first. Seven years ago I started the journey that has led me to this place where I actually believe I am worthy of respect, pleasure, and attention. That I don’t have to earn it by offering you my body like a piece of meat or staying small.

Seven years to really start unraveling 38 years of programming based on 5,000 years of women being sexual property.

I’m so grateful to be here with him, listening to her. Because reclamation is no small thing.


  • I Thought it Was Just Me (But It Isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think” to “I am Enough” by Brené Brown
  • Slow Sex: The Art and Craft of the Female Orgasm by Nicole Daedone
  • Sacred Pleasure: Sex, Myth, and the Politics of the Body – New Paths to Power by Riane Eisler

Attention Deficit and Self Abuse

We are all suffering from attention deficit. And that deficit crushes our souls just as surely as aging kills our bodies.

I think a lot about attention. Specifically my attention and where I’m putting it; to what things, practices, or persons am I giving it? This practice of watching my attention has allowed me to become more sensitive to other people’s attention and where they seem to put it; how it gets moved around as an energetic resource. Brendan and I (as new parents since 2010) have been getting the pressure-cooker, crash-course version of how to give attention as we’ve learned to balance self care, child care, house care, and work care. It’s damn hard; you all know this.

Work care and child care are the least flexible, the most demanding of attention, the hardest to avoid, and it’s upon their altars where self care is usually sacrificed. Need to stay late at the office? Skip exercise and have a slice of pizza for dinner. Kid is sick and awake with a fever half the night? Drink extra coffee in the morning and push to get up anyway. These are the daily micro-manifestations of self abuse.

This practice is not the exclusive domain of new parents; obviously, non-parent people are just as guilty of burning their candles from both ends, so to speak. However, it IS an adult practice; you’ll rarely see a small child ignoring their body’s signals or “pushing through” anything without some serious reinforcement/coercion from the resident adult. Children aren’t born knowing how to abuse themselves.

Self abuse is a learned skill, an adaptation born from a deficit of attention; specifically, attention from the parents/teachers/local adults who were supposed to validate us and tell us we were worth their while. That we were seen and heard. That our experience had meaning and wasn’t simply an inconvenience. That we deserved their attention.

I know my mother loved me. And I also believe that when she gave birth to me in 1971 at the age of 21, she was totally unprepared for the challenges of motherhood. Raised on a farm by good, trustworthy people, she was easy pickings for the charismatic sociopath who was my biological father. Suffice to say, when he abused her in every way imaginable, she took it. Because that’s what her family taught her to do when they repeatedly told her their experience was more important than hers. That her body wasn’t hers. That her dreams were silly, her fears unfounded. That as the only girl on a farm, she was a burden.

She believed them because she loved them and their world was her world. But their lack of attention to her basic humanity, their inability to respect her for who she was, their refusal to give her the kind of attention she needed to flourish had profound and damaging effects on her. And, as a direct result, on me. Because how could she not pass on that level of self hatred and shame? How was she supposed to know what it looked like to give unconditional loving attention? To know what validation sounded like? What self love felt like?

How was she supposed to help me become a powerful, confident woman when she had no idea what that even meant?

My mother’s experience isn’t unique, of course; it’s a common human story. I, my sister, our grandmother, even our father; it’s our story. I suspect it’s a lot of your stories, too. We all come from lines of people who are told from birth that they don’t deserve regard in the ways they require.

Your skin isn’t a boundary to respect; your foreskins and hymens aren’t valuable. Your upset over being moved without consent can be minimized; how you feel is less important than our getting to the store. Your tears or screams aren’t a valid form of communication, but a silliness to be photographed, shared, and even laughed over. Don’t worry; you’re resilient and will adapt.

Is it any wonder we abuse ourselves and our children? With so few healthy models to follow and so much internalized shame to go around, this has reached epidemic proportions. It’s our water; the air we breathe; the reality we experience. We are the unwilling recipients of attention deficit disorder and it’s killing us.