I want to share a bit about a course I took recently that changed my approach to parenting and, in many ways, changed my life.
How I Came to Eliane’s Program
When I first emailed Eliane Sainte-Marie, it was an SOS email. I had started to follow the Parenting for Wholeness blog during my pregnancy in 2014 after reading the life-altering book, The Continuum Concept: In Search Of Happiness Lost, by Jean Liedloff. I knew I resonated deeply with Eliane’s philosophy and thought that one day I would dive in deeper and commit to doing her program. When I finally signed up, I was in a vulnerable place, completely torn open, feeling helpless and desperate for guidance and support.
I knew what not to do as a parent, I had all of the scripts –Non-Violent Communication (NVC), Peaceful Parenting, Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE)— that I followed as ways to communicate respectfully and peacefully with my child, but I could not seem to put things into play in a way that was effective and felt truly authentic to me. I was missing something essential, though I did not yet know what that thing was…
So, let me get really vulnerable.
Here is an excerpt of that first email, from April 2017:
I desperately need you and your course. I sit here sobbing. I am absolutely at the end of my rope and I don’t know what else to do or where to go. I am a single mother of a highly intelligent, spirited, charismatic, strong-willed and loving daughter who struggles with some very deep emotional challenges that are beginning to manifest in very concerning and heartbreaking ways. Gradually, over the past year, she has developed increasingly violent behaviours and some days has screaming fits that last for hours on end with barely a pause to breathe. I am absolutely exhausted and so deeply pained.
We have had a bit of a rollercoaster ride over these past 33 months of her life and the 9 months of pregnancy. Several international relocations, my father’s diagnosis of dementia, a divorce at 10 months due to her father’s substance abuse and him assaulting me with Ophelia in my arms, and a general lack of community and family support. I do my best to keep a regular daily rhythm and routine for Ophelia, and have taken a lot of inspiration from Waldorf, but it just does not seem to be enough. I am a student midwife and have been working my rear end off to finish school, and the end is finally in sight. But this has meant that I have often been very preoccupied with school and clinical work and Ophelia’s intense needs for attention and connection have gone unmet. We are currently in the last month of a four-month clinical placement in the Philippines where I have been on call 24/7, but for a two week break to travel in March. I desperately need to figure out a way to meet her, to connect deeply with her, and to open us both up to one another, because I am terrified of the direction our relationship is going. I hate the parent I am becoming and I am frightened by the lack of empathy I see in my child.
With love, warmth and hope,
When I read that email today, my heart breaks. I feel compassion for the place I was in, and for my daughter’s experience, and for other parents out there who are feeling stuck and helpless. Sometimes we have all sorts of beautiful intentions, but are missing something that seems intangible and is preventing us from being our best selves as parents. The essential piece I was missing back then, which I have since found in doing Eliane’s program, is a deep inner wisdom that exists within each of us. It is a place of knowing, a place I now trust with confidence to guide me as a mother.
At the beginning of Eliane’s program, Clean Parenting, participants were asked to look within and find clarity in an intention for each of our families. My intention went like this:
"I choose love in each moment, feeling a deepening heart connection beneath the waves. I share unabashedly in the joys of the Universe with my daughter. I let my awareness and my intuition guide me, so that I may be a fully authentic mother and leader. I shed my protective armour to expose my tender and most vulnerable self, so that my daughter may feel the endless abundance of my love for her. I meet Ophelia where she is, letting go of my expectations and preferences for outcome. I feel into the moment, I am wholly present and grounded, and I let things unfold organically. I own my own discomforts and desire for control, and offer space and love for myself to heal. I am wide open, deeply empathetic, and fully alive. Ophelia explores inquisitively, plays unabashedly, and learns with patience and intrigue. She feels fully accepted, confident, grounded, supported, free, and whole. We are both open to spontaneity, releasing our grips and embracing what is offered in each moment. A sense of harmony and fluidity flows through our home."
The hurdles seemed immense to me at that time; I could not imagine how I would achieve what seemed like such a lofty goal, especially as a solo parent.
What I did know was that I was willing to do whatever it would take. I believed that it was possible, because both my daughter and I deserved this harmony and connection in our lives together.
Eliane’s teachings combine concepts from The Continuum Concept and Non-Violent Communication (NVC). The program is grounded in being a heartfelt, authentic, intuitive parent who embodies benevolent leadership, accesses inner wisdom, and has confidence to trust oneself. I began taking grounded action through connection, empathy, and clear guidance. I saw my daughter and I as a team, working together toward a common goal of connection and understanding. Eliane asks us to look within ourselves for answers to powerful, inspiring questions, and she does so from a grounded place of support, wisdom, and clarity. Her guidance helped me to resolve the power dynamic that was creating dissonance in our home.
Throughout Clean Parenting, I was asked to inspect my identity as a mother, and to shift my thinking from fear-based assumptions about my daughter’s behaviour to open-minded understanding and empathy. Things began to shift spontaneously. I began to acknowledge my own boundaries and needs with my daughter, and make space to honour her boundaries and needs as they emerged. I got clear on what I wanted for my family and then I got clear on what it felt like to make that happen. I began to unhook the places that I felt stuck, and shed the beliefs and habits that were not serving me. I let go of limiting stories I had about myself and my daughter and began to really trust the wisdom within each of us. I restructured my thinking to feel into the fact that my child is inherently good, and wants to do what is right! All of this was done with Eliane’s clear, gentle guidance and support, completely free of judgment.
Children Are Innately Good
Children can FEEL us, they KNOW what is going on inside of us. They are wise, intuitive and in touch with themselves and they are able to sense, as empaths do, what is going on inside of those around them. They may not yet have the words to explain what they are experiencing, but they are surely able to recognize whether a person or place feels safe, unstable, accepting, supportive, or insecure.
What We Gained
Issues began resolving spontaneously as the program ensued. To be honest, I did not really understand what was happening. Sometimes I could make a direct correlation between something I “did” or “didn’t do” and how Ophelia responded, but often it was just a feeling of ease that seemed to be setting in. The work I did with Eliane and the others in my group was introspective and challenging at times, but brought such clear, tangible results that I felt encouraged and inspired to continue and see it through.
We now have a beautiful sense of harmony, ease in our days, honest and respectful communication, openness, and acceptance. Our lives still have many challenges and our days are not always blissful, but I feel I have the inner resources now to walk the path confidently. I trust myself and my daughter. I am learning to sit in my discomfort and question what I am feeling, why I am feeling it, and acknowledge when I might be triggered or reactionary.
I have achieved a sense of freedom from many of the things that hooked me before, and the effects are rippling down to my daughter.
I can joyously say that most days, all of the goals I set in my intention (above) are being met or surpassed. The fears I had when I first emailed Eliane have melted away. A deep sense of satisfaction and gratitude fill my heart when I reflect on my relationship with my daughter today.
An Ongoing Journey
New and old issues are always surfacing, and so the journey continues. I am increasingly recognizing how what I am doing may be causing or contributing to any disconnect, and I am continuing to find ways to meet my daughter with presence and connection. I have learned to honour Ophelia so that she feels heard, even if we disagree, and we often look for win-win situations together.
I watch my own tensions as they arise, by being present in my body, feeling my emotions, and owning them as my own. This has provided great lessons for me. I work to not push my preferences onto my daughter if they are not also grounded in her truth. I am unhooking my stuck places and continuing to take action, feeling in my gut when things are off and being willing to seek an answer or a way to work with Ophelia towards a common good.
I thought I would need much more support integrating Clean Parenting once the program was over, and from the beginning I acknowledged fears coming up around things falling apart when the container of support was lifted. But instead, harmony has been largely happening organically and I have clarity and awareness around the places that still need work. I feel I have what I need to move forward and be the best parent I can be to Ophelia, and the effects are trickling into other relationships in my life. I have set myself up for occasional 1:1 sessions with Eliane to work through any stuck places and know I can reach out to her when I feel down or when I need help realigning myself. I am feeling really confident and grounded in my parenting, and eager to share what I have learned with others.