I am a working mom of two daughters in a quiet town in California. For years I lived to be ‘successful’ at life as defined by our American culture. I achieved, but the cost was high: I was always thinking, figuring out how to optimize, get things done. I was a wiz at managing work, relationships and my household, but I was somehow missing something. I felt like I was just going through the motions. I would think about feelings, but avoided actually experiencing anger, shame or fear for so many years that I no longer had access to them. They were messy, inefficient and scary, why have those? This is a cautionary tale with a happy ending.
I was always striving to do well. A driven student, I worked hard to get good grades. I landed great jobs where I put in a lot of hours and moved up quickly. I strove to be competent in each thing I focused on. I made a ton of money in the hay days of the.com boom selling hi tech computers for SGI and I was killing it. I worked out everyday and had a stable long term relationship, a dog. I was ‘successful’. But was I happy? My boyfriend at the time once told me he felt like he was just a piece in my puzzle, I was so busy getting life to work out ‘right’.
I got married and we wanted to have children. I decided I was going to be the best mom ever and that I was going to be ‘successful’ in this arena too. I was going to manage our kids and our house efficiently and effectively. I had it all.
Then my daughter was born. She came out spirited and passionate, strong-willed and with her own way of doing everything. She never ever wanted to be told what to do; she was determined. However, I was competent and knew how to do everything the best way. We were on a collision course. How could I do my job as a good parent if teaching her the right way to do something would push her buttons and send her into a tantrum and fits of obstinance?!? I couldn’t see that learning was messy by definition and trying to control it was ridiculous. We would get into battles that were awful, intense, and scary. These interactions traumatized the whole family.
I looked for tools because I needed support and found Nonviolent Communication (NVC) which was started by the brilliant Marshall Rosenberg. He and the local center showed me how my feelings were messengers and crucial to being an integrated, whole person. Plus emotions connected me to universal human needs and Life energy. This was completely foreign to me, because in my race to get straight A's, get into a top college, and excel in my career, I had unconsciously decided feelings were uncomfortable and not for me. Emotions were messy, inconvenient, often overwhelming, and scary; especially embarrassment, uncertainty, fear and anger. They seemed in conflict with my persona of competence. I had no room in my life for any of these hard feelings because they would get in the way of keeping everything together. How can you stay in control and be efficient with uncertainty and anger around?
A big part of the NVC program was to teach you about your feelings which was amazing and necessary because every time I turned around, my daughter had one. She was angry when I said ‘no’ to cookies before dinner. She was inconsolable when we had to leave the park. She would rage when her sister took a toy. She was resistant and cranky when it was time for bed. I was hoping that NVC was going to help me deal with her emotional outbursts and get back in control. I still wasn't prepared for me to feel them, I just needed tools to stop my daughter's emotions. Not exactly how it worked out, but that was my hope. Especially when she was 2 and 3, oh and 4 and 6, oh yeah and 6.5 and 8...can’t forget 9, 10 and 11...but the worst was 13. I was so out of my sphere of experience, I had no idea how to be ‘successful’ here. I would either go into shut down and withdraw or get angry and frustrated and take it out on her. I would try to be calm and then after the 3rd time just lose it! Any of my reactions would make her react more strongly. It was awful.
I wanted to learn more about conflict so I trained to become a Mediator and practiced Conflict Resolution for 10 years. I saw first hand how being human is messy and tough. Boy have I observed a lot of human nature while being a parent, a mediator, an office co-worker, and a kids soccer & running coach. The great news is that over the past 15 years I developed survival tools I call the 5 Steps To Connect, a set of practices that allow me to prioritize self care, reclaim my emotions, stop taking things personally, deeply listen and set limits. These practices allow me to re-center during or after a reaction and connect in a deep, real way. Now I don’t just go through the motions, but live into and experience a full life.
I want to share the Five Steps To Connect because if I had kept going in my effective, efficient, killing it mindset, I wouldn’t have the relationships I do now with both of my daughters and my husband. I would have wasted precious time with them overly focused on accomplishing stuff and doing it right. Because when I was so focused on doing, I was trying to manage them. I was trying to make them into what I thought they ‘should’ be, what I ‘should’ be. I was caught in the fixed mindset of living ‘right’. I thought that being ‘successful’ and teaching them to be ‘successful’ was my main role as a woman, as a mom, but it wasn’t. It is modeling and living into the uncertainty that is humanness. And I couldn’t model what I didn’t have. So the first steps of the 5 Steps to Connect were mine.
The happy ending part is that the 5 Steps to Connect are things we can practice and it is never too late to connect with those we love. I was able to learn how, and you can too. The foundation was discovering I am worthy without doing or accomplishing anything. I learned how to be present and what the heck presence even was. How to slow down, have one-on-one time and really be there without thinking of other things at the same time. Most importantly, how to listen inward and hear who I really am.
I stumbled on big obstacles along the way as this is hard stuff; if it were easy we’d be doing it already. But the connection you yearn for is possible, take the first step.
Allison Livingston teaches a 90 minute overview or 5 session classes on the 5 Steps to Connect and 5 Steps to Freedom.
She works with Groups at 1440 Multiversity in Scotts Valley.
She has studied NVC in Santa Cruz for 15 years, including doing their six month intensive program twice and assisting the leaders with the 2016 program.
In 2016 she took classes to teach the Hand In Hand - Parenting by Connection method developed by Patty Wipfler.
Allison studied for 3 years with Robert Gonzales, whose Living Compassion work on core beliefs and welcoming the whole self has been healing and meaningful in her life.
She read and did online workshops with Brene Brown whose research on shame and vulnerability is outstanding and enlightening. One of the hardest pieces to practice is vulnerability and, without it, there is no heart connection.
Allison is a Certified Mediator and worked for 11 years doing Alternative Dispute Resolution work in Small Claims Court, Neighborhoods and Myles F. Corcorcan Construction Consulting.
She coached recreational and competitive soccer with Aptos Soccer Club for 10 years and coached Girls On The Run for 8 years.