Tag Archives: Dan Siegel

Show up for your kids: Let go of your “helicopter God”

In a recent article for the NY Times Parenting section, Daniel Siegel, along with Tina Payne Bryson,  uncannily explored the gospel again. I’ve read Siegel’s books, seen him speak, and have often been surprised by how I resonate with his spiritual wavelength.

This time he is taking some loving swipes at how parents, especially people of means, are raising their children. The picture I lifted from the article shows the problem clearly, I think. He asks us to:

Take a moment and fast forward in your mind to a day in the future when your child, now an adult, looks back and talks about whether she felt truly seen and embraced by you. Maybe she’s talking to a spouse, a friend or a therapist — someone with whom she can be totally, brutally honest. Perhaps she’s saying, “My mom, she wasn’t perfect, but I always knew she loved me just as I was.” Or, “My dad really got me, and he was always in my corner, even when I did something wrong.” Would your child say something like that? Or would she end up talking about how her parents always wanted her to be something she wasn’t, or didn’t take the time to really understand her, or wanted her to act in ways that weren’t authentic in order to play a particular role in the family or come across a certain way?

Francesco Ciccolella, NY Times

The power of showing up

Of course, Siegel is going to say something brilliant that makes you wonder how you could have ever parented without him. For the most part, he thinks he can explain everything and make it all work reasonably well, even in territories as complex as the brain and your family system. But in this case, I think he is asking the right question,

Do our kids feel seen by us? Do they feel truly seen for who they are — not for who we’d like them to be, and not filtered through our own fears or desires?

I think the answer is probably, generally, “No.” And I doubt that when Siegel was thirty-two, and trucking kids to little league games and such, he was asking the right questions, either. Now that he is sixty-two, he has better questions than “How in the world are we going to get through this week?” Or “How are my children going to survive their next twenty years?”

He is trying to help us all with his new book, The Power of Showing Up. The main point is something you may already know:

Showing up means bringing your whole being — your attention and awareness — into this moment with your child. When we show up, we are mentally and emotionally present for our child right now….The idea is to approach parenting being present and aware in your interactions with your child — and to make repairs when that doesn’t happen.

As usual, I think he has a great idea. But, as usual, I think it would be even better if he had Jesus to make it happen.

Where does one get the power to show up?

The power of showing up is great if you have the power to show up. Doesn’t it seem a bit grandiose to suggest in a parenting section article that people should simply change their mind and show up? — they should bring their whole being — their attention and awareness — into this moment? Buddhists have suggested that philosophy for centuries and some great people have practiced it well. But most of us are having trouble with our “whole being,” not to mention “attention” and “awareness.”

His advice has a lot of merit, in my opinion. But he does not give a lot of help with where to find the power to follow his advice unless you happen to have it already. Helicopter parents may communicate a lot of their anxiety to their child because they feel powerless, not because they intend to exercise a lot of power. I think the reason most people hyper-parent is their fear of doing a bad job. Many people in the United States are driven by the fear of missing out or failing and they don’t want their kids to miss out or fail. They are hyper-responsible, since they believe whatever life is, it is up to them to get it and live it. Their world is a competition for scarce resources and everyone needs to be their best self to get what they need or want. Siegel has deeper things to say than that, but I think even he would say that is a realistic assessment of what drives people.

Those fears drive Christians too. A hyper-responsible worldview may drive you when you are parenting, even if you don’t admit it. You may want to believe that trusting God is a live option for your child, but, in fact, and in the schedule, life is all about preparing them to succeed in the world as it is, according to the stranglehold the “economy” has on most of us.

Our view of God matters when we parent

To be honest, most Christians have a “helicopter” God who is the main example for their helicopter parenting. For many, God is the hyper-parent who does not see them for who they are, but sees them for who they ought to be (and who they have never been). As a result, Siegel’s book will just add more pressure to “show up” properly. You may already know about this demand to “show up” and have not fulfilled it yet, either.

The power to show up will be a result of trusting God the Parent who showed up in Jesus and continues to show up Spirit to spirit. I’m not sure how much Siegel’s reparative idea will help unless parents are Parented by the God revealed in Jesus. We love because God first loved us, not just because we had a good idea and implemented it well.

Our view of God, our Parent: Father/Son/Holy Spirit in a loving family system, Jesus as our pioneering older brother, makes all the difference in the world when it comes to showing up. We show up for our children and have the spiritual and emotional depth they need because we experience God showing up for us in Jesus. If we show up as weak examples of God showing up, we still know that God will, personally, show up — and that is a lot better than whatever I might provide.

Image result for ron reagan atheist

Last week many of my friends were talking about Ron Reagan. The old atheist advertisements from the Freedom from Religion Foundation were rerunning during the Democratic Party debate. He notably signed off in them by saying he is not afraid of burning in hell.

His view of God is faulty. He got the message that God is the ultimate helicopter parent scrutinizing people and weighing how well they have matched up to the ideal set before them – an ideal of which they are well aware yet to which they are still not conforming. The people I talked to knew what he was talking about, since many of them have that God, or know people who do. I think Siegel has a similar “god” when he is giving his good advice.

It is hard to make sure your children feel safe, seen, soothed and secure, as Siegel advises unless you feel safe, seen, soothed and secure. I, personally, see no hope for myself feeling or offering those vital experiences to anyone unless I have a constant relationship with God who saves me, sees me, soothes me, and makes me feel secure in a world which constantly demands more of me than I have. So that is where I am starting again today, giving over to trusting my trustworthy Savior, rather than mostly trying to get good enough so I can trust myself. Then I can hope to show up.

Integration: The work of harmony in the Spirit

When Hallowood Institute holds its first seminar at the end of the month, participants will experience a top-notch teaching on the signature topic of the institute: integration. The presenters are primarily interested in the sweet spot pulsing between psychology and Christianity.

The more specific topic for the session: “spiritual bypass,” is all about how Christians unwittingly use their faith as part of their psychological defense system instead of experiencing it as transforming. Many Jesus followers experience internal rigidity or chaos, but not a life-giving faith. Psychotherapists help such people integrate their many selves and the kaleidoscope of stimulation they encounter every day into a sweet harmony — within themselves, with God and others.

Integration is the key to well-being

Dan Siegel calls “integration” the “key mechanism beneath both the absence of illness and the presence of well-being. Integration – the linkage of differentiated elements of a system – illuminates a direct pathway toward health” [Mindsight review]. Siegel is not a Christian, as far as I know, but he travels with them. His definition of integration resembles the key scripture on which we focused last month as we explored spiritual gifts:

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7).

Paul could have said, “The Lord integrates the many unique manifestations of the Holy Spirit for the good of individuals, the body and those they touch.” Siegel describes the natural properties in the brain, body and society that allow for integration; Paul names the integrating force beyond our natural capacity: the Holy Spirit. We are all in need of the integration that leads to health. Our linkages are restored and maintained by the presence of Jesus.

The rigidity and chaos we witness in the lives of our friends and loved ones is disintegration: the incapacity to “keep it together” characterized by the automatic thoughts behind “that thing you do” and the divisive reactions of “going it alone.” The people in “Choir! Choir! Choir! have a nice approach to fighting the disintegration that characterizes urban life all over the world.

When we sing together, we are integrating

Siegel’s example of how integration happens, or not, is an activity we experience every week as the church: singing. The work of a choir transforms individuals into an integrated whole and helps people find a deeper integration within themselves. Here’s what he does at his seminars:

1) He asks brave volunteers to come up on the stage and form a choir. He gives them a pitch and asks them to make a uniform sound. After 30 seconds he hold up his hands and stops them. Because once you’ve got the pitch, singing it gets old fast.

2) Then he asks the choir to cover their ears so they can’t hear one another and then individually launch into whatever song they’d like to sing. The audience laughs as they start, but after a minute they want him to stop them, so he does. The sound is kind of irritating.

3) Finally, he asks the singers to sing a song most of them know, however they are moved. It is always amazing how this pick-up choir finds a song: Row-Row-Row, or maybe Oh Susannah, and more than half the time Amazing Grace.  Once the melody is established, individual voices emerge providing harmony above or below the tune, playing off one another, “moving intuitively toward a crescendo before the final notes.” The faces of the choir and audience light up as a palpable sense of vitality fills the room.

As the choir sings, everyone is “experiencing integration at its acoustic best.” Each member of the choir has his or her unique voice, while at the same time they are linked together in a complex and harmonious whole. The balance between differentiated voices on the one hand and their linkage on the other is the embodiment of integration.

Coming to harmony takes at least a weekly effort

Siegel’s first two exercises expose disintegration. The single note humming is unchanging and rigid – in a short time it is dull and boring. The initial risk and excitement of volunteering gives way to the monotony of the task. The singers are linked, but they can’t express their individuality. Without moving toward integration, systems move away from complexity and harmony into rigidity. One-note faith that is all principle and routine and one-note religion that is all about the group and never the individual is not only boring, it can be deadly.

When the singers close their ears and sing whatever comes to mind, there is cacophony. Such chaos tends to create anxiety and distress in the listeners. Now the choir has no linkage, only differentiation. When integration is blocked this way we also move away from complexity and harmony into chaos. Go-your-own-way faith that is only personal and private and go-your-own-way religion that is all about the individual and never the group is not only anxiety-provoking, it can be deadly.

Siegel proves with brain science and psychiatric practice what Paul reveals in 1 Corinthians. My mind, brain/body, and relationships are meant to be integrated in a harmonious whole. Paul says, in his extended teaching on spiritual gifts (chapter 12-14), he prays with his spirit and prays with his mind — and he does it all in caring relationships with other Spirit-moved people. He is cooperating with his transformation with his whole being; as a result he is made whole and he breeds wholeness.

Likewise, the body of Christ, as a whole, has a sense of mind, brain/body and relationships that draws us into harmony. To the Philippians Paul writes, “Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” Then individuals who are like Jesus will form a body that looks like Jesus and the world will see the light and love of God walking around and inviting them into relationship. The very nature of the church should breed harmony in the world, not division.

a picture of integration
Steve A. Prince and friends, Prayer Works, 2019. A collaborative drawing completed at the 2019 CIVA conference at Bethel University, St. Paul, Minnesota.

Just like it takes a conscious effort to bring a choir of strangers into harmony, it takes regular practice to be a harmonious church living in love, able to worship together without fear or shame. We work on it every week in our Sunday meetings. Some people enter the room and feel bored by some rigidity they see or are overwhelmed with the chaos of meeting so many different kinds of people. It will take some time and some kindness to help them leave their disintegration behind and enter into the Spirit with us. Singing together is a big help.

Maybe it takes even more conscious effort to be the pick-up choir on the stage, bringing the whole “audience” of the world into a “palpable sense of vitality.” When we worship, or just meet in Jesus’ name anytime, we should be conscious of volunteering to create harmony. It is not just for ourselves, but for the world we love that we seek out that sweet spot of integration, where the Holy Spirit brings us into harmony in ourselves — our minds, spirits and bodies aware and cooperating with truth and love, and where the Holy Spirit brings us into harmony with others — our mind, spirit and body in Christ revealing the way of Jesus for people hungering for transformation.

Rather than just thinking about it, why don’t you put on the headphones and be a part of the choir right now? On our first album we specialized in real people doing what we do when we sing. One prayer kept appearing as the album went on, and each time it arrived it carried a call for integration at the heart of it: “Lord, bring your peace to this broken place of hurt and pain. Restore it with Your power and grace.” When we use that song, the leader calls us together from wherever we come from into a common tune on behalf of the world. Spend a minute to practice. It takes quite a bit of effort to get out of rigidity or chaos and into harmony. [Restore us, oh Lord!]