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  • Writer's pictureJuliana

Parenthood and NVC

I have been practicing and studying Nonviolent Communication (NVC) for 5 years. I would say that I've been very intentionally living in NVC for the last 3 of those years. In the last year and some change, I have embarked on the greatest, most challenging, and most rewarding journey to date: motherhood. And boy am I glad that I had a strong and intimate practice of NVC walking into this journey.

I'm not going to try to explain the beauties and challenges of being a new parent, but I will share how I think NVC has shaped my experience thus far for the better, whether that be with my daughter, with my partner, with the various people who are a part of her life, or with myself.

NVC with my 15-month old

My daughter is quite young. Obviously she and I are not getting into heated conflicts in which I would have to call upon my NVC skills to de-escalate and come back to connection. However, my understanding of NVC has helped me to tap into a deeper understanding of my kid, and I think she can sense that.

For example, in Nonviolent Communication, there is a central focus on universal human needs. These are things that everyone in the world needs to be content, whole, fulfilled, etc. (You can check out a list of those needs here.) Babies start off with a few of these needs, but not all of them are really relevant until some level of maturation happens. At first, food, comfort, and rest are pretty much the only needs that are particularly alive in babies, but as they grow, new needs turn on. My husband and I have had such a fun and intriguing time watching this process. Over the course of our daughter's life, new needs have turned on for her like curiosity, fun, movement, play, and very recently, autonomy (she just learned to walk last month). Even safety wasn't always a clear need for her until around the time she was able to make out faces and recognize people, at which point she became fearful of those she did not recognize.

My daughter "reading" a Feelings and Needs sheet.

Paying attention to her needs has taken a lot of the frustrating mystery out of my job as a parent (At least I think it has. I have never tried parenthood without NVC so I have no real personal comparison). Babies cannot effectively communicate their needs. So when they cry or scream or push something away, it can be hard to know why. Having an understanding of universal human needs, and looking at those situations through that lens, is incredibly helpful in de-coding baby behavior. Like I said, developing brains don't yet have all the needs turned on, so it usually isn't very difficult to figure out, especially since we have been paying attention to her development and watching new needs turn on for her. I look forward to watching the rest turn on, and being able to empathize with her when they do.

NVC with my partner

I think any couple with children can probably relate when I say that parenthood changes a relationship. I'm not saying it is for better or worse. I'd rather not put those judgements on it. It's just incredibly different, and my guess is that in many cases (certainly in mine), it is challenging. Sharing the responsibility of caring for a tiny human who cannot meet any of her own needs is an adjustment, and naturally, my partner and I have experienced conflict within this new dynamic of our relationship.

Luckily, we have NVC. Yes, we. I am one of the lucky ones who has a significant other also trained and skilled in this practice. I am incredibly grateful for this, especially in this time in our lives. When we get overwhelmed, when we are exhausted from sleep deprivation and constantly being "on", when we haven't showered in days or are too busy to remember to eat (especially in those newborn days), it is very easy to snap at each other. It is very easy to fall into the cycle of blaming the other, judging them, and saying things we might later regret. It is easy and it happens! But we have the awareness to catch ourselves, use the process, and come back to connection. Sometimes that happens in a quick 2 minutes; sometimes it takes a couple of days to process and work through fully. But we always come back to connection, and I 100% attribute that to NVC.

In fact, I would recommend NVC training to any couple thinking about having children for this reason alone. I truly believe it has the power to strengthen and maybe even save relationships when things get tough.

NVC with others in my kid's life

I have always had the attitude of not caring too much about what other people do with their own lives. I think I still hold this sentiment for the most part, but since motherhood, that sentiment is occasionally challenged. When other people are around my daughter, I am very aware and sometimes internally critical of the way they behave or the things they say because I think that my daughter will pick up on it. I'm not entirely sure what outcome I am afraid of, but there is definitely fear that comes up in me. NVC has been quite helpful in these instances.

First, NVC has helped me to recognize that what I am often experiencing is fear, and also that sometimes, fear exists because of stories in my head - not necessarily anything based in reality. From there, I have the tools to explore the feelings and needs that come up for me and do some internal processing around my own fear and discomfort. I also have the ability to think about the other person and take guesses as to their feelings and needs, which is quite helpful in letting go of that pesky blame and judgment that so often creeps in.

Second, there are some boundaries I have when it comes to my kid, and NVC has taught me how to clearly express those boundaries and make requests of the people around her while holding emotional safety for them. This is huge.

NVC with myself

Just like it's easy to fall into blame and judgment with others, it's easy to do with the self as well. Again, exhaustion, over stimulation, and other pressures that come up in motherhood can lead to thoughts of self-blame or self-judgment. Self empathy via NVC has significantly helped with those types of thoughts. Additionally, in moments of stress, overwhelm, or challenge - when my nervous system seems to be going haywire - connecting with myself by recognizing what feelings my body is experiencing and thinking about what needs are alive in me often help to quell the intensity of those feelings. Simply having presence with myself can completely reroute my experience in a moment. This tool has been invaluable in my life in general, but especially now that I have a child.

Of course, I want to show up in the best ways that I can for my daughter. I want her to experience love, acceptance, care, stability, safety, trust, and comfort with me. Having greater awareness of my own responses to stress, overwhelm, or any other challenge, and having the tools to reroute my behavior and/or the way I communicate in those moments is probably pretty crucial to my daughter getting those needs met in our relationship... at least that's my guess.

I am so grateful for knowing nonviolent communication, and I look forward to the other ways in which it will almost inevitably show up in my motherhood journey.

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