If you’ve been around kids for any length of time, you know that particularly when there are 4 of them together, the scene’s not always as peaceful and co-operative as this photo, taken almost 30 years ago of my 3 kids and their ‘pseudo-sister’ (my friend’s daughter), might suggest!

Things weren’t always so calm when my 3 kids and their ‘pseudo-sister’ were young.
Those more fraught moments were where “Please Stop” was born ...

Back then we didn’t have very many rules, but there was one that was inviolable, and everyone knew it.

In speaking recently with my daughter (the baby in this photo) about her memories, she said “I didn’t even know what would happen, but I never saw it not obeyed!”

It was a pretty simple rule, and it didn’t only apply to the kids. If anyone was doing something to you that was disturbing – anything that brought up an internal ‘no’ – all that needed to be said was “Please Stop”. And the other person stopped, just stopped. There was absolutely no question.

In preparing to write this, I checked in with each of the kids. They all remember that it was mostly invoked when they were messing with and bugging each other.

My oldest son remembers it being used more ‘on’ him. He recalled “As a kid it was frustrating, because once it was used, then I couldn’t do what I wanted to do! But it was ‘the law’ that you could not break. Still, it was nice to know it was there if there was something I didn’t want to have.”  

They all spoke of how important it was for them with their Dad who would often tickle and tease “here comes The Claw!” My second son said “‘Please Stop’ gave me confidence that when Dad was roughhousing with me and threatened The Claw, I knew there was a way I could stop it. What I’d say now is that it gave me a way to withdraw consent.”

And as she recalled the way she experienced ‘Please Stop’ as –“very much a thing that made me feel safe” – my youngest and I chuckled as we both realized that at a very young age, I’d unconsciously introduced my kids to the notion of having a ‘safe word’; something discussed ahead of time that when used will snap partners out of any sex play they’re engaging, effective immediately. It’s a way of letting the other person know, in no uncertain terms, you’re absolutely done.

In addition to having it set up ahead of time, creating safety in any situation requires confidence that the other will quit as soon as you utter those words, so trust and respect are crucial.

Back then, having barely begun my own journey of personal growth, much of establishing ‘Please Stop’ was unconscious, but in retrospect, even there, the seeds of Realizing RICH Relationships were in me.

Why bring this up now?! Truth is I hadn’t thought about ‘Please Stop’ in ages! But something happened a few weeks ago. The Diving Deeper group (5 women and I who over the last 4 years have been meeting by phone weekly) came together at the home of one of the members. This was a 3.5 day Gathering that was being eagerly anticipated by everyone.

On our call the week before that Gathering, one of the members shared about “being able to feel my sense of self and know that that’s been held in a bigger context of love and care. … And all of me is okay with you, and I don’t have doubts. I just don’t have any more. … Never ever have I had that in any therapy group, in any training group. And I’ve been in a shit load of training groups. I’ve never felt this way, this solidly, securely attached. … Some of it’s me, and it’s taken a critical mass of us being close enough to the same place, for our group to crystallize like it has.” 

Our commitment is to be a group that supports each other, and gives each other a place to practice growing in the ways that our lives are calling us.

Even in wise adult circles, those less than calm moments can emerge. After our recent Gathering I came to recognize the value of “Please Stop” in co-creating an even more respectful container …   

Not surprisingly, it’s not always been smooth sailing. Over the years we’ve experienced support and challenges through all kinds of scary, and painful interactions both outside and within the group.

But something happened at this Gathering that was different. Not only was there a painful exchange in a conversation, but it was the first time in my experience within the group that we could not find our way back to open-hearted connection. It was painful for all of us, and clearly a call to expand our capacity for Practical Presence.

For me there was no make wrong. I’ve held it as an invitation for us to deepen our commitment to Realizing RICH Relationships – honouring our shared humanity, as well as practising all the other RICH qualities. If you’re not familiar with that acronym, you’ll find it in the sidebar here!

As coach and facilitator of the group it was absolutely a time to acknowledge my humanity. Though it was clear in that painful moment that something was missing, neither I, nor anyone else, knew what.

Our commitment was to be gentle with ourselves and be as present to the tension within us as we could. And to continue to be curious, be in wonder, reflect, and see what surfaced.

A couple days after we’d all returned home, I was in my morning meditation, and suddenly out of nowhere the memory of ‘Please Stop’ flooded back. It was one of those moments of deep recognition, where goose bumps washed over me.

Until then, the shared agreements of the group had served us well. Never before within the group had we experienced a moment where this kind of tool was needed.

But as soon as the idea came to me, I realized that had we had ‘Please Stop’ as one of our shared agreements, we could have created the needed pause. As my ‘pseudo-daughter’ shared with me “In my family it’s our absolute rule for respect, and our rule for pausing to stop chaos or sloshing feelings! … it’s key to calming so many “sloshings”.”

The act of invoking ‘Please Stop’ reminds the sender that they are not powerless. Within this container, they can be confident that their request for a pause will be met.

This isn’t about controlling the other! It sends a couple of really clear messages. First ‘Please’ – a request, and reminder of our shared agreement. Then ‘Stop’ – the acknowledgement that I’m at my edge. I can’t have my attention out there with you anymore. I need to bring my attention inside here to me.

So we’ve been exploring this in our Diving Deeper group, and I’m SO excited about the possibility for us here, AND about what sharing this could mean for many.

There is of course lots more to share, particularly about the set up, and what’s important after invoking ‘Please Stop’. The one thing I’ll mention here is the importance of the commitment that when we’re both back in a grounded space, we’ll come back together and explore whatever had been happening in our original exchange, but we’ll both be in a different place than we had been in that first moment.

If you’re like many I’ve shared this with over the last weeks, you’ll both be intrigued, and have questions and ideas of your own. And while I’ll be exploring more nuances of ‘Please Stop’ as a shared agreement in future Musings, I’d love to hear your thoughts now – perhaps in the comments section below!

Another way of doing that if you feel drawn, is to join me and others in our community during our daytime, no cost, At Home with Maralyn & Friends call as we gather this Tuesday August 14 on our Maestro line at 1:00 pm ET. If it works for you, I’d love to hear your voice. If you’ve never registered before, click here.

Nurturing juicy co-creative partnerships
…with ourselves, others & life!