When we feel clear inside, we are more able to be clear and relaxed with our children. Our buried fears, hurts, and wounds often burst out of us when we become parents. We meet our fear of being helpless, vulnerable, and totally dependent on another person. We may flare with anger when a child isn’t immediately obedient, or find ourselves being embarrassed by his or her awkwardness around other people, or astounded when we find out he lied.
MAKE FRIENDS WITH YOUR GOBLINS
To help free the path for a warm, relaxed connection with your child, it’s important to make friends with the goblins from the past that take the form of sudden hot reactions, or feelings of disdain or disconnection. From a Buddhist perspective, it’s just energy in the form of feelings–nothing to be afraid of, nothing to run from. Buried feelings have much more power over us than the ones we bring to the light of day. They take on a life of their own—in the form of being phony, scared, avoidant, worried. Exploring our feelings will often take us back to prior memories we have pushed away, discounted or told ourself , it didn’t bother me, it wasn’ a big deal. Yet it is through this willingness to look back that we find out more about who we are.
AWARENESS LEADS TO KINDNESS TO OURSELVES AND OTHERS
There is so much to gain when we become more at peace with our inner world–, an ability to be present, ease in our relationships, non defensive. We become willing say to ourselves “That sure was a strong reaction! What’s that about? ” or “ Damn, I sounded just like my father.” “I feel so uncomfortable in this situation.” I feel disgust changing diapers.” “I’m having a desire to retaliate,” “This crying is making me very nervous.
A great deal of child abuse happens when a child cries inconsolably because it triggers so many primal feelings in people of being lost, vulnerable, helpless, desperate. Instead of realizing that babies sometimes cry for long periods of time, parents might have thoughts such as, “Why doesn’t that baby stop crying!” What’s wrong?” “I don’t know what to do, I’m inadequate. For others it’s like pressure building, like someone screaming, like an assault on the brain that leads to a feeling of desperation to stop it. “Shut up, Stop, I can’t stand it.” That’s why it’s crucial for all parents to have access to counseling, parenting groups and help with these feelings rather than suffering them alone.
How to make friends with your feelings—Secrets shared become sacred truths.
A first step is to realize that your reactions are telling you there is something about the past that hasn’t been acknowledged or processed. Another crucial step is to talk with your partner, other parents or a counselor. Tell them what happens with you, and ask if they ever have sudden reactions to their child, I don’t know a parent who hasn’t. It helps reduce shame to learn that you are not alone, that all parents have their trigger points.
When we open up and talk about our fears and frustrations as a parent,
it helps us stop hiding, fearing, or thinking something is wrong with us.
As an example. I was having lunch with a friend at a lovely hotel restaurant. There was a baby crying in the distance Suddenly, my friend had a minor explosion, “I’d like to stuff a rag down that baby’s throat. That crying is driving me nuts.” After a few moments when she collected herself and went on to talk about how her mother had been deeply depressed when she was an infant and, according to her father, she had often been left for hours crying in her crib. She had hated being little and having no control over a mother who made repeated suicide attempts during her young life. Something about that baby, that need, that helplessness hit a memory and triggered her strong feelings.
As an example from my own life. When I was young my mother would often double cross me in the presence of my father. I’d ask her for permission to go to a gathering the next day, and she’d say yes. Then, the next day when I was about to go, my father would ask “where are you going? “ I’d tell him and he’s say, “ You don’t need to go there, you should stay home and help.” I’d say, “Mom told me I could go.” Then she’d say, “No, I didn’t.” I’d feel hysterical inside. I’d looked forward to the gathering, I wanted to go and I wanted to scream at her for lying. “You did too.” I’d say. She’d get a funny look on her face, and deny it again. I felt alone, desperate, and furious. My father might chime in that I shouldn’t talk back to my mother.
Fast forward to parenting my daughter, Janel. I’d walk into the dining room and see her with her hands in my purse. She had a long history of stealing from me as well as shop lifting. “Janel, It’s not okay to take money from me like that,” I’d say. “I’m not” she’d say, and that same old feeling of hysteria would rise up in my chest. “Yes you are. I can see it” I felt my jaw tighten in my intense need for her to admit she was stealing. If I had been in an adult state, I wouldn’t have needed her admission of guilt. Anyone over five could see was stealing. I needed to stay calm to handle the situation in a helpful way, not blow up out of a childhood place of anger and hurt.
Over time, even with the awareness of the source of my reaction, it was still an inner struggle, But I learned to manage my feelings even if they didn’t go away. I’d say to myself. This is from the past, Janel is not my mother, and I’m not a kid. I need to do something about her stealing.
How would an adult handle this. I became able to say. “Janel, I get so upset when you steal from me. I need to go sit down for a minute. I’ll talk with you later. Then I could think over some way to set a consequence without being punitive.
(NOTE There is a techniques parents can use called the Emotional Freedom Technique –EFT–that helps reduce these triggered reaction. An easy to read guide can be found by googling EFT Manual, Mercola)
Conscious parenting takes reflection. Whenever we have sudden or intense reactions to a child, or pull away with discomfort, give in after we’ve said no, don’t give them responsibilities, or constantly wait on them, we need to reflect. We are not in an adult state and our relationship is being filtered through the past.
EXPLORE YOUR TRIGGER POINTS AND UNCONSCIOUS MOTIVATION
There is so much to be gained by self exploration. As you accept and process your trigger points and bring your unconscious motivations to the surface, you increase your ability to relax, be at ease, have mercy on yourself, and enjoy parenting. . .and living. Naturally, as parents we will all have moments of wanting our children to look good, be happy and successful- but our liberation comes as we increase our awareness of when these feelings shift from a nice idea to an intensity that clouds our vision.
It’s something of a paradox that understanding the source of a feeling doesn’t take it away. Once you have made connections with the past, The real work happens in current time. To notice what happens in your body when you are starting to flare or have a strong reaction, to learn to be with the sensations, breathe into them and slow them down. .
EXERCISES TO HELP YOU REFLECT ON YOURSELF
Exercise 1. . As you read through the lists you might pick out one trait that you want to focus on for a few weeks. It could be that you interrupt, criticize, contradict, make dismissive remarks, automatically say no or dampen your child’s joy. Make a note about it that you read every morning, and jot down a few examples over the course of the day, For example, I interrupted/criticized when _________. Here’s what I said__________. What’s that about? _____________(Write down whatever comes to mind. . When you catch yourself in ego driven behavior—interrupting criticizing, correcting, blanking out– take a breath, bring yourself back to the present and notice what is happening in your body and in your mind.
In general, we stop the flow of connection when we are dismissive—Oh, it will be okay, interrupt or block a child from expressing their feelings, needs and wants.
A. Take whatever bothers you or sets you off and ask: Is that a part of me that I don’t accept? For example, if a whining child is super irritating, ask yourself, what do I say to myself when I want to complain or whine? “I hate whining” Ask yourself what you hate about it. Explore everything that comes to mind. (It’s so weak, immature, stupid. You need to be strong and take care of yourself.) What’s that about for you? Do you stop yourself when you feel hurt; do you become stoic and not let anyone know what you need or feel? Take time to listen to yourself, and pay attention to whatever rises to the surface.
2. Ask yourself, what would I like to whine about?
3. Let yourself have a good whine, hopefully in the presence of another person. Do it out loud, let yourself feel it.
RECOGNIZE WHEN YOU ARE OPERATING OUT OF THE PAST. Squelching your child’s feelings of hurt, anger excitement, disappointment and so on. You might feel panic or great discomfort when your child cries inconsolably. “Shhh.” “you shouldn’t feel that way.” “Don’t be a baby, big boys don’t cry.” “You’ll be all right. “It’s not a big deal. “You’ll get over it.” “It’s not so bad.” “You should be grateful.” You might feel an urge to punish —“That’s enough now.” “Calm it down.” “Don’t get too excited.” Don’t have a big head about it.”
- Repeatedly contradicting what your child says. Your child tells you she is angry at a teacher and you immediately give her a lecture on why she shouldn’t be angry, or what she could do about it. Your child tells you she is sad, and you say, “You’re not sad.” You’re okay.”
- Getting anxious, or jumping in to help when your child is struggling to accomplish a task—from tying a shoelace to putting a puzzle together, cleaning up her room, to figuring out a math problem. The first step is realizing that we rush in out of our own anxiety. Ask yourself, what is triggering my anxiety? Practice taking a breath and stepping back. Notice what happens in your body if you let your child struggle a little longer, or until it’s clear they need help. .
- Becoming deeply agitated or explosive when you want a child to stop crying, whining, or procrastinating. Go inside yourself and ask where these feelings are coming from. Remember that as a parent, you need to be helpful in such situations, not just reactive and upset.
- Having your self-worth and image attached to your child’s perceived failures or successes. Thinking you’re a good parent =when your child gets good grades, excels at sports, music, has good friends, along with feeling angry, blaming yourself for your child’s bad grades, difficulty with friends, or gets depressed. Either way it signals that you don’t experience yourself as separate from your child who needs to take pleasure in his or her own successes and start understanding the consequences of bad grades, or not making an effort. You can celebrate with your child when he/she succeeds as well as thinking about how to accept it when your child doesn’t live up to your script. Then you might think about how to help your child take responsibility for the areas of life he/she can control.
- Interfering with the logical consequences of your child’s behavior. Children learn about life in the real world when we allow them to experience the consequences of their behavior. When parents try to get a teacher to give their child a better grade than she earned, or rush out to buy a new bike for your child when his gets stolen because he didn’t lock it, or allow a child to go to a friends without finishing a chore he/she had agreed to do, you are not helping them prepare for life.
- Making discouraging shaming remarks both subtle and obvious, such as, “You sure are slow to get this.” (Subtle version “You still haven’t figured this out?”) “Your sister got it much faster than you” (subtle version: “I remember when your sister had the same class.”) “Hey dummy, you got cotton in your brain?” (Subtle version “ Well some of us are just more able to learn than others.”) “Don’t be a baby.” (Subtle version: “Now don’t cry, we don’t want to upset grandma.”)
- Comparing your child to others. It’s natural to be aware of differences between your child and his peers, but be wary of those observations turning into value judgments – it’s hurtful when the ego gets into pride or uneasiness based on comparisons with others. All mentions of comparison carry an undercurrent of criticism and shame, even if it’s unintended.
- Making guilt-laden remarks by indicating that the child is selfish or unkind because she wants to do what brings her pleasure instead of fulfilling her child’s needs. The parent says, Aren’t you kind of selfish to want that present for yourself—it’s Christmas, you should be in the spirit of giving. or, “You don’t really want to go to Jane’s house, do you?” when the truth is actually, “I don’t want you to go to Jane’s house today because I feel lonely and want you to stay here to keep me company.”
- Possessiveness. Thwarting a child’s moves toward independence, exploration, developing talents, having friends, or feeling joy separate from you. For example, giving phony or capricious reasons of why your child should play a certain instrument, take a particular class. wear orange when you like her in blue. Repeatedly saying, “Wouldn’t you rather . ./ . take violin lessons?” (which was always your own dream) when your child has already said emphatically that she wants to play the French horn. If you’ve decided that she will take violin lessons and there won’t be a choice, you need to present it that way. Mayabe it will help you hear yourself and be aware of your need to control your child instead of helping her find out who she is.
- Sending “It’s never good enough” messages . The A- could have been an A, the raking job missed some leaves, the colors in the picture could have gone together better. This stance of being a judge is toxic to children. As a parent, note how you do it to yourself. It’s like a compulsion of the parent to make endless little remarks that undermine the child’s joy in his accomplishments. If you watch children closely, you can see the instant hurt and withdrawal in their face and body language in response to undermining remarks.
10. Being unpredictable and not setting limits. You don’t set a curfew but get angry when you child comes home at 2AM. You don’t talk about money or budgeting, but when your high school daughter spends all the money she’s earned on some fancy clothes you tell her she was wasteful and should have saved some of the money. You jump up to get a TV dinner to please a complaining child and then scold , saying, “you are such a problem with eating. .
11. Being afraid of setting a limit for fear your child will be angry with you. Many parents look to their children to be their friends , give them approval or fill up some nameless empty place. They also have a deep fear of conflict or having their child show anger, so they repeatedly cave in after saying no, or don’t set appropriate limits. What does the child learn? To cave in to his or her own impulses and not to set internal limits against problem behaviors. Remember, you are not in a popularity contest as a parent.
12. Parenting out of guilt. The rationale is often like this: I wasn’t there when my child was little/ I feel bad about our divorce/ I’ve really messed up, so I’m making up for it now by being more lenient, buying nice things, and not expecting too much. As the expression goes, “guilt is the gift that keeps on giving.”
Any time we’ve concocted a story about why we don’t set limits or take the role of a parent in charge, we’re probably acting out of fear.
As you reflect on the ways that your ego interferes with your parenting, take a moment to ask yourself:
Why is it so important for me that my child _______ .
How do I think it will make my life different?
How am I being dependent on my child for my needs or self esteem/image?
Finally, remember, that parenting is an imperfect situation. You won’t always know what to say, or how to comfort your child, but you can learn to say, I don’t know what to do right now, what do you need? What can I do for you? You can bring mercy to yourself and your child for your imperfections and limitations. You can step back, lighten up, and see it all as a wondrous passing show with many players. Peace.