What's so hard about parenting isn't their emotions, it's our emotions!
When my kids didn't listen to me, I got triggered. And I thought it was their fault! That put the responsibility for my emotional well-being and behavior firmly onto my children.
I really knew, of course, that my feelings weren't their fault. Still, something deeply rooted in my nervous system got overwhelmed, felt helpless, and took over much of the time when I was upset.
Learning to notice the feelings in myself,
to name them,
to feel them in my body, and most importantly,
to tend to them and parent the big feelings that can so easily hijack me when I don't prioritize them,
has made big changes in how I relate to my kids.
"The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice. "
The way we talk, our assumptions and expectations, how we respond to their struggles, all of these form our children's inner voice. Our own inner voice, too, has been formed by parents and teachers and culture.
When we're struggling as adults, it's easy to feel that the problems are outside of us (and of course they are to some extent!). Our struggles are also the internalized beliefs of that inner voice, telling us we're not good enough, or that we shouldn't be sad, or that we have to fix something even when we don't know how to, or (fill in the blank).
There's nobody around us who can change that. Our kids, friends, even our parents can't change it, because it's an internalized story from the past.
But we can change it! When we notice the voice--learning to listen as though it's the voice of a little one, naming the emotion, handling it gently and lovingly, offering connection to our lost little inner child, we can rewrite the old stories that are stuck inside of us.
Transforming the inner voice is possible, courageous, freeing, and a service to this messy world.
And (continuing from the past couple of days), the 'standing with' we can do as parents isn't only for our kids! Even as we're showing up as competent adults in the world, we carry these tender, vulnerable little kids around inside of us. Everything you experienced as a little one is still with you. The emotional experiences you had without the support of caring adults rise up sometimes, and when that happens it can feel like being taken over by an irrational child, an abandoned kid, or an angry teen.
Learning to stay close to that inner kid--loving yourself even as you're angry or scared or feeling abandoned with the weight of the world on your shoulders--is the most powerful thing I've ever practiced. Want to try?
Next time you're feeling something strong, you could try this.
Just like our kids deserve to know that we can handle their messy feelings, we deserve to know that for ourselves.
For our kids to feel safe (continuing from yesterday's post), they need to feel us willing to stand with them. Keeping them safe in a concrete/material way is both important and impossible, especially when they're at particular risk in this messy world--when they're BIPOC, LBGTQI+, neurodivergent, ill, living in poverty, in a war zone or violent area, in a home with domestic violence, carrying personal and/or family trauma, etc. As loving parents, we need to do what we can while recognizing that we can not control outcomes.
'Standing with' sounds simple--of course we want to do that, right?! But is that what you experienced growing up? Most of us carry invisible patterns of self-abandonment that make their way into our parenting.
How do we change these patterns? We practice asking ourselves, can I greet this complicated, beautiful, imperfect being as they are right now? Is something in my nervous system cringing or reacting or scared, wanting to coach them toward being somehow more palatable to me or the world?
Children need, so badly, the feeling that we are willing to meet them as they are. That we aren't embarrassed by them, that we can handle their messy, deep selves. They need us to stand with them as they rise up into their beautiful wholeness, even before we see where it's heading.
To clarify--this doesn't mean we overprotect or rescue our children from the real consequences of their actions. It just means that we stay close and connected while they grow. For example, when a kid hurts a friend and feels isolated or ashamed or angry, we can we sit with them in it, loving them and letting them learn what they are learning rather than disconnecting, shaming, explaining, fixing, or making it about our feelings. What's important is not that they (or we) are always comfortable but that they are not cut off from our love.
If you're parenting right now, you have a pretty complicated set of responsibilities, right? Today I want to narrow it all down to something very, very simple and foundational. For children (or any humans) to learn, function, socialize, and be healthy they need to know:
When you wake up to a cranky child, when your tween is freaking out about homework, when your teen comes home from school in a mood, let yourself wonder how your child would answer these questions.
Can you provide them with some evidence (not words, not assumption, not even the evidence from yesterday) that they are safe with you right now? Can you show them that they matter? More specifics tomorrow!
I'm a person on a messy journey--healing, learning, discovering and rediscovering. Sharing, writing, talking, and teaching help me to understand myself and the world more clearly. I hope it can help make your journey a easier, too.