Some of the biggest challenges in our families grow out of discomfort with emotions. Last week I wrote about the importance of listening to feelings because many of us bypass feelings (children's and our own). Today I am approaching feelings from a different direction, that of having the courage to let kids get upset.
Life includes big and small upsets. Kids don't always get invited to birthday parties. They don't necessarily get the part that they want in the play. Many don't go to prom with their first choice of dates. Pets and even family members get sick and die.
These experiences are rough for parents and kids! When children are upset, they may express it in not-so-evolved ways. This can trigger our own big feelings, perhaps anger, shame, frustration, and/or fear. Many of us consciously or unconsciously work hard to avoid these moments.
Have you gotten into the habit of going for drives to help your child fall asleep? Making a special meal for your child when they refuse the one you prepare for the family? Buying a toy because your child saw it and wants it, even though you do not want to? Letting your child use the car even when they haven't taken care of a responsibility? For a parent who is uncomfortable with conflict, these choices can seem sensible and logical, but they actually limit a child's chance to build emotional resilience. Children, and all people really, need the experience of having big and challenging emotions within the context of a loving and safe relationship.
A child who gets upset that you won't buy a toy in the store may throw herself on the ground weeping. If you are able to stay both loving and firm, she learns that it's safe to have big feelings. Her emotions don't make you go away and they don't necessarily control your choices. A child who is managed so that upsets don't happen can't actually learn how to work with big feelings, can't test the safety of the connection, and has less experience with emotional maturation.
If you find yourself over-managing situations to keep your child from being upset (pay attention with this idea in mind and you will start to sense when you are doing it), consider what is happening for you. Are you afraid of their feelings? Or afraid of how your own feelings may get triggered? Are you worried about how other people will judge you? Can you imagine seeing emotional situations as teaching and bonding opportunities? A chance for your child to feel loved and accepted even during a tantrum or outburst? And for them to learn that the outburst won't trump your decision.
What do you think?
We can't give what we don't have. I think this is the first and most important rule of parenting. We absolutely must care for ourselves, treating ourselves with loving kindness, if we are to give our best to our children.
In the busyness of parenting, caring for other people's needs can feel urgent and seem endless. Even when we have a few minutes to ourselves, it can be easy to get caught up in things we don't love but that are somehow compelling (social media, perfectionistic projects, etc.). Sometimes we lose track of the small things that we can do do to nurture ourselves.
Is there music that you love to listen to? Make a great playlist to enjoy while you cook dinner, drive to school, or change diapers! Do you love to do yoga but don't have time for a class? It might be wonderful to do one pose on your own every day. (maybe the same pose each day or try a few favorites). Do you care deeply about beauty? You may love to keep a fresh flower next to your bed each day. Do you want to practice mindfulness but find it hard to have time for a formal sitting practice? You could take a moment of mindful awareness each time you wash your hands or close the car door.
As you do small things that bring you joy, I hope you find yourself getting into the habit of nurturing yourself.
And when parenting feels hard and these small practices don't feel like enough, consider budgeting time and money for bigger things-- to get counseling, join a yoga class, have lunch with a friend, get a massage, or join a parent group. You deserve this and more!
When any one of us spends time sitting quietly and being aware of the still, calm place inside, everyone benefits. Even if our children do not sit and formally practice meditation, they will experience the peace we bring. This is true even when our sitting practice doesn't feel calm and peaceful. When we sit with the intent to be still and aware, that is enough.
If we do this not just one day, but every day, the benefit for ourselves and the world. And when we practice meditation not alone, but with a group, the benefit grows even more.
Will you join me? Let's plan that Sundays are a parent meditation day. Let's join together, connecting our hearts and intention, breathing together quietly each Sunday. Whether you wake up in a quiet house and meditate with a candle and incense (as I like to do, especially now that my teens sleep in!), or you take some quiet minutes while your little ones are napping, or even if you practice in the midst of family life--breathing consciously as you change a diaper or wash the dishes or fold the clothes. let's share this practice. We are all connected to each other and to moms and dads around the world. Let's feel that connection in our silence today.
Check out the video linked in comments below for some inspiration about sharing this practice!
What if you and I are already enough? What if we are good enough parents? Good enough cooks and housekeepers and employees and whatever? What if the only purpose of this day is to be here in our lives enjoying it?
Would it change your day to know you are enough? Change what you do, how you are with your child, how you spend your time? Just the idea changes something for me as I roll into the day.
May you and I remember our essential goodness and worth today and all days. May we greet ourselves with openness and love and acceptance. May we have a beautiful day.
It's Friday, which reminds me of one of my favorite family rituals when my kids were young. On Fridays we would sometimes leave school (where I was a teacher and they were students), stop at the library on the way home to get a few books and usually a video, and then have a jammie afternoon. We walked in the door and changed into pajamas , break out some snacks, and enjoy the new library books. Most weeks my boys would pick out a big stack of graphic novels and I would get something light and just fun to read. Later we would often have a movie night. Remembering this now makes me smile. It felt so good to just relax together. No rush, no busyness, no demands.
Are there special rituals in your family? The things your kids will remember and tell stories about years from now? These are often small moments that can add a lot to family connection and joy, don't forget to savor them.
If there's a rough time of your day or week, maybe theres's a ritual or routine that could make it special in a pleasant way rather than special in a hard way. For example, I know a mom who has the routine of 'hors d'oeuvres' most evenings while dinner is cooking. It feels special and fun for the kids, like being at a party. It's not a lot of work, she really just puts cut up veggies and dip on a platter. It helps everyone hold it together during the pre-dinner 'witching hour' and ensures that everyone eats some veggies.
Do you have a ritual or routine that brings joy to your family and makes your life easier? Share it with us!
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.