Every seasonal change creates a TENSION between loss and anticipation.
However, this tension is especially true for parents during the Fall season. As we settle into Fall, we say goodbye to the spirit of fun and freedom that summer offered. We are given cooler air, falling leaves and more routine schedules. The dawn of a new school year reminds us that our children are growing up. And the reality that our children are growing older always creates an ambivalent tension; we feel both loss and relief.
Throughout the Fall, parents are asked to tolerate a tremendous amount of TENSION. We anxiously and excitedly anticipate the upcoming year: Where might my children excel? Where might they struggle? We worry and wonder about where we should join and where we should back-off on our children's journeys. How much should I push? How much should I just relax? Then, on top of it all, Fall is the very season that prepares us for THE HOLIDAYS! So much TENSION . . .
And tension is uncomfortable and scary. It confronts us with MANY conflicting feelings.
How are we supposed to deal with all of this anticipation and loss?
We remember that there is a LESSON in tension.
Holding and tolerating tension teaches us and our children emotional resilience. It grows us, gives us character and brings us closer together. We only learn these lessons, however, if we hold on to the tension. This is challenging! The tension urges us to release it, to break it off.
So, how do you hold it?
Here are THREE STEPS that help me HOLD THE TENSION:
1) First, address the agonizing parenting guilt, shame and regret spiral!
2) Next, breathe and self-soothe.
3) Last, assess my child’s needs.
Before we really get into breaking this down let’s make it simpler. Start with this motto:
You’re okay. Breathe. Meet the need.
Basically, we self-soothe ourselves in order to soothe our children so that someday when they need to, they can self-soothe themselves. Sound like a lot of work? That’s probably because It is!
My husband and I have three young children; six years old and under. I want nothing more in the world than to build a sense of trust, confidence and safety in our children. My graduate education in clinical psychology has helped me a great deal in my parenting journey. However, knowing something and being able to do that something are two entirely different things.
I have gone through years of my own therapy and that personal work is what has enabled me to actually implement my education with my children. In order for me to be able to pause and address my “parenting shame spiral” I had to learn about the root of my own shame and guilt that existed before I became a parent.
I discovered a very difficult truth: my children’s needs and behaviors were usually NOT the source of my moments of hopelessness in parenting.
Rather, my feelings of shame, guilt and hopelessness were most often about something repressed in me that needed healing or acknowledgement. And of course, this gets really blurry and confusing.
My point is, good parenting is all about getting to know yourself and developing self-awareness. Otherwise, it becomes too easy to put your child’s name on a problem. Most parents think that if their child would just act a “certain kinda way” they wouldn’t feel so awful. And while that sometimes may be true, most often what’s really happening is your child is making it very hard for you to hide from yourself. We all want to hide from our own sense of self-loathing or fear of being incompetent! Admitting this truth is painful. OUCH. Trust me, I know.
My middle son struggled with speech and would scream and cry A LOT between the ages of one and two-and-a-half. Despite my best efforts to be patient, sometimes my chest felt unbearably hot and my vision almost seemed blurry! “THAT IS ENOUGH!” I’d yell (sometimes out loud and sometimes in my mind). I would simply run out of patience; I just wasn’t able to say and do all the right things.
Sometimes, we lose our patience because we are tired; sometimes we’re sick and sometimes our child is just having a really hard day. We are human. Nonetheless, I’ve discovered that being tired or sick or just being at my “wits end” is not what provokes my shame and guilt. The shame and guilt were there a long time ago. And it’s possible to have a “parenting fail” moment and not feel the things I’ve heard people describe:
- I am not built to be a parent
* I am not enough
* I will never get this right
* I have no way to stop this
* I am a failure
* I am a terrible mom/dad
* I don’t deserve to be my child’s parent
* I wish I could just disappear
* I will never get it right
So, when I feel myself beginning to spiral after perceived “parenting fail” I have learned (with lots of trial and error, mind you) to take deep breaths and gently remind myself...
“You’re okay, you are a capable adult. You will figure this out. Your son’s needs are not too much for you. You got this.” I remember: You’re okay.
Breathe. Meet the need.
All of our triggers come from different places. The work is to get to those places inside yourself and get to know them, acknowledge them. Maybe for you it’s the fear of being inadequate or a failure. Maybe your gentle reminder is that “Mothering is a lifelong journey; you are showing up and that’s something.” Whether you need some self-love or some self-encouraging or belief in yourself, those parenting moments are very real. I know. There are many of us who experience this; you’re not the only one!
So when we can self-soothe (self-regulate) and calm ourselves down enough (get our nervous systems to stop secreting cortisone so we can still access our prefrontal cortex) we do three things:
1. We inherently teach our children this skill.
2. We are able to actually address their NEEDS.
3. Find ourselves hopeful and empowered in our parenting journey.
TENSION has so much to teach us. If we are brave enough to learn from it instead of trying to get rid of it.
Tension gives us the gift of emotional resilience. When we try and escape this feelings and resort to thoughts like, “this is so hard, I cannot wait until they grow up and go to college!” or “I can’t do this!” or “why are they doing this to me?” we may have relieved ourselves of our fears and anxieties for a moment, but we have learned next-to-nothing and will be doomed to re-experience it.
Here are the 3 Steps have helped me HOLD THE TENSION:
1) Address the parenting guilt, shame and regret spiral!
I am consistently tempted to spiral into parental guilt and shame. I know the spiraling rabbit hole of thoughts: “Why is my child acting this way?” “Why is my child hitting his sibling?” Then those questions turn into questions about us… “Where did I go wrong?” “Will my child survive at school?” “Have I permanently damaged my child?”… then they turn into statements: “I’m a horrible parent” “I’m failing”! “I’ll never be enough”!When those thoughts turn from questions into shaming self-statements, it’s a good sign you’re escalated. Being escalated is essentially a clinical term used to describe a state wherein some-one is emotionally stressed. So our job here is to recognize and address the fact that we are spiraling. Once we do that, we know we need to de-escalate and get blood back to or prefrontal cortex so we can THINK again. This is where breathing comes into play…
2) BREATHE and self-soothe.
Breathing helps our bodies — physiologically — to get OUT of the “fight or flight stage.” When we are screaming at our children, that’s the “fight” part of “fight or flight.” When we turn away or leave them while they are escalated or crying, that is the “flight” part. Sometimes we merely freeze and shut down. Either way, we need to get back into that room and be the parent. SO BREATHE!
I’m talking about controlled breathing. Powerful, mindful breathing that changes your physiological state and relieves panic attacks and lowers blood pressure.
Let’s practice. First, just stop breathing and hold your breath for ten seconds. Now exhale for ten seconds. Then, inhale through your nose and count to ten. Hold your breath in for a count of ten. Exhale, blowing out the air loudly for a count of ten.
I do this three to five times. Breathing will allow you to think and gently remind yourself of truths like: “we will get through this,” and “this is just a stage,” “I can handle this.” Breathing will then allow you to be present in the room and look for the intention behind the behavior (the one that just triggered the crap out of you.) Then you remember: You’re okay.
3) Assess my child’s needs.
Once you’re breathing again, you can gently remind yourself that you’re an adult parent who is capable of handling this because now you can access your prefrontal cortex and make some decisions about what you should do. Someone might need a snack, lunch, nap, etc …
Holding the tension is a process of knowing yourself, owning your experience and loving yourself.
Knowing yourself can be scary and holding on to yourself in the midst of tensions or confusion or fear can be even scarier. You are not alone on the journey. There are plenty of us out there who feel like we’re failing at times. And even though it may seem counterintuitive, practicing holding our conflicting feelings and getting to know those feelings will help us make more room in our emotional capacities, for our children and all that comes with them! We can do this!