Christa Santangelo Ph.D.

Hope and Empowerment

Six Deep Breaths Back to Connection With Your Child

Six breaths can be the difference between connection and confrontation.

Posted Apr 11, 2019

10:15 p.m. on Monday night. It feels like Friday already.

My 11-year-old, a writer who gets her “inspiration” around 9:00 p.m. every evening (which feels like the middle of the night as I’ve been up since 5:30 a.m.)  was chattering in bed. Suddenly, happy moments from the day turned to a rant that I hadn’t given her enough time to write after I had promised to.

From the darkness my daughter whined, voice strained and tired:

“You said you would give me time after and you didn’t.”

My cortisol shot through my veins. My heart dropped to my feet. I could feel my defensive, angry Mama surging. My mind spun and the thoughts whirred:

“It is never enough for you, Natasha. You are never satisfied. How have I raised a child with no gratitude who is always pushing for more? I cannot take this. I have no more energy. I guess I’m the worst Mom. I am going to go insane.”

Luckily, I remained silent. I could feel her warm tears on my own cheek as we snuggled. We were poised across from each other with a deep abyss between. Could I reach my hand out or would we fall: sharp words, separation, fight, me yelling.  Another moment of precious connection lost.  

Fortunately, I had been immersed in Dan Siegel’s ideas about “Reflective Capacity” that day while writing a blog: Go within, notice your own reactions, and manage them so you can make space for the other.

It’s simple but not easy, as I always tell my patients.  

Mind still spinning and about to engage mouth, I peeled myself back from the edge. My pounding heart continued for a moment – and then I took a deep breath. Still teetering over that long way down.

“Mama, why are you so quiet?”

I knew if I spoke it would be in anger and blame. My thoughts continued to vie for a voice. The messages in my mind were a tangled mass of judgment and fear.

“You need to let her know that she can’t have everything in life. You can’t always get what you want. She’s an only child. You are spoiling her.”

Second deep breath: An awareness of her experience crept into the pause.

I know that her artistic passion is ferocious and needs a lot of time and space. It’s just what’s true. It’s her thing.

Anything less than complete empathy with this part of her would result in a power struggle. Or even just a low-grade argument for which I didn’t have the energy. The choice was between separation and connection. The outcome was up to me and my ability to create space internally.

Sure the lessons of gratitude and knowing how to tolerate disappointment are important, essential even, for our children to understand.  But when we deliver those messages is the key to reaping the rewards of the intimate connection which is so nurturing for both of us. We need to be connected for our children to listen to us.

Third deep breath. I felt I could speak without anger. A flat almost frightening tone emerged but at least it wasn’t going to inflame the situation.

“I’m sorry, Natasha. The day didn’t go as I thought it would.”

She was silent. No fighting words back. She could feel that I was coming closer to her, emotionally. That I was willing to step into her painful shoes and be with her in her disappointment.

Anonymous/ Deposit Photos
Source: Anonymous/ Deposit Photos

Breath four, five and six. Silence. She flung her still-chubby arm over my  body and spoke in a calm, sweet voice:

“I just really need time to write after my sessions. It’s just so so so important for me.” Her voice was quieter, not argumentative. And that shrieking quality had subsided in the closeness we were beginning to weave.

“I understand,” I said in a whisper. My tone now approximating a normal, if exhausted, human voice.
“I love you, Mama,” she said as she grabbed to pull me closer. Not usually a hugger, this caught me off guard and I melted in her embrace. She felt understood. I had had the courage, just barely, to see the world from her point of view. And the bonds of love, which we all so long for, were preserved. 

“I love you too, Schnooks. Now go to sleep.”