Elizabeth Elizardi M.Ed., MAPP

Parent Pulse

Riding the Ferris Wheel

Where are you playing on the parenting playground?

Posted Feb 07, 2011

In my work with parents, a question that I hear quite often from couples with young children is "Do you remember what life was like before kids?" or "What did we use to do with all that free time?"  Perhaps reminiscing or dreaming about cuddling up with a book, finishing a cup of hot coffee or sleeping in on the weekend is an important imaginal experience to be a more resilient parent. 

In thinking about the transition from couple-hood to parenthood, an image came to mind.   Couple-hood resembles a seesaw.  Two individuals share this ride, each using power and motivation in the give and take of the see saw, or the relationship. They take turns lifting a partner up and using their own weight to ensure that the descent to the ground is soft, brief and results in another trip up towards the sky.    The two partners provide the force for reciprocity and it is up to those two individuals to provide the energy to make the ride interesting and fun. 

The seesaw continues into parenthood.  After all, the relationship between a husband and wife is essential to the healthy development of a child.  However, the machine switches from being simple to being more complex.  There are moments of climbing through complex spider webs, careening down the spiral slide with a rough landing, swinging through ups and downs or hanging on for dear life on the monkey bars.  One important piece of a playground beyond the equipment is the human interaction that occurs in this experimental, adventure zone.  Think of your child with two hands on the monkey bars wanting to cross, but not sure how to get to the other side.  What is it that you hear?  You hear a cry for help, "Help me mommy or help me daddy".  Children overtly communicate to let parents know when they are needed for security, safety or to show them that they are competent enough to acquire skills and continue to learn.  Should the parenting playground be any different?  When you are staring down the barrel of the spiral slide, feeling apprehensive about parenting and unsure of what to do next, do you cry for help, and if so, who is there is meet you at the bottom?

Whether it be your spouse, sister, brother or close friend, having someone with whom you can express emotions openly and let go of inhibitions is a buffer to physical illness and can provide a boost in positive emotions.  Dr. James Pennebaker's research on active and passive inhibition demonstrates that talking about thoughts and emotions can influence values and feelings, whereas holding back can place people at risk for major and minor diseases.  Studies show that there is a physiological change that occurs in the body after confessing and talking about life events.    Heart rate decreases, blood pressure drops, and subjectively, people feel calm and relieved.  If you are uncomfortable sharing thoughts and emotions or you don't have someone who will answer your call for help, use a journal.  Writing about life events proves to be just as beneficial as the talking cure.  Writing and talking are cathartic and provide answers to why you think or feel a certain way, which may help prevent the same behaviors or reactions occurring again. 

Most days, parenting resembles more of a Ferris wheel than any other mechanism listed above for two simple reasons.  People need other people in order for a Ferris wheel to work and parents need each other and other parents.  Also, that moment of being the highest car and noticing the beauty, wonder and awe of the big picture world around you is equal to the moments of being mindful, open and aware of your environment while parenting.    Expressing emotion through talking or writing brings these two elements together, highlighting the need to have people that will answer your call or have a pen and paper that will help you see the big picture.  Take what's on the inside and put it on the outside.  Where are you on the parenting playground?

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