Parenting is a dance. Each party involved brings their own energy—and between our energy and our child’s energy, there will be times when the energies will undoubtedly collide.
When you think about it, our children only live in our homes for a short period of time. Granted, the individual days may feel long, but the years are flying by. In most cases, we have our children for 18 short years; this is the most powerful time in their emotional development, and one that will shape the rest of their adult life.
When I first made that realization (while listening to one of Dr. Shefali Tsabary’s presentations), I panicked. In fact, I cried. This is the time when our children build their internal messages—when they build their sense of self as separate from us, as well as when they build their emotional and relationship foundations. This is when they develop their friendships and their sense of self-love. Our parental voice becomes internalized as their own. This voice will guide their decisions, relationships, friendships, and work habits for years to come. No pressure, right?
For me, the hardest part of parenting has been re-living and re-visiting my childhood “issues,” the ones I thought were behind me. I didn’t think “those” experiences had an effect on me any longer because I was “older” and done with them. Well, as it turns out, not so much.
You Will Be Triggered
Something your child says or does—or how they say it—will trigger you. And when you are triggered, your response will be intense, and likely scary to you and your child. In fact, your response will likely not be commensurate with your child’s actual behavior.
When I made this connection—with Dr. Shefali’s help—and discovered that I was parenting from my own childhood wounds, I was taken aback. But I also realized that many of the times when my children asked me why I became so loud or angry, it was because I was responding to a pretty benign situation with a strong sense of hurt and disappointed that had to do with my own unresolved childhood demons.
Identify Your Triggers
Now that you’ve thought about this, what are your triggers? I hate to be lied to and become infuriated when I feel like I’ve been deceived. For me, that's what pushes my buttons the hardest. Figure out your "buttons"—in other words, the situations that spark the most powerful emotions for you as a parent.
When you have been triggered, let your strong emotions be a signal to you that you are responding to an earlier issue that hasn’t yet been resolved. Take a deep breath, walk away, and calm down. Then, respond to your child in a way that is proportional to her behavior or struggle only.
Create a Space of Acceptance—Without Judgment
We all love our children and want them to grow up to become loving, confident, young men and women. While they are in our homes, they want a few things—and the things they want are pretty simple, actually. They want our love, acceptance, attention, and time.
Dr. Shefali Tsabary argues that when we are struggling to understand our children’s, teen’s, or young adult’s behavior, if we can conceptualize that this is one of their underlying needs, we can quickly adjust our response and meet their unmet need. In fact, she argues that you may find that there is no need for yelling, punishing, or begging your child to behave or stop behaving in a certain way. If you can interpret their behavior as a signal for one of the following messages, you will likely be able to get through those tough adolescent and young adult times where your child is struggling and you can’t seem to understand why:
- I want you to accept me.
- I want you to spend time with me.
- I want you to pay attention to me.
- I want you to love me.
The more we punish or take things away, the greater this struggle becomes because we are not hearing what our children are trying to tell us.
Now think about your triggers. Which one of these messages underlies your struggles? Self-awareness, although quite painful, is a powerful and healing parenting tool.
Tsabari, S. (2010). The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children.