Book excerpt from my upcoming book
We all have visions of how we want to interact with our kids and how we want them to respond. No one wants to yell, threaten, shame or feel powerless, hurt, or give up.
So why is it so difficult to follow our vision of who we want to be?
In our childhood, each of us learned beliefs about ourselves and the roles of parents and children. These beliefs and values seeped into our pores without us consciously analyzing and choosing them. Our prefrontal cortex, the logical brain, was in an early developmental stage, so most of our learning was done on an unconscious and emotional level in the limbic system.
When you are interacting with your kids, your childhood emotions can suddenly be triggered without realizing it. These old emotions don’t wave a flag and say, “This is old stuff, and it doesn’t relate to what’s happening right now with your own kids.” Instead, these old and intense feelings can erupt, feel valid, and direct your actions. You may suddenly sound and act just like your parents.
Unless we analyze our intense reactions and discover if there is a memory being triggered, we’ll end up feeling controlled by our kids and our emotions.
We’ll blame our kids for our upsets and say they are manipulating us, trying to push our buttons, or they are simply out to get us.
Blaming your children is a victim mentality that leaves parents powerless to transform a negative situation. Seeing your kids as the problem to fix leads you to use controlling parenting strategies where you are trying to change them rather than yourself. A key component of changing yourself first is to understand the reasons behind your feelings and actions.
I recommend using the Think-Feel-Do Cycle evaluation process discussed in the chapter The Key to Making Positive Parenting Changes Stick.
Let’s say your vision is to have a family where everyone shares their thoughts and feelings without fear of being judged and criticized. If you had this family atmosphere when growing up, then you already have an ingrained model to follow. If you are having a hard time creating this supportive environment, then it is important to examine the critical and judgmental childhood messages and language you learned and are now repeating.
For example, if you heard judgmental statements such as, “You should have known,” then it will be very difficult to hear helpful suggestions, emotions, or learn from your partner or children.
You believe that you have to defend your “all-knowing” position. This belief often leads to getting defensive and angry, which creates a barrier between you and those you love. Your children and partner will be afraid to tell you what they think and feel. Your beliefs about yourself will keep you from creating your dream of having a close and connected family.
I was raised with “You should have,” and it led me to use power and control in my personal and parenting life.
Luckily, I had a strong-willed daughter who didn’t respond well to this approach. My vision to have a close and connected relationship with her, even through the teen years, was the driving force behind my personal self-reflection and change. Once I acknowledged my need to be right, I consciously chose to instead say to myself, “It’s okay to not know everything. I’m still valuable and important. I can learn from others and even become better because of their help.”
Take time to write down what you learned about yourself and how parents are to be treated.
What words did you hear often that are now causing you to get triggered by your children’s words and actions? Perhaps you heard, Children should be seen and not heard, don’t talk back, respect your elders, I’m the adult so listen to what I say, do what you are told, be respectful, don’t argue with me, how many times do I have to, etc. Maybe you learned to be responsible for the feelings of others whenever you heard, “You make me so mad. If you just behaved, I wouldn’t get mad. It’s your fault.”
To create your family vision, it is crucial to be able to stay in the moment so you can openly listen to your children and partner’s thoughts and feelings.
I encourage you to find a support person who can help you unravel your childhood triggers so you can gain greater power over yourself and respond in a manner you feel good about.
Read how a dad realized he had learned that a dad was supposed to fix kids’s problems. Once he learned to just listen instead, the connection and relationship with his teen daughter blossomed. Read his story.
Copyright 2015, Cynthia Klein, Certified Parenting Educator, bridges2understa.wpstagecoach.com, 650.679.8138. Contact me for private or group parenting education.