My last two blogs have been about how to keep your cool in the moment when things are falling apart around you. We all need quick techniques to help us restore our calm, when we know our stress is getting too high. Yet, there’s another aspect to what makes us lose our cool and it’s about how our own childhood impacts our parenting. Have you ever unexpectedly done something that was exactly like your mother or father did, and it is exactly the thing you swore you’d never do to your kids? These unconscious actions leave us all aghast and ashamed because it is the exact opposite of how we intended to behave. These unconscious reactions to our children mirror how we were treated in similar situations when we were young. In order for us to act on our intentions, rather than be reactive, we need to bring more consciousness to these situations. Here are some ideas and questions to ask yourself in a quiet moment when you have time to reflect.
Take some time and try to consider what kinds of situation is the most distressing for you. Are there certain ones that are consistently hard? What exactly do your children do or say that push your buttons? Sometimes the things that drive us crazy have to do with emotions or behaviors that we were denied as children. Check to see if this might be true for you.
Think about the eight primary emotions: anger, fear, sadness, shame, love, happiness, surprise and disgust. Were these equally allowed expression in your family? Which ones were okay for you to express and which ones were taboo? Are the ones you were denied hard to accept in your kids? Probably so, and just knowing this will help you be more tolerant and provide a much wider spectrum of emotional expression for your kids.
Now, think about some of the family dynamics you grew up with. Ask yourself what behaviors were frowned upon and you weren’t allowed to express. For example, if you grew up in an authoritarian family and were not permitted to question adults, you might have trouble when your children question your rules. Or maybe you grew up in a family where decorum and restraint were expected, and you’ll be uncomfortable when your kids are exuberant and noisy. Or perhaps you were saddled with unrealistic expectations of perfection and get annoyed if your kid’s performance is less than stellar. Maybe in your family, you were expected to be neat and tidy, so it will be hard when your kids are sloppy and messy. Or you grew up in a family that demonstrated little affection and expected independence, and you’ll find it hard to be sympathetic when your children request hugs and need reassurance.
All these scenarios provide challenges that reflect some difficult aspect from our own childhoods. Often we’re not even aware of what they are, so just becoming more observant of which emotions and behaviors annoy us is an important first step. This level of self awareness is the key to being less reactive and having more control in choosing how to respond. This is not easy to do; it takes time and effort, so don’t be discouraged. Get help when you need it. We all get stuck in old patterns and need others to give us perspective. Ask friends how they handle similar situations. Keep a log and jot down difficult situations and a new response for each. And if you’re still struggling with stubbornly entrenched habits, consider therapy. We all have the ability to make different choices and be more in control of our life. Aside from your own sense of empowerment, you’ll also be providing an example of calm control which your kids can model and use when they have children of their own. How exciting to think of our power to undo old negative patterns from our childhood and offer something much more positive to our children.