The Reality is Moms are Human Too

The Reality is Moms are Human Too

As parents, we often spend a lot of time worrying about how we look to our children, and questioning if we are making a good impression. It’s so easy to beat ourselves up about our behavior and parenting decisions, but in the moment of seriously losing my cool, I found true understanding and empathy from my daughter. I learned, once again, that I am only human and so rather than focus on the perfect image, I better figure out how to make the most of my temper tantrums.

My kids were all accounted for and so it was just another normal, albeit hectic afternoon. I was sitting in the doctor’s office for my daughter’s routine check-up, my son was going to catch a ride home from soccer practice with a carpool, and my other son was home enjoying my parents’ company while they visited.  Dinner was prepped, and I was all set to get home and turn around to to take my parents to the airport. Then all the best-laid plans fell apart. The doctor suggested we get my daughter’s wrist x-rayed immediately for a long-term issue she’d been dealing with. My son’s carpool fell through. My husband had to work late. I could have waited to do the x-ray until the next day, but I felt compelled to do it right now and take care of my girl. After all, how could I ignore a possibly broken wrist to accommodate a scheduling snafu? But that left my son without a ride. And, to compound the inconvenience,it left my parents having to take a taxi to the airport. These may not have been earth shattering problems, but at that  moment, I  could only think that I was failing everyone miserably and I completely freaked out.

Sometimes it’s hard to control our emotions, even when the situation is really fixable (we know this of our children but it’s hard to recognize it happens to us as well). But in losing my own cool, I triggered my daughter’s empathy. And, to boot, I found support in a surprising place. My daughter comforting me showed me that I had in fact taught her one of the most important lessons in empathy. And she showed me her true character.  Realizing that while I can still be annoyed with myself, it’s easier to come to terms with who I am knowing I’ve raised someone who loves me and has found an (unexpected) way to support and comfort me

Despite having a challenging day, I found comfort and a sense of pride that my daughter stepped up to help me get through it. While you don’t generally want your children to see you lose your cool, it’s important that they know you’re human. The fact that my daughter displayed the empathy and maturity to help me get through my period of anxiety was a surprising and welcome show of her growth and also a show of how our parenting skills helped her to develop the insight, sensitivity and skills to make a significant difference to a fellow human being.


About the Author: Dr Amy Alamar

Amy Alamar, EdD, has worked in the field of education as a teacher, teacher educator, researcher, parent educator, and education reformer for over fifteen years. In late 2014, Amy wrote Parenting for the Genius: Developing Confidence in Your Parenting through Reflective Practice. The book is a comprehensive guide to becoming the most thoughtful and confident parent possible, with anecdotes and details relating to the guidance and support of children from infant to young adult. In 2016, Amy was an invited guest of Michelle Obama at the White House for a conversation about kids’ health. Amy is also a contributing author to the Disney parenting website, Babble.com and a parent support specialist with Yellowbrick.me. Amy is married and the mother of three children whom she learns from and enjoys each and every day. She is a resident of Avon, CT, where she serves on the board of the Avon Education Foundation, dedicated to promoting and enhancing excellence in education. Find out more about Amy and her work by visiting her website, amyalamar.com.

8 Comments

Cindy

We have to prioritize. When one family member is in the greatest need of help…we go to them. Flexibility is the key word,,,and though it’s hard to do, we can try not to focus on only one family member. Easier said than done though, especially if one child or adult has a disability of some kind.

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Vanessa

It would have been so nice for your husband to have stepped up and helped you. He is your true support system but using the “I have to work” escape is another way of saying, “you are on your own, that is too much for me and I didn’t want all these kids anyway.” It is very frustrating to have gone down the same path and to hear other people doing it. Perfectly nice husband, but not there in a pinch. I am glad it worked out and that your daughter communicated her caring.

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Karen Young

I think in any relationship there will be times we are able to be there for our partners and times we aren’t able to be. That’s the reality. It doesn’t mean we (or they) don’t want to be there. Certainly for some partners (men and women) it might be a question of ‘won’t’, but in this case it sounds like a question of ‘can’t’. In the same way we can’t always be there for our children when they want us to be, or the way we want to be, sometimes it can be that way for each other. It doesn’t necessarily dilute the commitment to each other, the children, or the marriage.

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Amanda

Thanks for this article and what a wonderful story. My teen sees a therapist who is in the same practice as my therapist. I got the feedback based on a conversation that they had, that my daughter sees me as having no struggles and it can make her feel bad. It was so fascinating to me, the advice to let her in a little more! Initially I thought, “but I do that!”, but then realized a part of the time that I feel and show exasperation, it results from my kids trying my patience and possibly making them feel bad. That is definitely not what the therapists meant (though that is okay sometimes too)!! Thanks for the reminder that it can have amazing results to let them see us struggle.

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Deirdre H

Terrific. I really love Hey Sigmund— the advice and information is better than any other site I’ve looked at.

My friend is dealing with her 22 year old who is taking out all her frustrations on her. Do you have any tips on how to talk to adult children who are behaving like toddlers?

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Karen Young

Thanks Deidre. I’m so pleased the info here is helpful. In relation to your friend, the thing to remember is that we all need the same thing – to be heard. All behaviour is driven by a need. The need is always valid, but the behaviour that is used to get the need met can be very messy. Often people might not even be aware of the need that’s fuelling their behaviour – they just know that something doesn’t feel right.

Validating and acknowledging somebody who is in high emotion will soothe the nervous system. All emotion is there for a reason, and often one of the reasons is to enlist support. Once that support is communicated, the emotion can start to settle. Supporting the person doesn’t mean supporting the behaviour. They can be separate. Support the person by provide a gentle, strong, space – ‘You seem really angry.’ ‘You sound frustrated. I feel as though there’s something you need from me that you’re not getting. I want to understand what that is, but it’s difficult when there’s tension between us.’ ‘I can see you’re upset. I expect you have a really good reason for feeling the way you do, and I want to understand what that is.’ … or something like that.

There’s no point trying to reason with someone who is in high emotion. They won’t hear it and it might only make things worse. Validate the person by naming what you see in a supportive, non-judgemental way. By letting her know she is heard, it is more like likely that she will be able to find calm and find a space where she can speak calmly and in a way that is more likely to lead to a healthy fulfilment of her need.

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Heather

Breathe… Did you try to ask any of your mom friends for help? I’m sure at least one of your friends would have been happy to help… ?

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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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