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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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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