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 shows up to check that you’re okay, not to tell you that you’re not. It’s your brain’s way of saying, ‘Not sure - there might be some trouble here, but there might not be, but just in case you should be ready for it if it comes, which it might not – but just in case you’d better be ready to run or fight – but it might be totally fine.’ Brains can be so confusing sometimes! 

You have a brain that is strong, healthy and hardworking. It’s magnificent and it’s doing a brilliant job of doing exactly what brains are meant to do – keep you alive. 

Your brain is fabulous, but it needs you to be the boss. Here’s how. When you feel anxious, ask yourself two questions:

- ‘Do I feel like this because I’m in danger or because there’s something brave or important I need to do?’

- Then, ‘Is this a time for me to be safe (sometimes it might be) or is this a time for me to be brave?

And remember, you will always have ‘brave’ in you, and anxiety doesn’t change that a bit.♥️

#positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #parenting #childanxiety #heywarrior #heywarriorbook
The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️

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