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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Sometimes needs will come into being like falling stars - gently fading in and fading out. Sometimes they will happen like meteors - crashing through the air with force and fury. But they won’t always look like needs. Often they will look like big, unreachable, unfathomable behaviour. 

If needs and feelings are too big for words, they will speak through behaviour. Behaviour is the language of needs and feelings, and it is always a call for us to come closer. Big feelings happen as a way to recruit support to help carry an emotional load that feels too big for our kids and teens. We can help with this load by being a strong, calm, loving presence, and making space for that feeling or need to be ‘heard’. 

When big behaviour or big feelings are happening, whenever you can be curious about the need behind it. There will always be a valid one. Meet them where they without needing them to be different. Breathe, validate, and be with, and you don’t need to do more than that. 

Part of building resilience is recognising that some days and some things are rubbish, and that sometimes those days and things last for longer than they should, but we get through. First we feel floored, then we feel stuck, then we shift because the only choices we have we have are to stay down or move, even when moving hurts. Then, eventually we adjust - either ourselves, the problem, or to a new ‘is’. 

But the learning comes from experience. They can’t learn to manage big feelings unless they have big feelings. They can’t learn to read the needs behind their feelings if they don’t have the space to let those big feelings come back to small enough so the needs behind them can step forward. 

When their world has spikes, and when we give them a soft space to ‘be’, we ventilate their world. We help them find room for their out breath, and for influence, and for their wisdom to grow from their experiences and ours. In the end we have no choice. They will always be stronger and bigger and wiser and braver when they are with you, than when they are without. It’s just how it is.♥️
When kids or teens have big feelings, what they need more than anything is our strong, safe, loving presence. In those moments, it’s less about what we do in response to those big feelings, and more about who we are. Think of this like providing a shelter and gentle guidance for their distressed nervous system to help it find its way home, back to calm. 

Big feelings are the way the brain calls for support. It’s as though it’s saying, ‘This emotional load is too big for me to carry on my own. Can you help me carry it?’ 

Every time we meet them where they are, with a calm loving presence, we help those big feelings back to small enough. We help them carry the emotional load and build the emotional (neural) muscle for them to eventually be able to do it on their own. We strengthen the neural pathways between big feelings and calm, over and over, until that pathway is so clear and so strong, they can walk it on their own. 

Big beautiful neural pathways will let them do big, beautiful things - courage, resilience, independence, self regulation. Those pathways are only built through experience, so before children and teens can do any of this on their own, they’ll have to walk the pathway plenty of times with a strong, calm loving adult. Self-regulation only comes from many experiences of co-regulation. 

When they are calm and connected to us, then we can have the conversations that are growthful for them - ‘Can you help me understand what happened?’ ‘What can help you so this differently next time?’ ‘How can you put things right? Do you need my help to do that?’ We grow them by ‘doing with’ them♥️
Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare

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