Space for Feelings
"I'm wondering if you still love me after all the really mean things I said to you."
You know those tv shows that give you the end and then say "24 hours earlier"
Well, we're playing that game here today. And the quote above was from my 5 year old and 30 minutes earlier. . .
A typical evening after dinner. My boys (Moog age 5 and D-man age 6) wrestling and getting energy out. My husband and I refereeing (because 15 minutes before that we were wrestling too but now we're taking a break, ya know, cause we're old:-)
They're wrestling. Playing a take down game (with rules of course because this isn't UFC). And we're laughing and having fun when they get too close for comfort for this mama to the step into the kitchen. I reach out a hand and give a little push away from the step.
They went the other direction landing on the floor. No injury. Problem solved.
Or so I thought.
Until Moog erupts in anger. Red faced. Stomping. Yelling that I helped his brother 'win' and it's not fair.
I followed him. Taking a breath and reminding myself this wasn't about me.
See the old me. The mom before parent coaching would have reacted. She would've made it all about her. Arguing with him that I was helping. He was wrong.
I followed him and sat quietly next to him. He tried to push me away. Screaming to get away. I stayed with him. Allowing him the space to be angry.
"I hate you"
"I never want to talk/see/hug you again."
"I won't miss you when you die."
Basically every really mean thing his little 5 year old brain could think of.
The old me would have been triggered by this anger. I would have walked away. Or punished. Or yelled back.
Because you don't talk to me like that. I was helping. This is too much. Too many feelings. I would've held to my parental agenda (You will respect me at all times!) but when this agenda gets in the way of listening empathetically, it only serves to backfire eroding any influence I may have on his decisions.
Instead I knew it wasn't about me. I could love him with my thoughts. I could empathize with his if there was an opportunity. I didn't have to fix. Or take away these big feelings.
I didn't have to be uncomfortable because I was released from the responsibility of his feelings.
After 20 minutes he began to calm down. He let me gently rub his back. He started to climb into my lap exhausted from his anger when he threw himself on the floor sobbing.
Then came "I wonder if you still love me after the really mean things I said to you."
And in that moment, I truly understood the power of space for feelings. This was not a teaching moment. He knew what he did was wrong.
What he needed to know was that mommy still loved him. No matter what. And once I validated that he threw himself into my arms with a power of connection that I felt into my bones.
I told you how the old me would have reacted. What might that have resulted in. . .
a child with the beginning of a belief that I loved his brother more. That life wasn't fair. That mommy didn't have his back (but had his brother's). Anger is wrong and needs to be packed away. That mommy's love is conditional.
But he would have still had all this anger. He wouldn't have learned how to sit in it and let it wash over. He would've packed it into his emotional backpack and he would fight his brother every chance he got (to try to 'win' mommy's love). He would have had all this anger directed at me. But you're supposed to love your mom so he would have had this conflict. This conflict would've led to disconnection. To less cooperation. More challenging behaviors. Because that anger would find its way out in other ways.
Instead he had the space to feel those big feelings. He felt heard. And loved. As Dr. Shefali Tsabery states in The Conscious Parent "When our children are permitted to feel their feelings, they are able to release them amazingly quickly. They come out of the pain understanding that pain is just another sensation." Or anger or sadness or any feeling that comes up.
Witnessing another's big feelings is hard. We're hardwired to want to fix. To make better. But by glossing over and trying to "fix" in those moments we're stifling the process of releasing those feelings. By not allowing space we're in affect telling our child that they're wrong for having this feeling. And they'll learn to pack them away. And hold them in. Until they can't and then you find yourself in the middle of the store with a child thrashing in anger on the floor.
I don't know about you, but I wasn't taught that feelings were okay or how to manage them. How to sit with them. How to let them wash over and release. To regulate them and therefore choose my reactions.
"Don't be mad" or sad or anything but happy.
My parents did the best they could in their own unique situations and what they'd learned growing up.
Feelings are still a struggle for me. Releasing anger without it spilling onto my kids. When I am tired or frustrated or just want bedtime to go smoothly (dammit!)
But they see me working on it. They hear me apologize when I fail. They feel safe to do the same. I'm learning to respond to my child and all his feelings with patience and empathy and love because as Dr. Laura Markham (of Ahaparenting.com) writes "the way we as parents respond to our child's feelings shapes his relationship with emotions- his own and others'- for the rest of his life." And as they learn to regulate those emotions, those eruptions will be less. Because "once our children learn to accept pain as a natural and inevitable part of life, they don't fear it so much, but simply acknowledge it. "I'm in pain right now" Instead of intellectualizing about it, judging it, or resisting it, they sit with it." (The Conscious Parent. Dr. Shefali Tsabary)
As a parent, we're tired. We're trying to manage so many things. The kids. The house. Meals. Maybe a pet. Maybe working outside the home. A relationship with our partner. SO MANY THINGS.
It would be so much easier to shush or threaten or walk away from an upset child. But a child "who knows from experience that their emotions will be heard learn to modulate them. . . it actually makes for easier parenting." (Dr. Laura Markham author of Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids) . Building trust. Fostering connection. Creating a partnership with your child.
It all begins by making the time and space for those big feelings. And that begins by becoming aware of your own emotions. Recognizing them. Giving yourself space and compassion for those feelings. Anger. Frustration. Overwhelm. Sadness.
Knowing that you choose how you react to those feelings. They don't need to spill out all over your family. It's our response to the craziness life throws at us that's completely in our control. But we're so programmed to react that we don't leave room for choice. Recognizing that things happen throughout the day, some in our control and some not but in every instance we can choose how we interpret and then respond.
We're usually in such a hurry to pack away our own emotions in that backpack we carry around that we aren't sitting and recognizing our own emotions. We feel we just need to plow through. Get things done.
We're not doing ourselves or family any good with this mindset. It begins with you.
Next time you want to yell. Or check out (social media anyone?). Or climb back in bed for a do-over.
Ask yourself what you're feeling. Sit with it. Let it wash over you. Knowing you don't have to fix it. Or pack it away. Or change it.
Simply feel it. Emotions are like waves and when we allow ourselves to simply feel the emotion it will come in and then release (in about 90 seconds).
Just breathe. Slow down.
Tell yourself "This isn't an emergency"
Emotions in you or your child don't need to be fixed. Every feeling is a message. Start listening to the messages. You'll be amazed at what you may learn.
You're doing an amazing job mama!
Irene is a parenting coach for moms who want to truly connect with their child. To stop yelling. To bring peace to their parenting. Schedule a complimentary possibility call today to explore what might be possible for your family. Sign up for her weekly newsletter, The Momuscript, to get fresh content and promotions right to your inbox.