The Purejoy Parenting Blog
In your family, were you taught that “wants” were demanding? Was it safer to appear self-reliant and independent?
If so, you grew up trying to quell your wants and learned to take care of others while repressing your own.
Self-reliance and independence are highly valued in our culture. I received a lot of strokes in my family for taking care of myself. It wasn’t as if my wants disappeared. They went underground, as the strategy I was trained to value, of always taking care of others, came to the foreground.
Adopting my infant daughter, I perceived her as extremely needy. At first, it felt good to meet those needs since caretaking is much easier than feeling my needs. She was the needy helpless one and I was determined to give her everything I hadn’t gotten. But when, as a toddler, she whined and hung on my leg, deep irritation arose, even disgust. She was the location of “neediness” and she always wanted MORE. “Enough already!” I seethed inside.
To manage my feelings of disgust, I trained her to be self-reliant and independent. If I made her needs more important than mine, I resented her demands and pushed her away. These feelings scared me as I never wanted to feel this way in relation to my daughter so it made sense to teach her to be like me.
She learned from the best and yet the tables turned and suddenly I felt like the needy one demanding love. This is when I recognized -Oh! This really has to do with me! So, turning back in, taking the location of this trait out of the external and feeling my inner neediness in its deepest innocence and vulnerability became my practice.
Seeing the price of my self-reliance was feeling disgusted with my own neediness brought tears to my eyes. I’d projected the helpless needy one on my daughter judging her as entitled and demanding. Bringing that energy inside, seeing that was my fear, I saw how deeply I judged myself for being entitled and demanding when actually I just had normal needs.
It’s still sometimes hard to express my BIG wants. It’s easier to convince myself to take care of others. And yet knowing that my wants are worthy, and as important as everyone else’s in my family I’m able to support everyone in expressing their biggest desires knowing there is ENOUGH for all.
For the last few weeks, I’ve talked about the importance of emotional intelligence and maturity.
Recognizing my emotionally young reactions to my daughter, I committed to finding a way to “grow” myself up emotionally. My emotional vulnerabilities awakened, especially when my daughter attempted to set emotional boundaries of her own. Internalizing that as a personal rejection, I acted like a rejected person. It was especially shocking hearing my mother’s words, the very words I was never going to say, spilling out of my mouth.
However, 20 years ago, beginning my quest, there wasn’t a lot of information to support developing emotionally mature skills. Going into my internal experience offered insight and understanding. Out of that inner journeying came the SafeSeat practice, fondly called my SacredSeat since it represented a place where I accessed a higher unconditional intelligence. I imagined a greater part of myself seeing, hearing, and understanding the emotional story activated in my parenting. This sacred container of loving-kindness for my emotions held me when my conditioned self felt guilt and shame.
Taking a moment to reflect on your upbringing ask: How was I met by my parents when feeling powerless or angry, perhaps acting out by hitting my brother or sister? Or when big feelings came up around being rejected at school was I seen, heard, and understand the way I needed? When coming home with hurt feelings, it likely triggered something correspondingly vulnerable in your parent who tried to fix it, change it or talk you out of it.
It’s an emotional skill to be present with your child as they experience their emotional waves without trying to rescue them. The waves are the content of what is happening within the context of discovering who they are in their life, the ocean. The way emotional waves work is they first arise as sensation and feeling, then as a story, and then finally behavior. Likely, you weren’t taught the art of riding your emotional waves so it is challenging to ride your child’s. Most of us were taught to control them, especially when they manifested in “acting out” behavior. In parenting, we generally concentrate our energy on the “acting out” part.
In Purejoy we focus on seeing, hearing, and understanding what happens before the behavior – those sensations, feelings and stories that come from a perceived reality often triggered by our primal brain, our amygdala, which is trained to identify and protect us from threat.
The SafeSeat is a sacred space to check out if your perceptions are really true. Are you actually in danger if our children don’t listen to you or won’t do what you asked of them? It may feel this way and yet is it actually true?
Then we listen in our Safe Seat, hearing the story – not agreeing or talking ourselves out of it, yet seeing, hearing and understanding the feeling part that gets activated in parenting. Creating a base foundation to tolerate intense emotions without acting them out supports emotional maturity.
Over time, practicing wrapping your feelings in loving kindness, YOU become the act of kindness. When your emotionally young children get activated, you’ll attune to them without activating your own big waves of feeling and story. You become the sacred space for them to grow their emotional maturity.
Last week we explored emotional intelligence, how it leads to emotional maturity, and its importance in parenting.
This week let’s deepen in our exploration together…
Parenting is a skill-based job on the practical level. We actually have to change the diapers, feed the food, drive them here or there, and we also show our children certain skill sets that will help them along.
For example, to be a licensed driver it is not enough to just think about driving on the road or just watch other folks doing it. Actually, getting behind the wheel and practicing is a skill set. Learning the rules of the road, the mechanics of driving the car, and actually getting out on the road are required.
And yet, on an emotional level, if we use the same analogy, we can ask- what about our emotional car?
It makes sense that we need emotional skills also and yet where do we learn these?
As children, we learn the skill set of our family.
If your family’s emotional driving was constantly careening out of control, then don’t expect yourself to miraculously have an emotionally mature skill set.
Most parents taught us the emotional skill set of blaming and controlling the external -the other cars on the road, so to speak- rather than working with the emotional intensity internally.
Children live primarily in their emotional brain rather than their rational minds. Understanding that the external is not the cause of their distress requires maturity. Frequently a child will get overwhelmed by their emotional activations and naturally offload those uncomfortable feelings into the external world- siblings, pets, parents, even inanimate objects.
I remember when my daughter was little – she would run into the table and then blame the table for hurting her- “BAD table!!” It was too intense to realize that those feelings and sensations were all happening inside her being.
Emotional regulation is a mature capacity that young children grow into. If you were not supported to grow up emotionally- realizing that your feelings lived inside you, that the sensations in your body were information, you likely organized to focus on the external. Now in parenting, when your child has big feelings that drive them to “act out”, it triggers your internal young emotional experience.
As an external force you may feel like they are manipulating or disrespecting you, then what do you do?
If you’ve not had the chance to grow up into emotional maturity, and you want to blame the external, you’ll likely move to control your child!
When that happens both you and your child end up in a pretty young emotional spot.
Purejoy supports discovering how to emotionally regulate, making ourselves a safe emotional space for our children. We practice our own emotional driving skills, rather than focusing on the child changing their behavior so that we can feel ok inside.
The first step towards emotional maturity is to recognize that when your child experiences a big emotional wave, you will naturally attune to that wave.
Working this vibrational attunement in the SafeSeat, noticing your experience, and offering loving-kindness to yourself supports emotional growth and safety.
Continuing to practice new emotional regulation skills, supports you and your family in learning how to drive the emotional car. You support yourself, not blaming your children for your feelings, or getting them to take care of you. And voila! You stay in your own lane teaching your child to do the same.
Have you heard the term emotional intelligence?
Emotional intelligence is defined as the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, handling interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.
Growing up I learned to prize the values of mental intelligence- especially academic, and even physical intelligence or prowess, and yet learned very little about emotional intelligence.
Becoming a parent, however, revealed that emotional intelligence was something I was sorely lacking.
Personally, I had been through years of therapy, practiced loads of spiritual work, and done tons of reading, and hardly anyone offered insights into the importance of the emotional relationship between parent and child.
I found myself shouting at, shaming, and guilting my daughter- behaviors I swore I would never do. It shocked me into recognizing how emotionally immature I actually was!
I remember starting my day with the best intentions to be a calm, kind, and loving Mama. Then, almost without fail, I’d end up yelling, pushing, or in some way forcing my agenda on my daughter by mid-morning. At that moment- trying to get her to change her behavior to make me feel better, I felt quite justified in the self-righteous attitude of being “in charge”. Once I successfully overpowered her, I fell into a self-aggressive pit of guilt and shame.
Why couldn’t I break this pattern? I “knew” better, yet having no models for emotional maturity in my family, I had a blind spot to truly understand what parenting with emotional maturity was.
In western culture, we strongly focus on physical maturity as well as intellectual maturity and place a much lesser value on emotional maturity.
Did your mom or dad sit down and teach you how to be effectively selfish by setting healthy personal boundaries for yourself? Probably not.
I meet with a lot of families and oftentimes I see those who are highly intelligent by these cultural standards- loving, giving parents no less, who are entirely overwhelmed on an emotional level when it comes to parenting. As long as their child is behaving in a way they deem appropriate they are fine, and yet when their child won’t listen- BAM! The parent finds themselves whining, screaming, blaming, name-calling – all things young children do when they are activated.
This is the function of the amygdala in its full activation – that primal part of the brain that kicks in when perceiving a threat to survival. Should you actually be under threat, it is highly intelligent behavior to yell and scream and get wild to ensure that whatever is threatening will be frightened away. But my guess is that is not the way you want to behave with your four-year-old!
I created the SafeSeat process to support myself and others in having a sacred space to emotionally grow ourselves up.
Rather than shame and blame myself, I choose to go to a place of safety when I see a behavior in my child that seems bad or wrong and my primal brain is triggered.
Moving to my SafeSeat, especially after ‘acting out’ my young emotional strategies, I bring deep self-awareness to the younger one inside that had a need, that was hurting, that was trying her hardest to be seen, heard, and understood, and never learned the skill set of emotional maturity.
This week when something happens in your parenting that activates your primal survival strategy- use your awareness to check in.
What sensations am I experiencing in my body?
Are they dangerous in this moment or just uncomfortable?
If not dangerous, am I willing to offer kindness to the one in me that feels young?
In my Safe Seat, turning back through self-awareness I see, hear and understand the one that needs my support instead of trying to get my child to take care of me.
This is the first step to understanding that your child is not causing your pain, nor can she fix it. They are simply activating a need or feeling that has always lived inside of you and never had a safe way to come out of hiding.
In making this choice- notice a part of yourself is awakening, seeking love and attention and it is a great gift to offer deep loving-kindness toward those feelings and needs.
As a parent, are you ever confused by the advice of the ‘experts?
I know I sure was! Even though I was so clear that focusing on my own internal experience was the path for me, I still had this secret hope that somehow my child’s behavior would change. Ha!
On a deep intuitive level, I knew that going inside was for my well-being, and not to get my child to behave, and in hindsight, I can see how that realization took time to develop.
Honestly looking at my motivation was eye-opening. It wasn’t so much about my daughter, what I found out was that that I didn’t want to be my mom.
As a practice, turning inside towards myself, instead of acting out, gave me a chance to experience the discomfort in my body, opening my heart to hear my stories and feelings. From this internal experience, I asked myself, as my internal wisdom being the expert: “what is my motive in my parenting? What do I actually want to happen? What is my goal in consciously parenting?
Seeing any behavior in my daughter that reminded me, even a little bit, of my family origin, I immediately labeled it bad and wrong and tried to do the exact opposite. Since I felt abandoned, rejected, and unsupported by my mother I went to great lengths to avoid my daughter having the same external experience I remembered.
Parenting in opposition to something isn’t really parenting from the center of your being. I call this work Purejoy to pinpoint that centered place inside where I find truth, and my truth told me: taking responsibility for my personal boundaries is the cornerstone to support myself and my daughter.
For example, one piece of parenting advice that I deeply questioned from the center of my being, was that children need limits and boundaries. The way I interpreted this was that I was supposed to limit and bind my child’s behavior which I didn’t want to do since I remembered how uncomfortable it was when this was done to me. So, I swung clear to the other side of the pendulum and took on the job to become a bottomless provider of anything she wanted.
Truth is, neither one worked because they both focused on controlling HER.
Moving deeper toward my center I experienced the clarity that owning my limits and boundaries was the key! Of course, my child experienced my limits and boundaries when I owned them as my personal responsibility, and yet there was no need to turn outward limiting or binding her.
Does this sound surprising? My experience has shown that my child naturally experiences limits and boundaries when I set my healthy personal boundaries so there is no need to set a limit on her.
Here’s the hard part though: most often when setting a healthy personal boundary I feel selfish, abandoning, and unsupportive of my daughter. All the things I tried to avoid feeling in myself and in my parenting! In my discomfort, it’s easy to flip back into wanting to bind and limit her so I can feel at ease again.
My early programming with my mother trained me to look outside for the cause of my discomfort and my happiness. When I recognize that my daughter only triggers the feelings that live inside me, that supports me in releasing her from causing them.
Getting to this understanding is both empowering and challenging, as my early conditioning can easily bleed through the truth of who I want to be.
Setting aside the polarities of being opposite of my mother or dependent on my daughter, I enter into the sacred place inside that is and always has been open to Purejoy.
Not taking my daughter’s behavior personally challenges me to keep turning inside instead of reacting out.
Furiously yelling “You are such a mean Mom – I hate you!” sure felt personal and every bone in my body registered a perceived threat, so of course I wanted to attack. Taking a deep breath and pausing, allowing my primal brain to calm down, I realized it actually wasn’t about me. Expressing what was going on in her internal experience came out as an attack and yet not seeing it as a personal attack I took responsibility for my part in the dynamic allowing me to show up for her.
Picture yourself tired, hungry or worried, sharing your angst with a spouse or a friend and they start trying to fix or change you with their agenda. How do you behave? Do your words come out kindly. Perhaps you even say things you actually don’t mean trying to get them to back-off. You’ve descended into what Dan Siegel calls the downstairs brain, or the amygdala, as opposed to acting from the more rational “upstairs” brain. Expressing from the primal brain is signally a threatened state. Your words are the weapons used to take out the perceived threat.
So my daughter’s internal experience was one of feeling threatened. By me! Pushing, pulling or forcing my agenda were a perceived threat to her emotional safety. Descending down the stairs using her words to “attack” she sought to STOP me from threatening her. Attuning to her emotional state activated my amygdala (primal brain) and quickly I descended down my staircase as well. Two threatened brains make for a HOT situation where both parties, in survival mode, are determined to take out the other.
Perhaps this happens in your life? Taking your child’s words personally you think: He’s disrespecting me and the battle is on.
Taking responsibility for seeing ourselves as an emotional threat to our kids, if we take their words personally, is humbling. And yet, empowering ourselves to show up as the adult is an incredible high. Pausing, slowing down and asking: how am I entering her room? Am I entering with an agenda? Pushing, pulling or forcing? How can I enter his world safely? This is a respectful way to engage.
Backing off and not believing what my daughter is saying is personal gives me a chance to hear her expression taking responsibility in how I engaged in the first place.
What is about ME is I clearly have a part in the dynamic and instead of trying to get her to respect me I ask “where am I not acting respectfully?” What a difference a shift in perspective has made.
Lately, I’m aware of my attachment to things going my way, especially with my child. Expecting my daughter to live into my high values leads to a feeling of disappointment when she doesn’t. I know this feeling intimately and as it arises I notice the deeper disappointment lives inside since I SHOULD be over this by now. HA!
Clearly, when facing reality I recognize parenting is often challenging and messy and yet there is still this little niggly fantasy that at some point I’ll transcend the pain and glide through life feeling peaceful and loving. My attachment to pleasure over pain gets me and I find myself circling back around to controlling my daughter.
Do you have these fantasies? If you have a SafeSeat practice, practice sitting back in your SafeSeat, asking where are you attached to one-sidedness, to the pleasure side of things over the painful ones. And do you notice, as I do, that it is actually in the challenging moments, especially in parenting, that you have grown the most?
Meeting challenge is an opportunity to either act out and keep that pattern going or to look inside and ask, what am I believing about myself at this moment that’s causing my suffering?
Fortunately, I get to practice a lot.
Noticing when I project my expectations onto my daughter gives me the opportunity to meet myself in an empowered way. Turning into the center of the disappointment, instead of trying to get her to change, I find the opportunity to ask – where am I trying to control? Where am I attached to the way I think it’s supposed to go? Every time I impose my views and ideas on to life, I experience a fleeting pleasure, things are good for a little bit, and yet a deeper pleasure awakens in turning back inside, getting to know myself on the deepest level.
I invite you to take time this week, slow everything down. Be with your beautiful self with all your attachments, all your glory, and also spend a little time asking yourself: what story am I believing about myself that may be causing my suffering? It’s always an inside job.
What I know now is that is not the greatest gift I have to offer. The greatest gift is seeing her, freshly, over and over again in a new light.
When I first met my daughter through adoption, It was like I had a pair of glasses that were clean and innocent. I was deeply aware, looking through the eyes of fresh love, the profound gift we both received just being in each other’s presence.
Over time the glasses got a little foggier and I fell back on my habitual pattern of seeing through judgment and labels. I found myself categorizing, saying things like, oh, my daughter never wears skirts. And then, sure enough, the next day, she would have a skirt on. Once labeling her though, it stuck in my mind.
Conditioning through our upbringing and culture is a given. Unconsciously we take the deep divisions and dislikes we feel inside and about ourselves projecting them outwards, especially onto our children.
Projecting my stuff onto my daughter, she becomes the location of the disliked parts in me. When I perceive something is “wrong” with her I believe I am helping her if I can work to change her behavior. The truth though is I’ve been conditioned to believe I am “wrong” when I perceive that behavior inside myself. I’ve seen myself through the foggy glasses and therefore take out my pain on my daughter.
I’ve learned if I see something outside that causes discomfort, turning inward I’m able to witness the trait in me seeing it in the deepest innocence and kindness.
Longing to be seen is a desire we all recognize. To be seen in our beauty, rather than our disabilities, our neurosis or our difficulties, or whatever lens we are being seen through is an experience to behold.
I’m going to give you a little practice this week.
Take one of your children (or your partner), whoever irritates you a bit to practice with. Someone whose character or the traits they exhibit trigger judgment in you. Try taking off the habitual glasses seeing them in their core vulnerability, their core innocence, underneath any labels. Remember, they are a reflection of you.
Just this week, see if you’re willing to continue to see yourself innocently first, and then your child. Look at them when they are sleeping sweetly in their bed. Sometimes it is easier to see the innocence and beauty of being at that time. Do that tonight, and then when they wake up, continue seeing them through the eyes of innocence as if you are meeting them for the first time, just as you did at birth.
I’ll never forget the moment, seeing my daughter for the first time. It was such a deep moment of awe and wonderment realizing with my whole being that I had the privilege to walk with this beautiful soul for the rest of my life.
Do these words sound familiar? “I can’t let my kid….”
As in “I can’t let my kid stay on the computer for hours”, “do her homework while listening to podcasts” “eat only pasta seven days a week”.
Going to that place, which we all do, of looking at the reality of what is and then making a judgment about it happens in an instant. But those moments I think “I can’t let my daughter stay on the computer all day”, she IS on the computer. That is the reality.
Recognizing the minute I enter her space with the energy of the ‘I can’t let you’ thoughts, I take a ‘power over’ position, thinking I know what is best for her. Maybe I do and maybe I don’t but that is not what matters. What matters is the energy I bring into the situation.
Noticing what she is actually doing I meet my discomfort with curiosity, love, and understanding. As my focus shifts away from judgment I take ownership and responsibility for my internal experience being about me and not caused by her behavior. Most times I experience a need to connect and I’m terrified she doesn’t.
I choose to open putting judgment aside, taking in the reality of the joy, delight, and enthusiasm she exhibits for what she is doing. Meeting WHAT IS instead of claiming my story is true, I show up curious and filled with delight.
Removing the judgment that it is OK or not OK to do any of the things I’m judging as negative I step into the present moment reality curious about her instead of focusing on my discomfort.
Ask yourself: how do you feel when someone meets you with judgment. Cooperative? Loved? Seen? Heard? Someone comes to me with that energy, I resist and push back. So does my daughter.
This week when perceiving your child is not doing the things you think are best for them, as that voice of judgment arises, are you willing to try something different?
Try meeting your child where they are with what they are doing, and get curious – How is that for you? You really like to do that a lot. Tell me about that. I’m so interested in what you are experiencing.
Coming alongside your child in this way, with openness, gives you a different vantage point and a very different connection. When you do, notice if they open to you, cooperating, sharing, and meeting your needs as well.
Before becoming a Mom, I was incredibly judgy when observing how others parented.
Witnessing parents getting angry with their kids and trying to control them, activated a secret sense of pride inside – I was SURE as a parent, I’d do it so differently. Perhaps the same thought lived in you before you started your parenting journey?
In fact, part of the inspiration for becoming a parent at all, was giving myself the opportunity to ‘do it right’. Having grown up in a dysfunctional home, I did countless hours of therapy, read every book I could get my hands on and entered a spiritual inquiry practice. To top that off I waited until I was 44 convincing myself I was finally mature enough NOT to be my mom. ! HA! I was determined to get this RIGHT.
I stepped into the reality of motherhood! Seeing my motivation was often to “get it right”, according to what the experts claimed was the way to parent, led to mistrusting my deep wisdom. Suffering a deep inner divide led to blaming my daughter for my failure.
Having mental templates of what I thought I was supposed to do, rubbing up against my unique knowing, suppressed a simple intimacy and support for expressing my brilliance.
Reading the parenting experts, I felt chided about being permissive and letting my child get away with things. And yet following their advice created an environment in which I stepped over my boundaries, abandoning my inner wisdom and therefore my daughter’s.
Thankfully, my daughter rejected all the techniques I threw her way. She wasn’t interested in pleasing me. Even though secretly I was overjoyed she wasn’t taking on the pleasing behavior, I’d taken on as a child, I wasn’t able to openly own my knowing in public. When she acted out in public I threw her “under the bus” since I so desperately wanted to fit in and look like I was doing it “right”. I longed for the approval of others more than trusting my knowing.
But in truth, the experts aren’t parenting your particular child, with their unique needs and expression. For my family, I chose to create an environment in which we could both express our unique brilliance, without being caught in the conditioning of being who others wanted us to be.
Are you up for trying something challenging this week?
When feeling discomfort in relation to your child – they are on the computer too long, won’t get to be on time, or refuse to eat your well-balanced meal – lean into and underneath the discomfort. Instead of feeding the mental ideal of how things are supposed to go, take a moment to put yourself in your child’s position. How would you behave if you were totally immersed in something – your work or even a movie – and your child walks in, demanding you to stop what you are doing RIGHT NOW, telling you in so many words that you are a disappointment if you don’t. What happens inside? Would you feel like cooperating in meeting their needs?
Now replay that scene tapping into your inner wisdom while seeing how you want to be approached and treated. Is it different than the experts, your conditioned idea, or what “being right” tells you to do.? Or not? (Remember, not to look through the lens of right or wrong…..just honest truth.)
Looking forward to hearing how it goes.