Attending birthday parties with my 4 year old daughter has been a mixed bag of emotions and experiences for both her and me, and her best friend’s party a few weeks ago was no exception.
My daughter loves being invited to and attending parties. She’s excited to play with her friends and looks forward to enjoying the fabulous entertainment and food, and of course the birthday cake!
She’s naturally sociable and good natured with her friends. And at times during parties she can become very overwhelmed by the noise, the number of children in the room and the unspoken social conventions (waiting in turn for food, waiting for the singing and candles to be blown out before having cake, waiting patiently for your turn during party games and so on). Of course this can lead to confusion, frustration and impatience, and for my daughter this can result in shouting and/ or complaining.
Since completing the PureJoy coaching training, I am more comfortable supporting myself when I’m triggered by my children’s big emotions when we are at home. On good days I take as much time as needed to hold space for myself in my SafeSeat, show myself kindness and respond from my adult capacities. And, of course, there are off days, when getting to my SafeSeat is a serious struggle.
However, supporting myself is much more difficult when things become tricky with the kids in public.
The most recent parties we’ve attended have gone pretty smoothly, so I assumed this one would be fine too. She was so excited to be there, to give her bestie her birthday present and to play! She skipped into the room, instantly ran off to find her friends, and started playing on the electric ride on cars that had been hired for the event.
She fell madly in love with those cars! The car she was playing on soon became HER car. If any of the other children played on it she became quite agitated. I was chatting to some of the other parents when I heard her shouting from the other side of the room at a boy who was in HER car. The boy’s father and I walked over to them and BAM, I found myself in a situation that I found very difficult to navigate.
My default reaction in these situations is to go into my thoughts, strategise, try to find the right words to say to get my daughter to calm down, and find words that might also sound good to the other parents around us. I tried to be patient, calm and polite, despite the growing discomfort I was feeling inside. My daughter did not calm down.
My head started to spin. Can I sit with discomfort and hold space for both myself and her? Or will I try to manipulate her to avoid feeling uncomfortable? Should I conform to social expectations and ask her to share nicely? Should I tell her to stop shouting, as it’s rude, and encourage her to speak kindly to her friends?
In the mental overwhelm I just froze. I felt uncomfortable, I got hot, I went red in the face.. The four year old me inside felt the same emotions as my daughter. Except I was trying to hold them in, swallowing the energy down, holding back, trying not to act rude or spoiled, and strategize my way out of the situation.
I attempted to support my daughter but really I was just trying to find some ‘magic’ phrase that would make her stop. She could sense my lack of confidence and sense of safety, and her anger turned towards me.
Whilst I was stuck in freeze mode, the boy’s father removed him from the car, my daughter got straight in it, and off she went. She had her car back, she was happy again, for now.
And along came a number of other emotions; guilt because this boy’s turn in the car was cut short, relief that at least the shouting had stopped, paranoia and worry about potential judgements of everyone in the room. And most of all disappointment, because I didn’t parent in this situation, I just felt passive, helpless and ungrounded.
My daughter’s pleasure at having the car back didn’t last for long. There were many other things she found challenging at the party. By the end I was exhausted, anxious and totally drained. I felt I had failed.I wasn’t confident in supporting myself or my child. And I had pleased no one.
Finally home and in the security of my SacredSeat two things came to my awareness.
Firstly, my desire to feel supported in the way I parent. At the party I reverted to early strategies of pleasing and placating and acting nice. I had been looking to the external environment (other parents) to secure the approval I wanted. By giving myself loving kindness, and listening to the young voice inside of me I could say to her ‘Of course you wanted to please the other parents, you wanted approval, to feel safe and supported!‘. Instead of looking outside for what I wanted, I turned my focus inside, asking how I could offer myself the support I was seeking from others.
And secondly, I became aware of the part I’d played in the dynamic between my daughter and I. As hard as it is to admit, I judged my daughter’s behaviour as overpowering and rude. And by default I took the other polarity, of being helpless and ‘nice’. Overpowering and rude are aspects of myself that I’d rejected long ago, I learnt to hide these parts of me, keep them contained. My daughter’s behaviour had triggered these emotions within me, and I just wanted to suppress them! And by polarising, the gap between us kept growing.
From my SacredSeat I could see the situation differently. My daughter had been strong, commanding, powerful and assertive! Of course there are ways to do this that are more refined than shouting until others relent. And the reality is she’s four, so of course she isn’t going to know how to do this yet! Ultimately I want her to be able to call on these powerful parts of herself, not reject or suppress them. And with maturity, she will be able to use them skilfully.
And in wanting this for my daughter, my true desire became clear, what I really want is this for myself! To reclaim and own these rejected parts of me; strong, commanding, powerful and assertive. To be able to call on them to meet my strong and powerful girl, and be the strong and assertive parent I am.
And so my practice in my SafeSeat and SacredSeat continues to deepen. Alongside offering loving kindness to myself daily, I am focusing more on my practice of commanding and grounding my energy, so when the intensity levels start to rise, I can ground into and commit to the present moment, come out of my head, into my body and access my inner power, wisdom and creativity.
Thankfully my three young daughters give me many opportunities to practice, and I’m grateful to them all for shining the light onto the parts of me that are ready to be reclaimed, and grateful to myself for be willing to pursue them.
Abi is mama to three girls, a four year old and 18 month old twins. She is a certified PureJoy coach, a mindfulness meditation teacher and mother’s circles guide in training. She is passionate about working with mums of twins who already have singleton children, supporting them in accessing their inner power, wisdom, creativity and self compassion as their family grows – from pregnancy, the early days with their twins and beyond.