Amazing Parents

Sometimes it\’s AMAZING. Sometimes it\’s just A MAZE.

The Tiny Voice Locked in a Box

I’ve seen parents do the weirdest things. Like one time I saw my friend spank her kid because he fell down. I’m not even kidding.  I literally could not speak in response. Even to day I’m still trying to figure that one out. Another time I watched in horror as a lady in the grocery store literally stood at the check out counter and screamed at her daughter for not “handling the groceries right!” People were watching, but nobody knew what to say. It was so shocking. This little girl, probably 5 years old, started sobbing, but her mom didn’t let up. I could still hear her yelling as I pushed my cart of out the automated doors as I left the store, heart pounding, wishing so badly to have said something in that child’s defense.

Anything.

For someone whose whole life is devoted to educating the world about relationship and connection, seeing these types of parent/child interactions is frustrating and so sad — to say the very least. And it’s the kind of thing that causes me nightmares. Literally. The same recurring dream where a baby is screaming, locked in a box upstairs, while all the happy people in the kitchen pretend not to hear the pain in that tiny voice. The baby screams in terror so long that her brain literally begins to shut down and she is left with no other choice except to disassociate.

To this day, that baby, at 60 years old, still feels locked in that box somehow. I’ve seen this kind of thing over and over again in real life. A parent dragging a child away from a happy day, only to be told that it is now “nap time”. Obviously, children need rest, but sometimes I think it is the parents who are needing the rest. So they force their own needs upon their child, despite the effect on the relationship. Despite the effect on their child’s sense of self and how they will forever perceive the world.

When we look closer at the types of behaviors that drive us parents nuts, we start seeing a pattern. The behaviors in fact have little to do with our kids and more to do with us. They are all things that make us question ourselves, that bring to the fore our deepest, darkest fears. Maybe that we are turning into our father or that we act just like our mother. The same father that hit us when we cried and the same mother that left us alone when we called for her. We, as parents, must process those fears so that we can look past our children’s behaviors and actually give them what they need in that moment. When we can do that, it’s then that someone, finally, hears that tiny voice locked in a box.

(I heard it. You matter to me.)

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February 28, 2008 Posted by | A New Paradigm | Leave a comment

Stop and Smell the Grocers

Have you ever been in a crowded grocery store at 6 pm on payday? There are like a million rushing moms in there with all their exhausted kids trailing behind them. Mom looks like she’s just gotten run over by a steam roller or wishes she would be. Kids just want to go home. They are tired. They are rushing. The lines are long and the coupons are hard to figure out. They are just trying to get out of there as fast as they can.

I have decided that a perfect lesson in learning to see dysregulation is to visit a grocery store on a Friday night after work. Grab your cart and begin walking up and down the aisles. You will find a plethora of opportunities to test out the theory of the stress model.

There will be single people, mindlessly going about their shopping business. These people are quiet and seem pretty much concentrated on the task at hand. People like me envy people like that. They can actually read a label or compare prices without being interrupted twelves times by their kids. Then you’ll see sweet young couples grabbing snacks to take over to their friends houses to “hang” for the night, with Dad’s permission of course. They will be laughing and maybe running down the aisles, waving around their cars keys to make sure everybody knows they’re old enough to drive, and all the while making fun of signs and quietly reciting lyrics to their new favorite pop song.

Then there’s the mothers, with their children — basically people like me. These are the ones you want to pay attention to. Because this will be the heart of your experiment. Watch how the children’s behaviors make mom react. If mom is connected and attuned, she will respond in a sweet, strong way to her children. Maybe reassuring them of her love or maybe engaging them with thoughtful conversation about what each child did that day in school. But when mom is tired, trying to concentrate, or embarrassed, she will react to her children in very negative ways. She might yell or threaten the kids. She might even have shut them out and be ignoring them all together.

Which mom is reacting out of stress, fear, and overwhelm? Which mom is responding out of love? Which mom is regulated and which mom is dysregulated?

Now think of yourself. When you are at the grocery store on Friday night after work with your three kids, which mom are you?

Isn’t this a fun experiment?

February 27, 2008 Posted by | A New Paradigm | Leave a comment

This is What it is to Be Held

I have these two friends. We are really close. I’ve never even met them, but somehow we still tell each other things we do not even confess to our therapists. We have a connection that goes really, really deep. Like there are not words for what we share. Maybe only a feeling that says it all, that says everything you can’t find the words for. Because there are no words. Some things are that scary.

When they can find the words, my two friends write to me everyday. They talk about the weather, their husbands’ jobs, how their kids are doing in school, that the in-laws are coming to visit. The typical daily activities of a mother and a wife. You might not ever realize what these women have experienced in their lives.

Like the lady in front of you at the grocery store who is taking 10 minutes to write out a check, while all the people behind you start to get cranky. What they don’t know, what they will never know, is that two days before, this slow check-writer lost her husband in a car accident on an icy road in the morning while she was in the shower. As he drove to work that day, an on-coming car slipped and crossed the center line. The cars plowed headfirst into each other. The highway was closed for 6 hours as the crews gathered up the metal fragments and soaked up the blood on the road. That driver survived, while her husband slowly bled to death in an adjacent emergency room. She never heard the beeps of machines, or the codes being announced over the intercom. She never said a last “I love you”. She just washed her hair and answered the phone when it rang. And he was gone. Forever. And now she’s standing in line, fumbling for a pen, hands shaking, mind racing with empty thoughts of nothing at all. While ten people behind her only think of themselves and the inconvenience they are currently experiencing.

The fact is, people walk around all day long like this. With pain that we cannot even know. And it’s not only things like car accidents. It’s more than that. It’s infertility. It’s divorce. It’s trouble on the job. It’s mothers diagnosed with cancer and fathers treated for heart disease. It’s children growing up never knowing what it is to be held.

My two friends have one thing in common. Ok, two. First they are both very, very close to me, although neither of them know the other. Second, they have both had babies die in their arms. Their own babies. The tiny, slippery newborn babies they just gave birth to minutes or hours before. They conceived their babies with every hope of giving them long happy lives. The pregnancies went on day by day. Labor pains began. Then the birth, and then the death.

Her milk comes in, yet nobody nurses. The pain is intense. Her uterus continues to contract for days, yet no endorphines to help the pain. She just lays all alone on the floor, bleeding, wrapped up in a ball, crying out for someone — anyone to come and pick her up. She just needs to be held. No amount of sticker charts will get her up off that floor. The pain is too deep, too overwhelming. The sorrow is indescribable and paralyzing. She can’t really even speak the words to say what she feels. She just gets stuck in a primitive state of survival, curled up on the floor screaming — longing for the baby she no longer has inside of her.

If this was an adopted child diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder, curled up on the floor screaming, we would call it a tantrum. Many professionals would order a sticker chart or prescribe more strict consequences in order to gain control of the inconvenient situation. This child needs to get up off the floor and start listening. This child needs to quit hurting others with his anger and his own problems.

This is traditional parenting. This way of thinking too easily forgets the pain that these children are carrying with them. They just want to get their problem child quickly out the door to school so mom can do what she wants for the next 6 hours and not have to deal with the “tantrums” he vomits on her everyday.

They want to just move through the grocery line without being inconvenienced.

When really what these children need is to be held. Same with the grocery line lady. Same with my two friends. Just like a newborn baby crying in a crib. You go to it and pick him up and hold him tightly against your chest. This is what our older children need too. This is what all of our girlfriends need too. They need to be held, by big strong, loving arms that are brave enough to stay with them through their pain. It is in that moment that healing occurs. It is that moment when we can finally pick ourselves up off the floor and start putting words to what it is we are feeling.

This can be very difficult for us to do for others because almost none of us were ever truly held like that in our early life. We were never given the blueprint to know when or how to do this, or to feel comfortable with it. Our mothers let us cry ourselves to sleep. Our fathers spanked us when we cried, to “give us something to cry about”. Most of us didn’t have mothers who were strong enough to hold us through our tantrums. Or fathers who were sensitive enough to connect to those feelings. Instead we were punished and made to feel inconvenient and ashamed.

What about you? Do you have hidden pain that nobody in the grocery store would know? Do you remember your mother and your father being emotionally present with you during your most dysregulated moments? If you dig deep enough, the answer is probably no.

How can we then turn around and give it to our children, to our spouses, to our best friends? It’s very, very hard. But it is that moment that a connection is made, that healing is accomplished. So we must, as individuals, and as a society, as husbands and as wives, learn to hold each other. We need to stop thinking that we can control somebody else’s emotions with consequences or charts or rules or limitations. We need to reach out of our comfort zone and hold someone. Even further, let someone finally, sincerely hold us.

Go to your best friend or to your spouse and practice. Sit on her lap and listen to the words of this song as you feel her heart beating in rhythm with yours. Forget about work and about the laundry. Just imagine your mother’s arms and how you have always longed for her to connect to you more deeply. How it hurts you when she criticizes you or judges you all the time, in that little way she always does. You might break down sobbing, not really knowing why. Or you might feel nothing at first, except uncomfortable. But if you stay in that moment, even for just a little bit, something will begin happing inside your brain. A new pathway will be forming. A pathway towards unconditional love. And you will finally really know that this is what it is to be held.

And I’m sorry our mothers and our fathers didn’t do this for us 30 years ago.

Turn up your speakers and click the link below.

This is what it is to be held

February 18, 2008 Posted by | A New Paradigm | 4 Comments