I remember that morning so well. My daughter, 23 months old, I shouted, she covered her face with both of her hands, my heart sank. In that moment I could see history was repeating itself and that my stress was negatively impacting my parenting and in turn my daughter. I could feel myself as a child being shouted at, feeling shame and hurt and anger, with no outlet to process it. I thereafter was determined to break the cycle with my own children and that it wouldn’t happen again. However, sadly it did, on a number of occasions, I am only human after all and implementing changes to how we manage ourselves does not occur instantly. It’s a process, and the older we are the longer it can take, as we have so much unlearning to do.
As a result of this insight, I began a journey on how to parent without anger, fear or anxiety. I buried myself, and our house, in a volume of mental health and parenting books, digesting as much information from podcasts, webinars, mental health conferences as I could consume. One question burning all along – How to break this cycle for my children, my students (I’m a teacher also) and for myself?
Experts such as *Dr. Malie Coyne, *Brené Brown and *Dr. Gabor Maté thankfully steered me away from blame; blaming myself, my parents and their parents before them. It is not about naming, shaming and blaming, it is all about awareness. Awareness of how my experiences have shaped me as a person, how my actions both positive and negative are affecting my children; awareness of the fact that neither my parents nor their parents had any access to the information that we have at our fingertips today. Awareness that right now I am doing the best that I can with what I know. Awareness that my parents did the best that they could given the experiences they had in their childhoods, with the knowledge that they had, all of which was handed down to them from their parents. You get the picture.
Assuming you do, there is a possibility that you too may begin to reflect on your actions and reactions with your children and as a result start to feel shame and guilt. It’s hard not to, but that is when we need to remind ourselves that we are enough, we are doing our best with what we know right now. Once you do become aware then you can start to take action and make the changes that you and your children need towards a more emotionally healthier foundation.
This can seem like a very arduous task especially when you feel like you’re drowning, failing, barely surviving. Awareness is only the beginning, then comes the realisations, the unfolding and discovering of how both your childhood and life experiences have shaped you and in turn your parenting.
It’s like looking into a mirror that you really don’t want to see nor to own up to what you are seeing. The mirror can remind us of our past, our struggles and our own anxieties. However the biggest and most honest mirror that we look into every day is that of our children. Their actions, reactions and behaviours are a reflection of us. So when we ask ourselves why is my child behaving in this way, why is my child struggling we also need to answer those questions for ourselves. If they are hurting, are you hurting, if they are anxious ask yourself are you anxious? If they are angry all the time, are you? How’s your self-esteem and self-belief? Now ask, what about your child’s?
Our children are watching, when we get angry, when we are stressed, how we interact with each other, how we grieve, how we cope, how we consume alcohol, how we eat, how we spend our money and indeed how we spend our time together. They need us to become aware of ourselves, to stop walking around emotionally blindfolded and telling the world that we are fine! We are not fine. We may be feeling content, or frustrated or grateful or lonely. All of these are true feelings. However, stating you’re feeling fine is a side step, a burial even.
Our children are watching us, listening and learning from us and so how they grow and cope with life’s trials and tribulations starts with us. As Dr. Gabor Maté said ‘Heal the family and you will heal the child’.
*Dr. Malie Coyne is an Irish Clinical Psychologist, Author, N.U.I.G. Lecturer and an active member of the Mental Health Advisory Panel for the A Lust for Life charity. Click her to get to her website
*Brené Brown is a researcher, storyteller, and Texan who’s spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. You can find her website here.
*Dr. Gabor Maté is a renowned speaker, and bestselling author, Dr. Gabor Maté is highly sought after for his expertise on a range of topics including addiction, stress and childhood development. Find out more about him and his work here