The Invisible River Of Feelings Underneath Our Lives


Holy the mysterious rivers of tears under the streets! – Allen Ginsberg

Imagine the scene: your toddler throws their food onto the floor. You feel enraged, and want to shout. Or you might actually shout, particularly if you feel like they’re old enough to know better. What’s going on here? Parenting can be frustrating and exhausting, and when your child does things that almost seem to deliberately make your life harder it can leave you at breaking point.

The most important thing to know is that it’s not just about the food. Yes it’s a hassle to clean it up, and it’s a waste, and you might be worried about your toddlers’ eating habits, whether they’re getting enough vitamins, and if they are ever going to learn right from wrong. But it’s actually about much, much more.

When we are stressed the emotional part of the brain – the limbic system, senses a kind of emotional emergency, and the pre-frontal cortex- the part of the brain responsible for reasoning, and logical thinking can’t function as well. When this happens, implicit (unconscious) memories from our childhood get activated and often because we can’t think clearly we often tend to respond in automatic ways, often mirroring the way we were treated when we were children. That’s why we tend to lose our temper and act in ways we sometimes regret.

When we are having a hard time in the present, it’s often because these implicit memories start bubbling up to the surface, often without us being consciously aware of what’s going on. Even if you don’t act on these memories, if you don’t shout or hit your child, then they are still there in the background, whispering away, and making it hard to stay calm and relaxed.

When you look at a toddler, you’ll probably notice how much they are in the moment, and full of joy at the simple things in life. And if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know all about the healing power of tears, and how we can listen to our children’s upsets, play and connect with them, so in difficult times they can keep returning to their natural state of joy.

But what happened to us? When we were growing up most parents had no idea that we need to express our emotions, to release our feelings to recover our sense of joy. And so we gathered a lot of hurts which we carry with us to this day. It’s as if as well as the present moment, we also have this invisible river of feelings that flows beneath our lives, that we may not even be aware of much of the time. This is one of the reasons why parenting feels so hard.

When life gets tricky. When we get angry, or anxious or depressed, it’s like this river is calling us home, reminding us of who we were as children, and how we got hurt.

It’s not too late to return to our own joy. Think of your child and how much connection, and attention they need, of how they need an infinite amount of love, and listening, to feel good. Hand in Hand Parenting is an approach about listening to our children, but it’s also about joining together as a community of parents, to listen to each other, so that we can heal from our own hurt and pain. We call this listening partnerships, and you can find out more about them here.

Imagine next time your toddler tries to throw food on the floor, and you can react with lighthearted playfulness instead of frustration and exhaustion. It is really possible, when we begin to listen to that invisible river of feelings beneath our life.

To find out more about how our past effects our present day parenting and what we can do about it check-out my book Tears Heal: How To Listen To Our Children

Tears Heal2016

Diary of an imperfect mum

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14 thoughts on “The Invisible River Of Feelings Underneath Our Lives

  1. We are certainly having some testing times at mealtimes at the moment and I definitely find tea times the hardest as I am so tired by that time too. Will try and remember to respond playfully this week!

  2. The topic is wonderfully described. Thanks for sharing. I would like to add that the need to let our feelings be exactly as they are, watching them to know what they tell us and then acting or not in a conscious way expands way beyond parenting. It’s the only way to be able to be happy and balanced at all times. Mindfulness is a wonderful psychological toolbox to help you achieve that. It takes time and dedication but is a powerful way to heal ourselves and the planet.

  3. Yes, if we can just take a breath, and stay in the moment and react just to the exact situation in front of us, we would all be so much better for it. We just need to focus on the moment at hand and the task at hand. So much easier said than done. Wonderful post!

  4. The interesting thing is, in a situation like the one you describe, I tend to react like my Dad who hasn’t been around all that much, who is short-tempered, and not like my Kindergarten Teacher Mom who knows all the tricks to deal with kids – what’s the deal with that? Why can’t I handle it calm and non-aggressive like her, who has been modelling it to me for so many years?

    Your post reminded me of the month of December.

    How so?

    Usually we tend to perceive the days before the Holidays as hectic, and people are stressed out. These past years I found that the way I perceive “pre-Christmas people” has more to do with my own mood than anything else. If I’m able to be patient and not to let them ruin my cheerful mood, they seem to be friendlier and less rude as well. Does that make any sense? Now transfer “pre-Christmas people” to “everyday little people” and just go with that…

    1. Interesting about your mom and dad Tamara. I’m not a brain scientist!, but I wonder if it’s because in those stressful situations, the unconscious memories that get triggered are the ones that haven’t been filed away peacefully but are a bit more ‘charged’ – ie. the ones with your dad. In ‘Parenting From the Inside Out’ Dan Siegal, talks about how these memories need to be processed and integrated so that we become less reactive to them.

      Love your thinking about December! Our children certainly give a lot of challenges to our moods, and parenting can really teach us the art of patience!

  5. I love your posts Kate. I think it is hard to always stay calm and measured and sometimes you can get lost in the moment. I find it helpful to take a step back and look at the situation as an observer and not a participant and that helps me. Thank you for linking up to #ablogginggoodtime 🎉

    1. that’s such a great strategy to look on the situation as an observer. Mindfulness can be really helpful too. Thanks for reading 🙂

  6. interesting post. im not sure i react in the way my parents did, my mother i think would have been much calmer than I , but do you know I dont really know? she is now, but maybe she wasnt back then? Such is the stress of looking after small children, i think it can change our temperaments completely, I was always very patient until I had kids, now im stressed and at the end of my tether 😦 The invisible river of feelings – yes, totally. how to calm the river? #ablogginggoodtime

    1. Hi the motherhub thanks for your comment. I think our parents definitely mellow out as they get older. Sorry to hear you are so stressed. The Hand in Hand Parenting approach I teach has a wonderful tool for calming our river of feelings called listening partnerships. This is how it transformed the life of one mum. How’s Parenting Going?

  7. Sometimes I’m there in the moment and seeing things for what they are, other times, colossal failure and my hurt ego takes over and lashes out right back. Tough stuff, but it’s good to read stuff like this to see there is another way. Thanks

    1. it’s so hard sometimes. We only have so much patience, and calmness, before it gets too much. Yes there is another way, and I hope it helps!

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