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