I've realized that I am just plain scared of emotions. Mine, my kids, people in general. Sometimes, I just don't know what to say or just don't want to deal with it so I ignore them. It's funny, because at work I am the first person to identify and discuss the emotional components of raising kids, and am more than able to help families to problem solve their frustration, anger, sadness, etc. Of course it's way easier to see things objectively when you are not one of the main players.
Lately, I've been realizing that in order to be a better mom, I need get more than OK with being in the muck of a mess of emotions, and get used to figuring out my own emotional responses to every ones feelings. I'm pretty decent at validating feelings, but my own crap definitely gets in the way of going any further than that. My first inclination when I hear crying or whining is annoyance. Partly because I have learned that if it is coming from one person in particular, it means that a dress is too hot, or the baby doll's diapers don't fit right or the pillow has fallen, or she needs a tissue, or something else that could easily be done without an adults assistance, but for whatever reason must be giving the blessing of an adult. I go back over our early years as brand new parents and try to figure out this helplessness and I keep coming back to the rules we set. Many of them I think made it hard for her to see what she could do on her own, and in fact "broke" her of her independent streak. But clearly, there is some element of personality there as well. I also know that before the kids were truly talking, I had way more patience for all of it. I was easily able to translate, validate, support, empathize. Once they could talk though, my expectations increased. They should be able to say what they want, needs, feel, etc. Of course I know that is not true - really who can even do all that all the time as an adult?
So the past few weeks have been a learning experience. I had this crazy set of personal, public, and random events all at once, that has caused things to come together for me on so many levels, and pushed me towards making some changes. With me, there are always a few books in the mix of any change, and this is no exception. Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves by Naomi Aldort is one that had been recommended so often I felt it was a necessary read. I had just read The Work a few weeks ago, so Aldorts ideas were not new, but they helped translate The Work to parenting for me. The basic idea is that you are in control of your own thoughts which are what make you feel bad or good. It's not that other things or people make you feel one way or another, it's all you. I've been asking myself "is it true" about all of my self talk, and finding that mostly, it's not. You can decide how you want to be and who you want to be that is not who you are with your "story" - the old assumptions, roles, traits, etc. that you played in your family growing up, at work, or wherever else you might have been labeled one way or another. With Aldorts version of the Work, you as a parent, teacher, mentor, help children process through their feelings and thought in a similar way. You give voice to their feelings without creating added drama or putting your own spin on it, and allow them to do what they will with them.
Allowing kids to have and live through their emotions. That's pretty messy. Not putting your own hat in the ring. Really hard. And hearing what comes up when you do this - super super scary. We've already had several discussions about dying, a few about wanting to be a baby again and hating one's siblings. One really really long day where it came out that Peanut was afraid that I didn't love her anymore after Pumpkin was born. A big blow up about hating home school preschool, and some other smaller things as well. It's all on, all the time. The upside is that we are all talking more and allowing ourselves to feel. Of course, that can be a downside as well, since we are really opening up all kinds of vulnerabilities.
This is all a ton of work, but really what is my goal. Mental health for everyone. Skills at conflict resolution, standing up for oneself, compassion, empathy, comfort in one's emotional and the ability to listen to what you really want and need. I've said before (only maybe half joking) that I want my kids to be able to be on the couch later in life talking about something other than what I talk about on the couch. I at least want to move them forward rather than hand over my stuff to them. I'm feeling like we are headed in that direction.