Becoming a Calm Down Expert
When I was growing up, my parents disciplined us the way I think a lot of parents did back then. There were rules and if we broke the rules, there were consequences. Basic cause and effect. We got spanked, we got sent to our room, we got grounded...you get the gist. When I had my girls, discipline in the traditional "old school" kind of way was of course my default. I yelled, I spanked, I put the kids in LOTS of time outs. Needless to say, there was a lot of energy in our household, and as an angry mom at the time, it often wasn't positive. The good times were already hard for me at the time, so you can only imagine how I'd respond in the bad times.
As a member of the social media generation, I knew the old school ways weren't exactly socially acceptable anymore, but the thing is that, at the time...I heard a lot of what NOT to do but not a ton of what TO DO.
Early on in my journey to self-understanding, I listened to a Zen Parenting Radio podcast titled, "Forget Punishment, How About Kindness?". In their episode, they talk about a 60 Minutes segment about the German prison systems and the unique way they are approaching the inmates. They call the guards that work there, "Calm Down Experts". Instead of using force and anger to "control" those in prison, like they do in the US, these guards are trained in techniques to help show the inmates a different way. Their focus is rehabilitation and not retribution and the outcomes are awe inspiring. Todd and Cathy then make the connection between the guards and parenting which for me, was such an "ah-ha" moment. I must first be able to properly deal with my emotion before I am able to productively help my girls. I control me, then I can help guide them.
This idea of modeling the behavior we wish to see in our kids was so important for me and forever changed my approach to parenting because it made me think back on my own childhood and how long it took for me to learn how to appropriately handle my emotions. Here I am, 32 and just now getting a firm grasp on this idea that there are healthy ways to deal with the emotions we have.
I love my parents and they did a great job. They did the best they could with what they had. BUT, as I was growing up, I knew a lot about rules, and I knew a lot about not wanting to upset anyone, and I knew a lot about how to behave so that I didn't get in trouble, but I did not know how to handle and process my emotions. Getting mad and sad and frustrated and jealous and overwhelmed and stressed...they were all NORMAL feelings that I had. The emotion was never the issue...instead, how I handled the emotion was. I was famous for shoving things down and ignoring emotion to be as "perfect" as I could in hopes to not upset anyone. However, much like a volcano, eventually too much was inside and I would burst. Rather than deal with the smaller emotions...rather than process things in the moment, I felt that emotions made me appear "crazy" (this is a big trigger word for me) so I would try and hide the feelings not realizing that hiding and denying the small ones just caused even bigger ones later to try and hide and deny and that never went over well. Also, because I tried so hard to be perfect, any type of criticism or failure caused me to get defensive and angry. Back then, failure, mistakes...they were devastating to me. My homework wasn't wrong, I WAS WRONG. Not making a tryout...I didn't fail, I WAS A FAILURE. When someone didn't want to be friends with me, it wasn't because she didn't like me,it was because I WAS NOT WORTHY OF BEING LIKED BY ANYONE. Do you see where I am going with this? Every negative thing that ever happened to me, BIG or small, was a direct reflection of who I was at my core and inside were a lot of intense emotions I never knew how to process. This led to a life of pent up anger, resentment, an insatiable need to be validated and an unworthiness that trickled into every aspect of my life and eventually motherhood.
SO, this journey, this episode, was eye opening for me. I knew from that moment on that I had to become a calm down expert for my girls. I had to learn how to cope so that in turn I could show them how to cope. I had to heal so that I could be the kind of mom my kids deserved. The world is not perfect and we as human beings aren't perfect. Messing up is a part of life and I didn't learn that lesson...I didn't extend myself any grace until I started walking down this path two years ago. That was 30 years of feeling such intense unworthiness that I now have had to undo. It was 30 years of emotion that I was taking out on my husband and my kids. It was 30 years of frustration and an inability to truly communicate what was going on inside of me. It's amazing how motherhood shines a spotlight on your problems.
My hope is that I can help my kids process emotion from an early age. My hope is that I validate the feelings they have and help them find tools so that they can handle their emotions in a healthy way. Meeting their anger with my anger...meeting their yelling with my louder yelling was not an effective discipline strategy here. It was a power struggle, and because I didn't have any self-worth, I wanted and needed to win and feel validated even if the person on the receiving end was my child. Talk about a kick in the gut...I had to win because my ego was bruised...because if they didn't listen it was my fault and it was just one more piece of evidence that proved that I was failing at something...that I was a failure.
So, here I am...two years later with a renewed sense of confidence. I did the work because I was the problem. I did the work because I could no longer put my baggage on my kids. It was time for me to stop being a victim of whatever bullshit I went through in my childhood and take responsibility.
On my Facebook post regarding this Zen Parenting Podcast someone commented, "Being calm and giving them strategies to cope is the best way. However, it is so hard in the moment." She was spot on. It is so hard in the moment. Emotions are flying and the pressure is on and as the parent the eyes are on you. Parenting will never get easier. Our kids are learning and they are going to be hitting us with new stuff in every phase of their lives. This is why self-care is so damn important. This is why you have to be ready ahead of time so that when the moment comes and you feel your blood pressure rising, you have enough in the tank to pause before you react. None of us will get it right every time and let me tell you, responding is going to look different in every situation. Some days we will get it right, and some days we will get it wrong. The BIG difference here is that we are able to move on. We don't turn one failed moment of parenting into thinking that we are failing at parenting. Can you see the difference? We pick ourselves up and we do the next right thing. Sometimes the next right thing is a time out for US...some situations are going to be too intense and we won't be prepared and perhaps we'll need to have a cool down before we address our kids. Maybe the situation won't require us to do anything but sit there and listen and let them get it out. Some days we will have wise words and others we will fall flat on our face. BUT we keep pressing forward. We keep showing up. We keep trying, and we do so knowing that we are doing a damn good job. Sometimes, I have found that the easiest way to move on after I screw up is to apologize. "I am so sorry mommy lost her temper with you. She was feeling frustrated and she shouldn't have yelled at you. Will you forgive me?" Allow yourself to be human in front of your kids. Show them that everyone makes mistakes. Show them how to put pride aside and do the right thing. Show them how to be vulnerable. Show them how to be whole. Allow yourself to be whole.
Go. Try. Fail. Learn. Grow.