Last Monday, my son came down at the very last minute to be taken to the train station to get to school. I was waiting in the car as he walked down the drive with his cereal bowl in one hand, his coffee in the other, and shoelaces trailing.
I was feeling tired that morning, and for some reason, this really got under my skin. And despite all my teaching about compassion, allowing things to be there, and understanding a child’s point of view, I got really irritated.
I said things like, “Why do you always have to be late?” – using that ‘always’ word – and “You should come down on time,” and other similar things. Not surprisingly, there was quite a negative atmosphere between us that morning.
Why do little things sometimes feel like an emergency for us, as parents?
Watch the video or scroll down to read more…
If I look at that particular example, it’s interesting that when I was his age, I was being taken to school by my father, and actually, sometimes it did feel like an emergency when I was late. The atmosphere was very, very tense with my father.
And things were quite rocky in my family as a whole. So, I was the child who’d lean over the bannisters, my knees trembling, and listen to the verbal slinging match coming from my parents’ bedroom at night. Then I’d go back to my room, to think about what I could say to him, what I could say to her, so that they would get on better.
Equally, I was the one who helped patch up rows between my parents and my siblings, acting as a kind of go-between. Or I would keep sibling secrets away from my parents so that they wouldn’t go ballistic.
So, from a very young age, I was taking responsibility for how things went in the family. And I’m curious whether you did this too, in one way or another.
For you it could have been something quite different. It might have been a parent who became ill, or was at home but not really functioning properly. Maybe you had to step up and do the cooking, the cleaning, or look after siblings.
Or maybe you simply had to be very “good”, because you noticed that things in your home were fragile and you couldn’t rock the boat, so you really tried to be as well-behaved as you possibly could be.
What I’ve noticed is that many of us who are trying to create a lot of security for our children, have actually been trying for a long time to create this kind of safety and security for ourselves. And often, we also took on responsibility for others in the family.
And, because back then we were small, these matters would have seemed very big – they would have felt like emergencies, like it did for me when I was that age, travelling to school with my father.
The part of us that had to take on responsibility so young is permanently worried that everything might fall apart if we’re not doing something to keep things together. And the question is, is that true anymore?
It felt like that back then, but is it true now that if we’re not taking responsibility – if I, for example, don’t take responsibility for my son being lastminute.com – that things are really going to fall apart? I mean, he’s 16, right?
So it’s no wonder that, when things don’t go smoothly in our current lives, we may suddenly feel like we’re back in an emergency. It’s because these situations with our children remind us of those situations back then – only we don’t recognise why we feel like that.
In the case of my son, I reflected that talking to him like this wasn’t helpful – not at all! What I really needed to do was reassure that part of myself that was worried about his lateness being an emergency situation.
So, I literally had a chat with that part of myself. And I said, “You know, I get that you want to keep me safe. Things like that were scary in the old days, but you know, I’m big now, and I’ve got this, it’s okay.”
In fact I did two things and I recommend these two steps to you too, if you are feeling triggered:
1. I gave reassurance to this part of myself, that was reacting to the lateness.
2. I also made a gesture of handing the lateness thing back to him.
He’s 16. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this for you if you’ve got much younger children. You do want to get them breakfasted and put their shoes on properly before they leave the house. But for his age, I felt this was appropriate – to hand it back to him.
This bit is important: There are so many things we can hand back to our children. There are many things we do not need to take responsibility for.
For example, their feelings – sadness, disappointment, anger. If a child is moaning on a country walk, or even if they’re worried and biting their fingernails, we don’t like to see it. We don’t like the moaning. We don’t want them to be angry.
But are we responsible for it? Because when we feel responsible for it, I think that creates a difficult energy. It creates an energy that makes these problems quite sticky. Whereas when we hand it back to them, we’re still there as the comforter, the supporter, the problem solver – we’re very much there and present – but we’re not feeling responsible for it. That’s the difference.
And so, that evening last week, my son started saying something like, “I’m sorry about being late this morning.” And I said, “No, actually, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I lost my cool. It really is up to you. I don’t mind if you want to do that – be lastminute.com – it’s really not a big deal.” And I genuinely meant it.
And the next day, he did do the same and I genuinely was quite chilled, and I genuinely didn’t mind.
This is some of the work I do with the mums that I work with – spiralling back to see what it was that set up these patterns of belief and behaviour, such as feeling that little things are an emergency. This work helps you to let go of these triggers, so that it becomes easier to keep your cool in everyday situations.
And if you’re interested in helping yourself with these triggers, I’m actually going to be doing a free week-long training soon – a “challenge”. It’ll be an opportunity to work with me over a week for free.
I’m not asking you to sign up yet, just letting you know that this will be coming up and that it will help with this subject of triggers.
Solve the Struggle with Your Kids
The 6 Wise Parenting Powers
Download my no cost guide to raising a secure and happy family.