When my daughter and I were traveling to Illinois to visit family, we spent time in several airports.
There was a moment when we had just gotten off of one of the planes and we were using the bathroom. A mom and her 6-year-old daughter were in the next stall and the tone of voice that the mother used literally made me want to crawl out of my skin. I wished my daughter had never heard anyone use that tone and my heart went out to the young girl who was on the receiving end of her mother’s wrath.
Essentially the mom was having a tantrum and was directing her anger and frustration at her child. It hurt my heart to listen to the way she spoke to her daughter. Where was the respect and compassion?
Look, I get it, sometimes we all get frustrated and lose it with our kids. I guess I just hope that we can notice ourselves getting upset and have the wherewithal to process those feelings on our own, rather than dumping them on our kids, at least some of the time.
I know not everyone shares my values. Not all adults want to treat young people with complete respect and offer them as much love and compassion as possible. But I’m sure grateful that you do.
Maybe that mom in the airport hadn’t yet processed her own childhood trauma and so she was repeating the pattern with their own kids. Right now I’m feeling very glad that I have chosen to actively process mine and to forge a new parenting path for myself.
So what’s the number one most important thing you can do for your kids?
Heal your past and become more available for connection.
I’m curious, have you unpacked your own childhood? Do you know what happened to you growing up and why things were the way they were?
I recently remembered one of the core concepts of “Parenting from the Inside Out” by Siegel and Hartzell. The research they wrote about showed that the greatest predictor of a healthy attachment between parent and child had nothing at all to do with the child.
His sex, personality, disposition, and even attachment style were essentially irrelevant to his ultimate connection with his parent. Instead, the attachment between parent and child had everything to do with the parent and how well he or she had processed their own childhood. Yep, that’s right,
Our own ability to process our childhood predicts how connected we’ll be with our kids.
Siegel writes about how having a “cohesive narrative,” which means being able to make sense of our past and creating a story for ourselves about what happened, why, and how we’ve emerged as a result of our past experiences is actually the most important predictor of attachment. When moms (and dads) have a cohesive narrative they end up being far more connected with their kids. And that’s better for the parents AND the kids.
To give you a more personal example of what this “cohesive narrative” might look like, I’ll share a story from my own life.
When I was five my parents divorced and a year or so later my dad and I moved from Champaign, IL to Collinsville, IL about a 3 ½ hour drive south west. I stayed with my dad for the school year and my mom drove down for every other weekend visits. I also stayed with my mom in Champaign for the summer. As a child I made up a story that my dad “took me away from my mom.” And even though I loved and appreciated my dad, I was angry with him for taking me away.
I held on to that story for many years, into adulthood and looking back I can see that that particular story was one of the things that kept me emotionally distant from my dad.
As an adult, I decided that perhaps my story about what had happened was incorrect, or at least incomplete, so I sat down with my dad and asked him about it. I was terrified to have the conversation, fearing that he would get angry and defensive, so I learned some Nonviolent Communication skills, practiced with a friend, and processed my own pain so that I could go into the conversation with an open and curious energy, instead of blaming or shaming my dad.
During the conversation I got a whole new perspective on what was happening for my dad at the time when he decided to move. I realized that his intention was to move closer to his family for additional support. I learned about some things that were happening in his emotional and financial life that impacted his decision, and I finally understood that while the result was that we moved away from my mom, that wasn’t the driving factor in his choice to move.
Whew! Now instead of seeing his choice as an attempt to hurt me, I saw it as a desire to provide and care for me. And that utterly transformed my narrative and my relationship with my dad. I’m much closer with my dad now than I was during my teens and twenties. In fact, almost as soon as I changed my narrative and began to see things more from his point of view, our relationship became closer.
And I think my connection with my daughter is a testament to the inner work I’ve done to be able to come up with a story of my life that makes sense and brings me clarity and understanding. Do you have a cohesive narrative of your life? Are there experiences you had in childhood that still feel traumatic to think about?
If so, my invitation is to take a closer look at those experiences this week. Now is the time to heal your past and connect even more deeply with your child as a result. It doesn’t matter if your child is an infant or a teenager. You still have time to deepen your connection. And who knows, you might even get a closer relationship with your parents out of the deal.
I hope you’ll share your story with me too and allow this community to support you and help you heal. If not for yourself, do it for your kids. They deserve the best version of you that’s humanly possible.
Have a healing, freeing, super connected week, Shelly
Photo by DIONNA RAEDEKE