Being The Parent You Always WantedNov 08, 2023
Anelle asked once for me and Aziz to write a book about parenting. She was seeing how it could serve a dual purpose of assisting parents with their children and also be used to gain insights into how we reparent ourselves. I loved that vision, and what I share here is with a nod to Anelle and with gratitude that we can use what I learn from parenting my boys to heal ourselves and grow in our capacities.
At the retreat, Stefan was asking me if I hold my boys when they are in a tantrum. He said he had associated tantrums with being in trouble. Perhaps punishment and shame have their place. Boundaries certainly do. Children do need strong and firm no’s in a variety of ways.
I mostly see a tantrum as a totally unregulated child who needs help organizing their nervous system.
I do hold my boys as soon as I possibly can when they are having a tantrum. Now that they have big strong bodies it takes just a bit of Jedi moves so I don’t get hurt by a flailing limb. But imagine a small two or three year old. So easy to scoop them up and say, “okay…okay okay…..I’ve got you. It’s okay.” To reflect what you hear them saying in their enraged words, reflecting how they feel betrayed or hurt, what wrong-doing they feel they have endured, how they’ve been misunderstood, the frustration in being limited or told No to something they passionatly wanted, or just the overwhelm of too much feeling in a body and brain on fire with more than they can process on their own. So my more regulated nervous system can plug into theirs through touch and voice and energy and guide them toward a release. A letting go into being held.
If we don’t a have reference point of this, we can find it in a variety of ways.
I was one of those babies taken from their mom at birth and put in a room full of babies in plastic bassinets viewed through a glass window. Never nursed but given bottles, which my mom was told was more nutritious. What were they thinking back then??
Leave your mom’s warm womb and be alone when our animal instinct is to nuzzle into warm flesh and nurse. Babies know just how to do it the moment they come out. My boys’ mouths were like little fish mouths opening and closing searching for warm milk. I healed so much in myself by giving to them what I never had.
We can create a reference point for ourselves by holding someone else in compassion and empathy. We can imagine. We can look at images - photographs or art of a child being held. We can heal and find reference through stories.
I was sharing with Ben a story of holding Rumi in his fevered nightmare visions before coming to our retreat. Ben was crying and saying thank you to me for how I was with Rumi. This was something neither Ben or I received when we had nightmares and night visions that terrified us as children. And, I felt both of us healing and finding wholeness through Rumi receiving this compassionate witnessing and sharing the story of it.
We can use our imagination. Imagine a future you that does know how to be warm and comforting reaching back through time to hold your hand and guide the way.
We can create art or tell our stories to each other. The ones that occurred and the ones we dream into being that heal us.
We can bravely be held now, as Stefan was with me. Who can hold you, stroke your hair, sing a loving song to you while you let go into being held? Do you have someone in your life you could ask for this gift? Or someone you can give this gift to?
There truly already exists in you the capacity to give this to yourself. You can develop it by opening to it as a creative process. As a learning like you would learn any other skill. By studying and listening and observing and imagining and experimenting it into being.
What do we do with our tantruming selves now? I recommend having mercy. What does that mean? We have the ability to punish and yet we choose not to. Lay down the weapon. “Have mercy, have mercy, have mercy” I chant to myself in a moment of intense internal constriction. I have an incredible ability to punish myself. I used to cut and burn myself as a teenager. That’s only the start, and pales in comparison to the harshness of the self-talk I’ve battered myself with.
So I use this phrase with myself: have mercy. I’ll gently repeat to myself, “Okay, okay. Have mercy.” Allowing the body to find some breath to wash over the heat of the pain and rage. I tell myself, “whatever the feelings are, they can be held here. You are held here.”
I do this knowing I could punish. I could punish myself or my children in another instance soon to pass. But does it serve? Would it serve?
In some instances, an intense “no” is needed. Not harming someone, no breaking the house. Not happening. This message can even be transmitted with a firm energy communicating “I will take you down if you don’t mind me.” But it’s also just clear and empty. There is a “no you may not do that. AND I love you.” And, most importantly, I am here with you and I am going to help you navigate this. Communicating a trust that we can move through this and that we’ll do it together.
This requires some acceptance of being the guide even if you are grasping for how to be in that role and in need of guidance yourself. The rope appears before you as you stretch out your hand.
Is shame always bad? Is there some medicinal amount of shame? I wrote a paper for my first psychology class in college and it was all about the harmful effects of shame. “Down on Shame! Shame to shame. It’s horrid in all ways! Let me count the ways for you,” was the gist of my paper. My professor wrote across the top something like, “Is there nothing beneficial at all to shame Candace? Does it not serve some beneficial purposes?”
Once, in a difficult moment with Zaim, I blurted out, “Holy Jesus! You are being so selfish right now.” It served as a pattern interrupt, he stopped ranting and he kind of shook his head in surprise. I felt in total alignment in having said that. It effectively broke through his haze of not being able to see anyone else’s needs in that moment. But if shame is a medicine, I believe it is to be used in homeopathic doses. If we use it like maple syrup on Sunday pancakes, then it’s time to practice mercy. What if I could pour on the punishment but chose not to? I’m going to have you all messed up now. You are going to be going off on a self-talk shame binge, and entering your mind is going to be a vision of how it’s sticky like maple syrup, and then you will be like, "Wait, maple syrup is sweet and shame isn’t sweet.” And then you are going to want a bite of pancakes. And now your punishment self-talk is going to have lost its momentum in confusion about my strange metaphor. I’m tricky like that. 😊
(I’m imagining a ridiculous skit for our next retreat where half of us are having tantrums in high chairs with pancakes and syrup and the other half are practicing soothing them.)
No matter what traumas we have suffered from others or from ourselves, we can experience healing, love, and wholeness.
We can help heal one another in fits and starts. In the tenderness that is present in our awkwardness and not knowing how. We persist, and we find the way. As I was holding Stefan in the back of the room, part of me didn’t know how. How do I help someone know the love of a tender, nurturing mom? I really wanted to be able to do it. I learned so much from just giving it a go. From an intention to convey love and warmth. We learn from taking a risk and being willing to see how it goes. So that was Mama Nurturing Reference Point Level 1. I learned enough from that experience to take it to Mama Nurturing Level 3 next time, so get ready for some warm snuggles if you need them at our next retreat. ♥️
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