“What’s wrong” or “Are you OK” or “Is something the matter?”
“Nothing” and “I’m fine”
Especially when you’re trying to “protect” your child?
Or perhaps you’ve shouted “Fine” as a response to a hounding from your child to have something or do something when clearly you are not fine about it (but the nagging got the better of you).
What are you saying?
Your words are giving the message that everything is OK but your body language and the way you said it clearly shows that you are not!
You’re sending mixed signals and it can be confusing for young children and sometimes scary for older ones and partners who know you better and are just waiting for you to explode or take retribution in some way later. When you do this often, your children grow up not being able to take no seriously when it comes from you and they begin to mimic older children, or your partner who just hound you until you give in.
By you not being real and honest about your feelings, it teaches children that it’s not safe to be real, and that “no” doesn’t mean “no” and they can’t work out the boundaries for themselves or for anyone else around them. Then they start mimicking the same behaviour they begin to hound or to hide things from you in an effort to have some control. They learn that if mum or dad can’t be taken seriously, then how could they?
If you can accept and express your feelings in a way that doesn’t blame the other person then you teach your children that it’s OK to be real and to set strong boundaries about what is OK and what is not.
If you are able to remain calm and simply state what the issue is and how it’s affecting you, how you feel about it and seek to resolve it rather than suppress it, then you’ll find a lot more peace inside of you and your family. Every one will be able to tell where the boundaries are and that it’s OK to say no and saying No actually means No!
So lets look at an example:
Your teenage daughter is hounding you to go to a party on Saturday night and you don’t want her to go because you don’t quite trust this girlfriend. You’re afraid she will lead her astray. You’re worried about what could happen..
Instead of causing a fight, you put off saying yes… and delay it until you can find another plausible excuse.
She’s gone to your partner instead… who has no idea of your feelings and has said yes (not realising or sharing your concerns).
It feels like you can’t do anything about it and frustrated and feeling out of control, you order her to go and do her homework.
You’re partner asks if everything is OK, because they’ve picked up on the tension. You’ve previously been told that you’re too much of a worrier by your partner, who’s much more laid back but does set rules when they need to be.
So you answer… “Fine!” while furiously preparing the dinner and slamming the odd item down on the bench.
Can you feel the frustration? The worry and fears sitting in your body as you see yourself in this situation? Are you that worrier who doesn’t share what your fears are, can’t say No and be OK with it and can’t explain clearly why it’s a No without making anyone else feel bad about it?
Can imagine how much resentment is stored up for later in this situation? Because the partner has taken control away? Consider what the reaction is like later when the worry really sets in while she’s at the party… expecting the worst to happen and ready to point the finger when it does!
What would you have done differently? If you feel like a challenge…post your response to this question in Facebook (www.facebook.com/peacefulparenting.com.au):
How can you be real… authentic… responsible and consider your child’s needs when they ask to do something you are not comfortable with? That is, when there’s no definable impact on you and it just raises your concerns?
Being real is not as easy as it seems. We all find ourselves sensoring our words despite our feelings because we don’t like to be challenged or admit to feeling vulnerable. And yet it is so important to have conversations about the things that make us scared, uncomfortable, angry or resentful and frustrated. It helps to air it out and examine just what is going on for you. How you feel it and why. Owning your own feelings around it and giving the other the opportunity to see how you feel and teaching them to respect it!
We need to identify our needs and say them in a way they will be heard and accepted.
When I have a problem with what my children want to do, I quite often sit with it and really listen to myself first. I work out why it’s making me feel so vulnerable and then I can express my concerns authentically. Many times we work it out that way. My children listen and we discuss all of my fears and they have learnt to listen and respect them.
My daughter went to her first live, under 18’s dance event last year at a local club. She wanted to attend with 2 friends and she was excited as she knew there would be hundreds of other young people going. My initial reaction was to internally panic because it’s not like I could meet 100’s of other young people and do a character assignation and determine whether it was safe or not. So I needed to help her be safe. So when I talked about my concerns she of course brushed them off. I told her I was happy to let her go as long as she discussed with her friends my concerns and they agreed to a) stick together, b) watch each other and have signals if they felt uncomfortable and c) have an exit strategy if someone used the signal. She didn’t want to speak to her friends about it, she was afraid she’d come of looking stupid. She wanted to be “cool” and that didn’t meet the criteria!
So when I dropped her off at her friends house, I spoke briefly too her and she piped straight up and agreed. She told me that she already had the safety signals worked out with the other girl. The look on my daughter’s face was brief but priceless and I tried not to convey the “I told you so look” back.
I felt much better knowing that they were prepared because ultimately you need to set them free in the world and I want to make sure they have the tools and knowledge to survive it. Who wouldn’t want that?!
If you can’t be ok with your feelings then how can your children learn that it’s ok to have feelings too?
It’s actually ok to be angry or annoyed or frustrated. That’s part of life. Perhaps you don’t want to let it out right then and there in front of the children but you can indicate that you are upset and need some time to settle down before you’re ready to talk about it. That’s being honest. That’s being real. Even if you can’t contain it, then that’s OK too. Though for many of us, it brings about a sense of shame because we haven’t been the perfect parent, which then fuels even more out bursts!
If you can be real and honestly express your emotions, without blaming someone else for them, then it’s a great way to model to your children that it’s ok to let these feelings out. If you stuff them down, get moody, sulky, refuse to talk to your family, then you’re sending a signal to your children that negative emotions need to be suppressed… and that’s not good! The longer you are in that state, the longer your body remains in a state of stress and your immune system, digestive system and any other system that is not a priority whilst under attack (which is what your body interprets stress as), is being compromised.
Being real is not just important for your mental health, it’s important for your physical health and for building strong healthy relationships. Being real means your feelings and attitude match what you’re saying and doing. When your words match your actions then you are seen as being honest. An honest person is trustworthy, dependable and consistent which are all the characteristics of creating a great connection.
The most important message you can send your children is that it’s OK to have negative emotions such as anger, fear, sadness and even shame! These emotions don’t last forever (just like the positive one’s don’t either), they are an important barometer of what’s happening and need to be listened to and worked through. By showing your children that it’s OK to feel these and also how to move through them in a constructive way you are sending clear messages that say it’s OK to be who you are. It’s ok to be imperfect, because that’s what everyone is too.
If you’re the kind of parent who believes they need to set a perfect example or be perfect in what you do, an your pushing that belief also in your children then consider Dr Brene Brown’s (author of The gifts of Imperfection and viral TED Talker on shame research) wise words about perfectionism:
“Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: “If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.” To overcome perfectionism we need to be able to acknowledge our vulnerabilities to the universal experiences of shame, judgment, and blame; develop shame resilience; and practice self-compassion.
When we become more loving and compassionate with ourselves and we begin to practice shame resilience, we can embrace our imperfections. It is in the process of embracing our imperfections that we find our truest gifts and strengthen our most meaningful connections.”
Being real is accepting our emotions and our vulnerability and expressing ourselves honestly. And I want to teach my children to embrace their own imperfections so they can have the courage to find themselves and follow their hearts as the grow into adults. I don’t want them to play small, but if they do… then that will be entirely their choice and I’ll embrace that too.
Next post… Step two.. Accepting Responsibility without the blame.