Patti here. I remember a long time ago when my eldest child was two years old. Newly potty trained, she felt confident of her skills. Unfortunately, I didn’t at all. On this beautiful fall day, we prepared to ride bikes across the city to our food co-op. I knew the ride would take us 25 minutes or so. I also knew it had been a long time since my daughter had been to the bathroom. I was young (25), and just learning how to manage an opinionated, strong willed, highly emotional toddler. Truth be told, I was a little afraid of her ability to throw a fit.
I didn’t have as many skills then as I do now and my inexperience showed. I desperately wanted her to go to the bathroom before we left. When I asked her if she needed to go, she said no in that way only a two year old can. I knew this was not going to end well but I didn’t know how to make her pee (it was her body after all), so we rode away anyway. I didn't know what else to do.
Today instead of asking her if she had to go pee I would have said something like, “It’s time to empty our bladders to prepare for our bike ride.” I would have modelled what I wanted and not given her the choice to refuse. She still could have not peed, but our overall chance for success would have been much higher. Back then though, I was so afraid of overpowering her like I had been as a child, that I gave her (at barely 2) way more way power than was healthy. I had a lot to learn.
Halfway through the ride, guess what? She peed. My anger flashed. My emotional response felt way out of alignment with the situation and it scared me. Why was I so angry about a simple accident. She had had many accidents before, and would likely have many more in the future. It really wasn’t such a big deal. But what was a big deal was how this incident tapped into my old childhood stories. The stories where I knew what needed to happen, but nobody was listening to me. The stories where I knew the truth, but didn’t have the power to make things right. The stories where I was overpowered by a tyrannical person (this time a strong-willed toddler just doing her toddler thing, but when I was younger, the adults in my life) and not allowed to do what felt right to me.
This anger roared. It seared through me like a wildfire. It took all my restraint not send it like a flame through my daughter. I knew right then I had to deal with this anger. If I didn’t learn how to be angry in a healthy way, I was going to pass those feelings on to my daughter like a baton in a relay race. Just like my parents had handed me all of their unresolved anger that they had no clue how to deal with.
So what did I do? Right away, I decided I would never let myself get in that position where my anger was louder than reason. I would set limits earlier so I wouldn’t let my daughter get so close to that fury that lived inside me. And I would learn to unravel that fury.
I would learn how to speak so I didn’t box myself into a corner by giving a choice that wasn’t a choice. I began by reading every parenting book I could on how to speak to children with respect but also proper boundaries.
I studied myself and watched which things were liable to set off large feelings in me and worked on tracing these triggers to their roots. It seemed like once I understood the trigger, these old feelings lost their power over me. I could feel the feeling but also maintain respect for my daughter. This process amazed me and gave me back the power I lost as a child.
Feeling my feelings, helped me have compassion for myself and the poor hurt child who lived inside me. It let me see a new way through these thorny situations. I went to therapy for a few months to unravel these things that provoked my emotions. Basically, I began the process of healing my own childhood wounds so I would be less likely to inflict them on my children.
And yes, it was hard work. Very hard work. But this process, was the best thing I ever did for them and for me.
What I didn’t realize then was I was using The 7 Tools to find my way to being a better parent. I went through all the tools and found a new way. I had faith that I could be a wonderful parent. I used my awareness to see what was going on behind these small incidents. I acknowledged the truth of both what was happening and where it came from. I had compassion for the small child in me that was so hurt and for my child as she was learning. I forgave us both for not being perfect. I felt immense gratitude for my daughter that she could help me learn these hard, hard lessons. And finally, I learned to act better and began a new course in my parenting life that felt like right action.
If you are wondering how to learn these skills too, check out our upcoming Strong Foundations class. These are just some of the skills we teach in that class. Mastering them could make a world of difference for your family. When we understand how to work with our feelings, everything changes.