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Getting unstuck by working early
Have you ever found yourself in an endless loop with your child,
where you keep repeating the same thoughts, feelings, reactions,
responses--even if they don't seem to be working very well? Me
too. I think it's a common reality of parenthood to be stuck
like that sometimes. You try to think of a solution, you can't
sleep because you're thinking about it all the time, but nothing
seems to budge.
One idea for getting out of this trap is to stop trying to
tackle the parenting problem directly, and instead think about
what life was like when you were the age that your child is now.
Often you'll find a pile of memories and feelings there that you
had forgotten about or had not seen as relevant to the current
events at home. Sometimes there is an "aha" experience, as we
become aware that "now I see why it drives me nuts that he does
Maybe you'll pause at that earlier moment in your life, and
examine it in a fresh new way--motivated by the desire to
improve your relationship with your child. Or maybe that moment
will just be a resting spot, and you'll go back even earlier.
Because the earlier memories we are addressing aren't happening
right now, we can often think them through, feel the feelings,
and learn a lesson from them in a way we can't with the
situation that is right in front of us today.
Here's an example, from a mom I was working with to help her
with her anxieties about parenting. She was terribly worried
about her twelve year old daughter, because she was starting to
have crushes on boys and to dress up in miniskirts and skimpy
shirts to go to school, and would spend countless hours in front
of the mirror. The mom wasn't just worried, though, like many
parents might be; she was in a panic. Panic and hysteria about
parenting issues that are pretty normal are a good sign that it
can help to work early. So I asked her what her life was like
when she was 12. At first she just said "it was fine" and tried
to go back to demanding advice and solutions from me about how
to stop her daughter from growing up too fast. I encouraged her
to slow down, and as scared as she was about her daughter, to
take a minute to look early at herself at that age.
The mom started with some descriptions of sixth grade and of her
room. In the middle of talking, she suddenly stopped and had a
stricken look on her face. After a long pause, she told me that
she remembered her father making a comment about her developing
body, a comment that made her very uncomfortable. She said she
couldn't remember exactly what he said, but she remembered the
feeling, and she began to cry. Over the next few minutes she
remembered and reported to me a rush of memories, some pleasant,
some traumatic, about that age in her life. She remembered being
teased by her older sister for spending too long in the bathroom
getting ready for school; the first time she noticed a boy her
age liked her, and how good that felt; and getting unwelcome
attention from men on the street, and how confusing that was. I
asked her if she saw any connection with her worries about her
own daughter. She let out a big sigh and said, "I guess I've
been getting mixed up between her and myself."
The next time we met, she was very pleased with two things that
had happened. She said she and her daughter had a great talk
about crushes and about romance. Instead of yelling at or
insulting her daughter, she was able to calmly discuss her own
values and her expectations, and listen to her daughter's
feelings and hopes and worries. She had also remembered more
positive memories from her own pre-adolescent years. That often
happens, where a buried traumatic memory keeps locked up with it
a pile of memories that would be nice to have. In some ways, it
was more painful for this mom to deal with the painful memories
from her past than to stay focused on her present-day anxieties.
But in the long run, it was worth it to her, because she was
both healing herself and relating better with her daughter.
Have you had any successes with "working early"? If so, send me
an email and let me hear about it.