Thank you for taking a few moments to read this raw letter from one parent to another. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.
For the first few years of my parenting experience I hurt myself and my family by trying to force my kids to cooperate and because I did not know how to effectively deal with my own anger. Although I loved my kids and wanted to do differently, I did not have the skills to do anything different. While I tried various parenting styles and tactics to increase cooperation and diffuse anger, such as counting to 10, nothing worked consistently. I lived in a precarious cycle of frustration-anger-yell-hurt-guilt-apologize-cry-temporary calm.
I was a loving, gentle mother most of the time – but even I wasn’t sure when I would hit the tipping point and react harshly again. As someone who had been on the receiving end of abuse at various points during my life, it was sickening to see the “abuser” pattern in myself. I could not accept that I would always experience myself in this way.
Can you relate? Maybe you’re thinking “I’m not an abuser, I just get a little upset and yell sometimes” or “I’m not sure what this has to do with me or why I’m reading this.” Either way, the resources on this site are shared to help you contribute positively to the lives of children. If you’d rather not read this letter – start with SAFE or Navigating Emotions for Parents.
Thankfully, misery led me to the path of radical honesty. I had to make a choice – continue down the bumpy path I was traveling or find another way to approach parenting and life. I decided to learn how to trade control for collaboration. The journey is not always easy or comfortable, but it is very healing. The past few years have been an interesting conglomeration of reconnecting spiritually, recognizing self-defeating patterns, making peace with childhood wounds, consciously choosing how to respond, and learning how to communicate respectfully.
During the process I uncovered three very dangerous parenting beliefs – that children are wrong for doing what they do at times, that they need to be immediately obedient, and if they are not they need to be reprimanded. If you trace parenting frustration to the roots you will likely find at least one of these ideas, which have led to child abuse and death on many occasions. The danger of these particular beliefs comes from a parent’s attachment to them – thinking they are absolutely right, viewing the adherence to them as more important than the parent-child relationship itself, and using control, force, or harm to “get cooperation”.
I noticed a host of harmful thoughts that erupted from these base beliefs. Thoughts like… “I’m a terrible mom. I’m supposed to make them cooperate. I am so tired of them disregarding what I say. They just will not listen. I hate this.” There was always a gnawing inside of me, though, with accompanying questions like… “Wait, doesn’t making someone cooperate defy the definition of cooperation? Wait, do I really want them to respond favorably when I am angry or do I want them to cooperate because it truly works for everyone in the family? Wait, I love my kids – how can I hate the experience of being a parent?”
As I investigated these beliefs I recognized the long history of punishment to get obedience that laces the consciousness of the planet. I thought back to slavery and other historic references, such as the use of the rod in the Bible (one example is Proverbs 23:13-14). Interestingly, it was a divinely organized friendship that brought me to realize how I had internalized these ideas. During a conversation about my son’s behavior the mother asked me if I had considered the teachings of a specific parenting author. My mind went back to the toddler years of my first child. Yes, I had read his book but I didn’t agree with his methods.
The author started the book with “Switch Your Kids” and proceeded to lay out a persuasive argument on why parents should train their children through the infliction of pain during late babyhood and spankings as they got older. Why? To produce happy, obedient children. Suffice it to say, that message is full of dangerous implications and there are other ways to nurture children while honoring the sanctity of their experience. As I finally realized the root of the ideas that had tormented my subconscious for years, I was able to consciously make the choice to approach parenting from a different, broader perspective.
The ever-deepening result… I choose to not act out of harshness. If I feel strong emotion I tend to it inside of myself through focusing on my breath and remembering the peace found in silence at times – while choosing how I communicate. I apologize if I come across harsh and speak what I will do differently the next time. I welcome feedback. I listen to my children.
I respect the minds, bodies, and spirits of my children – remembering and when necessary, reminding myself, that their need for peace is greater than any inclination to yell. I get space if I need it instead of blaming, lashing out, or brooding in negative thoughts. I am as curious about my inner reaction to another person’s behavior as I am about their behavior. I become aware of reactions to clearly choose my responses.
I’m actively cultivating an environment of trust, accountability, and responsibility through mutual respect, communicating reasonable boundaries, and the power and reality of choice. I facilitate peaceful conflict resolution through stopping, listening, and engaging in sometimes challenging discussions. Most importantly – the anger I feel is my responsibility, not my child’s or my partner’s and I am willing to grow, learn, and start over as necessary. Now, is my house is always clean? No, but my conscience is vacuumed regularly and my relationships appreciate the commitment.
Why do I share all of this with you? Because I want you to have hope. If I can change my relationship with anger, so can you.
Anger is actually an opportunity, but it’s hard to see it that way when we’re immersed in it or find ourselves reacting harshly with people we care about. You have the power to work through anger, though, because it is happening inside of you. Whatever you are thinking and feeling right now can lead to a very empowering relationship with your emotions so you move from reacting to responding and from doubt to clear guidance with your children.
Parents can transform anger and aggression, kids do respond to inner change on the part of the parent, and we hold inside the keys to our own growth in the parent-child relationship and life.
How? We start by discovering who we really are inside of the thoughts and feelings we experience through mindfulness and meditation – something that no person or experience can take away. From there we get to determine how we parent our kids, relate to our partners and friends, and live our lives.
If you are in the throes of doubt, anger, or simply want a different relationship with your kids I invite you to start by reading Navigating Emotions for Parents or joining the Sane Parenting Challenge – a six week journey to address the way you respond when parenting feels intense. Change starts with us.
Take gentle care,
Are you struggling as a parent? If so, I’d like to share something with you: a story and some hope.