How To Heal Yourself To Be a Better Role Model for Your Children
Hi Dr. Laura!
I am always so enlightened and inspired by your advice, but I can't seem to find much about helping parents become better models for their kids. I have a few key areas where I know I need to grow and progress in order to properly model for my kids. I seem to have inherited some very undesirable traits from my father's parenting style. While I can clearly see them, I'm at a loss for fixing them. Can you help?
1. I am a bit of a grudge holder. If I get upset at my son (nearly 5) for being challenging, I start holding a grudge, instead of connecting and showing unconditional love.
2. Control issues. I want to give DS as much freedom and choice as possible, but I have trouble getting "yes" to be my go-to response.
3. Positive attitude- sometimes I just can't even fake it! This affects my ability to give benefit of the doubt and see behaviors as learning versus being naughty.
Any ideas would be appreciated.
I hear you. Our ability to be the parents we want to be, and to model the kind of person we want our child to become, is the hardest part of parenting! The bad news is, we all have some key areas where we need to grow in order to be the parents we want to be. The good news is, what better motivation than our love for our children?
While everyone's core wounds are different, for most of us it comes down to learning how to regulate our own emotions. In other words, fear is what causes control issues. And when we are hurt, or scared, or sad, it's hard to have a positive attitude. In fact, usually we find those feelings so unbearable that we lash out -- either directly, or in our thoughts. Holding on to those negative thoughts about someone else and how it's all their fault is known as holding a grudge. So all of what you are describing can be healed by working with your own emotions.
The way to do that is to hold yourself with compassion while you feel those painful emotions, without taking action. Forget about the story line of why
you're upset (because that just takes you into your mind.) Instead, notice the sensation in your body. Breathe into it. Feel the tightness in your
throat, or the numbness in your heart. Don't blame yourself; instead, love yourself through whatever feelings come up. You may notice yourself beginning
to cry, sweat, tremble, or yawn, which are all ways that the body discharges emotions.
When we allow ourselves to feel any emotion, it begins to fade away and evaporate. That's the healing that is necessary. But if you've ever tried to simply sit with sadness, or pain, or fear, or powerlessness (a form of fear), you'll know that it's really hard to do. Your body will suddenly, urgently, need to find a screen or some food (flight or freeze). Or you'll start thinking about how this is someone else's fault (that's fight.) It's hard to not give in to the urgency that is telling you to take action. Even blaming someone else in your own mind is a form of taking action to deflect how those emotions feel.
To work through emotions, your goal is to resist taking action. In fact, you want to resist thinking about why you're upset, which will take you into your head and away from healing those emotions that are lodged in your body. Instead, just notice the contraction in your body. Notice the sensations in your throat, your heart, your belly. That's the raw emotion. Once you feel that, it will have "delivered" the message and the sensations will begin to fade.
You might start to cry. You might feel like you're about to throw up. Just hug yourself and reassure yourself that this will pass. Remind yourself that
it isn't an emergency and you're safe.
Notice that part of you is able to just observe what's happening. That's the key to loosening those tight feelings. The noticing part of you, the loving part of you, is your own inner compassionate witness. This "observer self" has access to your deeper equilibrium and wisdom. That's the part of you that's holding the light.
You can think of this as shining the light of consciousness onto the memories that you've pushed into the dark basement of your psyche. Simply shining our own loving awareness into the shadows melts them away.
If you just keep breathing and loving yourself through this, you'll notice that the sensation starts to shift. Your throat doesn't feel as tight. That
heaviness in your heart feels a little lighter.
And once you do this a few times, what you'll find is that you feel better. More free. Less reactive to your child. Less likely to hold a grudge. More likely to say yes, and to keep your sense of humor when things get rocky. A good role model, but even more than that, because now you can help your child process emotion better. You can even think more positively, so you start seeing things differently, and you don't get triggered as often and have so many challenging emotions.
Of course, this is VERY hard work. Many people find that it is too hard to do on their own, so they see a therapist or coach. And it can take years to notice each of the triggers that get you upset, and to de-activate them by breathing your way through them. But the good news is that you can start right now, today, by simply noticing when you get triggered, and resisting taking action. Instead, hold yourself with love, and breathe through the emotion until it subsides. Every time you don't act when you're triggered, the triggers lose power, and they begin to fade. Life gets easier.
I suggest you also find ways to keep yourself on track daily. Find something you can listen to or read on a daily basis that inspires you to stay on track. (My emails, which are sent out three times a week, are designed to support parents in working through their own issues. You can sign up to get these posts for free at the bottom of any page of this website.)
Research shows that meditation actually changes your brain and makes you less reactive. Inspirational audios can be very helpful, as can books that keep you positive (that you can read parts of here and there.)
I often hear from parents that regularly reading a little bit of my book, Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, makes them feel more emotionally generous, towards both themselves and their children. My newest book, the Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids Workbook, was specifically written for parents asking these very questions about their own healing, and is designed to help you rewire your brain so you can self-regulate.
For another article on this website about healing yourself, see
Bottom line, it seems complicated, but it isn't. It just takes a lot of courage. We have to be willing to grow up and do the hard thing -- to choose to act from love. Every time we resist acting from our fear or hurt or anger, but instead let ourselves feel those feelings and heal them, we allow more love to rush in.
In fact, I believe our choice to resist acting on our upsets and instead choose to act on love actually ushers more love into the world. So you could think of it this way: We make a choice every minute. Love or fear? Choose love.