Let me tell you about a regular day in my family. We wake up and try to get the kids out of bed. Then there is the lunchbox runaround. Next we run to catch our respective buses, autos and get to school before the bell. In the midst of all this there are shouts of ‘where is my notebook?’ Or ‘where is my pink pencil?’ Or ‘why have you given me boring food in my dabba?’ Needless to say we speak in high volumes and often degenerate to screaming. This I am told by my well meaning friends is ghar ghar ki kahani (story of every house). Repeat performances of this happen consistently, daily. It’s normal. And we never tire of this. Or do we? I know I am tired of beginning my day like this – with stress playing at full volume. What is happening to me? What’s going on inside me? Why am I doing this? Why do I respond to stress with either anxiety or anger?
And I felt very angry with myself. I am a mindfulness teacher! Where is my equanimity when I need it the most? Why do my children experience this monster mom avatar? Sounds familiar? Well parenting is such a great equalizer – in this we are all together and all one.
So what is the trick here? What can I do to be a parent who is aware and relaxed about this actually fun ride? The next few articles will be a series on my experiments and understanding of Aware Parenting.
And the first question I asked myself was why do I get triggered? Why does this fuse blow? I found some answers in neuroscience and some within myself.
Our bodies and brains are wired to react to high stress situations as a safety net. If our brain perceives a threat, it signals the amygdala, the body’s “alarm” system, which tells our body to act without thinking. The amygdala responds to situations with the fight, flight, or freeze response. This is to protect us, but our stress receptors cannot distinguish between real dangers or false dangers. In everyday parenting, our stress response often gets triggered unnecessarily by events that are not actually life threatening. Our bodies are reacting to our child getting late for school in the same way we would react if we were being chased by a lion. Dr. Dan Siegel, a clinical psychologist who studies the brain, explains that during stressful parenting moments we may “lose control” or “flip our lid” and let our emotions control our reactions and we totally respond from a space of ‘fight or flight’ So for me that translates into yelling at my child or walking out of the conversation and hiding in my room or even bathroom!
And what is it doing to my child? I realised that when in the middle of a tirade I actually looked at my child – and saw absolute horror and fear on her face. And I realized it can be a really scary experience.To my child, in those moments where I lose control, I can be terrifying. I am supposed to make her feel safe. And I can only imagine how seeing me towering over her, red with anger and losing my temper can really scare her. And what am I telling her with my actions? That its ok to lose control and get aggressive? Now that is scary for me!!
When I look at my own triggers I see that they are coming from my own fears, my own thoughts and my own beliefs. These are coming from my childhood, my sense of right and wrong, my list of do’s and don’ts. When I think about all that I say to my child and all that I expect from my child, I can see this so clearly. I am afraid that my child will not be a ‘mini me’, and will have her own beliefs, values and thoughts. Though at a very external level, that’s what I am saying all the time – that my child is her own person – the fact is that I am trying to turn her into me. (Incidentally my partner is doing that too – and the poor child doesn’t know whether she has to become mama or papa).
And then of course there is the stress hot button, that gets triggered when I am tired or hungry or just simply not well. In stressful situations when I am triggered, it’s hard to be the best version of myself.
So Aware Parenting begins with recognizing my own triggers. And not acting on them. That’s the tough part. Let me share some tips that work for me when I am feeling triggered.
I would love to hear from you. Tell me your stories. Tell me what worked for you and what didn’t. This space is as much yours as it is mine.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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