We all bring to our parenting deeply engrained beliefs that we gained during our childhood years. These feelings live on and become easily activated when we feel drawn into conflicts with our child or between two or more of our children.
- How did your parent tend to respond when differences of wants, beliefs and needs arose between you and your parent?
- How did your parents react when you fought with a sibling or a cousin?
- Were you supported with your difficult feelings when you were disappointed, upset, frustrated, scared, angry, lonely?
- What subsequent messages did you receive about yourself as a result of those interactions ?
- How did your parents deal with conflicts between each other?
- One of the most valuable changes we can make as parents is to re-evaluate the beliefs we bring to current conflicts in the family, leading us to relate in more supportive ways to the feelings and needs that drive conflicts between all family members.
“If their own parents fought frequently, any fighting in a home can bring up feelings of terror and a compulsive desire to end the argument at any cost.” Dr. Aletha Solter
Here's the story of one dad who gained huge benefit from revisiting how he felt as a child when he fought with his sibling. (Shared with permission while some details amended to ensure confidentiality)
Brett, father of three children, sought my help because of the tensions between him and his wife around their differing approaches to conflicts amongst their children. His wife was working hard to support and mediate the kids when they fought, which was happening a LOT! He didn’t really see the point of mediating. And sadly their opposing views on how to handle these challenges led to conflicts amongst each other, which greatly added to the tensions in the family and subsequently increased the number of conflicts that erupted amongst the children.
Brett, being a loving and dedicated father and husband, wanted to do all he could to help things improve. He recognized that the tensions between himself and his wife were adding to the tensions in the family.
Brett recounted to me, “when my sister and I fought, our parents gave us a warning and if we didn’t stop fighting, they separated us. We each spent time in our own room until we cooled off, then after that we just got on with it and it didn’t do us any harm. Occasionally, we were smacked, but not very often.”
I offered to help Brett remember the same instances from his childhood through his feelings, not just his thoughts (our thinking memory is often very different from our feeling memory). I guided him to relax deply and become aware of the rhythm of his breathing and gain an awareness of where he was holding stress and tension in his body. I explained that when we connect in with our sensations in our body we tend to remember the emotions attached to the memories rather than just the memories on an intellectual level.
Brett shared his memory of lying on his bed thinking “this is so unfair!” He remembered, and again felt, a huge ball of frustration in his belly; he felt completely misunderstood and frustrated at not being allowed to explain his side of the story; he remembered the sadness at falling out with his sister and then with his parents; he felt shame, anger, confusion. Brett remembered lying there feeling alone, unloved and overwhelmed. He described the tension in his jaws, shoulders, chest and belly as he let himself remember all those (surprisingly) overwhelming feelings.
Brett then brought his insights back to his kids and said he didn’t want them to feel like that, but he just knew that they did. He could see all the evidence of it and now cringed to realize that they felt like that all too often. He sadly realized that his attitude to conflicts was similar to his parents. He never learned how to work through conflict and now as a parent he just didn’t know what to do when the kids fought. He simply used his age, size and parental authority to make it stop, but nobody was learning how to actually resolve conflicts in a healthy and mature way.
Following his shift in perception, Brett’s approach changed. He is now driven by empathy for his children’s feelings and is more patient, supportive and empathic when conflicts arise. He has noticed when they feel really heard and understood, they are able to calm down, be more reasonable and come up with their own solutions!
The first track on Genevieve's Stress Relief for Parents CD and MP3 guides the listener through a similar exploration. Track 1: Restore, resolve, re-energize walks you through a process of exploring the feelings that are evoked in you during certain challenging interactions with your child and helps you feel more empowered about changing those knee-jerk triggers that can cause you to speak and act in ways that you later regret. Parents find that this guided exercise helps them restore their sense of balance and harmony, resolve fears and re-energize the parent child relationship. Listen to sample audio clip
To learn more about Genevieve's Parent Coaching consultations that are available face to face, by phone or via skype, click here.