Often, as parents, we are interested in learning about how to raise our children to be the best they can be. Not as commonly do we ask “How is my child raising me?” After all, as adults, we are still growing up too!
Let’s face it: our children have a way of bringing out emotions in us that we may not have known we had before becoming parents! We may find ourselves having a temper tantrum or digging in our heels with a big “No!”, or trying to retreat away from handling the situation. It is in these moments that we are being offered a mirror. And if we have the courage to look, with compassion towards ourselves, we are being given the unique opportunity to grow up and benefit our children in the process.
Another way to look at this situation is to understand that our children are drawing out our own “younger part within”. This idea may sound strange at first, however, when we consider it more closely the “younger part within” is simply a state of mind that is linked to our childhood experience. We all have this inner child part which holds an array of emotions from sadness to joy to wonder. This “younger part within” can be evoked by a current situation in our adult lives. For example, if we had experiences of not being heard as children, these same experiences as adults will often cause us upset that is disproportionate to the present situation. It is one of nature’s great ironies that as we raise our children, our own “younger part within” will appear most dramatically.
If we are willing, it’s not hard to locate the places where this younger part resides. Pause for one moment and bring to mind a difficult parenting moment where you felt a strong emotional reaction to a situation with your child. Notice that the thought of this incident may bring changes in your emotions and your body. Great News! You have just discovered one place where your child is helping to shine a light on your own younger part.
For example, imagine that when your child “talks back” you become frustrated, even angry with them. “Rightly so” you may say at that moment. On the other hand, consider that this frustration is not entirely related to the situation at hand, and is in fact rooted in your younger part. “But what about addressing our child’s behaviour?” is a question I am often asked as a therapist. Certainly, a child’s behaviour, and in particular the roots of that behaviour, may need to be met with thoughtful and developmentally appropriate approaches. However, this does not negate the importance of us growing up ourselves, and through our own maturation, we naturally gain greater clarity about how to work skillfully with our children’s behaviour.
I am not suggesting that as parents we should never have emotional reactions. As a parent myself, I know that is near to impossible! Emotions are a vibrant and valuable colour in our lives, and they are not going anywhere! We can, however, have a different relationship and approach to ourselves and to our emotions. So, how can we as parents engage in the process of growing up?
Here are four key places to begin:
1. Get curious and give space to observe yourself. We can observe ourselves and ask: “How is this reaction connected to my own younger part within?” To support this question, it helps to set aside our thoughts about the situation, and pay close attention to our body sensations. Just as our children do, our younger parts within are calling for our attention in order to feel protected and cared for. Our attention means a lot.
2. Expect resistance. Our first reaction to looking at our emotional reactions and their connection to our younger parts is often a desire to avoid and ignore. Interestingly, we often struggle to accept those parts of ourselves that we do not accept in our children. For example, if we do not recognize our own vulnerable side, we will be less likely to accept this in our children.
3. Know that your love for your children will help motivate you to grow-up. It is our love for our children that makes us want to be more tempered in our reactions and better able to be there for them. And in the times that we resist the transformational journey of parenthood, our love for our children keeps us going!
4. Get good company for the journey. Lastly, it can be helpful, and often essential, to have a person or several people to accompany us in our growing up journey. Though it can be a process filled with growing pains, the fruits are greater ease, joy, and centeredness in our lives and parenting. Parenting can indeed be an opportunity for transformation: Just as we help our children to grow, our children help us to grow up too.