Being a parent to a spirited child has been a roller coaster of emotions. At times, it has caused me to feel like a failure in ways I never thought I would. What often scares me even more is knowing that my feelings of inadequacy are possibly effecting my child’s well-being. It can be a vicious cycle of self-doubt and confusion, trying to figure out how to meet the needs of a spirited child. Often those needs do not fit into societal norms and therein lies the struggle; my child or the world he lives in? I wish it was not a choice that had to be made.
Guilt, fear, shame and the second child
My first spirited child made me scared for my second and then the guilt about feeling scared was tearing me up inside. What I realized though is I wasn’t scared about the “type” of child I may get, I was scared I wouldn’t be enough. That I wouldn’t be able to meet everyone’s needs and stay grounded, be authentic, and not feel overwhelmed. I already felt like I wasn’t enough and now we were adding one more? But actually my second helped me reconnect with my maternal spirit. The days were not filled with meltdowns, sensory seeking and trying to get someone to do things they don’t want to do all day (diaper change, bathe, brush teeth, sleep etc.). I was able to see how a reciprocal relationship with a child works. In that process, I became more aware of my relationship with my first child and how I had begun to allow myself to blame him for my own feelings of inadequacy.
Is a spirited child’s need for love also not “typical”?
I had accepted the narrative that he is “different” and therefore, would not benefit from the over-pouring of love and acceptance that comes from attachment parenting. But actually attachment parenting, an intensely responsive approach, was exactly what he needed. It is also what I needed to reconnect with him and rebuild our relationship. Just because your child does not comply with your every request, does not mean they are not benefiting from responsive parenting. It could mean you are not benefiting from it. Possibly just going through the motions without authenticity or intent. That is when I step back and begin to try and reconnect with my personal parenting goals (connection, trust, authenticity, love, compassion, empathy, encouragement). Then I try and see how those goals fit into my current approach to my child’s behaviour. Usually I realize I got lost somewhere in my own issues and managed to project those fears and anxieties onto my child.
My spirited child is my teacher
As I become a more authentic version of myself, and in touch with my own inner child, I see myself in my spirited child. That may be why his behaviours are such a trigger for me, they remind me of my own perceived flaws. I am beginning to realize that my spirited child is here to teach me about myself. To teach me the ultimate level of acceptance and compassion; acceptance and compassion for myself. Through trying to understand him, I am discovering myself; every piece of it. My neurotypical child gives me comfort, support and joy. My spirited child gives me joy, understanding, compassion and a will to be better everyday. He motivates me to heal, while my youngest is a natural born healer.
Nurturing that amazingly unique spirit
Spirited children make AMAZING adults, if we can just try not to break their spirits. I am a spirited child with a broken spirit. I don’t want my child to spend their adult life repairing the damage I caused, because I did not deal with my own triggers before becoming a parent. Therefore, I work everyday to heal myself so I can offer a safe loving space for my free spirit and my healer. Both deserve a safe haven to be nurtured and become all of themselves.
Processing and coping with triggers
There are so many ways to try and cope with triggers. The issue sometimes with being a parent is you can’t always escape to have a moment to yourself. So we need to learn strategies that can work in the moment.
In the moment strategies:
- EFT tapping
- Visualizing a safe place
- Joining in the silliness/chaos
- Letting things go
- Do yoga/mindfulness together (I have three books I give as an option)
- Balance board
- 10 square breaths
Finding strategies to help you calm down, refocus and become grounded, are very effective at helping you cope with an overwhelming moment but they are also band-aid solutions to a bigger problem. A long-term plan for healing and keeping your own cup full, are necessary to a long-lasting sense of peace, not just an ability to calm yourself down when you are stressed.
- Self-care routine
- Self-reflection exercises (Responsive Parenting version coming soon! Sneak peek available only in the Facebook Group)
- Regular planned social event- book club, sport team, happy hour on Sundays, yoga class, stroller group, playgroup, roller derby, knitting club, scrabble league. Meet up is a great app to find unique social gatherings with like minded people, who have similar interests.
- Spiritual fulfillment- whatever your belief system, connecting with others who share those same values can really offer a sense of belonging, purpose and support. Whether you like to meet for a drumming circle at midnight under the full moon or going to mosque every Friday night fills your spiritual cup, make sure if spirituality is important to you, that you are making time for it.
Triggers are messages.
They are telling us to wake up and pay attention to some unresolved issue brewing deep inside of us. This is not a bad thing, but it can feel overwhelming, especially when we are so used to trying not to feel our emotions. Our society tries to teach us to suppress and minimize difficult emotions, instead of teaching us how to process them. Many traditional parenting strategies are based on this theory. That may be why it sometimes feels uncomfortable to validate emotions and sit in them with your child (and yourself). That is not the narrative we hear in western society.
Change can feel uncomfortable but in this world of so much pain, it is time for some healing, and healing takes awareness and courage. Being aware of your emotions and having the courage to let them flow through you, knowing you will be alright at the end of the tunnel; that is how self-regulation becomes automatic and not something that takes a lot of effort, at the cost of our overall emotional well-being. So if you are feeling overwhelmed by your child’s behaviour, instead of trying to change them, first look at why the behaviour is bothering you so much. Often we are far more connected to the situation then we realize.
If you want to join me, and our community of responsive parents, on this wonderfully complex journey of parenting, please join my parenting support group on Facebook https://m.facebook.com/groups/806727139517086