For me, having to look in the mirror as a parent has been one of the most courageous things I’ve ever done. My son was diagnosed at the age of six with ADHD, ODD, anxiety, depression and asbergers. This was relieving for us to know how to work with many of the behaviours that confused and frustrated us early in his life. Our first six years with our son was full of heartache and tears. Many days I didn’t feel I was enough for this parenting gig. I lost my temper numerous times because I didn’t understand what my son was feeling or going through. To me he was being rebellious and needed discipline. Nothing was working. I read numerous parenting books, trying the techniques suggested only to end in frustration every time. Once we had a diagnosis I started reading up on the the origins of where these traits came from. I was looking for something to “fix” my son, however, what I found time and time again in my reading pointed right back at me. Before you read on, I am not stating that any child with a diagnosis is in their state because of the parent. This is a cruel truth that has shamed many parents and it needs to be addressed. That being said, I did have to look at myself and the patterns I had allowed to creep into my life that were affecting the environment my son was being raised in.
When my oldest son was born, I was in a dark place in my life. My Dad had passed away suddenly from cancer and I had lost the company I had started. I also had just moved cities and was incredibly lonely while feeling like the ground was taken from underneath me. I also experienced a traumatic birth with my son. I loved him very much, but in that first year my attunement to him lacked because I was just trying to keep my head up each day. When I say “attunement”, I am referring to the eye to eye, heart to heart connection babies need from a caregiver. I was very attentive to his needs of feeding and care, but my eyes carried sorrow. My heart was heavy. No one would have ever guessed. Looking at my new baby and I, everyone would have thought I was doing just fine. This is a danger when we feel we need put our makeup on and appear like we have it all together. I continued to drown in sadness. With experiencing this new life of little sleep while grieving much loss, this put much stress on my marriage. There wasn’t much peace in my home at the time.
As my son grew, I began to notice how impatient I was; how quick I was to anger when my instructions weren’t listened to. My mind shifted from blaming my son for being so rebellious, to blaming myself for my own incompetence. Through reading how environment effects children, I realized that my depression, anger, and turmoil in my marriage had only added to my son’s affliction. Words cannot express the shame and regret I have experienced through this. I remember reading one particular book and feeling like I had completely and utterly failed. I felt there was no hope, all my mistakes were made and now my son would suffer. I was feeling one of my lowest lows when I heard a whisper in my heart saying that nothing is ever written in stone. I could have faith in God and know that there was indeed hope for my son and my family…. but change was going to have to start with me.
I began to dig deep, allowing myself to journey to the places that brought me the most shame. Why would I become so angry? I discovered that the root of my anger came from years of not feeling heard. As a child, I was the emotional one in my family and was told to keep it under control. I often didn’t feel understood by my family. My husband for many years didn’t know how to listen and understand me as well. For most of my life, the people who I expected to be safe for me to express my inner self became those I would hide myself from the most. So when my son didn’t listen to my instructions, all those years of frustration came bubbling to the surface.
Once I understood this, I had something to work with. Instead of trying to control my son, or lose my temper to get his attention, I could work on myself in this area. Yes, my son still needed to learn to listen, but when I courageously looked at what was underneath my behaviour that is when things started to turn around. It wasn’t overnight, but I became the foundation in which change could happen.
Looking inside isn’t easy. There are many rightful things the children we work with truly do need to change. Looking at ourselves first is not letting them off the hook, it’s the the foundational place to start.
Questions to reflect on:
- Get curious about your reactions, responses that you don’t desire to have with your children. Do this with courage to face things that you would want to normally push aside. Shame lies to us and tells us we are not enough because of these patterns, but don’t listen to shame. Choose to be brave and honest.
- Now look at those reactions, responses and get curious about what’s underneath those patterns?
- How can you begin the courageous journey of working through what you discover and how do you believe it will change the way you interact with your child?