In the last post I left you with a question to think about – what if the clothes that are left on the floor day after day by my children, are not the real trigger to my frustration? If it is not the clothes, what could it be? The Conscious Parenting approach is to look at ourselves and dig deep to figure out what is truly behind our reaction. In her new book, The Awakened Family, Dr. Shefali Tsabary has an entire chapter dedicated to “The Invisible Triggers of Our Reactivity”. She explains that as a culture we accept the idea that our children will trigger or challenge us - it’s just what kids do. This idea is so ingrained in our culture; we don’t question it. As a result, we end up react to them in “robotic ways”. In other words, we allow our reactions to happen without giving them much thought. Dr. Shefali goes on to say (on page 35):
“Our children are just being who they are. They aren’t interested in inciting us to fury or causing us guilt or anxiety. Quite the opposite: They function from their own internal state, which really has nothing to do with us. However, because we carry so much emotional pain, they inevitably ignite a firestorm within us at times. None of this is intentional, but is a result of our own lack of wholeness. We are triggered not by their behavior, but by our own unresolved emotional issues.”
At this point you may think I am a little crazy – how is my reaction to a few clothes left on the floor related to my “unresolved emotional issues”? Stay with me. Let’s follow the train of thought with the dialogue going on in my head answering the question – Why does it make me so crazy to see these clothes on the floor? Don’t they see I am just trying to keep the house cleaned up? If they don’t clean up after themselves now, how will they live on their own? Their apartment is going to be a mess. I know I have asked for these clothes to be picked up – why don’t they listen to me? They don’t listen to me because they don’t appreciate all the things that I do for them. They’re so ungrateful – how can they be so insensitive? I want to raise them to be kind, nice people not insensitive monsters. I’m totally screwing this up. They are going to be completely unprepared for real life unless I can fix this now.
This inner dialogue may be slightly exaggerated (or not) but it does show the potential deeper triggers to the situation. Is it about listening? Is it about cleanliness? Is it about insensitivity? Is it about me? As Dr. Shefali says in the quote above, that children are in their own minds. The fact that they do/don’t do something is only related to where they are at in that exact moment, no more and no less. You are the one making this is a big deal. You are the one piling on additional emotion and unrelated issues to the scenario.
So where do you go from here? The clothes still need to be picked up and you don’t want to be the one to do it all the time. This is where expectations and boundaries come in. First, become really clear on what your expectation is. In this scenario, your expectation may be that the kids help pick up after themselves. Second, set a boundary. How often do you want this expectation to be met - daily, every other day, weekly? Communicate the boundary as a minimum requirement for living in the house, as something that just needs to be done and strip all the emotion from the discussion. The hardest part may be in the enforcement of the boundary because you must remain both consistent and neutral. If you have decided it is a daily task, then you must enforce it as a daily task. As Dr. Shefali likes to say, don’t be “wishy-washy”. Along with consistency, you must be neutral/unemotional while enforcing the boundary. You will get resistance. You can’t let that resistance trigger you in the way that it once did.
Changing our perspective and the way we handle things with our children is not easy. It is like building a muscle, it requires continuous work and practice over time. Some days you are going to feel strong and other days even the lightest weight feels heavy. Don’t get discouraged. Keep trying, building and shifting. Not only will you have fewer triggers, but you will also be strengthening your relationship with your child.
Summer is also a great time to revise and reset your expectations around Work Life Balance. If you want to create a customized plan that will work for you and help you achieve the balance you’ve been striving for then let’s get started. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
I started writing this blog because I wanted to have deeper conversations beyond "How are you?", "Busy", with other parents. Over the years I've shared personal stories, articles, authors and topics to facilitate conversations with parents about the joys and the challenges of parenting.