Today I feel tired and maybe I just want a bit of sympathy! Sleep has been hard to come by recently and it’s a little painful but I do have a sense of hope. I’m considering parenting styles and how they live within me – influenced by John Gottman’s model which categorises the approaches as dismissive, laissez faire and emotional coaching. Having experienced both the dismissive and the laissez faire in my own upbringing I have been inclined to walk something closer to a middle ground in my own parenting.
Simplicity and structure
This may sound odd but I remember actually envying friends who’s parents gave them chores, had set meal times and restrictions around screen time. I remember the feeling of home and care I sensed when my next door neighbours would set the able for 5pm tea (as we called it up north). I longed for a family like this so much so that sometimes I would lie to my best friend that these kind of limits applied in my house too. Instead of this there was an element of chaos and complacency that would whip back into passive aggression/aggression.
Even then I had a sense that boundaries appropriately enforced and in time would have prevented the terrifying outbursts and blame which worked its way down into my cells as shame – the accusation that I should have known what was expected of me without being told. I would in some ways try to fulfill this role, adopting Maria Von Trap as a fantasy persona, teaching myself to cook and even taking myself to church on a Sunday which was somewhat successful for me. I did find the care and sense of belonging I longed for in the kind people who formed the Durham Anglican community.
Boundaries which come from a place of care, from a sense of connection to the self and those close to us provide a sense of safety – I know that my needs are respected and your child has the sense that someone who knows more about the world than they do is looking out for them and protecting them. In my parenting journey I have maintained a sense of awareness of the powerlessness of children and so make decisions on my son’s behalf with an awareness of this. My intention also is to empower him to be able to make good choices, I notice the sense of pride he feels as he takes on more responsibilities and can contribute to the family/community.
Finding rituals and habits which support this so our sense of composure is not eroded by the weight of too many decisions.
Dismissive parenting is where we deny or minimise or children’s feelings. This was also unfortunately all too familiar in my own upbringing, the harsh sting of being told to “grow up” or that I was “ruining everyone’s day” by having a sad expression on my face. I wish I could pick up that younger version of me, hold her in my arms and tell her that her feelings count, that it’s ok, in fact healthy to feel sad or upset sometimes children who are raised like this tend to disassociate, because they are told their feelings aren’t valid they tend to find it difficult to trust themselves and withdraw to shield themselves from the pain. Perhaps because of my own experience I want to weep for these emotionally frozen children who might have turned into depressed adults. Warm them up with the language of feeling, help them to feel safe and like they matter, understand how to process and move through emotional states.
Under the backlog, the chill, there may be a lot still to feel and it can be excruciating. My tendency to numb has been the biggest challenge in my own parenting. Through feeling I have largely come back to life.