It’s such a terrible feeling when you screw something up with your kid. It's not like making a big mistake at work or even when you cause a rift with your best friend.
When you mess up in parenting, it feels like a chunk of lead in your heart… sinking, sinking.
Sorrow and guilt weigh you down. Why did I say that? How could I be so stupid? … sinking.
Those mistakes feel irreversible, uncorrectable. And when it goes on for weeks and months, it starts looking like permanent damage. As if you’re on a one-way train to a detached relationship and there’s no getting off.
That’s when some parents shrug their shoulders, laugh self-consciously and say, “Oh well, all I can do now is try to survive.”
And while you can’t undo what you did or un-say what you said, you CAN change where your relationship is headed.
I’ve had the honour of meeting parents who weren't willing to accept disconnection as an inevitability, who wanted something different and worked to create it.
These are my kind of people, my heroes.
They have broken out of patterns of overwhelm and over-reaction and finally deactivated their old triggers. They felt like their relationship with their teen was doomed and got off that train. And they made themselves a ticket for a more positive direction.
So I know first-hand that a second chance in parenting is possible.
What I also know is that your second chance won’t be found in the way you’ve been parenting. Not in doing the same thing - the worrying, yelling, crying, lecturing, 'helping', stressing, accusing, etc. - which you already know isn't working.
And second chances can't be created by pushing yourself harder or carrying more guilt.
Your second chance in parenting lives within you, in a version of yourself that you’ve yet to discover. And yet to make room for (more about this in a minute).
I recently had a conversation with a woman I was coaching around this time last year. It was great to hear her updates and I asked for her permission to share her story with you...
Pam said she was an anxious parent from the beginning. She had a built-in, 24/7 compulsion to steer her kids on the right path. A full body urge to make things go in the best way possible. An unrelenting weight of responsibility.
When she saw her teenage son making a choice or adopting a certain behaviour she thought was unwise, her guts would instantly clench and comments would come out of her mouth involuntarily - comments she knew she shouldn't be saying to a 16-year-old. “Are you sure you want to do that? What if...? Do those people even respect you? Did you remember to… “
Maybe you can relate to this constant tension. Almost as if your stress level is dependent upon what they do and how they do it. Like you can't relax unless you know that they're doing the right things to stay safe, have good friends and be successful. Sometimes you might think it would be so much better if you could just control it all yourself.
Believe me, I've been there. Sigh.
There can be many reasons for this anxiousness – we've all had such different life experiences before we became parents of teenagers:
~ Your own parents expected perfection from you and you’ve never quite gotten out from under that pressure.
~ You were teased in school for poor marks, sports ineptitude, a big nose or wearing the wrong kind of shoes and you still strive to protect yourself from judgement.
~ You grew up in a situation where you had very little control over your life and have made a secret pact with your ego to have lots of control in adulthood.
~ Your child's physical or mental health required you to be watching their every move and you just haven't been able to stop.
~ It's your main strategy to keep your emotions at bay so you can avoid being completely overwhelmed and pulled under.
Pause here for a minute.
How would you describe your main parenting tension?
What do you see as the factors or sources?
Looking beneath the surface and her need for control, Pam was clear that her mother’s volatility had influenced her significantly. As a girl, she concluded that, if she did everything right, her mother would be calm and happy and they would have a pleasant relationship.
Despite being 44 years old, that urge to ensure everything's done properly still took over sometimes. She had worked through her relationship with her mother in therapy. Years of yoga had lowered her stress level. And yet, in her daily interactions with her son, that urge to control still rose up.
You see, Pam's childhood belief had been carried forward into her adult life - her career, her relationships and her parenting. “If I do everything right, I'll be appreciated and valued. If I do everything right, I will be loved.”
As you let that sink in, remember that we all carry beliefs about what we have to do or be in order to be loved. It's a fundamental human experience.
Through coaching and intuitive energy work, Pam and I detangled the remnants of those old beliefs and the patterns associated with them: clenching her stomach when her son talked about decisions he was making, shooting down his ideas with precautions, automatically checking and doublechecking what he was doing, and trying to think of the ‘best’ course of action so much that it gave her headaches.
As she broke these habits - bit by bit - it made space for other parts of her to emerge, like her ability to let things be less than perfect, especially when it came to her son’s way of doing things. She practiced becoming the Accepting Ocean. Being with what was really happening instead of scanning the horizon for potential hazard. And recognizing that there are millions of ways to live life well and do it ‘right’.
When that schoolmaster voice in her head started wagging its finger and warning, “you have to make it all go correctly”, she learned how to stop herself from saying or doing something that she would regret later. Instead, she spoke to that part of herself. “OK I hear that you're worried but I'm not going to let important things fall through the cracks." That created a little window for the Accepting Ocean to get into the driver seat.
When the need for control started to clench her stomach muscles, she found what worked for her was to stretch her hands up into the air, plugging her fingers into the heavens and feeling the earth with the soles of her feet. “Somehow, my insides rebalance, physically and then energetically. Time stretches out a bit for me.”
When she lies in bed at 11pm wondering if her son has done everything she think he should, her legs want to leap out of bed to check. Instead, she places her hand on her heart and feels for a rhythm inside of her. “With each wave from my heart, my head remembers that, even if his choices seem rash and reckless to me, they make sense to him. I feel more acceptance toward his decisions.”
When she feels that familiar Excessive Precaution approaching, she leans into trust. “When I'm broad and wide like the ocean, I trust that I can hold more uncertainty and ups and downs without losing touch with my heart and my intention. I know it's the right kind of parenting for me.”
In our conversation, Pam said her relationship with her son is more relaxed and she's more respectful of his way of doing things. What she’s really happy about is that they’re making up silly jokes again and sharing their love of music like they used to.
That's what I call a second chance.