- Lori K Walters
How a parent's over-enthusiasm can impact their child
intense and eager enjoyment, interest, or approval
strong excitement of feeling; zeal or fervor
Are you an enthusiastic parent who is always seeking out exciting new things to do? Do you crave stimulating experiences? Do people admire your effervescence and positive attitude? I recently coached a woman (I’ll call her B) who fits this description well. She loves life and inspires everyone around her to get out there and enjoy it. She is a fun, energetic mom. And now the downsides of her enthusiasm have come front and center. One night, she got into a heated discussion with her son, who had just lost his part-time job. B was doing her best to show him the upside of the situation and encouraged him to start looking for a new job. He got irritated, turned away from her and finally yelled at her, “Stop pushing me. You’re always saying everything is rosy. Well, it’s not. This sucks. I’m embarrassed. I’ve lost my friends. And you’re making it sound like it’s no big deal.” It wasn’t the first time B's eagerness for whatever’s next had negative effects on her family. When her kids were young, her sister commented about how fast she had them running from one activity to the next. B knew it was true but couldn’t help herself. And her partner had complained many times about the lack of quiet family time in their household. When B came into coaching, she was facing the serious deterioration of her relationship with her eldest son. He avoided her. He slinked through the kitchen without speaking to her. He chose taking the bus over being picked up.
And when he was around, she felt so cautious about what to say that she often blurted out something awkward or artificial. And that made it worse. She was terrified that this was the way their relationship was going to be from now on and it was breaking her heart. ~ As B’s coaching program proceeded, one of her most important a-ha moments was realizing how quick her mind reframed things into something positive. Lightning fast. When her son lost his job, her mind had automatically thought ‘this is ok’, before she even had time to register if it was good or bad, or what the impact might be.
“It’s like a spontaneous reflex. When there’s something negative, it catapults me right back into a positive frame of mind. When Jay lost his job, I didn’t have any other thoughts except anticipating what would be next: maybe a better job, better coworkers, maybe something that inspires him. And then I couldn’t help it, all these ideas just burst out of me.”
Of course, it’s a natural parenting instinct to want our kids to be happy, but this shine-it-up impulse can cause some serious disconnection with our teens and young adults. Having things quickly flipped to the positive makes it difficult for them to really connect with the full range of their emotional landscape, especially the so-called negatives: sadness, guilt, loneliness, apathy, insecurity, rejection, disappointment, etc. Jay needed to feel his embarrassment and loss. He didn’t want to just move on; he needed to let the feelings surface, go through the experience and then choose how to move forward. There’s a big difference, right? As a result, B’s relationship with Jay had become conditional: some topics were ok and some things weren’t. Holiday planning – yes; grandpa’s declining health – not so much. Jay realized that ‘negative’ feelings just weren’t part of his family’s way of doing things. ~ B’s positive-spinning habit had also gotten in the way of registering her own feelings. When she allowed some space for this, she realized she felt embarrassed and powerless about her son being fired. It was hard for her to be with those emotions and that difficulty was something she connected to her childhood. B recalled being somewhat of an escape artist as a child. Her little sister arrived just 14 months after she was born, and B felt that her parents hadn’t given her the nurturing she needed. You can imagine how distressing it is for a child when they don’t feel connection from their parents. So that little girl created a strategy to avoid that anguish and terror: looking for distractions, moving quickly from one thing to the next, and escaping into fun and games. B said, growing up, she always thought she was immune to bad things. As an adult, she sees it as an illusion that kept her speeding forward, cut off from her own heart and missing some of the tenderness and connection in life. ~ As her self-awareness deepened, B saw the need to practice bringing quiet and patience to her forward-looking mind. I’m going to share two of her practices with you:
Daily attention to touch
If you’ve got a mind that whisks you into anticipation, you’ll want to practice connecting with what’s here and now. B used her sense of touch to bring her attention down into her body instead of staying up in her head. Three times per day, spend 2 full minutes experiencing your sense of touch. Simply touch things and register the sensation. It might be noticing what you are already touching, like the chair you’re sitting on or your clothes against your skin. Or it can be choosing to touch something – reaching out to feel the curtains, a plant, your pen or touching your fingertips together. Go slowly and fully experience the sensation. At first, two minutes was excruciating for B but, after a few weeks, it became easier to stay with it. And she was ready for the second part, identifying things as good or bad, instead of automatically seeing everything as positive.
Continue the touch practice and now take in more of the nuances of touch. Distinguish hot from cold, rough from smooth, or natural from synthetic. Feel for the woodgrain of the table, the thickness of a leaf, the ridges of your fingertips or the threads around the hole in your jeans. And make sure you give yourself ‘negative’ experiences as well: a cold rock, scratchy upholstery or a sore shoulder. The task here is identify the sensation of touch and also how you feel about it. For example, I like the curve of my mug handle, I prefer a softer towel or that squishiness disgusts me. ~ When your mind is moving so quickly to the next fun, shiny thing, you aren’t registering your current experience. Giving more time each day to experiencing exactly where you are and what you’re doing is a way of building your ability to be present, to yourself and to others. And that is a skill that’s needed when your teens launch you into startling, perplexing, intense situations. B said this practice was like adding little weights around her ankles. She became more grounded and more comfortable to ‘stay in’ when there was unhappiness in her family. She also got really good at noticing when she wasn’t paying attention and her mind was rushing on ahead. And she learned to bring herself back to the here and now with a simple squeeze of her hands. And it’s in the present that we build our relationships with our kids. Connection is not in the future and not in the past, but in this moment. Right when they text or walk into the kitchen or get into the car. I’ll give the final words to B: “When I slow my mind down, I am more in my heart and feeling what’s there. And when I approach Jay from my heart, I am more likely to say the right thing because it’s me being real. I think that’s rebuilding his trust in me. I had to slow down to hear what’s in my own heart so I could honour what’s in his. I’m happy that’s the direction our relationship is going in now.”
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Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash