- Lori K Walters
Just when I thought I was becoming less reactive with my young adult child…
It can happen to any of us. We're working on changing how we automatically react to our teenager/ young adult and we feel like we're making progress. And then - *poof* - we fall right back into the old habit. We act in ways that are not aligned with our values nor the kind of parent we know we can be. It’s pretty discouraging, feeling like you're right back where you started. Am I getting anywhere at all? Is there any point in continuing to work on this? Am I going to be stuck being like this forever? Let's pause here so you can name your automatic reactions to your big kid. You know, the ones that seem to happen before you realize it. The ones you regret later... Is it launching into a lecture before you've heard all the details? Is it running worst case scenarios when your teenager’s 20 minutes late? Is it going instantaneously into a boiling rage when they don't do what they said they would do? Is it falling into despair when they miss their counseling appointment? Is it an irresistible urge to fix things for them? If you're human, you've got auto-pilot reactions and, like it or not, there are times when they show up. And these are the times when it can be really helpful to take a look at signs of how we are actually changing our reactivity. Parenting is the long game, decades and decades of changing landscape you travel with your kids. It’s good for your heart to have some signposts along the way that let you know that you are, indeed, making progress. Signpost One: You notice it before you act You know your trigger well enough to recognize it when it's coming on. You feel your shoulders getting tight, your brain getting fuzzy or your hands going cold. Maybe not every time, but you feel the reactivity starting in your body and think, “Oh yes, this is what I feel like right before I do the thing that makes things worse.” Or maybe you hear some inner dialogue saying “always, never or have to.” Before, you would have followed it but now you recognize that voice as the one that leads you down the old path to the old results. You’re able to witness your reactivity, like a kindly, third-party observer. You're in it but you can also look AT it. You understand that reactivity is a condition that has arisen from a lifetime of experiences and so you've become compassionate with yourself about that. Maybe you used to berate yourself when you noticed your reactivity: “Oh no, why am I triggered again? How come I can't stop doing this? What is wrong with me?” And now, it has a different energy, more calm and wisdom: “Ah yes. Here’s my old reaction, ready to jump in.” You can notice it before you act from it. And every time you do this, you succeed in living more in alignment with your essential self and the wise parent within you. Signpost Two: You accept that you're in a state of reactivity Let's be honest, acceptance isn’t always easy. When you realize you’re in a state of reactivity, for example, your blood starting to boil and angry phrases already forming in your head, you used to feel yourself tightening against your reactivity or telling yourself you shouldn't be experiencing what you're experiencing. But now you’re developing a relationship with it. Of course, you don’t love feeling reactive. Of course, it's challenging to face it again and again. And, instead of judging and resisting, you're able to accept it when it shows up as part of the process. More and more, you’re letting yourself feel the uncomfortable feelings and listen to what they have to say. You tell yourself it's OK to feel upset/angry/confused, you're just having an internal reaction. And there is such grace in this - the more you accept your reactivity, the less reactivity you experience. This is what I mean by acceptance: you honour yourself and what's going on for you. And that opens the door to change. Signpost Three: You take time to process your reaction You say to the other person, “I'm feeling reactive and I need to take a moment/day.” Sounds simple enough but this isn't a small step at all. It requires your willingness to be open and vulnerable, courage to say what you need in the heat of the moment. (And that will be easier to do with certain people or in certain situations.) When you give yourself space to get grounded and reconnect with yourself, then you can engage with the wisdom that underlies your reaction. Unprocessed, it sits there as a problem or a failure. But when it's explored, you remember that your reactions are intelligently and benevolently trying to protect you from some perceived threat. That’s the thing you want to get to. So go a little deeper:
What's happening in my body? What is it showing me and what does it need to rebalance?
What dialogue is running through my head? Which of those thoughts do I believe right now?
What emotions are arising in me? Can I go ahead and feel them? What is my heart needing right now?
What seems to be at risk right now, real or imagined?
What's most important to me in this situation?
I encourage you to spend some time delving into this. Your reactivity is about you, not your kid's behaviour or attitude. What often emerges is that your reaction was sparked when one of your core needs (dignity, safety or belonging) was under some perceived threat. When you are able to identify that tender need, then you can get a sense of how you - the grounded, compassionate, wise you - wants to tend to it. In this way, your internal processing puts you in choice. It gives you the ability to respond from your heart, express yourself authentically and act in alignment with your truest parenting self. Signpost Four: You take responsibility for your needs You talk about your reactivity and the underlying needs with your friends or partner. You ask to be witnessed, reminded, encouraged or whatever will support you as you continue working on this. Because you know that to maintain a relationship with your habitual reactions requires consistent learning and practice. They ARE going to come up. With support, you keep going. ~ And in all of this, please be self-compassionate. Have a kind voice with yourself when things don't go as planned, understanding for your humanness and love for what is emerging in you as you walk the parenting road. Congratulate yourself when you've caught yourself about to react and chosen a different response. Let’s acknowledge, appreciate and even celebrate it for for ourselves. And let’s do that our friends and partners too.
And if, as you were reading through this, you were feeling triggered - maybe I'll never change or I don't feel like I've done any of these things recently – what a great opportunity to give warmth and acceptance to your self and the beautiful, divine light that you are.
With you on the journey, Lori
Photo by Wout Vanacker on Unsplash