It was a morning like any other. My kids were buzzing around, and I was making breakfast. However, I had a lot on my mind that day and I was functioning on about three hours of interrupted sleep. It was hard for me to concentrate, my voice was tired and my head was hurting — my nerves were at their obvious end, even before the day began.
I took a deep breath before intending to ask my kids to please quiet down, only to realize that my perception was skewed. My little ones weren’t actually yelling. They weren’t screaming or shouting, they were being — being kids.
It was then that I started to take an inner inventory of all the lists, thoughts and questions weighing heavy on my mind. As soon as I added in the factor of sleep-deprivation, I found my hand gravitating towards my chest as I empathetically mouthed the words, “It makes total sense that this feels like too much noise for you right now.“
Then, instead of interrupting my children’s flow to ask them to lower their volume — a task that ranges between impossible and difficult for two toddlers — it dawned upon me that I was able to reduce the amount of sound that penetrated into my ears without giving my children the feeling of being too much, unwanted or unacceptable.
I secretly stuffed some tissue into my ears.
Not to tune my little ones out.
On the contrary, I did so, so that I could be capable of tuning into their needs. By taking matters into my own hands, I was able to block out some sound and engage with my children from a place of calm, instead of in response to my triggers.⠀
Often times, when our children do something that upsets us, we view it as their problem.
When kids get on our nerves, we think they need to change.
When their behavior causes us any form of discomfort, they are the ones who need some adjustment.
The ones who should understand how they’re affecting us or be ashamed if they don’t.
The ones who should know better, do better, be better.
Yet, making our children responsible for how we are doing, and teaching them to be highly attuned to our moods and anticipate our every response, is putting a weight on them that is not fit for a child to bear.⠀
Not only does it train our children to downplay what’s going on in their inner worlds so that they don’t come across as challenging or difficult, it sends them the message that they must conform to the needs and desires of others in order for their own needs to be met. And since children are wired for connection, they usually will.
One component of a healthy attachment is the child’s dependence upon the adult. However, placing the responsibility for our triggers upon our children is laying the foundation for future codependency and emotional unrest. When we give our children no choice but to quiet down, conform and comply — or break free from our approval altogether — we place a greater value upon our settled perspective rather than choosing to consider their own.
What we then perceive as learning social skills could be more accurately defined as learning survival skills. Is a young child “learning to share?” Or is he learning to “give things away when Dad says to, so he doesn’t get mad?” Is a child starting to understand the pain it inflicts upon her parents’ ears when she gets excited or plays wholeheartedly, or “not to be loud so mom doesn’t snap” and that she isn’t worthy of taking up that kind of space?
True empathy is a skill that is learned in time, largely by observing and experiencing it from the other side.
So back to my morning in the kitchen. Only a minute or two after stuffing the tissue into my ears, my shoulders had relaxed and a few of the lines on my forehead had vanished. I even found myself smiling affectionately as my kids creatively put together a drum kit made out of pots and pans.
Tending to our triggers not only contributes to our own wellbeing, it saves us from mountains of unpleasant moments and mess-ups with our children.