March 28, 2012

Reframing the Golden Rule in Parenting.

Me at around three years old.

 Treat your children as if they are you at the same age.

“By parenting them as you wish to have been parented yourself, you are healing your own (still wounded) inner child while preserving the authenticity of the little one right in front of you. Win-win.”

The Golden Rule. I remember exactly where I was when my father first told me to “do unto others as you would have done unto you.”

I remember learning later in life that I should remember to treat my children as I would treat a friend. You would never yell at a friend that they should “Sit down now!” would you?

In therapy, we are often told that triggers stem from unresolved issues we had as children. When triggered, our brain looks for a “match” for how we are feeling in the moment and we are instantly transported back to feeling like our four-year old self.

A couple of days ago, a reader left a comment on my blog. It said that when she has a tough time dealing with her children’s behavior, she steps away, takes five deep breaths, and puts a positive image of her child in her mind.

After that, something started clicking for me and then yesterday, I read the above quote by Lu Hanessian and it all came together.

This is our daughter, when she was just shy of four. We look a bit alike, no?

I’ve written before about our daughter, who is like me in so many ways. She triggers my anger so often, but why? I love her so deeply and I am constantly impressed by the complex things she already understands. She’s incredibly creative, wonderfully generous and kind— she’s also confident and holds firm in her opinions, which I tell myself will serve her well later in life, and yet, she makes me completely batty sometimes.

Last night, she lost it at the dinner table and kept playing with her food and taunting her brother and not listening, not listening, not listening.

I kept calm for what felt like ages and suddenly I couldn’t hold it together anymore. In that moment, I forgot that she is only four; I forgot that she was overtired; I forgot that she may have had a day where she was told what to do all day long. More importantly, I seemed to forget the person behind the behavior. 

I got past my own tantrum after a minute or two, apologized, explained, helped her calm down. She forgave me as her wise, little self always does. But later, I was still thinking about it. I mulled over Lu’s powerful words—if she were me, was that how I would want to be treated?

This morning, I read the following paragraph from Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book, Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting:

“In some sense our children have to feel us holding on to them, no matter what repugnant (to our mind) spells come over them no matter what dark disguises they try on. This mindful holding on comes not out of a desire to control them, or to hold them back, or to cling to them out of our own neediness, but out of a commitment to be appropriately present for them no matter what, to let them know that they are not alone, that we have not lost sight of who they are or what they mean to us.”

These times when I get so frustrated and feel actual anger toward my children are moments when clearly I am not mindful. These are moments when I lose sight of the golden rule. I lose sight of who I am talking to and what they mean to me.

I know this because as soon as I “snap out of it” and come to my senses I feel so horrible and so remorseful. Even now, as I think about last night, I wonder how I can get so angry.

I am still searching for the answer to this.

It’s like a switch that flips. I am able to stay calm, present and understanding for a certain amount of time and then I lose it and become just like a furious five-year old.

I know that a strong reaction to behavior in others is often really just a rejection of that same behavior in yourself. Is it possible that my little girl, feisty and strong-willed, has behaviors that I am not comfortable with in myself? Is it possible that when she exhibits her moodiness I shut down because I see that as unloveable in myself?

That feels real to me. And that feels so terribly sad.

“And isn’t it true for all of us that when we are feeling lost, sad, and often quite toadlike, it helps enormously to feel that the people closest to us are still our allies, are still able to see and love our essential self?”

~ Everyday Blessings

To not accept this part of my daughter or myself is to say that it is not ok to be moody, temperamental or crabby. To not be allowed the full range of one’s emotions feels like dying a little inside. And so, I continue to work on my practice of remaining mindful, forgiving myself just as I forgive my children.

Do unto others as I would have them do unto me.


Prepared by Lorin Arnold & Brianna Bemel

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