I dreamed of being a mother since I was little. I was the go-to babysitter for my 11 older cousins, five older siblings, and our community. I worked in daycare centers, schools, and specialized in child development, parenting, and marriage and family therapy when I got my Master of Science degree in Human Development and Family Studies. After getting married, I even chose to wait five years before having a child to ensure we worked through major issues, that my partner and I were secure and ready to start a family and have a conscious conception.
During the process of defending my thesis, I discovered I was pregnant. We chose to conceive a bit sooner in our 4th year of marriage because I was greatly sensing that many of my clients, who were parents, weren’t buying my positive and non-punitive approach parenting. They didn’t think I could truly understand and…
When my son was six years old, I had two teachers suggest that my son was “emotionally immature.” Honestly, these complaints were very hard for me to swallow on many levels, especially since I am passionate about emotional intelligence and helping children to cope with emotions.
I, as respectfully as possible, accepted and validated their comments because of course, he is emotionally immature: he’s six years old. I felt defensive, shocked and angered. I just wanted to rip my son away from these people who I had entrusted to care for him. I even home-educate my son because most affordable school environments, in my opinion, are emotionally neglectful and abusive.
I internally chewed long and hard on their statements. I really had to grieve this situation. I typically blame myself whenever negative situations occur and worried intensely if I had messed up somewhere… I felt guilty for adding stress to the teachers; Was I crazy for teaching him to question authority and share his feelings? From their point of view and context, I could see where they were coming from yet it sickened me that this is the mind frame of most.
I want to just shine a bright light on the world about emotional development… You see society tends to think that one is emotionally mature because they handle their emotions. This is true to a degree, but one needs to have opportunities to express their emotions in order to learn how to handle their emotions in various settings and relationships. There is a learning curve for every new dynamic or experience.
It seems we give kids until about the age of one to three years old to work this out, then we demand they listen and obey us without whining or tantrums. Sadly, what many think as an emotionally mature child is one who is appearing obedient under the guise of actually feeling fear and freezing (like in a state of fight, flight or freeze). They don’t know what to do but have learned that more negative energy will be directed at them if they don’t just stop. Eventually, this leads to suppressing emotions and even dissociating when triggered in stressful environments. Far worse consequences and dysfunctional patterns develop from here.
Here’s is one my favorite quotes about emotional development and children:
“What is a normal child like? Does he just eat and grow and smile sweetly? No, that is not what he is like. The normal child, if he has confidence in mother and father, pulls out all stops. In the course of time he tries out his power to disrupt, to destroy, to frighten, to wear down, to waste, to wrangle, and to appropriate…At the start he absolutely needs to live in a circle of love and strength (with consequent tolerance) if he is not to be fearful of his own thoughts and his images to make progress in his emotional development.”
-Donald W. Winnecott, The Child, The Family, and the Outside World
Now, back to my sweet, sensitive son… Anyone who knows him well has seen his empathetic, kind, and resilient nature as well as his ability to regulate himself. He started initiating group hugs when he was two and doing the meditative “umm” when he was in pre-school to calm down. He made a dragon from Legos to guard his baby sister’s ashes and deeply mourned the loss of his great-grandma. When I am stressed, he echoes the words of the sage in me. He’s my buddha boy, and this is just a quick snapshot of the gracious qualities he shines upon his family and dearest friends.
During this same period of time, my son was overwhelmed by contradictory messages. He would complain about how come he often sees other kids hitting other kids and their siblings. I validate that it is confusing and may seem unfair yet stress he has learned a special skill and can control himself even when he feels so angry. I describe how many others are still in the process of learning to control their emotions and behaviors and how their brain gets flooded and they can’t get to their loving, smart files.
He also would ask why he cries so much but no one else seems to cry. He agonized about what’s wrong with him and feels stupid that he cries so easily. I validate his pain yet stress that he cries because he has a big heart: he cares so much about what people think of him and the quality of work he produces. That although he appears weak and dramatic by society’s expectations for “normal boy” behavior, he is indeed strong, brave, spirited and willful. Sadly, with so few kids to empathize with him, he was starting to wish he didn’t care so much.
Another sad part of all this is that when a kid, or even an adult for that matter, is being emotional, that can actually be a sign of trust; that they feel somewhat safe to process their hard and vulnerable feelings with you. Emotional outbursts are opportunities for connection and growth yet we as listeners can’t often handle the feelings. We feel too uncomfortable and just want to contain them as quickly as possible. Teachers fear they are disturbing the learning environment instead of seeing it as an intense learning experience. Even with my successful experiences of utilizing intense emotions, I still get triggered by fear and just want to stop the discomfort and run away. It is also hard to be compassionate and present with an angry child especially when the child in you just wants to fight back.
The next time a child is giving you grief, take a deep breath and give them the gift of your presence, attention, a warm embrace, a shoulder to cry on and listen to. You don’t even need to think of things to say just be still, present and listen. If it feels right, reflect only on what you are hearing them say like identifying feelings.
”When children feel understood, their loneliness and hurt diminish. When children are understood, their love for their parent is deepened. A parent’s sympathy serves as emotional first aid for bruised feelings. When we genuinely acknowledge a child’s plight and voice her disappointment, she often gathers the strength to face reality.” ~Haim Ginott
Disclaimer: Positive Reframe shares resources with the intent of the positive progression of informed decision making related to issues associated with emotional, relational, physical and spiritual wellness. While I share personal and professional perspectives, my writings reflect my personal opinion and not intended to substitute professional advice, diagnosis, and treatment. The online medium does not lend itself to the level of detail and rapport building required for thorough assessment and therapeutic intervention. Thus the content shared on this page is for informational purposes only. To make well-informed decisions that best meet your family’s unique needs, I highly recommend exploring and researching available options, consulting primary health care providers, and referrals from a trusted source for professional counseling. I am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapy in the state of Illinois, USA
Based on a gloriously harmonious day or on a –stressed out, exhausted, I feel like a rag and I want to throttle you- days? …
Parenthood has defiantly thrown me to these extremes as well as everything that falls in between. So the short answer is yes, parenting has changed me tremendously from reacting with fear to responding with love. It has been the most challenging experience I have ever undertaken as well has given me a hearty dose of humility, empathy, and resilience. It has spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically healed me.
The long answer: I was born hardwired for fear and hyper-sensitive. Experiencing or even witnessing violence, especially during the crucial period of brain development under the age of five significantly affects brain development and can make a child feel scared, anxious, worried, confused, angry, and insecure. This list of feelings sums up my battles in life to a “T” and parenting triggered every one of these vulnerabilities.
You see, even with extensive experience working with children and degrees in elementary education, psychology, human development & family studies, and marriage and family therapy, I still felt inadequate and unprepared for parenthood. I even had a self-imposed rule to wait till I was married for 5 years before having children. I began joking with my partner that we needed to have kids so I could have more credentials for my practice as I specialized in children and parenting issues.
After a snowball effect of interventions and traumatic labor, my first son was born 5 months shy of my 5th wedding anniversary, yet I was too tired and hungry to hold him. The natural concoction of bonding hormones was disturbed and my predisposition lead to post-partum depression. I spent a large part of his first year just going through the motions, feeling like a failure and even resentful. Then the anxiety and shame over what I thought I should be doing kicked into overdrive and robbed much of my joy.
During this time, I also worked with families involved with the Department of Family Services providing in-home, intensive family therapy. After a couple of miscarriages and another pregnancy, I took part in intensive therapeutic and parenting training that introduced me to how trauma affects brain development and regulation abilities in children. The light bulbs went off in my head like a fireworks display. So much of my life made sense and new connections were made. Then I had another traumatic labor, this time ending with a stillbirth.
WOW…talk about turning your life upside down…try holding a dead baby…your baby.
Although this was extremely painful, the perspective it gave me toward life and parenting was astounding. You can read more about my processing of stillbirth here. It encouraged me to truly process my grief, to dig deeper, try harder, and keep learning. I took more training on understanding brain development and healing trauma. Having a child actually gave me more compassion and understanding for the 24/7 demands of parenting and the complexities of the parent/child relationship.
I chose to put my relationship with my child first and take responsibility for getting my own and his vital needs met. I chose not to conceive again till I had no fears about the pregnancy and accepted the reality that I may never have another live birth. I did eventually go on to have a positive and empowering birth experience with my daughter who I had a home, water birth. I had to consciously filter out others’ opinions and outside influences to tune into my mind/body/soul connections and innate intelligence. I was better able to parent from my heart and less from my trauma.
My relationship with my children has been a mirror of my soul. The reflection is not always pretty, yet I can easily see when my intention, thoughts, feelings, and actions do not match and align with them. I am blessed to have 4 angels, 2 children, a supportive partner, and a peacefully chaotic family. As the more I focus my energy on the integrity of my relationships, the more I have of the gloriously harmonious days. Now don’t get me wrong, I am human and still have those other days yet they have shortened into moments, happen less often, and are easily remedied with a hug, silly face, or a happy song. I can truly feel how every day is a gift.
This has been more like my medium answer because honestly, I could go on and on about how evolutionary principles, attachment science, quantum physics, and a love-based paradigm shift could maximize human potential and heal the world…But I’ll just leave you with my poetic version of how parenthood changed me:
Based on a gloriously harmonious day or on a –stressed out, exhausted, I feel like a rag and I want to throttle you- days? …
Parenthood has defiantly thrown me to these extremes as well as everything that falls in between. So the short answer is yes, parenting has changed me tremendously from reacting with fear to responding with love. It has been the most challenging experience I have ever undertaken as well as given me a hearty dose of humility, empathy, and resilience. It has spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically healed me.
The long answer: I was born hardwired for fear and hyper-sensitive. Experiencing or even witnessing violence, especially during the crucial period of brain development under the age of five significantly affects brain development and can make a child feel scared, anxious, worried…
It seems on a regular basis, there are certain sexual abuse stories that make headlines, ones that finally get people’s attention. Truth be known that every 68 seconds, someone in the US is sexually assaulted. The statistics are worse worldwide. These statistics do not surprise me, I am actually more alarmed that many others are surprised. Our society is a petri dish for sexual abuse.
Sexual expression is a very complex and sensitive issue because even though we have been trained to feel mentally or morally wrong about it in many situations, even more conflicting for females. Yet sex is a fundamental physiological need, it feels good and is essential for holistic well-being. It is not enough to have the one ‘big talk’ or random assertion that “You should have no one touch you” and “to tell mom or dad if someone does”. It is a constant open dialogue in small teachable moments throughout life. It is in the subtle messages you send via your choice of words, clothes, media, and so on.
Although it angers me how ignorant people are to the prevalence of sexual abuse and that children are at greater risk with those they trust, I understand why we ignore the signs. To accept that this is going on in your city, your school, and even worse, your family would mean that you have to accept the responsibility that this went on without your awareness. Of course, it is easier to be in denial, it is a natural defense mechanism as who would want to take any responsibility for suffering.
The common reactions of when these stories of sexual abuse make headlines, “Yeah, let’s string ’em by their balls and make them suffer” or “They should rot in jail!” do not make things better. For me, those reactions come from the same vein as the initial crimes themselves, ignore the root problems, and no one can heal. I was sexualized and given inappropriate attention since I can first remember. I was molested as a child by someone I trusted and sexually harassed on a regular basis. These events had led to traumatic consequences and emotional scars that I am still healing.
Only after years of having safe relationships where I could thoroughly process all the memories, feelings, and thoughts, I experienced a surprising sense to want to forgive all the boys and men who used me as an object and no longer wish ill on them. I understand that they were doing the best with the resources they had. I do not blame them per se, as we live in a culture that promotes sexual abuse. I choose to be part of the solution. I empower, educate, and support people to find healthy, respectful, and non-violent ways to get their needs met. I want to stress that forgiveness was never my goal nor do I believe people must forgive. This level of awareness only seemed to unfold organically as I gave myself permission to feel and heal. I had to learn to love and accept myself for where I was in my healing journey without pressure or expectation.
Here are links to get you started on promoting positive and empowering sexual development for children:
DISCLAIMER: Positive Reframe shares resources with the intent of the positive progression of informed decision making related to issues associated with emotional, relational, physical and spiritual wellness. While I share personal and professional perspectives, my writings reflect my personal opinion and not intended to substitute professional advice, diagnosis, and treatment thus the content shared on this page is for informational purposes only. This online medium does not lend itself to the level of detail and rapport building required for thorough assessment and therapeutic intervention. To make well-informed decisions that best meet your family’s unique needs, I highly recommend exploring and researching available options, consulting primary health care providers, engaging in respectful dialogue with friends and family as well as seek referrals from a trusted source for professional counseling. I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy in the state of Illinois, USA
If you or someone you know is at risk of harm, please call or go to your local emergency center.
I understand how anyone who has been physically punished would have to make sense of being hit in some way. You would need to believe that there must be some value in it… I mean why else would the person you love and trust the most hit you and make you suffer more…You must have deserved it. Right!?!
It is a step in healing when you take the time toreflect on your upbringing. The heartbreaking part for me is that the majority of people have been trained to dismiss their suffering and believe “they are fine” and that we are getting what we “need” to learn lessons and respect, then stop there as their conclusion. They don’t even know that they have other options to reconcile the conflicting messages. Stuck to rationalize it and pass on the suffering to the next generation.
Every Halloween, my son wants to make his own costume. The therapist and educator in me absolutely loves his initiative, determination, creativity, high standards and resourcefulness yet the perfectionist mom in me gets triggered and dreads this. All I see are the barriers, the frustrations, hard work, messes, costs, and disappointment. It happened again this year where my son feels my dread and it brings him down. I know it is not fair so as I practice what I preach. This morning, I acknowledged how he was right about feeling my resistance and I chose to ask, “How are we going to open this day with joy and curiosity?” I then reframed our day by stating, “I am very curious how we will get this all done and I look forward to the joy my son will feel when his costume is finished.”
I was glad the words of the book Trauma-Proofing Your Kids (https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/trauma_proofing_your_kids) flowed into my mind after my daughter and I witnessed our beloved cat get hit by a car last Monday, then run away. I was able to put my feelings on the side and just be present for my daughter who was naturally extremely emotive and shocked. She likened the experience of seeing your child get hit.
Even though my wise mind knows to stay with her pain and let her process, I had noticed waves of moments of me wanting to distract her. She responded best when she told me that nothing could stop this pain so to stop trying. She continued to go on about all the sensations and feelings she was having. That’s when I remembered the book. I agreed with her then just hugged and comforted her how she needed me to. By the end of that night, she was feeling bad for the individual who hit our cat and wondered how they were coping. I was blown away by how well my daughter was handling her cat being lost and not knowing what condition she was in.
To actively process our grief, we posted signs, went to all the neighbors’ houses, we went on searches at all times of the day, left a trail of food as well as played board games, read stories, had friends over, ate our favorite foods, and did visualizations of our ideal outcome while accepting the reality of the worst-case. Our small island community was extremely responsive and kind. We got encouraging messages and tips. Fortunately, this story has a happy ending and our cat is home safe and sound after 5 long, emotionally draining days. On the day she was found by a neighbor, my daughter mentioned feeling surprised that she had no negative feelings or worries that day. That she just had this feeling all over that our cat would be home today. We learned a lot about grief and the value of family, friends, and community. Here is a picture of Luna Belle, Queen of the Moon Tribe (as my daughter likes to say is her full name) resting comfortably.
Our mother’s well-being and safety whilst we are developing in utero along with our early life experiences strongly influence our brain development. Stressful events that occurred to our parents will naturally affect us as children. Sadly, our culture is full of violence and negativity yet also doesn’t support processing negative events or emotions. The presence of at least one safe, nurturing, and responsive adult to be there for us to process emotions and negative events, especially during stressful times, is vital for well-being and positive development.
Without a safe supportive person, and instead of processing, our automatic defense mechanisms get triggered. We tend to ignore or dismiss are stress signals and negative emotions, then use distraction or substances to cope. The really hard part is to process the negative events, you have to at least acknowledge them and open yourself up to the negative emotions. Also, very few people know NOT how to react negatively and to truly hold space for someone who is processing negative emotions.
What doesn’t get processed then gets stuck in the body and unconscious levels of the brain. I highly recommend learning about how Adverse Childhood Experiences lead to health issues. The more stress or toxins (emotional, chemical, environmental, or physical) you add, the more you tax your body and the mind/body/spirit become dysregulated. The more you stay in a dysregulated state, the more harmful, pervasive, and lasting the effects. Thus, unprocessed stress kills more than anything. Our minds and bodies will unconsciously express the stress. With no safe places or skills to process the stress, it will manifest in many problematic ways like physical ailments, disease, negative behaviors, habits, and conflict consequently destroying our well-being and relationships.
Here is an excerpt from From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development. National Research Council (US) and Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Integrating the Science of Early Childhood Development; Shonkoff JP, Phillips DA, editors.Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2000.
“This account of early brain development emphasizes the ways in which the nervous system is designed to recruit and incorporate experience into its developing architecture and neurochemistry. Normal experience (e.g., good nutrition, patterned visual information) supports normal brain development, and abnormal experience (e.g., prenatal alcohol exposure, occluded vision) can cause abnormal neural and behavioral development (Black et al., 1998). Plasticity is a double-edged sword that leads to both adaptation and vulnerability. “…
“In this report, stress refers to the set of changes in the body and the brain that are set into motion when there are overwhelming threats to physical or psychological well-being (Selye, 1973, 1975). Stress can have dramatic effects on health and development (Johnson et al., 1992). This happens because the physiology of stress produces a shift in the body’s priorities. When threats begin to overwhelm one’s immediate resources to manage them, a cascade of neurochemical changes that begin in the brain temporarily puts on hold the processes in the body that can be thought of as future-oriented: finding, digesting, and storing food; fighting off colds and viruses; learning things that don’t matter right now but may be important sometime in the future; reproducing and rearing offspring. Many of these neurochemical changes take place in the very same brain structures (e.g., hypothalamus and brainstem) that function to regulate heart rate, respiration, food intake and digestion, reproduction, growth, and the building up versus breaking down of energy stores (Stratakis and Chrousos, 1995).” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK225562/