Parenting is one of the hardest jobs on the planet. Once the reality sets in that you are responsible for a human life, your whole world changes.  You gaze into the eyes of your newborn and promise her the world. You dream of the future and all the milestones ahead…first smile, first steps, first words.  You tell yourself that you’ll never let anything stand in the way of being the best parent in the world to your newborn child.

Then, the crying, the sleepless nights and endless soiled diapers begin.  Those moments evolve into meltdowns in the grocery story, boycotts of vegetables, and the physical destruction of some of your most prized possessions.  It is in these moments that your reactions get the best of you and those early promises you made are often broken, resulting in a flood of parental guilt.

The temper tantrums may ignite a fury within you. You struggle to gain control of the situation while your child continues to push you beyond your limits. You find yourself stuck on autopilot. Face flush, breathing rushed and shallow, muscles tense. The reality that you have no control sets in as you do everything in your power to bring order to your world.
These are the moments when you may feel like a complete failure as a parent.  It’s not uncommon for your reactions to be in total contradiction to your beliefs. You know raising your voice is not a productive tactic, yet you find yourself screaming orders at your child as anger pulses through your veins.  Why does this happen?  Why is that when we are faced with a situation that we cannot control, we resort to behaviors that do nothing to solve the problem in front of us?

When you are faced with a stressful situation with your child, you often resort to unconscious behaviors that originated in your own childhood. This emotional reaction is sub-cortical and often involves knee-jerk responses caused by a surge of hormones like cortisol, which then shift your brain neurochemistry.  As a result, your actions may not match your vision of yourself as a parent. It is only by examining the cross generational patterns handed down by your own parents, that you will be able to break free from unconscious parenting.

The first and most important step in this process of awakening is self compassion.  That’s not to say that you are “off the hook” for abusive behavior, but in order to change, you must first be willing to acknowledge the original wounds that set the pattern into place for you.  When you practice self compassion, you can look more honestly at your own behavior instead of getting caught in a cycle of blame, shame, and guilt.

 

Responding vs. Reacting