After several months providing family therapy in the adolescent unit of a psychiatric hospital I have come across some common denominators of problematic parenting that have taught me important lessons and changed my own parenting approach. Granted, children’s behaviors are not entirely in the hands of their parents; they have their own temperaments and, in the case of these patients, they may have what is labeled as a mental/physiological disorder; nevertheless, parents have great power in influencing their kids and their behaviors and this is key for creating more ease for both parents and children.
COMMON DENOMINATOR #1: DIFFICULTY TOLERATING OUR CHILDREN’S EMOTIONS
The first common denominator is that these well-intentioned parents tended to be very uncomfortable or reacted strongly to their children’s negative emotions. Whether the parent was “too strict” or “too permissive”, the tendency was to want to control their children’s emotional responses by trying to either repress them or quickly soothe them. Parents did not just have difficulty with the actual negative action but also with the emotions behind it.
As parents, many of us have seen how hard it can be to say “no” to our kids and how our kids can have a strong response to our setting limits. In my experience, this can be the most draining of all the parental experiences aside from the lack of sleep! Yet, no matter how challenging, we can be a supportive source of consistency and serenity in the face of strong emotions. This means that when they start to cry or yell or stomp, which may not be only a form of protest but an expression of release, whatever it is that we may need to do about their behavior, we need to approach their emotional responses with neutrality and offer them a non-reactive environment, free from anger or bargains. We can be an example of reliability and stability by sticking to our parental agenda while being utterly respectful.That means that, however they react, we remain firm in what is needed (e.g “no more candy”) but we do it with compassion (e.g “I know you really want to but I still need you to stop”) and we do not put down or “fix” how they feel (“Stop crying over such nonsense!” or “Okay, just one more!”).
What I have observed is that we need to support our child in learning how to interact with their own emotions because they will likely use them against themselves. This will get in the way of their loving themselves; and loving themselves is the only real motivator to create a safe and healthy life for themselves. Loving themselves is also the only way to truly allow others to love them, too. And we influence them by doing this ourselves first. So where do we start?
What is key is to let ourselves be moved beyond our own discomfort with their crying, their insistence or discontent and know that they are okay and help them know that by our staying neutral. Now, how do we “get neutral”? This is what I have learned in over a decade of doing daily Meditation Of The Light Of The Most High: The only way to be neutral is to turn inside ourselves, to the Spirit within, rising above thoughts and feelings through a Sound Current Meditation. There is no way that we will ever be neutral if we identify ourselves with our emotions and thoughts. It simply is not possible because they are inherently dualistic (positive or negative). Identifying with the Spirit we are and rising above our thoughts and feelings, which we can do with the Meditation technique above, brings about neutrality and we become centered and have clarity; and this takes practice. We must exercise the Spiritual Muscle in the Spiritual Gym, as my Meditation Teacher, Dr. Roger B. Lane, likes to call It. We can’t read how to do this, we have to practice it: Find a Meditation Center here!
COMMON DENOMINATOR #2: THINKING WE ARE SMARTER THAN OUR KID
The second common denominator is that these parents and, well, almost all parents, to be fair, think of their children as mere children. But if we use the Spiritual Perspective, we would have an accurate sense of with whom we are really dealing: These are Souls and, as such, they are not really only 15 years old. They are a lot “older” than that. Yes, their brains are 2, 12, 15, etc. but the wisdom that is “packed” within them is ancient. Seeing children for their brains leads us to a lot of problems; one of them, the most common, being that we think we know better than they or that they do not understand situations. We think we are more “advanced” because, in brain development, indeed, we are. But do not be fooled by thinking that they won’t know when our argument is inconsistent, flawed or unfair! They will hold us accountable and -here is the crucial part- we will be tempted to dismiss them because of their own inconsistent, flawed and unfair behaviors and ‘round and ‘round we’ll go until we realize that all we have to do is to respect our kid while asking for respect.
I am always amazed at a very common interaction that takes place between parent and child at the hospital. Most children start therapy by saying they want to go home. They don’t want to be in the psychiatric hospital and, invariably, parents will always ask “Why don’t you want to be here?!” I let this dialogue go on for a few minutes but I intervene eventually because it is completely futile. I always wonder why these parents seem to temporarily suspend all logic. I mean, if the child is saying they don’t want to be there, we have to believe them. It is a psychiatric hospital; indeed, most people do not want to be there. Immediately, parents lose credibility when what is crucial in that moment is for kids to trust their parents and their intelligence to help them navigate through whatever brought them to the hospital in the first place. The solution is to be open to listening to what they are saying even if it does not make sense to us and consider that there is relevant information there. This is the case even if they are lying. We always want to empathize so our responses are authentically connected to the message they are trying to convey. This does not mean we get them out of the hospital! Or make lying okay. It means we let them help us understand them by accepting all the information they want to give us. We are not able to assist our children if we do not understand them. Listen by recognizing there is a Wise Being in that child who knows a lot more than we may think. This Being does need our guidance because it is in the body of a child but It also needs our respect and acknowledgement of Its immense power as the Spirit lives within them as well as in us. Read “The Spiritual Reality Of Mankind” to assist you with this shift.
COMMON DENOMINATOR #3: WE DON’T KNOW OUR KIDS LOVE US TO DEATH
There is nothing more evident to me than how much adolescents love their families. Yes, even the most psychotic of them all. It is by far the most powerful phenomena that I have witnessed throughout these several months. The first time I ever did therapy was with a family of four. The kid had been extremely hostile towards his family for years. The parents had been angry at their child for years but under their anger I could see their hurt. Right before our session, in a brief individual interview with the patient, he talked to me about typical teenage issues and it was all kind of cliche; actually, probably trying to fake the whole thing. But then we entered the room and his family was there and he was totally different. There was nothing “cliche” about the whole thing. It was just pure authenticity in that he even forgot that I was there. I noticed then that this adolescent was so attached to his family that he was willing to die to get their attention -and I am not being metaphorical. This is when it hit me: Family is the greatest motivation for a child to act positively or negatively. It is his or her entire world and possession. I have seen this over and over in every session. We really miss a huge opportunity to help them if we believe their attempts to push us away or, if we get hurt, use that hurt to build a wall between us and them. It is best not to do this. We can choose to be present with this love they won’t show us, the love that is buried under whatever else they are trying to prove to us. What helps is for us to stay in our own love for our child and to use that as a guide. If we choose hurt we retreat and our children need to get louder and louder with negative behavior as an attempt to access us. Instead, when the hurt comes up, we let it go and allow neutrality (use Meditation and the Two-Part Release Process below).
I am no longer a believer in perfection in parents. If we are looking for perfection in our parenting we are working too hard and are probably doing some of the emotional work for our kids. The solution is simple but it takes practice.
Let’s review: 1) Neutrality; 2) Live Spiritually (see ourselves and child as Soul); 3) Know that we are loved. These are seeming three things that are all contained in Being Present. When we are present we are 1) neutral; 2) we are with the Spirit within and 3) We know we are loved because we are aligned with the Source within, Which is God, the Spirit, Whatever you want to call It.
Two-Part Release Process:
Call in The Light Of The Most High by saying “Lord, God, send me Your Light! Lord, God, please take ____________ from me, for the Highest Good! Thank You”
Tell yourself (your name), it’s okay to let it go!”
Call in The Light Of The Most High by saying “Lord, God, send me Your Light! Lord, God, please take the hurt from me, for the Highest Good!Thank You”
Tell yourself (your name), it’s okay to let it go!”
Here are some helpful Tools for Living Free – a bimonthly Publication based on the Teaching Of The Path Of Soul Transcendence- to assist you in learning about Being Present:
See more Tools for Living Free!
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