When I’m IN it – in the thick of parenting, dealing with a meltdown, tantrum, or power struggle…. in the moment…. sometimes it’s hard to remember that these big, intense behaviors are usually and almost always, actually, a sign of disconnection – a symptom of needs not being met and a child’s inability to articulate and express those needs in a “grown up” way. Because, why would they? They are kids.
When children feel disconnected or anxious or uncertain about – life – those big feelings often manifest in tantrums, angry outbursts, verbal aggression like “disrespect” and “sneakiness” – sometimes even physical aggression.
When I’m Parenting that behavior it feels overwhelming. And hard not to get into a power struggle. We’ve all been there. Even if we don’t say it out loud we just kind of expect our children to do what they are told. “I am the grown up. Please do what I say. Because I say it.” After some intense outburst that feels completely unacceptable and even against all house rules.
I used to join their storm. The chaos. And now I practice a parenting tool I call Birdseye View.
This week at bedtime, I was exhausted. And it escalated into crying, a heart to heart, and big cuddle session of reconnection. I am working on getting to that part sooner – skipping the power struggle and disconnection – and moving towards reminders of asking for what we need so we don’t have to demand it with our disconnected and “pushing” behavior.
I had had an intense day preparing for an important meeting. I was focused on my work and not on my children. I had support in place for this reason – grandparents were here to be extra eyes, ears, helping hands. So in my head I kind of checked this support piece off MY personal to-do list. I could focus on MY stuff. (It doesn’t always work this way.) they felt my disconnection. They felt my focus away. And then I went to my meeting/s and was physically gone for awhile. Exacerbating their already strained feeling of connection.
Their emotional needs weren’t being met. Grandparents were doing an amazing job – but the seed of disconnection this particular time had to do with anxiety around my intense focus away. My time away. Mom’s distance. What that felt like to them. What that meant (if anything). But in their childish (because they are children) brain they were not necessarily aware of all this insecurity and anxiety. They just felt big energy, anxiety, intensity – and it came out.
Actively choosing everything and anything except getting IN bed and doing the thing I asked them to do (even though I was very clearly articulating my needs that night. I am exhausted. I am expecting you to brush your teeth, get into your beds, and rest.)
Poking each other figuratively – and literally – provoking one another
Nonstop body movement – unable to settle
These behaviors are so incredibly hard to deal with and manage when I am exhausted. And I was. But underneath the “bad behavior” were insecurities that needed to be addressed and comforted before they could feel okay going to bed. Cognitively I knew to prepare for this. I thought I had prepared by articulating my needs and cutting them off at the pass.
What I forgot to account for was this:
Just because I express my need, doesn’t mean others have to meet my need (and certainly not children).
When I have a need. And someone else has a need. They can be similar needs. Great. That makes boundary setting and boundary enforcing fairly easy. Everyone is on the same page.
Or different needs. My having a need doesn’t make their needs go away. And they have every right to try to get their needs met – even though they didn’t articulate them, they had them. And, in that moment, it was my grown up job to figure out what it was. Their needs existed beyond my capacity to hold them. They didn’t go away simply because I was too tired to hold those needs with care and fragility.
I’m the grown up.
And I have this Birdseye View. I have the knowledge and experience to see this (even if it’s not at the very beginning of the chaos or escalation). Somewhere along the power struggle I went up – into my higher self – and used my Birdseye View tool to assess the situation.
I could have chosen to press on. To further the disconnect and say something like “I’m the grown up and I’m tired and you need to do what I say.” (And sometimes, some circumstances their might be a time and a place for that.)
But, more often than not… it’s been my experience that these kinds of power struggles are rooted in a deeper seed need that stems from an insecurity and disconnect that yearns to be seen and held and made safe. And that, the sooner and faster I can get to the place of noticing it, witnessing it, addressing it, and easing the insecurity, anxiety, or fear – the sooner we get back into connection.
Connection is this beautiful magical space where there isn’t a need for “intense” behavior.
That intense behavior is really just a coping mechanism. A creative way for kids to get their needs met when they don’t know what their needs are; don’t have the words to express them; and they are subconsciously finding a genius way of getting their need met (even if it’s negative attention on the same spectrum of the positive attention they are needing. Anything is better than nothing.)
I was exhausted. I just wanted to go to bed. But then I felt a tap on my shoulder – “I need another extra cuddle” (I had already spent 10 minutes cuddling in her bed. After about a 20 minute solo cuddle earlier in the afternoon which I thought, at that time – “yes! Her cuddle bucket will be so full today.”)
That tap on my shoulder was enough for me to take a Birdseye View of the situation.
This intensity is just a symptom.
These big feelings are clues.
How could I have missed it? Oh well, I’m seeing it NOW (and that is the gift of awareness…and grace).
And so I addressed it. Out loud. Named it.
Are you feeling disconnected from me today?
Cue the tears and sobs. Then the tough love.
“You were so focused all day on something else.”
“You didn’t even play with us.”
“You were distracted and anxious and kept going away to do work.”
“And then you WENT away for your meeting/s and when you were away you weren’t here. And it was so many hours. And you just kept leaving.”
Hard to hear? Maybe. Especially when my guilt trigger is already feeling activated. But instead of ruminating in guilt or shame – which often creates another wall between people in the dynamic of connection
I chose to shift my mindset and the way I heard that feedback. They were such GIFTS. They were articulating their needs. The needs that had manifested into big intense actions and behaviors. Now they were putting words to them.
Big feelings are clues.
And they were doing amazing work. The incredible work of digging deeper to figure out what was at the root of all those big feelings.
I am so incredibly grateful that I have more tools in my toolbox. Tools that help me slow down – notice – become aware.
It is our awareness that is the first step towards healing. Waking up to those seeds buried deep down inside. Awareness is the beginning. It’s noticing. It’s putting words to things that before had no words.
Once we are aware and can speak the need – there is so much more space to have that need met.
* Birdseye View – looking at the situation from a level removed. Looking at the situation more holistically not just as the one trigger event, activation, or intensity. Looking at the situation from all players perspectives and points of view. With foresight and wisdom. What is this situation needing?
We ended our evening in a deep family snuggle. Hugging and holding each other closely. Filling each other’s physical affection tanks with hugs and kisses and snuggles.
And each other’s emotional tanks with validation, affirmation, and reminders. “That does feel hard. I can understand why you were feeling so disconnected from me today. That must have felt difficult/scary/anxious. I’m so glad you are able to ask for what you need right now. Thank you for your patience while we work to figure this stuff out – together. I promise I won’t ever leave you. No matter how hard things get, I will always be here and willing to figure things out. I love you always. No matter what. To infinity and beyond.”
This is the pathway to connection.
I chose to lean in.
And I am so so so glad I did.
They needed these reminders. Their little bodies began to melt and relax and huddle close and breathe more easily. They needed to hear these words and feel my presence.
Falling asleep, I knew, the next day would be a PlayDay. We had to do something together The PlayFULL Way to reinforce this sense of security and get back into the feeling of connection.