As someone who has walked deeply within the shadows of trauma and who has sourced immense healing in those scary spaces, I want to speak on the concept of safety. As parents, one of our deep functioning instincts is to keep our children safe. Creating safety for my child has always been a guiding principle in my parenting. Specifically, I’m talking about emotional safety. That kid climbs super high trees. His physical “safety” is a whole other article. Thanks to being human and my lineage of unresolved transgenerational trauma, I sometimes fail to create the emotional safety I yearn for. I lose my temper. I have said things I regret. I have personally created an environment that was the utter opposite of an emotional safe harbor for my own child. And yes, thankfully this is the exception and not the rule of my behavior. I am so lucky to have had both the support and an immense personal bravery to step in and weed up and process the unresolved. I do this process every single day through my mindfulness practice. Yet, I am far from perfect.
Something I have learned very recently is this. If I get emotionally messy in the shared space with my child, I get to clean it up. The first step for me is this. As soon as I notice I am out of alignment, I stop. I force myself to actually fully stop and pause. My child is very, very sensitive to space and young enough that if I walk away, it lands for him even harder as abandonment. I have learned to be with myself simply in the space of the pause and still physically close enough to him that he knows I’m not going anywhere. This has taken a lot of practice both on the dance floor and in the living, breathing Dance of everyday life. Next, as quickly as I possibly can, I release the ever present feelings of guilt and shame over my behavior, speech, energy etc. Because I am a deeply loving mother, the ability to hold myself to perfection standards is always right there. Sometimes this act of release from shame and guilt has taken me days, sometimes it’s only a moment. Finally, I get to help my child’s and my own neural system through his sense of safety, reset. I have started teaching him the how to notice the difference between an activated nervous system and a resting nervous system. A great place to start is to learn to sense adrenaline moving in the body. The up-regulation and the down regulation have the potential to be both conscious and unconscious processes. When we big people freak out, our activated nervous system directly affects that of our children. They go with us. It is our job to notice and help each other come back to center together.
We had a doozy of a morning recently. I am proud to say that it takes a fair amount these days to get me to lose my sh*t. But, we got there thanks to lost car keys and a tight schedule. My son magically made my only set of keys disappear. Like truly disappear. As we searched for the keys, we quickly became late for school and the urgent care. Adrenaline poured out of my circuits and I started to freak. I kept asking my child questions as I helplessly searched under the car, in the car, the yard etc… prodding his memory and this is what he said, “Mama, I remember opening the back hatch of the car (to load stuff in ~3 mintues prior) and then I just blacked out.” What dawned on me, even there in the moment was that my stress response was actually causing him to drop into a freeze stress state. That is the “black out.” I didn’t hit him, swear at him, call him names, all the things that do happen to kids and yet, he was still in a sympathetic freeze. My child is beautifully sensitive.
I bear the responsibility of my young child’s sense of safety. Yet, I don’t have to be the Dalai Lama to raise a kid well. I simply stopped myself in my tracks and stepped into a big pause for us. I created a quiet space for both of us to find a lower level of activation. It took less than 30 seconds to create this. I didn’t have to land him completely. All I did was help him turn around from activation. A healthy intact body actually has a tendency toward calm. I took full ownership of the energetics. I explained to him, I had lost it. It wasn’t anything that he had done. And again, it is so much easier to take full ownership when I let go of the old ways of beating myself up. Blame, shame and guilt only drive the nervous system further out into activation. If we want to land, and if we want our child to land back in their body, their sense of safety, we get to let go of perfection over and over again.
Pause, ownership and reset.
Phew! Big deep breath.
May my messy serve our highest good and our darkest shadows.