The Emotional Rollercoaster of Parenting
Let’s face it moms, that rollercoaster of emotional breakdowns your two year old has sometimes looks like an inviting pastime to consider trying. Admit it, haven’t you considered at least once before how nice it would be to just throw yourself down on the floor, kicking and screaming? I mean, for the sheer sake of releasing the tension that mysteriously builds up inside of us over time, it might feel kinda good!
(Hand raised over here)
My children are both grown up now, but I still remember vividly the 3 year period when my son suffered from the “terrible two’s”. (Heads up to any new moms out there, it’s not uncommon for it to last more than one year!)
Recently, I’ve been studying the way our emotions work (for my new book) and I’ve realized all the places where I did it right, and the places where I did it wrong. My job as emotional cruise director never ends, and I simply cannot avoid getting on that rollercoaster every once in a while in order to ensure that is safe.
Does anyone remember that song, “Who’s Gonna Drive You Home” by the Cars?
This song has a line in it that managed to sneak into my subconscious and help me maneuver the emotional minefield of parenting before I knew all about joy and attachment theory. In the song he sings,
“Who’s gonna plug your ears, when you scream?”
This line sunk deep in my soul when I was young and gave me a picture of what it looks like to be “there” for someone when they need it the most.
Even before I was a parent, I remember one time I was babysitting and the little girl I was caring for was upset. Nothing her brother nor I did could get her to calm down. Finally, I realized she just needed to cry. I laid down in bed with her and held her, and let her scream. I felt her anguish, even though I didn’t totally understand or know why she was feeling what she was feeling. I connected with her, and I was glad to be with her. I didn’t expect her to stop feeling. I, myself didn’t get lost in her heightened emotion, I simply stayed with her. As she grasped that I wasn’t going to abandon her in her distress, she began to calm down and allow herself to be comforted and consoled.
When I became a mother, years later, part of me instinctually knew that what my baby, and then child, and now adult children need most is joy. It’s what we all need. I continued to “plug their ears” when they needed to scream. In addition, when I needed to scream, I found someone to do the same for me.
I’ve come to realize though, that many people simply don’t know what to do with their emotions, so they shut them down. It’s not their fault really; the brain is a protective organism and prefers to avoid things when it doesn’t know what to do with them. The problem with this though, is that avoiding emotions just makes them more difficult! Avoiding them means, we’re teaching our kids to avoid them too. Which means, that someday our kids will struggle with “mysterious tension that builds up over time” that makes them feel alone and miserable too.
Joy, on the other hand- never shuts down emotions.
Joy, to the brain, is that feeling that happens when someone is glad to be with us. Joy is what happens when someone plugs our ears and lets us scream. It’s what happens when we are allowed to feel. Let me break it down simply for all you tired mom’s out there:
We don’t need to be told not to feel. (and neither do our kids)
We don’t need to be left alone to figure it all out on our own. (and neither do our kids)
We don’t need to pretend we don’t have feelings. (and neither do our kids)
We don’t need to get stuck in our feelings totally alone and isolated. (and neither do our kids)
We need someone to be glad to be with us when we have feelings. (and so do our kids)
Sometimes we all need the freedom to feel. If it’s been awhile for you, you might think that when you do explore what your feelings look like that maybe you’ll resemble a two year old on the floor at the grocery checkout lane. Perhaps that scares you, or makes you feel shame?
However, my guess is that it won’t be that bad. You might need a box of tissues and a day off to rest and recover from your day of “feelings exploration”, but in the long run it will be the best thing you ever did. (Well, the NEXT best thing you ever did after becoming a parent).
Because what your kids need more than anything is a parent who can meet them in the middle of their emotions too. When you do that, you’re helping their brain build a pathway, a bridge, back to that safe place where they know that they are loved and accepted.
You can’t give them what you don’t have.
Take your emotional health and emotional maturity seriously. Call a friend, and get real with yourself today. Pull out your prayer journal and let God be that friend who is glad to be with you.
No matter what- don’t wait a single day more avoiding the rollercoaster that you were actually designed to ride. Trust me, it’s safe- and it will make you smile and breathe a sigh of relief when you’re done.
(Are you interested in learning more about how your brain is designed to handle emotions in a healthy way? Check out my new book, now available in Kindle on Amazon. Paperback version due out next week!)