When I was in graduate school to become a therapist, I remember one of my professors using a metaphor to illustrate what a therapist does for her clients. She encouraged us to imagine that we held a large, uncovered bowl in our laps, and that our job was to hold that bowl while our clients put their fears, upsets, anger, etc in the bowl.
It seems deceptively simple, but trust me–some emotions are awfully hard to “hold.” Someone who is bitterly angry, or wracked with grief, or sick with guilt–is someone who can be hard to be with in the moment. But, that is one of the things that a therapist is there for. A therapist gives you permission to have whatever feelings you are having, and stays with you, peacefully, without her own agenda, and without changing the subject, making a joke, or running out of the room, no matter how big and scary those emotions may seem to be. She keeps holding the bowl for you.
Many years after grad school, I realized that parenting requires the exact same ability. Only parenting is waaaay harder, because those strong uncomfortable emotions are coming from one of the people I am most emotionally connected to in the world, and frequently–the strong uncomfortable emotions are about ME! (aghhh!) But our children need us to be able to handle their strong and/or uncomfortable emotions. They need us to be able to handle their fear, their disappointment, their sadness, their fury or their injustice–without telling them they “shouldn’t feel that way,” or minimizing, or making a joke, or punishing them. They need to know that you are bigger and stronger than their biggest feelings, because those feelings can be frightening or overwhelming to them.
The next time your child is having BIG emotions, take a deep breath and think about your response for a moment. What does your child need? Perhaps what you need to do is Hold the Bowl.
I often talk with clients about how, a generation or more ago, one of the most popular markers of “good parenting,” and therefore “good children,” was obedience. An obedient child=a good child=a good parent.
Nowadays, far fewer of the parents I know place primary emphasis on obedience. I think this is healthier, and I recently read something that further strengthened my resolve.
In the book “The Altruistic Personality,” authors Samuel and Pearl Oliner report on their research interviewing over 700 survivors of Nazi-occupied Europe. They interviewed both “rescuers,” (people who actively rescued victims of persecution,”) and “non-rescuers,” (those who were either passive in the fact of persecution or were actively involved in it.) One of the many results of the research found that there were profound differences in the survivors’ upbringing. Non-rescuers were 21 times more likely to have grown up in families where obedience was emphasized.
Sure, a little obedience would be awfully nice sometimes (clean your room, go to bed now, stay in bed now…) but when it comes to rearing ethical, caring, healthy members of our world, it’s not the way to do it.
Food for thought.
132 hours until school is back in session, but who’s counting, right? ;^)
I hope you’ve had a great summer, and with the start of the new school year right around the corner, I’d like to share a few tips and a link to even more.
1. Remember that the transition to full-time school is a big one for kids! Even if they’ve been in full-time care all summer, the school setting is still different and usually more tiring. Try to reduce outside obligations for a few weeks, and at least aim for a slightly earlier bedtime.
2. Take extra good care of yourself, too. If the kids are tired and cranky, you’ll be able to deal with them better if you aren’t already tired and cranky yourself. ;^)
3. Can you get your child some pre-first-day experience with the teacher and building/classroom? Especially for the incoming Kindergarteners, it’s really important for them to know where the bathroom is, where you will pick them up, etc. Playdates with future classmates are fantastic, too, if you can arrange them.
4. Throw in an extra cold pack into your kid’s lunchbox. Did y’all read this article yet?
5. Here is another really good, informative article about back-to-school.
6. Call me. If you feel like your child is having an extra hard time with either the transition, or fitting in in the classroom, perhaps I can help.
Look out Monday! :^)