How managing our emotions makes us better parents

When you regularly dismiss your feelings, push them under or away, a surreal disconnection with yourself begins. At first it may be imperceptible and you vaguely wonder why you are feeling a bit low. In time though this begins to be your norm – an out of body experience pervades, where you simply go through the motions to get through your day. This can go hand-in-hand with feelings of sadness, guilt, loneliness, despair, anxiety – being numbed-out. This may be tolerable for you, but when you add to this your parenting role, the situation changes. You are expected, and in many instances want to be emotionally connected to your children. How can you? Regardless, you carry on because this is what you expect from yourself and because there seems to exist some rule book that expects this of you.

Have you ever gone through your days feeling disconnected, running on autopilot, and still giving until it seems impossible to carry on? Then you rant, have an outburst or whatever your favourite mode of decompression may be, and then you feel better, pick yourself back up and soldier on until the next time. Could there be a more creative, loving way to deal with your feelings so that you are better able to deal with your children’s feelings?

This used to be my story and relationship with my mysterious feelings until I gave myself permission to let myself into my world of feelings. The door to this world had remained locked and sealed for many years and in fact I didn’t even know a door existed, let alone a door that I had the power to unlock myself. I suppose I had always wished somebody else would magically make me feel better. It was a hard lesson to learn – life doesn’t work this way! Feeling good about myself and my life was an inside out job. Perhaps this was when I really started to grow-up.

Why am I telling you all of this and how is it connected to preparing emotionally for parenting? My wish for you as a parent is that you don’t experience years of living in an emotional desert, for you to know that you have the key to open the door to your feeling world too, and that when you do, you can enjoy the experience of relating deeply and meaningfully to yourself and your children.

Being emotionally depleted meant disengagement, dissatisfaction and disconnection – not an ideal space from which to parent effectively. I found that the more I denied my feelings the harder it was to connect from a place of unconditional love with my children. I had less patience, less tolerance, and had irrational outbursts. This fuelled the emotional roller coaster my children then had to ride with me. It was so hard to be mindfully present and engaged with their worlds, when mine was so full of turmoil.

I began to see a pattern emerging in my sons’ behaviour that appeared to be directly related to my ability to handle my own feelings effectively. When I was calm and happy, I was able to connect with them from this resourceful space and I had all the time in the world. It had a miraculous knock-on effect not only on how we connected but on the amount of fun, laughter, and joy that was accessible to us, because I was feeling content.

I also realised that if I wanted my children to have access to their wonderful world of feelings, I first have to access mine and find tools that I could use and model to them so that they didn’t keep their feelings under lock and key exactly the same way I had up until then.

Here’s five ideas to help you access an emotionally resourceful state:

  1. Thoughts and feelings go together – ask yourself from time to time, what am I feeling when I have that thought? How is my thinking fuelling my feelings?
  2. Empty out those pent up feelings – explore creative ways to do this. Some ideas to start with are exercising, spending time in the nature, adult colouring, talking to an understanding, caring soul, journaling, painting, scrapbooking etc. Experiment until you find a modality that works for you.
  3. Be sure to express and share your happiness – it is contagious!
  4. Build your feelings vocabulary. Many of us have grown up on a minimalistic diet so it is harder to accurately describe our inner world. The more accurate and precise we can be when describing our feelings, the easier it is to articulate and express ourselves meaningfully – this clears the way for moving on.
  5. If your low feelings persist, seek professional help.

My wish for you as you begin this journey is that you will make some of the following discoveries:

  • All your feelings are permissible, even the ones that make others uncomfortable
  • You can choose your feelings
  • Accessing, understanding and expressing your feelings will make you feel alive
  • You will get to know and appreciate a different dimension of yourself
  • Although they sometimes will take you to dark, unpleasant places, you will move through them and then, only then, you will genuinely and unconditionally connect with others
  • Your feelings add to your uniqueness
  • That they weren’t good or bad, right or wrong, negative or positive, but real

Our children need us to sooth, comfort and calm them; also rejoice with them as they venture out to discover their world. When we are able to do so, we regulate and normalise their feelings so they can learn, connect and engage. This creates the platform for secure emotional attachment, so vital to raising emotionally resilient children.

How we cope with this depends so much on how we manage our own emotional territory.

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