Knowing When Not To Share
It is not our children’s job to take care of us as parents. I think most of us parents would agree and even say that this is obvious. However, I wonder how often we create this dynamic without even realizing it. This was a topic on a recent clinical supervision call with Dr. Brad Reedy. A supervision call is a consultation group in which the Evoke team of therapists join to discuss specific therapeutic topics. He talked about how he almost always discourages parents from sharing “I Feel” statements with their children. I was surprised to hear this. As someone who is a deep feeler and also wants to role model emotional awareness for my children, I share my emotions fairly frequently. I also often encourage the parents of my clients to share their feelings.
During the supervision call, I flashed to a recent experience I had with my 2-year-old son. We currently have some water damage in our house from a winter storm and now have a dehumidifier in our house with a hose running to the sink. My two year old loves to pull on this hose as I try to make him lunch. One lunch I found myself feeling particularly frustrated because each time I talked to him about why we needed to not pull the hose, he would just pull it harder. I finally said, “mommy is feeling pretty frustrated.” In the moment I thought it was healthy to share what was coming up and state my feeling instead of acting it out by getting overly angry. On the call with Dr. Reedy, I realized that I was also unintentionally trying to manipulate his behavior through sharing my feelings. Essentially I was saying, “Please stop what you are doing so mommy won’t be frustrated anymore.” That is not his job. Yes, he does need to learn to listen, respect authority and not break things but the frustration is mine to deal with. I did not have to choose frustration in that moment. I could have found ways to be more patient or understanding. The frustration came up because I had an agenda and was on a timeline trying to juggle two kids getting fed and down for naps by a certain time.
I am human, and as a parent I am going to become angry and frustrated many more times. However, I am becoming better at recognizing the importance of owning my emotions and knowing when not to share them with my children. Dr. Reedy went on to say that typically our emotions are too much for our children to manage. They tend to feel like they either need to take care of us or they become overwhelmed and push us away.
Many of us have highly sensitive children that feel the emotions in the room whether they are spoken or not. I believe that having unspoken emotions under the surface can have a very similar impact on children. As I have reflected on this whole concept more deeply, I think we energetically ask our children to take care of us much more than we realize. There are many common phrases in our society that reflect this. Two that particularly stand out are “I’m so proud of you” and “you are only as happy as your least happy child.” It is not the job of our children to make us proud or happy. In fact, that is an extreme amount of pressure. Truly what we really want is for our children to find pride in their own accomplishments and happiness in their own being.
Moving forward as a therapist, I will coach the parents I work with differently than I have in the past. I now see that the invitation to us as parents is to role model emotional awareness and intelligence not by oversharing feelings but by doing our own work, owning our own emotions, and creating our own sense of happiness and purpose. Essentially feeling secure in our own being. That way our children can have the space and freedom to try and do the same.