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Getting unstuck by working early
Have you ever found yourself in an endless loop with your child, where you keep repeating the same thoughts, feelings, reactions, responses--even if they don't seem to be working very well? Me too. I think it's a common reality of parenthood to be stuck like that sometimes. You try to think of a solution, you can't sleep because you're thinking about it all the time, but nothing seems to budge.

One idea for getting out of this trap is to stop trying to tackle the parenting problem directly, and instead think about what life was like when you were the age that your child is now. Often you'll find a pile of memories and feelings there that you had forgotten about or had not seen as relevant to the current events at home. Sometimes there is an "aha" experience, as we become aware that "now I see why it drives me nuts that he does that!"

Maybe you'll pause at that earlier moment in your life, and examine it in a fresh new way--motivated by the desire to improve your relationship with your child. Or maybe that moment will just be a resting spot, and you'll go back even earlier.

Because the earlier memories we are addressing aren't happening right now, we can often think them through, feel the feelings, and learn a lesson from them in a way we can't with the situation that is right in front of us today.

Here's an example, from a mom I was working with to help her with her anxieties about parenting. She was terribly worried about her twelve year old daughter, because she was starting to have crushes on boys and to dress up in miniskirts and skimpy shirts to go to school, and would spend countless hours in front of the mirror. The mom wasn't just worried, though, like many parents might be; she was in a panic. Panic and hysteria about parenting issues that are pretty normal are a good sign that it can help to work early. So I asked her what her life was like when she was 12. At first she just said "it was fine" and tried to go back to demanding advice and solutions from me about how to stop her daughter from growing up too fast. I encouraged her to slow down, and as scared as she was about her daughter, to take a minute to look early at herself at that age.

The mom started with some descriptions of sixth grade and of her room. In the middle of talking, she suddenly stopped and had a stricken look on her face. After a long pause, she told me that she remembered her father making a comment about her developing body, a comment that made her very uncomfortable. She said she couldn't remember exactly what he said, but she remembered the feeling, and she began to cry. Over the next few minutes she remembered and reported to me a rush of memories, some pleasant, some traumatic, about that age in her life. She remembered being teased by her older sister for spending too long in the bathroom getting ready for school; the first time she noticed a boy her age liked her, and how good that felt; and getting unwelcome attention from men on the street, and how confusing that was. I asked her if she saw any connection with her worries about her own daughter. She let out a big sigh and said, "I guess I've been getting mixed up between her and myself."

The next time we met, she was very pleased with two things that had happened. She said she and her daughter had a great talk about crushes and about romance. Instead of yelling at or insulting her daughter, she was able to calmly discuss her own values and her expectations, and listen to her daughter's feelings and hopes and worries. She had also remembered more positive memories from her own pre-adolescent years. That often happens, where a buried traumatic memory keeps locked up with it a pile of memories that would be nice to have. In some ways, it was more painful for this mom to deal with the painful memories from her past than to stay focused on her present-day anxieties. But in the long run, it was worth it to her, because she was both healing herself and relating better with her daughter.

Have you had any successes with "working early"? If so, send me an email and let me hear about it.

Larry Cohen
phone: 617-713-0568

email: larjack@playfulparenting.com

Larry Cohen
1680A Beacon Street | Brookline, MA 02445 | Tel/Fax: 617-713-0568

email: larjack@playfulparenting.com