“The question though is how did you manage your anxiety?”
At the time I responded with: “taking parenting one day at a time, while believing in my ability to get back on track no matter how off track we got…” This remains true, I am most definitely a glass half full kind of a parent. Growing up as the youngest of nine, with an age range of 17 years, I saw developmental struggle unfold x 9, and despite that struggle, I -for the most part- saw success x 9 as well. Nothing was perfect for us growing up (from both fore and hind sight perspective), and yet all of us can now be considered successful contributors to society, with even greater success in the 21 progeny we have collectively sent out -or are about to send out- into the world. Experience tells me that child growth and development is both fragile and resilient in nature. We need to be fearful enough about environmental factors to provide protective features in our parenting, but we also must have a balanced view of the world and know a certain amount of stress is how we become; how we grow and learn. For the most part, our children can and do survive… and to answer how I manage my anxiety and survive all these phases of life, well, I laugh a little, I cry a little, and I reframe A LOT.
But there is still more to my reframing than that...with my inherent optimism has come the search for a silver lining -a sometimes faulty search- but none the less, finding the upside has been a big part of my journey. When the shit hits the fan, I dig deep and reframe the situation. Sometimes I reframe with optimism, sometimes with professional past experience or developmental studies and research truths, or last but not least, my good friend humor supports me. In fact, Dr. Tronick, one of my favorite reframes is courtesy of your research… when I make parenting faux-pas, I often remember that it takes both rupture and repair to build healthy relationships...and still, when all else fails, I pull out the old: “I only have to be an awesome parent 30% of the time.” (My apologies in advance, I know I may be using a bit of poetic parenting license and butchering your research, but hey, it works for me). In childrearing, in marriage, and in all personal challenge, the success comes out of struggle…or so my reframing tends to remind me.
So, without further ado, I will share my top ways in which to reframe.
Wrapping my head around it. I’ve discovered the difference between “hearing something I don’t want to hear” or “feeling something I don’t want to feel”, and “dealing with that something as part of my work or parenting” is two days. My colleagues always knew it would be fine when I’d say (sometimes pissed): “let me wrap my head around it”...this phrase became the re-frame for “this is challenging, but we’ll struggle through together.” Two days truly allowed me (and still does) the time and space to be thoughtful as opposed to being reactive.
Voice, No, Go. This is an important one for those of us that take on the fixer or caregiver role. The basic concept is as follows: members of an organization, whether a business, a family, or any other form of human grouping, essentially have two possible responses when they perceive a decrease in quality or benefit to themselves: they can exit (withdraw from the relationship), or they can voice (attempt to repair or improve the relationship through communication of the complaint, grievance, or proposal for change). If their voice is not listened to, they leave. Not easy for a parent, right? Especially not easy in the middle of a power struggle, right?
When I need to be more mindful with my children, I remember that listening brings you closer even when listening means ‘hearing things’ you don’t want to hear. Children, parents, and teachers should be heard. At the same time being able to ‘voice’ doesn’t mean you always have to give someone their way. That is my reframe…listening and hearing someone doesn’t mean I have to take action. Deep breath.
Mantras. Friends laugh at this. I laugh at this. And yet my home and mind are filled with mantras! These mantras aren’t just for me, but also for my colleagues and children. There are times I just don’t have the state of mind to say the things I want my children to hear, so yes, I have words all over the house to help me along the way. Visuals of how it could and should be. From pillows to wall plaques reading... ‘you are my sunshine’, ‘don’t worry about a thing, cause every little thing is going to be all right’, ‘be the change’... to daily rituals, like at school drop off when we say “make it a great day or not… the choice is yours” or “what’s so great about today? It’s a great day to be alive’...these start our days with happy expectations which certainly can never hurt. And when I don’t have the answer; am not sure I did the right thing I depend on Maya Angelou for reminding what is most important, 'I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’
Complex Ape Theory. Granted, this reframe has an inherent silliness, but conversely it has a reality check aspect to it. (disclaimer: creationists may not agree). In a nutshell, complex ape theory, as my son explains it to me, is “the fact that we can’t run away from our natural brain, no matter how complex our world becomes, our brains are still reaching from our ape past to make it work.” With that in mind, let me suggest we remember a few of the following ideas… (then feel free to reframe with complex ape theory to your hearts’ content, as reframing the little stuff in life really does bring you back “down to earth”).
*Complex apes were not designed to sit still and listen without moving their body. (We all know complex apes use tools.)
*Complex apes were not designed to be indoors all day without swinging from trees.
*Complex apes love grooming each other, so cheer up next time you have to nit pick.
*Complex ape brains were not designed to get 99% right on every assignment. Nor were they designed to sit and learn in front of a flat screen or piece of paper all day long.
*Complex apes were not designed to have homework, especially after 7 hours. (of what, specifically... school? learning? working? all of it?)
*Complex apes were not originally designed to be watched every second of the day, I would wager a guess that they were allowed to forage by themselves.
On a more serious note, using this reframe and thinking about our kids and expectations, it is important to remember that most brains don’t learn from rote memorization. Allowing our children to find their own unique systems for learning is one of the greatest gifts we can give. I am a conformist in many, many ways, but my boys are ultimately right; complex ape theory aside, knowing and understanding how human brains are programmed to work is a big step towards better meeting our children’s needs inside and outside a classroom setting. Our world has had geniuses for centuries and has only had compensatory education since some time in the 1800’s. So, give yourself and your children a break when things aren’t going quite as well as ‘expected’… it might just be that ‘expectations’ are fictional creations our brains have created.
Taking stock. Gratitude, such a no brainer but do we really stop our busy lives often enough to take stock? After a recent move I had (and still have) the tedious job of unpacking boxes of pictures. I was struck by how very far my kids have come in the world. I know there were people who said it couldn’t be done, blending a family with all the complications our lives had 17 years ago, and yet today our blend is as strong as, if not stronger than any family who started out together. I admit, there have been moments when the house was on fire… but we’ve made it this far putting out fires and that alone gives me the ability to keep going. When things are good I have often said I want to bottle the moments. I am a sappy sentimental person, but I celebrate how amazing life can be after a time of struggle. Businesses have monthly inventory procedures once per month, maybe families should too.
Whose issue is it? A good friend and former client told me the most important question I ever asked her was “Whose issue is it?” So often we parents run around with worries in our heads. Sometimes these worries are valid, and sometimes they are misplaced. Being clear regarding whose issue it is when we are worried, is an important way to make sure we aren’t muddling up feelings. Is our child embarrassed? Are we embarrassed? Are we embarrassed for our child? Are my feelings about the here and now, or something from the past? Answering this question often brings relief and helps you to pinpoint what you are really worrying about, instead of creating an issue for your child which really only exists for you.
Reframe, Rinse, Repeat… Reframe, Rinse, Repeat… the inner voice of reframing and reflection needs to be your own, authentic for you and your parenting. Sometimes my reframing will ring true to followers, and sometimes it won’t. My parenting anxiety is my own, as is yours… there has been a lot of it so far, and I expect there will be much more ahead. So laugh a little, cry a little, and reframe A LOT…cause what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. (Did I really end with that?)