There are some things in day-to-day parenting that will make you question whether you are on the right track, and whether other parents face the same challenges and make the same mistakes. Parenting can be an isolating experience in the sense that every parent goes through his or her unique set of circumstances or peculiar history.
One issue would be parenting triggers during challenging moments. I would like to clear that the word “trigger” is also used in connection with serious mental health issues, but for this article I am using the word in relation to parenting challenges. “Triggers” are things that prompt an automatic negative response. Whether it be due to a tantrum, an argument or a simple response, once triggered, a person can go from being completely calm to berserk in a matter of seconds, overreacting to an otherwise simple matter. Knowing that nobody else would have reacted in such a manner, given the same situation, can lead a parent to guiltily believe she is alone. However, though others may not react to the same situations, many others also have their own triggers.
At first glance, a child’s behavior may appear to be the cause for blame. Perhaps the child crossed the line and was disrespectful or violent, or did something truly unacceptable. However, if a review of the scenario shows that the parent’s reaction was excessive, out of control or out of proportion, and the scenario is an oft-repeated one, then perhaps it is time to look deeper into ourselves to see what is happening. This is because emotional parenting triggers are a result of unresolved childhood issues that have been buried and forgotten over time. But they remain inside, like a hot spot just waiting to be accessed. And once they are reached, not even the parent usually understands why he or she reacted that way.
The reaction is usually impulsive and uncharacteristic anger. Anger is the default expression of many negative emotions, such as fear, disappointment or sadness. It is much easier to release anger than to process emotions and experiences. Once negativity bubbles up to the surface, it is unfortunately directed at the hapless child, instead of whoever caused it in the past for the parent. In the book, “Parenting from the Inside Out: How A Deeper Self-Understanding Can Help You Raise Children Who Thrive,” Dr. Dan Siegel talks about some of the more common childhood events that usually serve as triggers for many parents today. For instance, parents who grew up feeling voiceless and who always obeyed orders for fear of punishment may be triggered by their child’s defiance of authority. Meanwhile, those who were not allowed to express their emotions may be set off by a tantrum.
Aside from unresolved negative emotions, there are also the fears that we carry within us. When certain behaviors tap into that fear, it is sometimes unleashed through anger. Perhaps seeing hurtful behavior between siblings brings out our fear that our children will not take care of one another when we are gone. Or perhaps there is fear that a rebellious child may be completely out of control as a teenager, or will not be there as a dutiful son for his parents in their old age.
Reflection of own frustration
Other things that can trigger a parent are things that reflect what we are most unhappy about in ourselves. Getting mad at your child for being untidy may be a reflection of your own frustration with your own cleanliness habits.
In short, moments when you are triggered are not about your child. They are about you, and thus, the responsibility to take control of your actions and words rests solely on you. Fortunately, as an adult, we have enough emotional tools at our disposal to help arrest these moments.
The first step is awareness, and paying attention to your feelings and the patterns that surround the spike in your emotions. Once you are able to identify your trigger, find a way to heal whatever hurts you may have. It could be through prayers for grace, or understanding from an elder with a more mature point of view. It could also be through dialogue with the persons involved or, if need be, by seeking professional help.
Whether you will be able to overcome these unresolved issues or not, it is important to put yourself in a position where you can recognize if a situation can potentially unlock such issues, and you can take precautions to arrest the situation before it gets out of control. Though this is easier said than done, it always helps to slow down, take a deep breath and step away from a situation, when you are unsure of how you will react.
You may not get it under control the first time around, but don’t give up. Cycles and triggers can be broken and healed. In the meantime, keep your communication lines open with your child and take steps to heal any hurts you may have caused during moments when you lost control. INQ