Finding a balance in parenting is hard. Knowing just the right amount of effort vs the right amount of letting go is almost impossible. It’s a constant back of forth between the rational and the emotional, but I find that the true sweet spot–as in all things–happens just beyond the two, when intuition kicks in.
There are plenty of days, today being one of them, that I find myself kind of overdoing it. Okay, not kind of. Like completely, utterly, neurotically overdoing it. You see your kid do one thing wrong, and it’s like an entire lifetime of maladaptive behavior and social ostracism flashes before your eyes.
These are the moments when I–or more often, someone in the vicinity who happens to be a little more connected to reality at that moment–remind myself to take a step back and let go of control.
When Your Mind Becomes Your Enemy
If you have these kind of thought-streams, as a parent or in general, you get what I mean. You can go from a perfect, tranquil day at the park to juvenile hall (in your head) when the latter has absolutely no bearing on the situation at all. Obviously, it’s not fun to experience this as a parent, but when it happens often enough, it’s extremely unfair to your kid.
I’ve unfortunately learned this the hard way as a person who has experienced anxiety on and off throughout her life. One negative thought can lead to another, and quickly a chain of these kinds of thoughts can become a full blown panic attack. This is why it’s so essential, especially when you have a quick, mercurial mind, to guard the gates and feed yourself positive mental food. Practices like meditation, yoga nidra, affirmations, and self-care, self-care, self-care are ESSENTIAL. In my life and on my journey to freedom from the tyranny of my own mind, they are NON-OPTIONAL.
When it comes to my kid, I’ve learned that he sees himself how I see him. And I mean this completely literally. If I’m jumping from watching him shove another rowdy boy at the park to visions of him being the school bully, he internalizes that perception, too. It’s not as if he’s reading my mind–yet in a sense, he is.
The Science Behind The Scenes
The reason for this lies in the science of mirror neurons, which are essentially the neurological key to social behavior. Mirror neurons fire when we observe another human being performing an action, and they fire the exact same way when we perform that action ourselves.
They are the literal version of monkey see, monkey do, and they are also the explanation for the phenomenon of “catching” a yawn. Watch one person yawn, and your mirror neurons will almost invariably cause you to yawn as well. Interestingly, defects in mirror neurons are found in those who have autism, which accounts for what is sometimes seen as atypical social behavior in those on the spectrum.
As a parent, mirror neurons provide evidence to support the idea that my perception becomes my kid’s reality. The thoughts and feelings that I have about him translate, both through his emotional receptivity as an extremely sensitive kid and via the mirror neuron connection.
When I step in and give him that look that says, “You’re being bad,” no matter how sensitive my words are, he internalizes that awful thought. For a kid, there is no difference between the “You’re being bad” look and one that says “You are a bad person”.
Unfortunately, the anxiety and negativity that has plagued members of my family back several generations has been passed to him, as well. To some extent, it lives in our cellular memory the way that all trauma does.
So there’s the nature part of it. Now comes the nurture.
Taking Responsibility, Disowning Anxiety
When I realized how much the anxiety I was experiencing was affecting my son, I went on a long, arduous, and bumpy journey to figure out how to stop being such a nervous wreck all the time.
With the love, support, and no-bullshit approach of a few amazing teachers, I can say with confidence that I have all the tools I need to change my way of being from anxiety to positivity, and more than that, to presence.
Now, do I succeed at doing that all the time? Heeeeell no.
But I’m working on it. Every. Single. Day.
Changing your DNA is serious business. But it is possible. I have seen firsthand that when I am in a balanced, non-anxious state, my son feels secure, stable, loved, and heard. What this means for me is that anxiety is no longer an option. My son’s well-being is way too important to spend another day in fear.