Written By Tina Hamilton, Parenting POV
She was quiet when she got in the car. It was only the second week of school, and I could tell something was off.
“How was your day, love?” I asked my daughter, knowing full well that this isn’t the question that is going to get me answers.
“Fine,” she responded, looking out the window.
“What did you have for lunch?” I asked, because this girl loves to eat. It’s always my gateway into her day.
“Rice, beans, chicken, melon, salad, and a cookie,” she responded, still without looking at me.
“Who did you play with at recess today?” I asked, trying again.
“Sweetheart, are you OK?” I asked – hoping she would let me in to whatever hurt she was carrying.
We locked eyes in the rear view mirror. Her eyes told me she wasn’t fine. Her eyes pleaded with me to stop asking questions, to just be there with her, to take her hand, and to love her as only her mama could.
Reaching my hand into the backseat, I said, “I love you, chickee.”
“I love you too, mama,” she said, taking my outreached hand in hers.
We sat in silence for much of the ride home, but as we exited the highway, she said, “Mama, I sat by myself at recess today.” She said it so quietly, I almost didn’t hear her, but my body heard her clearly. All of the air was sucked from my lungs. My heart immediately tightened, and a familiar lump formed in my throat. Hot tears threatened to stain my flushed cheeks.
I was transported back to my elementary school playground, my eyes frantically searching for a friend, someone to play with. But there was no one.
At least no one who wanted to play with me.
Disappointed, sad, and lonely, I slunk away to the corner of the playground, longingly watching the other kids laugh and play together.
Turns out, that pain never left me, and watching my daughter navigate a similar situation flooded my body with a deep ache that left me breathless.
It is parenting moments like this that open the door to usher in healing.
The unhealed part of me – the lonely little 8-year-old sitting alone at recess – wanted to email my daughter’s teacher to demand answers.
How could you let a little girl sit alone during recess?
What safeguards are in place to protect against bullying?
Were you even paying attention?
Do you know what it feels like to feel so alone as a young child?
But the wiser part of me recognized that this was an opportunity to dive deeper into healing. The flood of emotions signaled a wound that was ready to be examined, processed, and released.
Last month, I shared that as parents, we will parent from a place of learned behaviors and thoughts patterns. We will pass down the lessons that we learned without considering whether or not we believe those messages.
Moments like the one I just shared are opportunities for us to question whether we want to act on the initial, knee-jerk reaction – in this case, emailing the teacher a rather curt email demanding she do more to protect my daughter from being excluded – or, if we want to sit with the flood of emotions, allowing them to show us what needs healing.
My hope is that you’ll choose the latter.
So how do you get started?
The first step in any inner healing work is to bring awareness to the behaviors, thoughts, and habits that are surfacing. You’re unable to change anything that you are unaware of, and the more awareness you bring to every situation, the deeper healing you’ll find.
There are four main areas of awareness to consider:
Physical Awareness: What sensations are there in your body? Where do you carry the tension? What part of your body do you feel the emotion the most?
In the story I shared, I was short of breath, my eyes filled with tears, and there was a lump in my throat. I immediately felt like there was a belt around my heart, and my stomach turned. I then felt the hot flash of anger bubble up inside of me. My cheeks flushed, my fists clenched, and my throat was tight.
Mental Awareness: Consider the thoughts that you had before and during the situation. Is there a particular story that you are telling yourself? A belief or thought pattern that you are holding on to as truth?
My daughter’s recount of her lonely recess immediately triggered fears of not having friends, of being alone, of sadness, and then of anger and resentment. I felt angry for my daughter and for my younger self, sitting alone at recess. My mind was racing with things I wanted to say to the teacher, and worse, the other 8-year-old girls who were excluding my daughter.
And I also recognized that rushing in to save her from her pain would not serve her. It would not teach her how to fully feel and process her emotions, nor would my intervention help her navigate the tribulations of childhood.
Spatial Awareness: Consider what was happening in your surroundings – the level of noise, the mess, the chaos – before you were triggered. What about your surroundings could have been unsettling for you?
Prior to my daughter sharing, my instinct told me she was upset. She was not her usual bubbly self after school. She was quiet and wasn’t open to sharing about her day. In hindsight, I can see how her different demeanor triggered a place of worry within me, even before she shared about her day. I knew something was wrong, and I was bracing for it.
Emotional Awareness: Begin to build awareness of the 87 different emotions2 that humans experience, from the more well-known emotions like anger and frustration, to the more obscure emotions, like hubris (excessive pride) or schadenfreude (pleasure from another’s misfortune). The more familiar you are with the different emotions available to you, the better you’ll be able to identify and process them as they come up.
Because of the work I had done prior to this moment in the car, I was familiar with the range of emotions that were popping up for me. I was able to feel and identify them as they came, and rather than act on them, I was able to allow them to move through me freely. I didn’t rush to offer solutions or comfort. I sat quietly and processed my own emotions first.
When we got home that afternoon, I climbed into the backseat with my daughter. She barreled into my arms and let her tears flow. I held her in silence, allowing her the space to move through her own emotions.
After a few minutes, she sat up, dried her tears, and asked, “can I go play?”
As parents, it is so important to build your self-awareness so you can begin to understand yourself at a deeper level. When you recognize the signs that you are unsettled, you can shift your behavior toward an intentional response, rather than an explosive reaction.
I could have reacted emotionally when my daughter first divulged that she was alone at recess, but that would have made her pain about me. It would have taken the space she needed to process her own pain and made it mine, and this moment would become a core memory with messages and a wound that remain unprocessed in her body.
By doing your own inner work, you not only become better acquainted with the wounds and messages that you’re carrying from childhood, but you’ll also become more aware of the moments when your children need your silent support over your ungrounded solutions.