A word to my readers: This post contains some messy feelings and descriptions that my be connected to even deeper triggers in many of you precious souls. I am grateful for the protection I received from many of the extreme and damaging abuses so many of you have endured. I in no way intend to make light of the difficulty and intensity of your healing process. I share my story only to encourage us all on the path to wholeness, in big ways and small.
It’s not the actual parenting of parenting that is hard, most days.
It’s the growing up of the parent.
Specifically, the inner work of taking responsibility for my own baggage, exhaustion, and triggers.
It’s all shaken down to something like,
If you get treating humans right, you can’t really get parenting wrong.
Because our kids are humans. Humans deserve respect, truth, kindness, autonomy, honor and grace. So kids do too.
But the reality of each day presents me with a massive dose of SELF-AWARENESS
I may know how humans deserve to be treated, but there seem to be some major roadblocks in my ability to actually TREAT them accordingly…. especially where my children are concerned.
Inside the complicated gears and cranks of my human make up are several intensely charged triggers, apparently ready to blow more often and more easily than I’d ever guessed. So my task has become to unplug those triggers and find real healing and wholeness in myself in order to bring a whole human parent to my children.
Easier said than done. Right.
There’s no doubt for me that THIS is the real work of parenting. And it is HARD WORK.
Yesterday, though, I had a powerful moment of understanding, and I’m going to share it with you because I think there are some nuggets of truth inside it for us all.
So, if you know me, you know I am a card-carrying member of the Way, Way, Off the Charts PHYSICAL TOUCH Love Language Club. I reach with my words and my hands, pretty much all the time. I, therefore, fairly smother my children with kisses and hugs at least 1,657 times a day.
But right around my daughter’s 3rd birthday, I began to notice a very disturbing and unhappy response in myself. Whenever she would seek my physical affection– asking to be held or hugged, snuggling into me, kissing me or touching my face, I would recoil inside. Immediately and involuntarily, I would feel every physical sensation of wanting to get away.
Naturally, I felt increasingly guilty about that response. Who recoils from the affection of a child?
And why me, of all people, the notorious hugger-squeezer-kisser-mom?
But months later, the intensity of the awful response had only increased, and I was finding it more and more difficult not to actually physically push her away from me. The more she asked or initiated affection, the more I withdrew. I noticed I carried a vague but growing annoyance with her in general the longer this went on.
Each time, I would silently wonder what was going on. It seemed like such a charged kind of baggage to be dealing with. I even began to wonder if there was abuse I suffered and still wasn’t conscious of. What kind of unresolved feelings was I carrying to have such a powerful and cold reaction to a little person I loved so deeply?
Since week after week was passing with no further clarity or ability to GET RID of this feeling in me, I decided to just sit with it. Make space for it. Let it be, and continue to try my best to CHOOSE my behavior rather than allowing it to be dictated by that feeling. I suceeded sometimes, and pushed her away others, and all the while still could not understand why I was so heavily triggered by her affection toward me.
So it has been months of sitting with it. Allowing it to exist but trying not to allow it to hurt my family.
Last night, I decided to take it a step further, and try to fully allow the feeling to rise while I just stayed mindful of it. Consciously holding the discomfort and desire to flee, even as I held my little girl. I tried my best not to judge it, even though it still seemed like such an ugly thing to feel.
I kept my eyes closed and breathed, and asked “What is this? Have I felt it before?” And somewhere inside me, I was actually waiting for an answer.
Suddenly, simply, there it was.
In an instant, I was flooded with very visceral memories of being a child and being kissed and hugged by adults when I didn’t want to be.
Sometimes with my parents, sometimes with more distant relatives, I felt the EXACT FEELINGS I’d been feeling with Addie. The repulsion and desperate, physical urge to FLEE from someone else wanting my affection. For the moment to be over so I could get away. And, perhaps even more significantly, the guilt about not wanting whatever affection I was receiving. I remembered believing clearly that I should embrace this affection. I was supposed to want to hug these people.
That cocktail of guilt and repulsion, feeling trapped and conflicted with the tangible, physical sensation of someone’s lips or arms on my skin…. My body kept it.
Kept it perfectly intact, just buried. Buried deep in my cell memories…..until I became a mama, and sat with my precious girl climbing onto my lap and asking me to hug her.
And then the vault unlocked and the memorized toxic cocktail poured through every cell in my body. Unwanted, unwelcome, but totally unstoppable.
But I’ll tell you what…..the minute that realization dawned, it was like cool water pouring over the hot and anxious physical feeling of warring against my own body.
I breathed deeply, and felt some compassion for my little girl self.
I breathed deeply, and high-fived my internal parent-self for adopting the” No Forced Affection” policy early on with our own children. This is why it’s so important not to force our kids to give or receive a hug from anyone! And man is it ever important!
And then I breathed deeply, and hugged my now sleeping girl a little closer. I didn’t really want to flee anymore. I pictured that trigger…..unplugged. No more power.
Like knowing WHY had somehow snapped the wire. Like my body had to keep feeling that feeling like a nagging question until I gave it some acknowledgement, and feeling the reason was like answering the question.
And then this morning, my girl climbed up on my bed to snuggle in with me as the light peeked through the window, and I felt my anxiety rise….waiting for all that tension and war to ignite.
And it did.
And then, as if giving a little nod of gratitude in my direction, it melted away into quiet permission to let go and grow with one less nagging question hovering in my cells.