Parenting, in our age of stress, can be complicated. As in, “she’s so intense” as a way of describing a young child’s exuberance.
We are not just measuring our students, testing them and grading them against benchmarks, to determine whether they “meet,” “don’t meet,” or “exceed” the standards. We have slipped insidiously into a kind of calibration of kids, where we see so many children as we wish them to be–or not to be.
“Stop! You’re acting crazy!”
“That’s enough. You are way over the top right now.”
“If you’re going to be like that, nobody’s going to listen to you because you are just…too much!”
This is not an exhaustion issue. Sure, we may feel inclined to suppress (noise, volume, intensity, frequency) a child’s expression when we are stressed and tired, because that signals our nervous system to change gears and put us in a different state of self-maintenance. But in “survival mode,” we can’t see another person’s passion, spontaneity and vibrancy with awe and delight. Instead, these traits and energy states become…threats to our system. Not that a child’s joy is in itself threatening, but that the energy and brain activity of a child who feels deeply and expresses those feelings can be difficult for a parent to observe, receive, absorb, accept and reciprocate or validate if that parent is defended against her own joy. Or presence. Or emotions.
We judge ourselves…and in doing so, we easily, quickly and reflexively judge our children.
“She’s so intense” may mean I can’t process her emotions without feeling mine…and that’s very uncomfortable for me since I grew up disconnected from feelings in my home.
“She’s too much” can be a sign that we were told to button it up for years as we developed a perception of ourselves as inherently unworthy of others’ approval and acceptance unless we edited and contained ourselves.
“He’s over the top” could be a signal to us that we are afraid of the effect of our own bigness, big excitement, or big fears.
“She’s overly sensitive” can be a clue to our own pain around our sensitivity that may have been poorly responded to. Sensitivity is a sign of humanity…yet we can create barbed wired fences around it and see it as a sign of weakness, manipulation and relational minefield where we’re afraid of where we step. Whenever we say things like “overly”…we know we are calibrating according to a personal barometer from our own childhood.
What if we questioned–compassionately, curiously, graciously–our habit of calibrating, and realized that, behind it, lives a story of lack? When we can see what was missing for us, we can connect the dots on why we perceive the same thing is missing in our child.
And instead of perceiving it as a deficit or surplus, we can take the story out of it, and discover the authenticity of the moment. Of our child.
Otherwise, we unwittingly, unintentionally teach our children a kind of forgery about how to “act” so that they can “fit” better with the world. Let’s think and ponder the notion of “fitting in” and see what comes up for us. If we stay with the exploration long enough in the moment, we may hear the voices and messages at a higher volume within us. If we can listen, really listen to our hearts, we can begin to feel the truth of what we all need: a deep sense of belonging.
We cultivate this in our kids by seeing them for who they are, not how they behave. We can peel away the layers of our own stories of “too much” and “too little” by understanding how we felt when we were measuring against some arbitrary, subjective barometer that reduced our essence to a “way of being” that didn’t feel like our real self but somehow got us the acceptance we longed for. Just not for the right reason. The right self. Our right to be our self.