18 May Why parenting is so (so) hard
For me, no other area of my life quite compares to the exquisite pain of parenting. Yes, there are amazing moments, laughter and joy but raising kids is just so hard. It’s hard for a lot of different reasons, but the one I want to talk about is how parenting our own kids involves all sorts of uncomfortable (subconscious) reminders about our own childhood.
We all experience painful stuff during childhood. Feeling misunderstood, parents yelling at you, being ignored by other kids, divorce, feeling neglected, being shamed, difficult sibling relationships, your father’s constant disapproval, feeling scared or alone, neglect or abuse… I could go on, but you get the gist. This painful stuff exists on a spectrum. For some, the painful stuff was relentless or severe. For others it was infrequent or less extreme. Either way, we’ve all got stuff and this stuff is what makes parenting so hard. We’re trying to raise kids in our own way, but we’re thrown off course when we’re reminded of painful things from our own childhood.
We rarely think ‘this reminds me of my childhood’, instead the reminders are subtle and subconscious. It’s these subtle, subconscious reminders that make us overreact or underreact. When our reaction is extreme, we know it’s not just about what’s happening in front of us. The extreme reaction is made up of a bunch of old feelings. We might feel swamped with worry or shame, feel flooded by overwhelm or anger, or even feel really spaced-out and confused. The extreme reaction happens because we’re reminded of our old stuff. We disconnect from the adult we are today, and we’re thrown-back into our past.
Instead of calmly handling an argument between your children, you overreact because you’re subconsciously reminded of the way you and your sister used to fight.
Instead of holding-it-lightly when your kid is ignored at the playground, you have a massive emotional reaction because you’re subtly reminded of being ignored as a child. Instead of seeing your kid’s ‘bad day’ for what it is (just a tricky day), you experience overwhelming worry because their ‘bad day’ subconsciously reminds you of your childhood ‘bad day’ (which felt really bad). There are endless scenarios of parents reacting from their own past, rather than acting in response to their children’s present day.
I’ve realised people are pretty scared of the word trauma, so I’m not going to use the t word again in this article, but I want to be straight-up with you and point out that that’s what we’re talking about. We’re talking about your own past hurt and pain, and how it intrudes on your life today when you’re reminded of it. This process – being reminded of the past and then being overwhelmed by the same old thoughts and feelings – is called being triggered. When it happens, your body and mind are telling you that there’s an old past hurt that needs processing and healing.
Parenting inevitably reminds us of our own experiences growing-up, so it’s inevitable that we’re going to get triggered. Understanding this can change our relationship with ourselves and our children. We start to learn which of our feelings are old (belong to our childhood, not today). We start to be able to separate our feelings from our children’s experience. We learn to recognise what it feels like to be triggered, and how to come back to the present moment if we are. We learn that we’re not alone, because everyone gets triggered as they try to raise kids. We’re all in this together, for sure.
Sarah Woodhouse is a trauma expert, research psychologist and writer who delivers people the knowledge and tools to recognise and overcome self-defeating cycles, to achieve personal freedom and success.
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