It can be very easy in motherhood to blame our children for the stress in our lives. ‘Because of my child not sleeping, I have depression’, ‘because my child is ‘spirited’ my life is so stressful, ‘because I have two children and they are both really full on, I have depression’.
However there are two aspects that we need to look at in order to be able to accept our child’s behaviour or the challenges that we come across with our children. They are:
1) The priorities that our children have for behaving this way (which will come from their beliefs).
2) The beliefs we hold about their behaviour and the priorities and beliefs that are governing our reactions to those behaviours.
There is always a reason why our children behave the way that they do and when you can learn to detach their behaviour from your self-worth with this understanding, then you can begin to see what is going on and how you can go about handling this challenge.
Before you can do that though, you need to also look at how you are perceiving this challenging behaviour with your mindset. I will begin to help you to learn this by addressing the developmental ages and stages of our children and try to identify some of the challenges that can be difficult to accept.
The Baby Stage
This stage can be the trickiest. You are trying to get to know a new little person who has their own unique personality and who hasn’t come with an instruction manual. There is loads of information available to help you in this quest to learn what your child needs, but no one can tell you exactly what you need to do. There are many skills and abilities that need to be learnt when having a newborn, regardless of whether it is your first or your fourth. Every child is unique and brings with him/her their own wants and needs.
Here are some challenges that we may come across that seem to cause us stress, and how to understand them in terms of understanding your child’s priority and your reactions.
A crying child
Your child’s priority: Babies cry and some of them cry a lot. It doesn’t mean you are doing anything wrong, it just means that they have some need that isn’t being met yet. Sometimes you won’t always know what they need in every given moment and it may take some time to figure out what they need, as you are not a mind reader. Your child is not trying to do anything to you by crying, they are simply trying to get what they need to survive.
You reactions to their crying: I know that the above comments are very logical, however our reactions to our baby crying can still cause us to feel angry, frustrated or sad and defeated. This is because you have a story that you tell yourself about the crying. The reality (the logic) that we are well aware of is that babies cry and they do this to try and communicate what they want. Your frustrations or reactions to this crying come from what you believe their crying means about you. ‘I’m supposed to know what she wants’, ‘There’s something wrong with her and I should be helping her.’ ‘I have to keep tending to their cries and I never get anything else done.’ I’m sick of all this noise all the time’. All of these comments are about what the crying is doing to you.
How to overcome this using the reality thinking model
The reality of the situation: Babies cry and right now, your baby is crying. That’s the reality. My child is learning how to adapt to her new world and to understand what is going on and get what she needs.
The reality of parenting: I will not always know what my baby needs and sometimes I just have to keep trying new things until I figure out what she needs.
The reality of life: My baby crying is just a snippet of my whole life. As challenging as this moment is right now, I will move past it. The crying won’t last forever. It is just for now. This is just one of the many experiences (both good and bad) that I will have with my child.
The reality of self-worth: I’m doing the best I can with the information that I have. Right now I am learning about how to handle this situation and that is all part of being a parent. I am not a bad mother because my child is crying. She is crying simply because that is the way she communicates. Whenever I experience anything new I am learning and can only use the information I have at any given moment to decide what I need to do to approach this challenge. I am always worthy as a mum because I am a mum and am contributing to this situation in exactly the way that I am. Now what am I going to do about it? (moving onto step three – aim).
A child that doesn’t sleep
Your child’s priority: Some children actually need to be taught how to sleep and self-settle. This can take an undetermined amount of time. They either do it naturally by themselves, they are taught how to do it using various settling techniques, or possibly, a combination of both. Your child is just a little person growing new connections in the brain and is learning to adjust to the external world clock of when to sleep and when not to sleep.
Your reactions to their lack of sleep: Even though we logically know that they are adjusting to this new life, it may not stop us from getting frustrated, angry or teary about their sleeping. Again this will be because of the story you tell yourself about what their lack of sleep means about you. How is it affecting your life? Is it stopping you from doing other things (that perhaps you have your self-worth pinned to)? Is it stopping you from being a certain type of person you believe you need to be in order to be worthy (organised, coping, responsible, the one who gets it right)?
Underneath your feelings towards your child not sleeping, will be beliefs you hold about what this means about your life. These beliefs, even though it is logical to understand why your child is not sleeping, will dictate your response. If your beliefs are about your worth being less, than any logic about your child’s natural sleeping abilities, will be overridden by the need to self-protect – that is make you feel better. This is where the need to yell, get angry, and heaven forbid, why women shake their babies. Their priority becomes about stopping their pain because they have an incorrect perception of the situation to begin with.
How to overcome this with the reality thinking model:
The reality of the situation: Your child is learning how to get into a sleep routine.
The reality of parenting: This is just one of many experiences you will have with your child. It is just a developmental phase that your child will go through and will pass by just like every other developmental stage in their life. Some of these developmental stages are cute, funny and enjoyable and some of them are challenging and unenjoyable. This event just forms part of your parenting experience. What else is good about your experience as a parent? What are you enjoying with your child? The cuddles, the time you get to socialise with other mums, not having to work? Find the hidden good in the bad.
The reality of life: Again widen back to acknowledge that this experience with your child not sleeping forms only a small drip in the ocean of your entire life. This time will pass by just like every other event in your life. Everything rises and passes away….everything! Take note of what else is going on in your life so you are not just consumed by what is happening with your child. How are your other relationships with other children, your husband, your mother, your friends etc. They all form part of your life too. Your life is not just about this moment with your child. There are other things going on in your life too. What are they and what are some of the good aspects of them too?
The reality of self-worth: Your child not sleeping is not something that you can control. Whether your child sleeps or not does not mean anything about you as a person. You are contributing and learning in this world through everything you do. You are doing the best you can with the knowledge that you have. As you go through your life you will learn new skills, try new things, practice what you are learning and sometimes you will have success and sometimes you will make mistakes. Whether things go right or wrong for you, you are always getting an experience in life and gaining information from that experience. You then share what you know with the rest of your world through conversations, actions, setting goals, achieving goals and not achieving goals. Your existence is what defines you as being worthy, not whether you can get your child to sleep and be the happy, coping, organised mother that you have rated as being necessary for being a good mother.
A child that nurses all the time
Your child’s priority: Quite simply, to get what they need. Sustenance, love, bonding etc. Your child’s priority is already all about them and their survival instinct to get what they need to live and grow.
Your reactions to their behaviour: Your ‘story’ about what this situation means about your life is what causes your reactions. Perhaps because they are nursing all the time you are looking around at what else needs to be done and feeling pressured that you cannot get to those things. Housework, cooking, your own appearance, possibly even paperwork for your partner’s business that needs tending to or bills to pay. You may be defining your role in the house as being the person that does all these things and because you are unable to do any of these things because you are constantly nursing, then you feel like you are failing at some level, not able to live up to the expectations that you have set yourself or that have been set up by others. Somewhere in your ‘story’ there will be a component of what your child nursing a lot means about you.
How to overcome this with the reality thinking model
The reality of the situation: For whatever reasons, your baby is needing to nurse a lot, for now. While you are sorting out how to get past this event, this is the current reality. While this is happening other things are not getting done. This is the reality of the situation that you need to accept because any conversations that are about how other things ‘should’ be getting done and how your baby ‘shouldn’t’ be nursing so much, are all in conflict with the reality that he is nursing a lot right now.
The reality of being a parent: This is part of your experience as a parent to this particular little child that is your son/daughter. They are needing this nursing right now for whatever reasons they believe they need it for and you are their parent there to give them what they need to survive. This is one small part of the parenting experience and one that you can learn to look at the value in. What is good about you being able to nurse so much. Instead of just looking at what is bad about it, how about looking at what is good too? What about all those TV shows that you get to catch up on? What about the special bonding time that you are getting with your little one, cuddling them and being close to them? They will grow up and have their own lives. This is a special time to appreciate these quiet moments together. Look at them, really look at them without any judgements on what you nursing…again, really means and just exist as you being a mother nursing your child. Appreciate that you can nurse and bond with this child in this way. Appreciate the time out in your life that it gives you to sit down and not do all those things that we always have to do. Look for the benefits of what this situation gives you.
Also look at the priority for nursing so much. There is always the bottle feeding option. However you have chosen to feed for reasons that you have. Neither way is right or wrong, but understand that it is a priority to nurse instead of bottle feeding. Also understand that your priority to feed your child over doing all those other chores, is also a choice from your beliefs. Of course, it is a no brainer choice that you are going to feed your child over housework and domestic duties, but recognise that this is the priority. Because it is a priority, the reality is that you can’t do these other things. It is physically impossible. Be at peace with that by accepting this reality.
The reality of life: Again, this moment in time is just a snippet of your entire life. It may be taking up a lot of time right now, but some events do that in life. Look at previous work projects in your life, or times where you just met your partner, or took up a new hobby. These things took up a lot of your time and this new part of your journey through life is taking up a lot of your current time right now too. Everything comes at a price. When we make something a priority another thing that may have been regarded as a high priority must fall by the wayside. Only one priority can win out over another. You have chosen to nurse your child because of beliefs that you have about it being a top priority and that just means that at this point of time on your journey, this choice will take up a lot of your time and the rest will have to wait.
The reality of self-worth: You can only do what you can only do and if you are spending a lot of time on the couch nursing, then this is what you can do. You physically cannot do all those other things and sit on the couch at the same time. It is a priority for you (in order to be the mother you want to be and give your child what they need – to be a good mother) to nurse your child. Whether you do the other things or not, you are not worth more or worth less, you are simply doing all that you can do right now.
Nothing defines your worth except your existence and you being here contributing and learning in the world. Right now you are contributing to sustaining your child’s life and giving them what you need. You are learning how to be a mum and how to help your child to learn how to feed better, gain weight, or wean them off needing you all the time, whichever is the case. As you gain knowledge in this area of parenting, you will go on to speak to others about your experiences and give them something that contributes to their journey too. Everything is a cycle of learning and contributing and that is what defines your worth, not whether you can be the super mum who does everything, keeps a clean house and is on top of every chore there is to do.
The Toddler Stage
In the toddler stage you are finding that your child is more independent and persistent. This could mean that they are getting into a lot of things and perhaps giving you more challenging behaviour that is harder to explain with logic. With a baby it can be easier to understand that they don’t know any different, but as we move into the toddler stage and we know that they understand more, it can become more difficult to view their undesirable behaviour without reacting.
Here is one major challenge that you may come across with your toddler and how to understand them in terms of your child’s priority and your reactions to their behaviour:
Your child’s priority: They have viewed the situation with their senses and determined what this situation means from their limited beliefs. Often children of this age cannot accurately perceive what is going on and often misunderstand what is happening. Also, they can be very self-absorbed, only seeing what they want…and they want it now! They don’t yet understand reasoning and can’t fathom why on earth they cannot have what they want. Explaining this can be difficult and can often lead to your child having tantrums. This is just because their priority was different to yours. Not right or wrong, just different. It is our job to teach them why their priorities must be different, for example, not eating the soap out of the bathroom and not putting their hands down the toilet.
Your reactions to their behaviour: Often it can feel like our child’s behaviour is deliberately trying to test you or make you angry. This is definitely not the case. Their behaviour is all about them, not about you. You, however, as usual, have an entire story going on about what their behaviour means about you. ‘How embarrassing for me’. ‘I look like I’m not coping or I’m not a good mum.’ ‘I’ve had enough of having to listening to and deal with this behaviour.’ ‘I hate it when he behaves like this. It makes me so mad’. All of these comments are in conflict with the reality of why your child is behaving the way he is – because of beliefs he holds about what is happening. All of these comments are also about what this means about your worth (either your quality of life, or you as a mum). These are what need to be upgraded.
How to overcome this with the reality thinking model
The reality of the situation: Your child is having a tantrum. If he’s rolling around on the floor kicking and screaming, then he’s having a tantrum and all those conversations going on in your mind that cause you to resist this reality are all going to cause you stress. Furthermore his tantrums are because of the way he has interpreted the situation and that needs to be corrected (or distracted) in order to stop the tantrum.
The reality of being a parent: As part of being a mum, you will come across times when your child has misunderstood a situation, or has a limited understanding of the situation to begin with. This misunderstanding could result in undesirable behaviour, however it is an opportunity for us to teach our children how to understand life better. Ignore the behaviour and work on educating your children so that they get this understanding. The reality of being a parent is that it is our job to help our children to grow and learn about the world around them. Their behaviour is only a result of their current understandings and perceptions about life and sometimes they will understand and therefore behave appropriately and sometimes they won’t.
The reality of life: We are all learning more and more with experience and this is what is happening with your child too. In these early stages, they are literally growing new connections in the brain that will form habits of thinking. Most often with toddlers, they don’t have these connections formed yet and have to have things repeated over and over again in order to get the message and make this information become habit. Their tantrum is just one more opportunity to give them this learning and repetition, even if you have said things a million time already. It will become habit when they have formed those connections through repetitious exposure to their environments, just like what happens when we walk, talk, use a spoon or ride a bike.
This time of your life is just that, a time in your life. That tantrum will come and go and will probably be forgotten in years to come. Don’t get sucked into this moment meaning your whole life sucks because it is only one small event along your whole life’s journey. Try to remember what else is going well in your life; both with your child and the parenting experience, as well as other things that you are enjoying about life. If you are going through rough times and struggle with things, then remember other times in your life that you have enjoyed so you can remind yourself that your whole life is not ruined, this is just part of the ups and downs that form a person’s life. It does not define your life’s worth.
The reality of self-worth: If you worth is constantly attached to your child’s behaviour, then you will never feel worthy as a person. Our children are growing and learning just like we are and we are never always behaving well either. We are all just doing what we know how to do with the information that we have and this information that we hold is contributing to how our life and those around us are unfolding. This is what defines us as worthy. We are not worthy when we can get everyone to think that we are worthy. Our worth does not come from matching the ideal of ever single scenario we encounter. It comes from the learning we get from the ups and the downs and it comes from contributing a part of ourselves to everyone around us. There is value to be found in everything and this tantrum is helping you as a person to grow, your child to grow and anyone around you who is also experiencing this tantrum.
We are all connected to each other just by being a part of experiencing each other’s lives and learning off each other. Tantrums do not define your life’s worth nor does it make you a good or bad mother. It’s a fact of life for parents and children and comes from their beliefs about a situation that may be incorrect or misunderstood. That’s the bottom line of tantrums.
Pre-school & Beyond
Now we get to the years where our children really begin to understand the world around them. Emotions can still run high though and they can still misunderstand what is going on around them and they need help to understand their surroundings and their feelings.
The best part of this stage, though, is that you can use words and examples to help educate your child to think differently and children are like sponges, they soak up this information easily and quickly.
Nevertheless, even though this stage makes it easier to communicate verbally with our children and hear their responses to how they perceive life, sometimes we don’t always like what comes out of their mouths and this can cause us to feel angry, frustrated and end up meaning lots of conflict in the household.
Your child’s priority: Look closely at the motive behind what they are saying and what they are doing. Children at this age are starting to form their concept of self-worth. You are no longer their only influence in this as they start to create friends and be more exposed to society and its influences. Remember that they are bombarded with this ‘get your life right’ society, so they are starting to attach their self-worth to achieving, getting and being too.
If they are displaying unruly, undesirable or just plain rude and disrespectful behaviour, then this will indeed be because of their own self-worth issues that need correcting. Listen very carefully to how they explain why they did something. Rather than asking them in an accusing tone what happened, ask them what was going on in their mind to cause them to behave that way. Try to identify what their priority was for behaving this way. Rather than seeing their behaviour as right or wrong, see it as an indication of what they believe about themselves and use this as an opportunity to teach them more about the reality of life.
Your reactions to their behaviour: What do you believe their behaviour means about you? The reality is it’s not about you, it’s all about them and how they are perceiving and reacting to their life through their beliefs, but you will have a whole lot of self-worth stuff going on with you if you are reacting to their behaviour.
For example, you may feel disrespected, unappreciated, unwanted or unloved by this behaviour, believing that it is a personal attack against you. Look at what you believe about their behaviour first, before you approach them about their behaviour. Because when you do that and you upgrade your thinking to be in alignment with reality and true self-worth, then you will be ready to look for the self-worth issues they are experiencing in order to behave the way they did so that you can help them.
How to overcome this with the Reality thinking model
The reality of the situation: Your child is behaving the way he/she does because of the beliefs he holds about life and their self-worth. Whatever they have done, is what they have done and it cannot be changed. If you hold onto the beliefs that they ‘shouldn’t have done it’ or that they ‘should have known better’, you are in conflict with the reality that a) they didn’t do it the way you believe they should & b) they did it because it was a priority they had AT THAT TIME because of the priority belief that was activated AT THAT TIME (remember speeding vs getting your child to the hospital?) Find the priority and you will understand the behaviour. It doesn’t condone the behaviour, but understanding it will help you to provide them with an appropriate education and knowledge about what they can learn from this behaviour in order to do it differently next time.
The reality of being a parent: Again, this all comes down to the highs and lows of being a parent. By the time you have gotten to this stage of their development you would have already gone through loads of good times and bads and will easily see that this is just another developmental stage that they are going through. This is also a time for you to reinforce those lessons that you want to instil in your child, which forms part of your role as a parent.
The reality of life: People will behave in ways that you don’t like, because people are always operating out of the beliefs that they hold important AT THAT TIME. This will happen with your children, your husband, your friends, family and even strangers. It is part of how we learn from each other and every experience we have has value because of the learning it give us. See this situation with your child as a normal part of your life unfolding, not as meaning that your whole life is hard. There have been easy times with your child and there have been hard times. This may be one of those hard times. When you look at life as a whole you will see that we start out as babies, become toddlers, pre-schoolers, primary schoolers, high schoolers, adults, elderly etc. This stage with your child is just a part of the unfolding of their life and the experiences they are have for their lives to unfold. You are a part of that journey and this experience is part of their journey and part of yours. It doesn’t not define your entire existence. It will rise and pass away, just like the others. Treat it as an educational time to teach your child the ways of the world, but also teach yourself how to understand behaviour and show compassion and understanding.
The reality of self-worth: Your child’s behaviour is all about them, not about you. Detach your self-worth from anything your child does or says because you are always 100% worthy no matter what! If they are not showing you respect, it is because of how they perceive the situation, not because you are not worthy of respect. Perhaps they learnt that it was okay to be disrespectful or are experimenting with a new behaviour to see if it is acceptable or not and are waiting for the reaction to see if they can do it again.
People won’t always show you the love, appreciation and validation that we may want them to. Again this isn’t because you aren’t worthy of it, it is because the other person has their own set of beliefs and priorities that are governing their behaviour. Sometimes they will match your expectations and other times they won’t. This is just the reality of interacting with each other. When you cease needing people to match your expectations (which will never always happen) then you will cease needing people to behave a certain way in order to feel worthy.
You must always remember in every situation what you are learning from this experience, how you are contributing to the situation and how others are benefiting your life through their teachings to you.
Other factors that will help you to look at the behaviours of your children.
Although we are talking about the behaviour of your children, it really comes down to how you are interpreting these behaviours, so you must always look at your viewpoint on how you are perceiving their behaviour.
Children are learning how to be in the world and how to understand it. This comes with specific physical growth in the brain, and forming new connections in order to make things become habit. This comes with maturity and time and sometimes cannot be controlled.
All we can do is continually look at what you can do to change your thinking and sometimes allow them to have the time they need to grow, learn and mature.
Here are some other factors that may be contributing to your reactions to your child’s behaviour:
Sometimes we believe that our children are at fault for behaving the way that they do, however when we look closer we may see that we are trying to control our child’s life for a payoff of our own. These payoffs could be:
- In order to be loved
- In order to feel important
- To stop them from growing up and leaving us lonely
- To prevent anything ‘bad’ from happening to them
- In order to live up to your expectations of yourself (being the mother who is coping, has the smart child, is the one who is looked up to in society)
- To maintain a certain reputation you have been known for.
- To prevent your life being disrupted or challenged
All of these things you will notice is all about self-worth being attached to life unfolding in a certain way. It ‘s important to be really honest about your agenda for wanting your child to behave the way you do. Is it about teaching them to live honest, fulfilling and moral lives or is it an agenda of your own?
If it is through an agenda of yours that relates to self-worth, then some work needs to be done on yourself to keep changing your beliefs about what defines self-worth, because not only will this affect your child’s life and their relationship with you, it will also cause you pain and feelings of worthlessness every time their behaviour doesn’t match your expectations that are meant to validate why you are worthy.
This means that your happiness is completely reliant on another person’s behaviour and that is never viable.
I have nothing else going on in my life
Sometimes we can become over controlling in our child’s lives, or we resent their behaviour more because of what else is, or isn’t going on in our lives. It is common for mums to feel completely consumed with the baby through toddler stages because they believe that this defines their whole life.
It is important to give yourself some time to be things outside of being a mum so you do get that sense of being expanded from just the challenges of parenting young children.
This doesn’t always mean that you have to leave the house. It can be simple things such as painting your nails, doing your hair, buying yourself a coffee, listening to your music, watching your TV shows, talking with a friend on Facebook, or anything else that makes you feel like a person outside of just a mother.
Give yourself some little (or big) indulgences that helps you to widen back from the challenges of your kids and remember that life is about the enjoyable things too.
When you do that, you are in a better position to handle the ups and downs that occur with your children and are less likely to become consumed by them.
Even though we know we are always 100% worthy, we will always rate ourselves through our beliefs. Do things that you know you rate yourself or your life as worth-more, even though you know it doesn’t define your self-worth, because these things will still make you feel good.
You will never stop pursuing things that make you feel good and I’m not asking you to, you just need to have an accurate understanding of those times where you rate a situation as being bad and know how to apply a different perspective so that you don’t stay feeling bad.
Relationship problems or anger over an unresolved past issue
Having problems within your relationship and feeling angry or cheated over things that are happening in this department can result in us taking our frustrations out on our children.
This is because it is safe to vent to our children as they cannot defend themselves. It sounds horrible and I’m not condoning anyone doing this, I am just highlighting why it happens.
We can unknowingly be caught up in what is going on in our heads (reliving an argument, imagining what we would like to say to that person or how you would’ve liked to relive that situation) and then you can start to feel anger and frustration, just from these thoughts.
All of a sudden your child does something that interrupts you and this anger that was already inside you gets projected onto your child, even though you didn’t really mean to.
The answer is to use the reality thinking model to what is really going on, not trying to change the behaviour of your child.
At the end of the day, there is a priority belief that has been activated for every single behaviour. Everyone is guided by what they currently know. By being conscious of our thinking we can become more aware of what is really going on inside our minds and how this is influencing our reactions and behaviours.
You can use the understandings you are getting about priorities and self-worth to become aware of other people’s choice of words and really listen to their understanding of situations and life in order to understand why they behave the way that they do.
When you get to a point of understanding and accepting that you/they can only know what they know at any given time and that their priorities AT ANY GIVEN MOMENT are governed by their priority beliefs, then you at a point of acceptance. Not condoning, not saying that it’s okay that they behaved that way, but accepting that they did it because of what was going on for them, not because it means anything about you.
Use this information with every area of your life; with your children, your husband, your friends, family and strangers and you will already be setting yourself up for a more peaceful, happier life. No longer will you be attached to other people’s behaviours and attitudes in order to feel worthy.
Imagine what that might feel like!