Like so many moms I have the honour to journey with, Casey was a great and loving mom who was whole-heartedly connected to all three of her children. Since the children had began grade school, Casey had always nurtured an "open-door policy" in her home. And she would always create time to tell her children she was there if they needed to talk about anything.
When Casey's eldest daughter Lilian started grade 6, she started to notice some changes- Ever so small at first, and barely noticeable to anyone but a Mother's Intuition.
Lilian began staying in her room more and more. She always wanted her "privacy", and stopped dancing and singing around the house like she had always done. She would often come home from school grumpy and tired. And started to fight more and more with her siblings.
Casey reminded Lilian of the open door policy, but respected her privacy after her Mom-friends told her it was normal at Lilian's age to want privacy. But Casey still felt that something wasn't feeling 'right', and when things worsened, Casey followed her intuition and reached out to her village for guidance.
Casey was left with the dilemma so many Mom's of pre-teens face: How do I stay connected with my daughter, while still honouring her desire for independence?
Many Mom's have nurtured a beautiful bond with their daughter's, sharing with me that they can remember the times when their daughter wanted to be around them. I sit with these Mom's and hear their fear, sadness, and confusion. They say "what happened, just the other day she was asking for me to tuck her in at night? And now I can't even look at her without her getting angry." It is no wonder Mom's come to me with so much fear and worry.
For Casey, the fear around the loss of connection with her daughter was connected with her own relationship with her mom. Her mom was a hard working mom, devoted to her children, but Casey never felt close to her in a way that would allow authentic talks around thoughts and feelings.
Casey feared that she would repeat the pattern of disconnection between her and her mom.
Underneath her fear, was her grief over the loss of her own connection with a maternal figure. And deep down, in the cracks of her awareness, was the guilt and shame around her perceived lack of connection with her daughter. Her shame kept her tethered on the Low-Road of Parenting, and unable to attune to what her daughter needed in that moment.
Low-Road Parenting happens when our brain is firing from our emotional and automatic brain centres. For Casey, the stress and worry about her daughter had triggered her to enter a spiral of emotions.
To cope, her defences kicked in and her brain went on autopilot- falling into her old patterns of avoiding authentic talks about feeling.
As we worked together to bring awareness and compassion to her thoughts and feelings, it put Casey back onto the High-Road of Parenting. Parenting from this place is when there is full integration between our thinking, emotions, and automatic brain centres. It allows us to parent with our innate wisdom by connecting and attuning to our children, while honouring our own needs.
Once Casey found her footing on the High-Road again, she was better able to attune to her daughter and access her wisdom, which helped her have an authentic and heart-centred talk with Lilian about her worries as a caring parent.
Her wisdom told her that she needed to tell her daughter that she was worried about her behaviour.
And when Lilian got grumpy about the conversation, Casey was able to stay calm and compassionate while maintaining good limits and caring for her own needs at the same times (pausing, taking breaks, staying mindful).
With love and patience, Casey and Lilian began to slowly talk more about the hard-stuff. Within this beautiful-space she had created for her daughter, Lilian's thoughts and emotions began to surface.
Although Casey couldn't 'fix' Lilian's thoughts or emotions, she had given her daughter the greatest gift any parent can give their child towards developing emotional-resiliency: Authentic Connection.
Here are my top 3 go-to questions when I feel myself getting stuck on the Low-Road of Parenting:
- Where am I getting stuck? What are my 'sticky' thoughts? (you will know they are sticky thoughts if they continue to come up often) "I should know how to handle this", "Why is she/he being this way", "Not this again", "I can't handle this" Can I feel any emotions around my sticky-thoughts? Guilt, Anger, Sadness, Jealousy, Shame...
- What is my fear? What is my biggest worry right now? I am a bad parent. I am not enough. My child is bad. I am failing and everyone will see....
- What is the pattern? Where did I learn it? And is this pattern still serving me? Patterns in relationships, once upon a time, served a purpose for you, so it is an important question to ask yourself!
A little note:
When you are on the Low-Road of Parenting you don't have the tools to be able to have mindful and compassionate awareness. So these are questions to ask yourself when you are grounded (journal in hand, cup of warm tea, with a friend, out in nature, etc.) Be kind to yourself. And seek help and guidance to bring awareness around difficult patterns, thoughts, and feelings. You do not have to journey alone.
Resources I LOVE!
Dr. Dan Siegel offers a beautifully-accessible description of our brain's interplay with emotions here. Using his example of the triune brain model, you will see that Low-Road is when there is no integration, High-Road is when there is full integration in the brain.
One of my favourite books on how better self-compassion & awareness can help you have authentic connection with your children is Parenting from the Inside Out by Daniel J. Siegel & Mary Hartzell. I have read this about 5 times during my parenting journey, and cannot recommend it enough.