The Inner Work of Parenting

guest post by Jennifer Andersen

I never hit my kids. I should feel pretty good about that, right? The problem is that I am a recovering yeller. Some research shows that yelling has the same or worse effect on kids’ brains as spanking. Learning that was like a punch in the gut. Really though, I should not have been surprised.

I mean, think about it. This much-bigger-than-you, all-power-holding adult stands over you screaming. At you. Were any of you yelled at as children? Take a moment and remember what it felt like or take a moment and put yourself in the shoes of that little child. Close your eyes. Feel the clothes on your body. Look at how close to the ground you are.

Feel your eyes looking up. Are you wearing shoes? Are you hungry or full? Think about what you might have just been doing. Were you creating art on the walls? Did your experiment explode? Maybe you lost the remote control. Maybe you hit your little brother because you were feeling out of place in your family. Maybe you were just playing. Now look up at the adult towering over you.

Think about who it is that is standing over you. It’s your mother or father. It is one of the people you are supposed to trust more than anyone. They are, quite literally, your world. You learn who you are from the things they say to you and the way they speak to you. You formulate your self through your interactions with them. Worthiness, confidence, resilience, kindness, empathy… all of these things are either created or destroyed through their interactions with the very young you. You are completely defenseless whether they yell at you or strike you. You hold no power. You are forced to stand there in your tiny vulnerable body and take whatever they do to you. It’s scary. It’s terrifying. Why is this person who is supposed to be caring for you traumatizing you and being so cruel?

If you have not yet closed your eyes to put yourself there I encourage you to do so now.

What did that feel like? Could you get there?

But It’s for their Own Good!

Some of you think that treating children this way is necessary. You love your children and believe that if you do not yell at or spank your children they will become irresponsible, lazy, unkind people who contribute negative things to the world. I understand why you think that- there are lots of people who say it is so.

Here is the problem; the people who say that are not in the know. They have not read the research or listened to those who know how to interpret the research. They are making statements based on personal beliefs- beliefs that have likely been handed down from generations. Generations whose children were forced into labor at extremely young ages and were, quite literally, beaten to a pulp over and over again from very young ages. These individuals are making uniformed and dangerous statements as though they are truths. And so we believe them.

Others of you have had the courage to acknowledge that your hitting or yelling at your child has nothing to do with them. You have admitted to yourself that every time you raise your hand or voice it is a lack of your own self control. You have taken responsibility for your flaws and are committed to improving- all for your children. It is at this point that many people get lost. We don’t know what to do. We get frustrated. We have no tools. We have no role models. We are forging a new path-breaking generational cycles. It is a big job. It is a lot of work. I know.

So What Do I Do?!

I wish there was an easy 10 step plan to follow. I wish there was one magic post you could read that would instantly create calm. I wish there was a single podcast or workshop or book you could read that would give you all the tools and level-headed demeanor you need to have exactly the kind of relationship you want with your child. Alas, reality is much, much different than that.

Creating change happens gradually. While some things can be stopped cold turkey, real sustainable change mostly takes a lot longer. Shifting paradigms, filling our head with appropriate tools, words, responses, and reactions, learning what our defaults are so that we can reprogram them are how we learn to do better.

How do you do this? Read. Watch. Listen. Consider. Try. Abandon beliefs that hurt your child or your relationship with them. Intentionally work to keep your mind open. Learn what a paradigm shift is. Look for two paradigms you hold so you can get better at identifying them. Do the things that seem pointless- count to five before responding. Look at your child’s face before you react. Hold yourself accountable. Apologize. Acknowledge inappropriate reactions. Do not value consistency or following through more than doing what’s right. Bite your freaking tongue!

People regularly write to me or angrily snarl on Facebook that there are no tools or resources to learn how to parent more kindly. My heart breaks when I see this. If they are open I point them to resources. If not, I recognize that they just may not be ready. You are here though. You want to change or improve. Use the incredible resources that are part of the No Spank Challenge as an amazing starting point. Do not take any of our words as gospel. Read, watch, listen and sit with it. Try out some of the new tools.

Does it Really Work?

I can tell you that this works. How do I know? It’s what I did. I searched for resources about how to improve as though my world depended on it, because really, it did. My desire for my kids to enter adulthood with more confidence, worth, and calm than I had was a huge motivator. I did not want them facing the same challenges I do. I wanted them to be many steps beyond me. I did not want them to survive or need to describe themselves as resilient after a traumatic childhood. I wanted them to thrive.

It is rare for me to yell at my kids now. If I do, I know I need to prioritize a tune-up or self-care (different than “me” time!). I am proud of myself for putting in the work over the last 5 years to get where I am. I have a long way to go but I have come a long way. Nothing happened overnight. I have poured over books, articles, conferences, interviews, movies, and points of view. I have left behind the perspectives that do not align with the vision I have for my family. I have adjusted my vision for my family. I have become a much, much better person. Life is calmer and happier.

Take advantage of this incredible time we live in. We have access to resources about everything- including how to stop yelling and spanking so that our kids can be happy and well adjusted people. When your kids are grown, and they look back at this moment in time, will it be the turning point? Will it be the one they remember as mom or dad learning how to treat them with kindness and respect? Maybe like my kids, they can’t know what it feels like to have that for their whole lives, but they can remember it from this moment on. You have the resources to create change available to you right here, right now in this event. You can decide to use them.

Jennifer Andersen is a child advocate overcoming her own detrimental issues to make life better for herself, her children, and her husband. She is passionate about sharing ways of LIVING! Life with kids. Jennifer lives in Denver, CO with her husband and two always Unschooled children. You can follow her discoveries, observations, and opinions at Our Muddy Boots