“I can’t deal with his anxiety. He is loud and ‘in the face’ constantly. I know he’s being bullied time at school. I try my best but I feel stressed and burned out.”
“I don’t know how to deal with his behavior. Should I respond to his constant questions or not? He tries to control me all the time. By the end of the day, I’m totally exhausted. To add to this, his dad thinks I’m too lenient with him. Constant fights are a norm in our house.”
“She can’t do anything without checking with me. If I ask her to make a dosa for herself, she checks with me constantly about when she should stop. If I don’t stop her she continues to make 5-6 dosas. Why doesn’t she realize when she needs to stop? It’s so irritating!”
The above words are from distraught parents in a dilemma about how to guide their children. Let’s face it. We have all been there. In fact, most of us are still there.
What’s coming in the way of such parenting decisions? These thoughts play around in my mind, seeking an answer.
The answer came in a totally unexpected form – from another family.
Sweta shared how her husband, Gurudas came excitedly in the room, shouting, “It’s a Kodak moment!”
She rushed to catch a glimpse the ‘Kodak moment.’ Her teenage sons were hugging each other (Aahan is on the autism spectrum)! This, after a loud and boisterous fight they were in 5 minutes before.
“I couldn’t believe it! Both of them are typical teenagers who don’t believe in showing their affection by hugging,” she chuckled.
I was curious. What led to this change? Over the years, I’ve found that these changes don’t occur by magic. They are preceded by some change initiated by the parent.
I put on my professional glasses to delve deeper.
“Did you change something about your approach, Sweta?”
She thought for a while. “I didn’t intervene this time.”
“Oh, would you previously intervene in their fights?” I asked.
“Yes, all the time. I just couldn’t bear to see them fight. I would break up the fight or force them to listen to each other’s perspective. It never worked.” She said.
How amazing! Did you notice what Sweta did? She took a step back. She created emotional distance.
So simple and yet so potent.
If we’re too close to a situation how can we see it clearly? If we are so enmeshed with our children, how can we guide them properly?
Emotional distance is the first step.
Easier said than done, right? We are very close to our children. When they encounter something, we feel the pain.
And yet, to help them achieve self-dependence, we must get to the root of the problem. This cannot happen if we stay stuck in the quicksand of emotional attachment all the time.
Building some emotional distance also allows you to maintain consistency in your behavior with your child. This doesn’t send mixed signals to the child anymore. He comes to terms with what to expect in a given situation, and learns to adapt to it. Thus, your emotional resilience benefits your child massively in the long term. Isn’t that what you want? Imagine how good it will feel not to be worried about your child, the way you are now. Imagine experiencing a happier family life, and a strong relation with your spouse, in-laws, and all your children.
I know this sounds too good to be true right now. I have been in your shoes, dear friend. I was immersed in grief for a long time, trying to cure Mohit of autism. But only when I created an emotional distance and unmeshed myself from Mohit’s responses, could I let go of it and start living my life. I became a better parent. Our family life normalized. And needless to say, Mohit blossomed into a remarkable human being.
You’re asking how you can achieve this emotional distance too, right? Doing it right away is not easy. You can’t wake up tomorrow and be equipped to create an emotional distance, to know when to look objectively at a situation. But you can take small steps to start. Here are six simple suggestions which you can use to get started today.
Record a 5-minute video clip of your interaction with your child. It is easy to do so today with cell phones.
You will be surprised with what you find.
Most mothers are shocked at how much they instruct their child, or the number of times they repeat a “wh” question and prompt them for answers.
Besides, by watching yourself interact, you will pick up cues about your body language, tone of voice, and gaze too.
Remember that instruction air hostesses announce each time the plane takes off?
“Put on your oxygen mask first.”
This instruction applies in parenting too.
If you are not in a good state, how can you help your child?
What are you doing to keep yourself mentally, physically and emotionally fit?
Choose from the several options you have – yoga, meditation, meeting friends, chanting amongst many others.
Work as a team. If your partner shares responsibility in raising your child, your battle is half won. Along with the support that he/she gives, you both will learn to be consistent with your child.
This makes it clear to your child that he cannot play either of you against each other, or try to find a way out. Plus, it strengthens your relation with your spouse.
Anil and I worked as a team when Mohit was diagnosed with autism. This teamwork brought us even closer and led to a stronger relation between us.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Everything significant takes time.
As does letting go of old habits and old styles of responding. Once you decide to invest time, be persistent. Victory is assured. I promise.
I can’t emphasize enough on the value of having a second pair of eyes to look at a problem with you. Even after 23 years, I still rely on a professional to shed light on aspects that I’m missing while interacting with Mohit.
Find a professional you trust, to look at your problems with you.
I can’t tell you how light and relieved you will feel. A guide takes off the edge and makes you focus on the immediate step. She/he tells you what you must do in the current week. And as you know, these small drops eventually form a powerful ocean.
Remember scenario 3 where the youngster did not know how to stop at 1 or 2 dosas?
After we talked about creating emotional distance, the mother reported success!
Her daughter made a single dosa, helped herself to chutney enjoyed it!
“And what did you do?” I asked the mother.
“Oh, actually I got busy with some work and stopped paying attention to her making dosas!”
Way to go! Create that emotional distance to let your child take responsibility.
It’s time to cut that umbilical cord, no matter how old your child is. Let your child join you as a competent member of the family. This is the way to the smooth family life that we all want. It’s not that troubles will not come your way. But when they do, you will be able to look at them objectively and deal with them.
You can get in touch with me for any questions you have. I will be happy to answer them.