Parenting defined: Meeting your kid’s needs over and over again until they reach adulthood and (hopefully) move out - and trying to make sure neither of you go insane while doing it.
I mean, you can google it. Despite there being a *lot* of different definitions, that is basically what it comes down to. We know parenting is hard (anyone been on TikTok lately. 😜) But, humans have been parenting since the beginning of time! We need to be good parents to survive as a species! WHY is it is sooo hard?! Yes, it can be hard to manage meeting all of the needs of everyone in your home, but often the challenge begins even before we have jam packed schedules and laundry to fold while we simultaneously cook dinner and stop our children from biting each other (no? just me?) The trouble is often accurately knowing what your child’s needs are in the first place! (Anyone else felt like they should have been given a manual when they were leaving the hospital?!)
Even when you think you know what the need is, you can still be very wrong. (Like that time I thought my child was overtired, but they were really hangry... I think I still have a scar...)
Your ability to see "needs" might be impaired
You look at the world (including your own inner world and your child) through your own unique lens - let’s call this lens your glasses!
You have had these glasses since you were born. …and they have had the opportunity to acquire a lot of dirt and fingerprints since then.
Last week I spoke about parenting tools; how we are often given a pretty small, rusty, broken set from our caregivers, and without being intentional, we use these to parent and pass them down to our own children.
Well, those tools get even harder to use when we are trying to use them looking through dirty glasses!
What is the dirt made of?
Dirt = toughts and beliefs that dismiss our own internal experience.
We pick up that dirt as a child every time our needs go unmet, or our voice gets invalidated. Without a caregiver lovingly noticing the dirty and cleaning by supporting us to feel fully seen, heard and understood, while making sense of the world in a way that resonates with our own internal experience… it remains, getting thicker, harder, and more and more packed on.
We know from attachment theory and neuroscience that the more that a caregiver empathetically notices your internal world and supports you in making sense of it, the more easily you can identify and meet your own needs *AND* those around you.
When this doesn’t happen, of course, you arrive at adulthood, feeling blind, worrying you are in the way, and trying your absolute best to hold onto your broken tool box for dear life… because it is the only way you know to support yourself when you run into trouble.
You find ways of rubbing bits of dirt off the glasses now and then - but no one has ever shown you how to actually get those things sparkly! Heck, you haven’t even seen sparkly ones because you are always looking through the dirt on yours.
To put it simply, there are 3 types of encounters that throw dirt on our glasses as a child:
You have a need that caregivers in your life are unable to either notice, or effectively meet, and you conclude that whatever that need was doesn't matter - perhaps that you (or at least that part of you) doesn't matter.
You are explicitly told things you should or shouldn’t do (or who you are or are not) by others: “You are lazy.” “You need to lose weight”
You pick up "shoulds" by osmosis from the world around you: overhearing things like "can you believe she did that!"
You are learning about how the world works in those moments - but it's leaving you feeling frightened or lonely. You try to avoid those feelings so you begin following the new "rules" and you believe they are reality. They are now shaping your thoughts about you and the world around you.
And then you become a parent -
YIKES! Man, now you have to make sure you navigate this world and stay alive. You have these unmet needs, but you have stuffed those down since you learned they were bad or wrong, and you have these "rules" you have to follow to survive in the world around you. AND you have a child that you have to do the same for.
What happens when you parent with dirty glasses?
You can’t accurately see your child’s world.
If your glasses are dirty enough, you might be blissfully unaware that you aren’t seeing clearly! You don’t even your child has an inner world that is different from yours! This means you will project your needs onto your child. You are lost in this alternate reality governed by thoughts and beliefs that may or may not be rooted in reality and you continue to draw conclusions that don’t resonate with your child’s experience. This becomes super confusing for your child. They are being told that you are taking care of them, but something inside of them still doesn’t feel taken care of.
If your glasses have a bit of clarity, but are still really smudgey - you are going to see some of your child’s needs, but have to do a *LOT* of work to have clarity on them and meet them (probably a lot of trial and error!). It is exhausting. This is where a lot of us live! You will be burnt out and eventually physically unable to take care of your kids' needs because you are so tired. And since you can see their needs a bit… you will also feel the pain of seeing that they are not met.
When your glasses are clean, you can notice the nuances of needs. You can see small signs before they snowball into big ones and have the capacity to be curious about them. And, given intention to expanding your parenting tool box, you can meet them quickly and with relatively little effort. (And this might also mean you notice the need for independence, or risk taking in which you meet the need by stepping back). You can also tell your own needs from your child’s. You can see the separation between the two of you and can fill up your own cup as needed without walking the messy line of trying to figure out which one of you is the one with the trouble.
Sometimes you find dirt you didn't know was there! (Lots of thoughts & beliefs about breastfeeding and weaning!)
Even when you a glasses-cleaning pro, there are times when you turn your head in a new direction and a big blob of yuck pops up out of the corner of your eye and impairs your vision. Internalized messages about breastfeeding sneak in and make it hard to see your kiddo's needs for what they truly are. These are so prevalent! Can you think of a few?
"If they can ask for it, they are too old."
"It's just for comfort now."
"You are doing that for yourself, not your child."
"They are too dependent on you."
"You are making a rod for your own back"
"I've never heard of a child that doesn't take a bottle!"
All of those messages, whenever you heard them, told you that breastfeeding is dangerous or that your child's behaviors are wrongs. This turns into mud for our glasses when they clash with our own desire to breastfeed (or to wean! It can go both ways!) inside of us. We have thoughts and beliefs that disconnect us from that desire - even at an unconscious level. Mud. Lots of sticky mud. Clouding our vision, stopping us from meeting our needs and seeing our kids needs for what they truly are.
Pass me the Windex!
So now you have an idea of why parenting is just so hard a lot of the time! We often think it's our kids behaviours that make it hard ("If they would just, then I could...") - but it's actually own own inability to accurately see their needs and meet them. We have this inability because of our own inability to have our own needs met. We didn't have someone come and clean our glasses when we weren't understood. We didn't have someone see our internal pain and confusion and show us that we are seen, heard and understood. So we picked up a bunch of "rules" and pushed down our ability to connect with ourselves (because that part of us didn't follow those rules!). Now we can't recognize what we need. And we can't recognize what our kids need.
BUT! There is hope! So much hope! You can learn to clean your glasses! (😱) Yes mama! Next week, I am breaking out that bottle of Windex and are going to have a cleaning PAR-TAY!
Did this resonate with you? Got any questions? Leave a comment below, or shoot me a DM Instagram!