Tuning into our own internal states to make a difference to our children
We often hear that parenting is the hardest job in the world, but what is it that makes parenting so challenging at times? We are told that children ‘don’t come with an instructions manual’ whilst also learning about the many parenting books, podcasts and webinars that might help. I can speak for myself in acknowledging that all this advice can be a bit overwhelming. It’s not that books aren’t helpful, but rather acknowledging that the amount of information can be confusing and, even the bits that are helpful, can only get us part of the way when it comes to parenting.
All this ‘advice’ about parenting can leave us feeling more overwhelmed
As inspirational as a parenting expert can be, it can also leave us feeling stuck or saturated with conflicting information. For me, this ‘advice’ can sometimes make sense in theory, and even feel relatable and achievable in my role of supporting others, but how does this actually translate in real life parenting, full of triggers and complexity. Parenting really is the hardest job in the world and it can sometimes feel impossible to connect to ourselves and regulate through our own triggers, whilst simultaneously meeting our children’s needs.
I understand what the books say, but what about real life
Staying connected to ourselves through the most challenging experiences is easier said than done, especially when it comes to parenting which can leave the best of us feeling more exposed and triggered than in other relationships.
Why is it that I can deal with challenges in my personal and professional relationships, but two minutes of my toddler’s meltdown, my teenager’s disrespect or constant sibling fighting and (on the wrong day) I am a triggered mess with zero capacity to be helpful to anyone?
Whilst all relationships can have challenges, parenting has a way of bringing our past experiences to the surface, even those we have no conscious memory of. It can feel like, “Holding a mirror of all our own ‘stuff’, right up to our noses.” This is triggering. This is why there is no information or expert advice that can help us ‘in the moment’. Acknowledging this helps me forgive myself and honour my humanness. Acknowledging this helps me realise that the step beyond all the reading and information, is to connect with myself.
Using the Beacon Model to connect with ourselves CAN make the difference
The Beacon Model has become one of the most useful tools I draw on in these challenging parenting moments. The bottom line is that we must be attuned to ourselves, with all our triggers and internal states swirling around, whilst simultaneously doing the same for our children. That is a lot to ask anyone. The Beacon Model, in its most basic use, has provided me with a relatable metaphor to help me connect with what I am feeling in any moment, even when I am triggered.
What does it feel like to be ‘SAFE’, ‘STRUGGLING’ or ‘DROWNING’?
Mindfulness is a great tool for connecting with our bodies and the Beacon Model can help us focus on different parts of our nervous system, whether we practice mindfulness regularly or not. Tuning in to our internal states, or ‘befriending’ our nervous system as it is sometimes called, can help us recognise what internal state is driving us and, with practice, this can help us know what we need to do to move ourselves towards safety, so that we can do the same for out children.
Through tuning in, I am more aware of the sinking feeling of isolation and ‘DROWNING’ that can creep up on me when I feel disconnected and I can recognise that my body needs movement at this time.
When I feel the ‘tight-chest’ and ‘restlessness’ that comes up in the early stages as I move into ‘STRUGGLING’ or feeling like I am ‘ON THE ROCKS’, I can connect with myself and know that deep breaths help regulate my nervous system.
When I feel ‘SAFE’ or ‘IN MY BEACON’, I am open, engaged and present. I am relaxed, yet alert and my breathing is free. This is where the ‘glimmers’ and connected moments happen. This is the place that feels like ‘coming home’ and the place from which I can connect with my children. This is the place from which I can draw on all that information I know and the skills I have.
Tuning into each state can be useful, especially knowing what our ‘SAFE’ this place feels like as this can help us come back here, including when we are triggered. This is not a magic wand and parenting will always have challenges, but when we can connect to ourselves and be aware of what is happening in our own bodies, we can better do the simultaneous job of regulating our children.
We have produced a guide to support parents to start this process of ‘befriending’ each state and you can access it here.
Andrea Bassi is a parent to four boys and therapist at Beacon Family Services trained in Theraplay and DDP. If you want to find out more about ‘connecting to yourself’ or using our lighthouse model to regulate your own states, so that you can best support your children enquire here about our parent workshops or download our new free app lumin&us providing a ‘go-to’ tool with ideas that can move us towards connection, whatever state we are in.