Sometimes I think Motherhood is just “toddlerhood 2.0.” You know what I mean?
Like, I’m basically trapped in a gut-wrenching awakening
where I’m growing in tandem with my little tornado-of-raw-emotion!
Everything moves so fast.
The emotions and hormones are WILD.
It’s a daily barrage of love and exhaustion and frustration and self-reflection, but…
at the same time it’s the thrill of a lifetime!
(I mean, it IS lifetime. LOL.)
But my point is: I’m trying really hard to rise to the occasion, to keep growing alongside my daughter… and most recently, she’s been teaching me a lot about emotions.
Indeed, as I learn how to support her through toddler emotions,
(to name them and acknowledge them and have compassion for them)
I’m also re-learning how to support my own emotions.
It’s been quite an awakening for me.
And I thought it would be healing (and empowering) to share what I’m actively learning here, with you!
Hope you enjoy these thoughts, and I wish you all a beautiful day, filled with self-reflection, love, and most of all: compassion.
Identifying my emotions objectively:
I’m constantly helping Violet to narrate and validate her emotions. It’s just become second nature at this point to say things like: “You wanted to do it yourself. You’re frustrated. Frustrated means sad and mad.” or… “You don’t want to clean up. I get it.”
But what’s interesting is… I don’t naturally narrate emotions to my own self. And I think I should.
As an adult, I’m used to feeling an emotion and just powering through it. I don’t take time to pause, breathe, and acknowledge what’s happening in my mind and body.
So I’ve been doing an experiment, and practicing what I preach (to my toddler). When I notice I’m stressed, moving fast, or on the verge of tears, I pause and think to myself: “You’re frustrated now. You feel isolated. I get it.” And it’s making a WORLD of difference.
Offering myself compassion in the middle of an emotional episode:
The next step I’m re-learning is to offer myself compassion. Compassion doesn’t come naturally to me. Especially self-compassion. I grew up with some scary emotions that I still judge myself for an adult.
In fact, when I’m experiencing fear, sadness, exhaustion, my go-to reaction is to judge myself. I question and shame myself with statements like: “Why do I have to be so intense?” “What does this emotion mean about me? Am I mentally ill? Can I trust myself?” “How did I get here? What did I do wrong with self-care today?”
But this year I’ve been through SO many turbulent emotions with Violet. (Toddler meltdowns are intense!) And I’ve learned a LOT from her.
Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned is how to feel a tenderness toward crisis. Indeed, whenever I see her in a meltdown, I can’t help but feel a fondness for her. Because I know what that feels like. I know how scary it is to ride your emotions. To not understand them. To be overwhelmed. So when she’s having a meltdown, I almost always stay right next to her and offer hugs. As I hold her, I visualize myself as a lighthouse, with her big feelings crashing around me like ocean waves on a dark stormy night.
And recently it occurred to me: if I can offer that strength and compassion to Violet, why can’t I offer it to myself? And It was SO freeing! I’m still working on this. But the thing that helps me the most right now is to identify where in my body I’m feeling stress and offer compassion. Usually, I carry a tightness in my chest and my throat. So I place my hand gently on my chest, and think the words, “it’s ok Hon.”
Almost every time I do this small physical act, my stress dissipates, like sun breaking through storm-clouds. It’s so empowering to realize that you can be your own lighthouse!
If you’re interested in pursuing this strategy more, here’s a link to a guided meditation by Tara Brach which started me on this healing journey. I also receive her email newsletters and have found much comfort and wisdom in her offerings!
Acknowledging my emotions without letting them define ME:
Violet does this incredible toddler thing right now. When she’s crying, she literally says: “I’m crying! …..I’m still crying!!!”
And at first I didn’t really get what was going on. I was like, “yeah, Hon. You’re crying. What’s wrong?”
But the problem is, she didn’t know what was wrong. She was just focused on her tears and felt overwhelmed by the FACT that she “was crying.”
So I’ve been thinking a lot about this… and have an anecdote to share: We have this painting in our house that everyone notices. We call it “The Crying Boy.” Violet talks about it a lot. And at one time, I wondered if it was casting a bad vibe on our living room. I mean, it’s HUGE. And SAD. But… I always loved it, because I love having a visible reminder in our home that it’s normal to cry! So when Violet talks about crying boy, I usually say “Yeah, he’s sad. It’s ok to feel sad. Everyone does sometimes!”
The thing is… I think crying boy might still be crying all these years later because he’s defined by his emotion. He’s doomed to cry. For eternity. LOL. And maybe my comparison is silly here, but recently I learned that it helps me to name my feelings in a way that doesn’t define me.
For example, instead of thinking, “I’m sad,” I think, “I feel sadness.”
*I learned how to do this via a powerful email newsletter by “The Holistic Phsychologist” …I highly recommend following her!!!
This simple shift in wording helps me tremendously! Not only does it remove me from my emotion, it gives me the power to reframe my emotion and do something about it. When I observe my emotions as separate from my thoughts, I can learn from what I’m feeling without getting swept in. I don’t have to just say “I’m crying… I’m still crying!” I can say, “I’m crying… I feel sadness… I’m a person who feels sad now… I won’t always feel sad!”
Here’s an example of how this reframing can be so powerful: Earlier today, we were walking around the block, and Violet clung to my leg when a car passed. She said, “I’m scared, Mommy!” So instead of coddling her or reassuring her to not be scared, I paused, and said, “You’re scared… you feel unsafe from the car. How can you get safe from a car?” And we had an amazing learning opportunity! She learned to get off the road and hold an adult’s hand, and she kept saying “I’m safe! I’m safe!”
It felt so good to help her reframe her emotion, and move forward! We celebrated together!
Celebrating and learning from emotional episodes:
Another thing I’m actively working on right now is seeing emotions as opportunities to learn about myself. I struggle a lot with “anxiety hangover.” Basically I get bogged down in an emotion and I never learned how to trust that joy will return. I sit with emotion it and ruminate about it. I take it on as a burden.
But as I support Violet through toddlerhood, I find myself coaching her all the way through emotions. It’s so cool to watch her small healing processes, then to celebrate with her when she gets back to her emotional baseline!
Recently Violet had her first REAL standoff. We made a flower petal collage together (and had a marvelous time!) but then we realized we’d made quite a mess… I asked Violet to help me clean up, and she said “no thank you! Self, Mommy!” and she walked away!
LOL! I have to admit, I was amused by her politeness.
But, I did stay firm, saying “I need you to clean this mess.”
And I discovered something… Violet is almost as stubborn as I am!!!! Haha. That little 2-year-old sat on the floor staring at me, crying and rolling around and whining, for AN HOUR AND 15 MINUTES.
And I just waited it out. When she cried, I helped narrate. “You’re crying, you feel frustration because you don’t want to clean. I get it.” When she kicked and raged, I rubbed her back and held her. When she tried to run away, I kept the boundaries solid. And eventually…. she did it. She cleaned up! And BOY DID WE CELEBRATE.
We celebrated for like 10 minutes, jumping around and hugging, exclaiming and remembering “you were frustrated. you said “I can’t do it” …then you did it!!!!!!”
We even had a marshmallow as a treat, which is a very special honor in our household 😀
So…. celebrating…. I’m trying to do the same for myself. When I make it through an emotional state, I try to acknowledge that I made it! That things do get better! And then I try to reward myself with a simple pleasure and be gentle with myself as my nervous system recovers from stress.
It’s amazing how the Mothering process is helping me to re-learn how to live with emotions AND celebrate my own victories! In fact… maybe after I finish writing this blog post, I’ll celebrate with a piece of fresh peach cake 😉
Implementing an action plan to get back to my emotional baseline:
I am a list-maker, but… not a to-do-list maker. I like to make lists like… “Things That Make Violet Happy” or “Simple Pleasures That Get Me Out of a Funk”
I call upon these lists quite often, especially in moments of stress of exhaustion.
I frequently use my lists for Violet and Jacob (my husband)! If they’re having a bad day, I run and check my list of ideas to see what might help support them. For Violet, it’s things like making hot tea, pulling out cozy soft blankets, or setting up a water play activity. For Jacob, it’s things like cuddling, eating a salty snack, or listening to James Brown in the car.
And recently, I’ve been better about doing this for myself! If I’m stressed, or recovering from “anxiety hangover” I think to my list of “simple pleasures” and pick one. It almost ALWAYS helps me recenter and live in the moment again. For me, it’s things like knitting, airing the house, or baking.
Setting boundaries for my emotions by having purposeful “off” time:
Simple pleasures reminds me… sometimes I have to force myself to stop thinking or over-analyzing and just have some “off” time.
I do this for Violet all the time. When she’s overwhelmed or tired, I instinctively set up a calm activity for us. Or we watch a movie together and zone out. But for some reason, I never learned to do this for myself.
I mean, I know how to relax. But I don’t think I learned how to relax on purpose. To stop a cycle of stress, or worry, and say “I’m not going to think about that now. I need to rest.”
So I’m trying to get better at doing this for myself, too! I probably don’t even recognize when my brain needs some “off” time. That’s something I can work on recognizing and growing through!
Shaping my emotional goals through future-self journaling:
It’s a new thing for me to “learn” from my emotions. Usually I just ride the wave of emotion and hold on for dear life. Then I judge myself for having the emotions. *sigh*… BUT, as this blog post entails, I’m trying to get better at it for me AND for my family.
So I’ve taken one very concrete step towards learning from my emotions! It’s a daily practice called “Future Self Journaling” by Dr. Nicole LePera.
Basically, each morning we sit down as a family at the table and take 10 minutes to journal. Violet draws while Jacob and I write. 🙂
The journaling worksheet helps me focus on one goal I’d like to work on. For me, it’s being in control of my emotions and viewing them with compassion.
So everyday, I follow the same journal prompts and write some affirmations, action plans, and feelings about how to connect with my ideal “future self.”
We’ve been doing this for a week now, and it has REALLY jumbled things up. I feel like I’m growing each day, and am SO thankful for Dr. Nicole’s free worksheet. Her Instagram feed and newsletters have been a welcome awakening!
Isn’t it funny? I chose to invite my family to participate in morning journaling, so that Violet could see what it looks like to be proactive about self-care… and it turned out to be something that I really needed.
She teaches me more and more every day 🙂