You don’t need them.
You do just fine on your own.
Just stop giving energy to it.
Just do it yourself.
Don’t ever ask again.
These are all statements my brain has said during my life when I have felt rejected, denied, unwanted or controlled.
When I have allowed myself to be vulnerable in some way and it didn’t turn out the way I hoped.
My parents joke that I was independent from the day I left my Mom’s body. At age 5, my Mother would walk beside me on the mile and a half trek from our house to the door of my kindergarten class of the laboratory school I attended. After a few weeks of this, the story goes….I turned to my Mom and declared I no longer needed her to walk with me. I could handle it alone and her services, while appreciated, weren’t necessary any longer.
In a chapter of life when everyone’s needs seemed to be large and looming, I wonder if I just decided as the youngest that I wouldn’t NEED? My job became to help, not hinder, and the story I told myself was that I didn’t need anyone but myself.
As I grew older, there were definite times I needed to ask for help, and it was often met with the awareness that if I accepted help, the cost was high. As a teen, I remember feeling that a need meant handing over control. It was a power struggle and often the need was used as a way to get me to do what they wanted.
I moved out well before I graduated high school, and by that time my family was a shell of what it started as. My departure was largely based in not having to rely on anyone but myself. Removing the power struggle of need. I was done with having to ask anyone else for anything in my mind.
Need = Vulnerability = Rejection or Sacrifice of Self.
This is how patterns are built.
My sub-conscious decided that the cost of vulnerability was not one I was willing to pay.
As with most patterns, this one was challenged when I became a parent of teenagers.
When my kids were little, they were attached to me like Velcro. They followed me everywhere and I loved each minute of it. I came to expect them right behind me, butting up against me when I paused for even a moment. I relished their interest in the details of my day and when it came time for kindergarten, I was the Mom who felt not quite ready to give them up for several hours to someone else.
As the years passed, they began to individuate and create their own lives, separate from their Mama. As they approached their teen years, even my offers of lunch or dinner at their favorite restaurant were sometimes denied in favor of time with a friend. The first time this happened, I remember my feelings being deeply hurt. I was surprised and I felt rejected. I took it personally and started to lay guilt in their laps.
I had created a story in my head about how they would respond when I asked. I expected they would say yes, even be excited about the restaurant and grateful I invited them.
I had allowed myself to need from them and when the rejection came, I felt vulnerable and hurt….even angry. I noticed the exact same mental messages that used to come up for me with my family of origin and friends.
I’ll just stop asking.
They should be happy they have a mom willing to take them!
I clearly need to take a step back.
Maybe they just need to spend a little less time with friends.
Rejection turned into pain, which turned into anger, which turned into a power play.
That’s what I would do…..never ask again, AND not allow them to be with their friends as often.
Clearly not viable solutions.
These solutions came from a place called “defending brain.” When we form a narrative in our brain about what we think will happen or what we think the other person will say, we set ourselves up for disappointment.
Our brain starts to focus on things like body language and tone from our kids. “Don’t you roll your eyes at me young lady” or “I don’t think I like your tone.”
We begin to support a new narrative of how disrespectful or entitled they are.
However, when we are able to be open to their experiences, we have access to a different part of our brains…the caregiving part.
Making room for our teens as separate people from us with their own interests, their own plans, and their own paths is the only way to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and feel safe doing it.
In parenting, so often, our own stories of rejection or vulnerability are triggered by our kids without their knowledge.
So we pause.
We double-check that narrative we have created against our rational mind.
We allow our brains to step outside the “defending brain” and to turn on the “caregiving brain.”
The caregiving brain is more reasonable and doesn’t take things quite as personally. It allows for a story where our teens' experience matters and nothing is final. It steps outside of that hurt little girl who swore she would never be vulnerable again, and it puts on parenting pants.
In my parenting pants I accept the “no” and make plans with someone else.
In my parenting pants I ask if there might be a better time when she would like to go.
In my parenting pants I know that I must fill my own cup and not rely on my teens' approval.
In my parenting pants I am not so easily rejected and hurt.
How can we show up for our teens if we haven’t healed the parts of us that can be easily triggered?
It isn’t our teens' job to know the map of our heart.
It isn’t our teens' job to fill our cup.
It isn’t our teens' job to heal the parts of us that still feel like that little girl.
It isn’t our teens' job to navigate our triggers from old stories.
It is our job to allow our teens to individuate in a healthy way.
It is our job to do the work to heal ourselves so we don’t pass down these patterns.
It is our job to step out of power and into our parenting pants.
It is our job to coach, not control.
In order to do this successfully, we raise our awareness around our own patterns, behaviors and vulnerabilities. It isn’t easy and yet it is vital to raising an adult with healthy coping skills and patterns we can be proud of.
I want to raise whole, healthy humans. I want them to feel safe to individuate from me and know that I will be there when they need me, no matter what. I want to act as a pillar of strength for them during these years where they need to connect for a moment to remind them of who they are and then off into the world again they go.
I want them to do it without guilt, without wondering if I’m OK and without carrying the burden of my old stories.