Saturday, March 16, 2013

mindfulness and healing childhood wounds {Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids series}

Nothing prepared me for the intense emotions I would feel after becoming a mother, and I think that all of us would agree that our kids have the very special ability to show us our deeply wounded places and bring out the hidden fears and anger in our hearts. 

If you're like me, that means a LOT of fear and a LOT of anger. There have been moments where I scared even myself, over little things that came way out of left field and in the scope of life didn't even matter, but it was the straw that broke the camel's back.

Why did something so small make me so angry? Why was I getting "triggered" by things that didn't really matter? 

Dr. Laura Markham, author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, believes that those "trigger" moments show us areas in our lives that need healing, and I would agree. The moments that I found myself the most angry were when I didn't feel like I had control over a situation, and control has always been an issue for me.

One of the foundational principles of becoming a Peaceful Parent is doing the self-work needed in your own life and working actively to heal the wounds inflicted during your childhood - whether intentional or for most of us, completely unintentional!

Most of us can say that our parents meant well and did the very best they could with the resources they had. But they were also influenced by their own upbringings and carried with them their own deep wounds, fears, and weaknesses into the ways they raised us. 

And ultimately, we are all human. No one will ever get it exactly right, and it helps to embrace the fact that there will be ways we will fail our kids. We aren't perfect, so we can never be perfect parents. "No matter how much we work on ourselves," writes Markham, "we will not always impact our children positively. Our children don't need perfection from us, they need a parent who embraces growth, makes amends, and opens her heart when it wants to harden." 

How do we do that? How do I become a mother who gets angry less often, embraces growth, makes amends, and keeps a soft and open heart? 

The answer lies in one multi-faceted concept: Mindfulness. 

What is mindfulness? Dr. Laura describes it as paying attention to what you're feeling but not acting on it. Our first responsibility in parenting is to be mindful of our own inner state. Acting on our emotions mindlessly, especially when angry, compromises our parenting. 

How do we model emotional regulation? By noticing our negative emotions and letting them pass without acting on them - and our kids watch us do that, and in turn learn how to control their own emotions. 

This is a hard one for me. When I'm angry, I also assume I'm in the right. It's hard to not to immediately want to "teach my kids a lesson" when I feel wronged or frustrated. The important key to remember is to accept the anger, even while choosing not to act on it, and then noticing the "why" or "triggers" behind the anger so we can start changing our story and do the healing needed in our own lives. 

According to Dr. Laura, "if we don't heal those wounds, they prevent us from parenting our child as truly want to. If there's an area where you were scarred as a child, you can count on that area causing you grief as a parent - and wounding your child in turn."  

She shares a thought-provoking quote from Dan Siegel: "In the absence of reflection, history often repeats itself...research has clearly demonstrated that our children's attachment to us will be influenced by what happened to us when we were young if we do not come to process and understand those experiences."

So much to think about. 

The only other thing I would add on to what Dr. Laura says in this part about healing wounds is specific to me and my spirituality - Prayer. Lots of it. All the time. 

Tips for Healing (from Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids)

Dr. Laura shares some tips for healing childhood scars: 

Parent consciously: 

Notice when our kids push our buttons. "Whenever we get triggered, we've stumbled on something that needs healing. Any time your child pushes your buttons, he's showing you an unresolved issue from your own childhood." It may be big or small, but noticing what triggers you is the start to understanding and healing. 

Break the cycle: 

Hit pause. You don't have to repeat history with your kids. "Pause and remind yourself what is about to happen unless you choose another course. Close your mouth, even in midsentence. Don't be embarassed, you're modeling good anger management."

Understand how emotions work: 

"Anger is a message that something isn't working in our lives, and it's also a biological state. When your body and emotions are in a fight-or-flight mode, your child always looks like the enemy. Take a breath and wait until you calm down before you make any decisions or take any actions."

Not only understand, but also accept your emotions, even without acting on them. Being angry isn't "bad." Feeling anger towards your kids does not make you a bad mother, it makes you human. 

Hit the reset button on your own story: 

Come to terms with your childhood. It may not have happened the way you wanted it to, or maybe it was one of abuse or neglect. Whatever the case, you couldn't change that then and can't change it now. "But what you can change is what you're taking with you from that childhood," writes Dr. Laura, "You do that by reflecting on it, feeling the painful feelings, but also considering new angles." 

It's hard and gut-wrenching, but so necessary to gather up your strength and face your childhood head on. What truths did you bring with you that are actually a lie? Know this: "You were just like any child: reaching out for love and attention in the only ways you knew."


We all have a harder time being the parent we want to be when we're stressed or under pressure. Markham encourages parents to develop a routine that helps you de-stress, and if necessary, involving the whole family. Go to yoga or an exercise class, take a walk alone or as a family, dance to music, do an art project, or work in the yard. It's crazy how fresh air helps everyone. 

Get support in working through old issues: 

This might mean seeking counseling, either professionally or from a trusted mentor or friend. From personal experience, I am a big fan of counseling! Talking to someone through your feelings and struggles is sometimes all you need. And sometimes, using someone as a sounding board shows you that you knew the right answer all along. 

Thoughts? Comments? Can you think of a way(s) that your child "pushes your buttons" and what emotional scar that might be bringing up in your own life?

*This is the second post in the Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids series. Start from the beginning here*


  1. I am so glad you wrote this post. It's nice to know there are other Moms who struggle with this too. It is so true that being a mother brings out the hidden fears & angers in us. A couple of months ago I came across this article about yelling. It was something that I'd already been thinking about & I decided right then & there that I was going to quit yelling. Cold turkey. It's been hard & I've slipped up a couple of times but I am so proud of the changes I've made. Really looking forward to more posts from the Peaceful Parent series. :)

  2. I love this link Katy! Thanks for sharing! :)

  3. Lovely post. I'm buying this book ASAP. As a mother of a one month old I'm amazed already at the strong memories she brings to me.


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