Featured, Parenting

What makes us explode? Parenting Triggers and the Mother’s Wound

7 July, 2015

I realised last month that I was jealous of my four year old daughter.

Not her clothes – she wears My Little Pony pyjamas most days and whilst they are comfty my look is more vintage, y’know?

Not her running skills- she is fast, but I’d crush her in a race for sure. (Not that we do winning as such, our new motto is “If you had fun you WON!”) But I’d definitely come first.

Not her hair – she is growing it long, but is very anti-brush, so it mostly hangs in a big dreadlock. Clump-chic.

This is what I’m jealous of:

I am jealous of the way she is fully able to be 100% herself. I am jealous of the way she expresses her massive emotions with her whole body and voice and every drop of energy. I am jealous of the freedom in which she occupies her place in the world.

It’s a huge word, jealousy.

It doesn’t mark our relationship in a big way. Not like how I was jealous of my best friend when I was 14 for getting to go out with the boy we had both fancied for two years. We used to have competitions about how much we fancied him; “I love him so much I would steal one of his sweaty socks and sleep with it on my pillow” and I’d say “Well I would eat his bogies!” and now she is his GIRLFRIEND? I was consumed with this whole body ache. I’d wake up jealous and go to sleep jealous and inbetween times think about his bogies jealously.

It’s not like that with my daughter.

We are deeply connected, we shower each other in kisses, we laugh until we cry, we play hard.

But every so often, when I am analysing the moment that I exploded into a shout after asking her to stop doing something 7 gazillion times, I discover that the blast came out of this deep place rooted in my childhood.

Here’s a list of the sorts of things that, once or twice a month, will give rise to a deep bubble of anger in my belly:

  • The zip on my dress being undone 8 times a day
  • Bouncing on Grandma’s bed
  • Bouncing on our bed whilst I’m trying to get Juno to nap
  • Insisting on changing her outfit for the 7th time before 9am as we’re about to leave
  • Refusing to move out of her seat after the aeroplane has landed
  • Emptying a whole jar of my homemade sunscreen into the sink
  • Crunching on a load of vitamin Cs when she usually helps herself to one
  • Needing to take all her clothes off to go to the toilet, in a public loo

Now nearly all of these are wholly natural, fully understandable urges – irresistible things kids are almost created to want to do. I love urges, I love creating space for them to happen. Furthermore, a lot of these things are a child’s RIGHT. It is her right to change her clothes, to take them off, to stay sitting when I want her to stay. And you know how I love children’s rights.

So I am pretty generally okay at just sitting back and not getting cross and creating space and getting joy out of their joy when all these things happen. Not a drop of annoyance in sight – just pleasure in connection, or curiosity about the way she has chosen to connect. Like, with my zip.
I'm jealous of my daughter! Healing the mother woundBut sometimes I’m not. Every so often my rational mind that loves urges and rights just leaves me hanging and my stomach fells with the big balloon of fury. And a lot of the time I can breathe and deal with it and then sometimes I just. get. mad.

And I am beginning to realise that this is the four year old Lucy, inside, saying HEY WHAAAAT?!  THATS SO NOT FAIR I NEVER GOT TO MAKE A POTION OUT OF SUNCREAM OR JUMP ON THE BEDS OR BE MY FULL EXUBERANT SELF…

(I was a bit precocious as a kid. Well read. I probably would have said exuberant.)

Teresa Brett, author of Parenting for Social Change, calls these “parenting triggers”. We can also get triggered when we are faced with a child’s experiences that remind us of something that happened to us as a kid. For example, when I see another kid being cruel to Ramona? My little inner 4 years wants to bust out yelling NO! YOU ARE THE POO AROUND HERE THANKS VERY MUCH! A BIG SMELLY POO HEAD! My inner 4 year old is totally unreasonable.

Last year Robin Grille came to New Zealand and he did a fantastic talk about emotional memory. (I write about emotional memory in our children, and as parents, here.) He advised us to look in with one eye, and out with another. Because unless we deal with emotional baggage from our own childhood we won’t be able to support our children with their own emotions.

At the heart of people not being able to cope with a child’s loud noises, their huge will and determination, their sheer physicality,  there is a little wounded child, feeling a bit jealous and wishing their own childhood could have been so free and so fun.

The bloody patriarchy 

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about this recently, particularly in the way mothers carry it. Because as women, we have been trying to thrive in an oppressive patriarchal culture, and must, to some extent, carry around baggage handed down through our lineage.

My friend sent me an article recently by Bethany Webster, Healing the Mother Wound, that articulated so perfectly some of my feelings. It discusses the role that living for generations upon generations within a patriarchal society can have on women, their daughters, and their daughter’s daughters, in a never ending game of pass-the-pain.

The hangover of women having to fulfil certain roles and expectations for so many years can leave us feeling like we are not quite good enough, that there is something wrong with us, that we must be a certain way to be loved, or plagued by guilt for wanting more than we have.

It gave me a how and a why for some of the deep emotions I have felt as a mother.

How I can be one minute sitting at the table doing crafts with my two girls, full of peace and joy, and the next minute battling a deep feeling of offense at how they want to push the ink pads directly on the paper, rather than using the stamps? WHY WOULD THEY WANT TO WASTE INK THIS WAY? IT DOESN’T EVEN MAKE COOL DINOSAUR SHAPES JUST BIG WET BLOBBY SQUARES. I have to sit, breathing with myself for a while, telling myself it doesn’t matter about the ink pads, they were only from the charity shop.

Webster says;

“In our society, there is no safe place for a mother to vent her rage. And so often it comes out unconsciously to one’s children. A daughter is a very potent target for a mother’s rage because the daughter has not yet had to give up her personhood for motherhood. The young daughter may remind the mother of her un-lived potential. And if the daughter feels worthy enough to reject some of the patriarchal mandates that the mother has had to swallow, then she can easily trigger that underground rage for the mother.”

Is it possible that when I see my daughters being so liberated and wild, so completely able to be themselves,  a small part of me remembers that phase in my teenage years, when I acted like an idiot, a classic bimbo, because I thought that’s how I, a pretty blond teenage girl needed to be in the world? My sister sat me down one day and said “Lucy you are intelligent. Stop pretending to be an idiot.” I did snap out of it, but I still sometimes recede into that place, perhaps to make people feel comfortable, or to like me, because somewhere along the line I’ve picked up that women need to be somewhat small. And this, eventually, is rage making. I'm jealous of my daughter! healing the mothers wound
My sister and I with our mum

I’m not happy with this rage. It isn’t fair on my daughters, for them to bear the brunt of thousands of years of gender inequality! Doesn’t that just take the mick? We’ve had the suffragette movement, women’s lib, and yet our daughter’s suffer because of a mother’s deep unhealed wounds.

The most important thing we can do as parents is acknowledge and validate our own pain, either from society, or childhood. It is a gift to become aware of how deep, untended to stuff can impact our relationship with our children.

A safe place to vent

The week I read about the Mother’s Wound I got involved in a small, very private women’s circle. A place to be honest, to acknowledge pain and rant and rave if necessary. I think it is a crucial step to dealing with these strange, unwelcome, unconscious feelings I have, a safe place to vent my rage.

Writing this has made me think of other ways to deal with emotional pain from childhood that I’ve found helpful – I thought I’d share these:

  • Finding a place to talk is so key – do you have a group you can form? Or an online place?
  • It sounds a little, er, quirky, but can you write a letter to you as a child? Address the pain you still carry.
  • Talk to yourself in the mirror. Tell yourself you are worthy of love, you are a good parent, you are kind. I recently had a very sad week, 3 things happened to me to make me question my work as a writer and general onliney person. I ended up going for a big rambly walk in the dark and began an inner monologue with someone I felt needed to trust themselves more. I began saying it over and over, like a mantra, and then realised I was talking to myself; “Trust yourself. You are a good person. Trust yourself.” It was really healing.
  • Change your brain. I know, it is like a proper insult. But it is science! Our brain acts like a muscle. With practice we can form new neural pathways. Keep doing something and you will get better. When you feel the bubble of rage, take a step back, count to ten, breath deeply, acknowledge and validate your feelings, and then address your children with love in your heart.  Eventually this will become your default. You can totally do this. You can change your shoutiness.

That best friend I had? When I was 14? She is still my best friend, two decades later. If I can get over the kind of jealousy that saw me madly eating bogies in my dreams, I am SURE I can address this subtle mother kind.

For my daughters’s sake, and my daughter’s daughters sake, I want to heal my mother wound, and show my inner 4 year old some love.

PS If you found this helpful please consider supporting my work on Patreon! You can become a patron for as little as $1. Thank you so much in advance!

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  • ThaliaKR 7 July, 2015 at 6:53 am

    This is a beautiful piece of writing, and so helpful. Thank you.

    (Except for the image of eating a teenage boy’s bogies. That’s just gross.)

    Well done on all those wonderful, positive, healing things you’ve been doing. May you continue to grow in confidence and calmness and wisdom. And keep sharing it all with us!


    • Lucy 7 July, 2015 at 7:41 am

      Thank you and sorry about the bogies! Super gross, although juno very fascinated by them at the moment!

  • Yael 7 July, 2015 at 6:57 am

    mmm… Didn’t get it this time.
    Can’t adults get annoyed and angry as adults, not as their 4-years-old-selves? When someone empties a whole jar of something I made into the sink, I get upset; it was my time, efforts, ingredients and intentions to use it and someone didn’t care about me. That’s not kind, and it’s annoying (and wasteful!). Sure, it’s nicer to be patient, but up to a point.

    I think tolerating all these behaviors is a way of saying that your child is more important than you (or anyone else – e.g. grandma’s bed); and it’s just wrong to assume that because they are the centre of their universe they are the centre of the universe. Respecting someone’s space and body means that you can’t open their zip whenever you feel like – even when you’re four (I guess it’s a different matter when you’re 1). You wouldn’t do it to her; why can she do it to you?

    It’s true for kids and for adults, by the way, so I don’t think I’m being patronizing here.
    However, I admire your patience – as always.

    • Lucy 7 July, 2015 at 7:03 am

      Thanks for your discussion Yael! I guess my point is less about whether those actions are annoying or not, but more about the explosion of anger? The intensity of the feeling?

      I feel really happy saying “Please don’t xxx – that’s my body” – we are particularly aware of consent.

      This was speaking to those moments when it feels like an intense emotion comes out of nowhere, like a bolt. It feels different, and when I sit with it, I know it comes from somewhere quite deep.

      But it is quite possible you don’t have triggers, I guess! If you didn’t resonate with it, that is great 🙂

  • Yael 7 July, 2015 at 7:41 am

    Thanks, now I see I *really* didn’t get it before, but I understand more now.
    The difference between daily annoying behaviour and exploding-rage moments was not clear to me; surely I have loads of triggers to look more closely at. Thanks!

    • Lucy 7 July, 2015 at 8:39 am

      Yeah, I’m wondering whether that list wasn’t helpful. This whole thing was reAlly about The Rage. And I think that means there is stuff that needs to be dealt with xx

  • Emily Shepperson 7 July, 2015 at 8:29 am

    Such a great post. I find myself getting frustrated at my children sometimes. Tomorrow is a new day and I’ll try to view my relationship with them a little differently.

    • Lucy 7 July, 2015 at 8:47 am

      Thank you and yes, every day is a fresh start x

  • Natalie @ little jam pot life 7 July, 2015 at 9:06 am

    Totally relate to this so much and so grateful to have read this today after a tough few weeks. And yes, bogies are a normality with my Littles too, nose diggers!

    Seriously though, such a powerful and heart opening post, you put things down the way I wish I could explain them, I have so many things going on in my head at the minute (recently wrote about my struggles to decide on HE) moving home, trying to get into working with my blog etc, all these thing contribute to the impatience and I end up venting it by being frustrated at times then feeling the biggest amount of guilt ever for getting annoyed because my three year old had poured a whole bag of flour on the floor, to me it was a pain in my ass, but her , she simply was ‘making snow’.. I think when times get hard the best thing I try And do is see things from their point of view. Yes it’s tough when those (as you put it, rages from a deeper place) come filtering through but I’m willing to keep trying in those moments of uncertainty. I do feel these things from my childhood, and I think the best thing we can take from bad experiences is to know we can use them in the best way possible to channel them into something better and something we don’t want our children to have with them for the rest of their lives.

    I’m slightly sleep deprived so if I makes no sense, I do apologise! Anyway, amaze balls post for my Spirit right now! 😉

    • Lucy 7 July, 2015 at 9:08 am

      IT made perfect sense! I am stoked this resonated with you 😀

  • Emma 7 July, 2015 at 10:01 am

    My baby is only little so I don’t think I’ve had an opportunity yet to see what my “triggers” might be, but I’ll beat this in mind when they do start surfacing! It makes me sad that you had a sad week and questioned yourself. You’re an amazing writer and your blog is super-inspiring, please don’t doubt that. I mean it from the bottom of my heart x

    • Emma 7 July, 2015 at 10:02 am

      Bear it in mind! Beat it in mind sounds terrifying. Poor inner 4 year old me.

  • Jess @ Along Came Cherry 7 July, 2015 at 5:14 pm

    Wow Lucy, I so needed to read this right now, and your post from the other day which I’m about to go and comment on. I love your parenting posts so much, they make so much sense and help me see things a bit clearer. I’ve struggled with parenting lately and for the last few weeks none of us have been having a very good time but after I read your other post on Friday we’ve been letting Cherry do more for herself, she’s been choosing her own clothes and making her own breakfast and generally being more in charge of her decisions and things have been so different since. It feels like the nice times are returning and there has been so much more laughter again. It’s inspired me to make a few changes which was definitely needed in our house so thank you! x

  • Natalie Smithson 7 July, 2015 at 5:26 pm

    It’s easy to fake it on the social scene or wear a poker face to work. At home with our children there is nowhere to hide. Old wounds are reflected in little versions of ourselves and the complexities of our closest relationships are exposed to bounce around the room; nothing confronts us with more force than a thunderclap of emotion unearthed by a tiny, innocent being. Definitely a sign of unresolved angst, but when we recognise this and teach ourselves to manage it, it’s a valuable lesson we can pass onto our little people when their time comes to face the same demons 🙂

  • Emma 9 July, 2015 at 7:45 am

    Lucy you always make me stop and think. thank you

  • Liz Burton 9 July, 2015 at 9:09 am

    You see I don’t know where I sit with this (thinking about me, from my perspective, because I’m centre of my universe obvs). I get the rage, I get a lot of rage. I lose it with my daughter and that’s partly because we’re so alike and she enjoys pushing my buttons. But I also get it with my partner and sometimes other people. And I’ve never been a 43 year old man, although I have been a 7 year old girl if that makes sense. So I don’t know where mine stems from. I’ve never thought about it this deeply before. I think selfishness just pisses me off. Period.

    You have reminded me that I need to work on trying to control it more though so that’s a good thing! xx

  • Donna @ Little Lilypad Co 9 July, 2015 at 9:53 am

    I love the freedom you have when you are four and I can relate to that envy. I also COMPLETELY understand your inner fury regarding the painting / ink. There is never enough patience in my head to cope with craft.

    Great article as always!

  • Michelle Twin Mum 9 July, 2015 at 9:56 am

    Lots of food for thought in here and actually I found the cmments super helpful too. I am guilty of exploding at times and yes I really need to explore where that comes from. Mich x

  • Mummy Barrow 9 July, 2015 at 7:29 pm

    This is one of the most powerful blog posts I have ever read.

    I find myself consumed with emotional baggage from the past and its only dawning on me now that it is this that is shaping who I am right now, and I can’t say I like it.

    Off to investigate the books and people you refer to and read up on it and see if I can address the issue.

    But think I need to sit and think for a while, such a powerful post.

  • Mammasaurus 9 July, 2015 at 10:36 pm

    I love this post Lucy – it’s so interesting to stop and examine the whole mother daughter relationship like this. Like with so much in life it’s this communication and talking about how we feel rather than bottling them up that seems to be the key to happiness x

  • Becky 10 July, 2015 at 12:24 am

    Ah Lucy I love how you are honest and ever evolving. Love you for always encouraging me to think and to see how things can be better. I dont want to rage at my kids…sometimes I do. Its time to learn how not to.

  • Rachael 11 July, 2015 at 2:59 pm

    This is a fantastic article Lucy, it has really struck a chord with me. I often track my feelings as a parent back to the transition from being a daughter to being a mother. Around the same time I became a mother, my own mum died, which made the transition difficult. But none of this is my daughters fault, so reminding ourselves to express hurt in other ways is a good idea.

  • Adele 21 November, 2015 at 12:48 am

    Was just taking a random look around your blog and came across this. Now I’m tearing up. I think I need to write that letter.

    • Lucy 28 November, 2015 at 10:01 am

      Ah. Love to you beautiful mama x x

  • Lorissa 21 November, 2015 at 6:07 pm

    You’ve put to words with such ease, an issue I’ve been mulling around for some time. I have seen that as a mother, I need to allow myself to “fall in love with” my daughters. Something that I had noticed I was withholding and reserving in a way. Not on purpose, but I think it quite possibly relates to the needs, especially those unmet ones, that I carry around from younger days but also from today. Somehow for me, letting myself fall in love with my daughters, giving myself over to them at that level, has reaffirmed my sense of self and who I am and what I need. It’s as if really loving, becoming one with someone does not erase us after all… Please keep sharing all your ideas, I’ll be reposting this over on my parenting group fb page. wishing you well.

    • Lucy 28 November, 2015 at 10:01 am

      Yes this is so true and so lovely!

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