“Synergy – the bonus that is achieved when things work together harmoniously.” – Mark Twain
As a parent, I always want the best for my child. She’s my one and only. In her first decade of life, I have learned more about myself through her. She’s opened my eyes to many things I never saw in myself.
She’s shown me that I can be courageous while also being cautious. I can be strong, while also being sensitive. She has empowered me to embrace my true self and in this authenticity, I believe in our capacity to do great things, even when they aren’t easy.
Now, for a little bit of “Title” tossing-out. My daughter and I have both been officially diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. With this, we are able to support each other’s challenges with compassion and connection. Yet, that doesn’t mean it’s easier because of empathy. Our emotions and stress can still get in the way of our daily functioning, but we can support each other without judgement.
Secondarily, through my own personal journey, I have discovered that I am an Enneagram 9 and most definitely considered a “Highly Sensitive Person.” Yes, that means that I have a big heart and care about others, yet it’s also a genuine physical and emotional experience for me. I feel more deeply and experience life more richly.
Lastly, my sweet daughter has challenges with Sensory Processing Integration. What this means is that her brain has a difficult time processing the sensory information it receives which can create heightened physical and emotional responses. In other words, her brain in uniquely designed to deeply experience her daily life.
Generalized Anxiety (GAD). Highly Sensitive (HSP). Sensory Processing Integration( SPiD). These terms or labels are not deficits, they are strengths and will continue to build resiliency through connection and reflection.
With this, I had an experience that helped me realize that not everyone has this ‘feel deeply’ experience.
I’d like to provide this scenario to help generate some truths behind navigating parental challenges. Again, my daughter has a beautifully designed nervous system that leads her to embracing life deeply. She is courageous and brave while also timid and tense. Therefore, when conflict arises, she can sometimes react bigger than expected.
For example, when she felt her friends weren’t listening, she told them that she “hated them.” Which then led to responses like “you’re overreacting” and “you’re mean.” Developmentally, this is a ‘sometimes expected’ response. Pre-teens are navigating how to best express themselves emotionally and most often its more intense than they even expect it to be.
This is where the unique awareness for myself as a parent came in. When I read about this interaction (virtual exchange between school friends), I recognized the somatic experience it gave me. I felt those tingles and numbness that you’d feel when someone said or did something hurtful. It was interestingly an empathetic physical response. I felt as if the words were spoken to me. And this is where I am grateful for my awareness that can lead me to a rational response.
My nervous system response led me to an emotional response of sadness and a physical reaction of numbness and wide-awake-ness. Oh did I mention it’s 1:30 am as I write this? Probably not because I know I should be sleeping yet my emotional processing has me physically wide awake.
Going back to the scenario, I ask myself, How can I support my child through validation (of her big feels), reflection and restoration?
I have learned what I shouldn’t and won’t do- have an immediate response of anger, punishment and shaming behaviors. Unfortunately this is the typical-ish response in parenting- respond with intensity to eliminate behavior. By doing this, it simply invalidates emotional and social development and shuts down the ability to grow through the hardship.
Do I believe in accountability- you betcha. Yet how the accountability is communicated is the key element in this scenario, I mindfully choose my language and best frame my reflection questions with curiosity not shame. The “tell me more” request remains the most powerful statement. When I am able to validate the feelings she’s sharing with me, it also creates a safety that builds her resiliency as well as self-compassion.
By investing my energy into seeking to understand, it encourages my daughter (and others) to re-evaluate the situation and be able to become more collaborative in problem solving. Now because of this, I am hopeful that when scenarios arise such as the one shared above, I will be able to remain compassionately curious, not concerned about the outcome of the hardship.
I genuinely want the best for my daughter and will remain intentional about my self-awareness of my response and do my best to empower resilience through authentic emotional processing. I will need practices like these (written reflection and communication) in order to remain calm and curious when supporting the social and emotional challenges that may arise.
For encouragement, when you are invest in your self-reflection and awareness of your reaction and response to the events and experiences of parenting, you are a great parent. There is power in restoration because you’re not always going to get it right. You’re human. By getting to know yourself and your child, you’ll experience the synergy to be able to work together and do hard things.