Last week a stomach bug visited (rather rudely) the Johnson household, and I found myself comforting vomiting children on back to back days.
Neither of the kids remember the last time they puked, so this was almost like a new experience for them, especially my 6 year old. With that arose some fear.
It had me reflecting on a parenting trap that I used to fall into. When the kids were hurt or crying, I might reflexively say “you’re okay,” or “you’re fine.” I remember hearing myself say it and wondering “wait a second, they don’t think they’re fine or okay. Why am I saying that?”
This was long before I had ever heard the term gaslighting. Although I wasn’t trying to deny my child’s reality in those moments, it was a denial of their reality.
This past week as the children were puking, I heard myself say “It’s okay.” And then I wondered, is it okay? I think it is because it is okay that they’re puking. Their bodies are working to clear stuff from their system and fight off whatever is present for them.
Although sick kids is really no fun, it can be a beautiful opportunity to sit with them, and just be with them. As Ruby and B were somewhat scared, it gave me an opportunity to offer them a way to relate to their bodies.
What I came away with is something I see echoed across our human nature: we love certainty. We are always trying to create it, to grasp onto it. The very idea of life, is uncertain. We can never know when and how our time will expire, but we like to pad ourselves with a false certainty that we have it figured out, and we know.
What I saw in my little’s as they were sick was the fear of the unknown, and the uncertainty of vomiting. Puking is an opportunity to let go of the mind, and trust the body.
We talked about why it was scary, and they revealed that they felt scared because they had no control over the process. If you’ve ever had a healthy heave, you know exactly what they are talking about – the body takes over. Birthing is very much the same.
I found so much beauty in this interaction. It allowed me to connect with where they were, validate how they were feeling, and share wisdom that may (or may not) help. Which is how I want to parent. I want my kid’s to know they and their experience of life matters. I want them to trust themselves AND their bodies because I believe if they do, they will always know how to reorient back to themselves as they encounter everything life has to throw at them.
I know a lot of unintentional gaslighting in these scenarios comes from a desire to protect (or so we think), but isn’t it really our own discomfort with the tough emotions and the pain they are experiencing? AND, how can we be comfortable with something (our own pain and lack of control) if the adults around us never taught us in childhood?
I recently conducted a poll on my Instagram, and out of everyone that voted only one person had never heard any of the common gaslighting statements from their parents, and 50% of pollsters had heard 7-11 of the phrases posted. That’s incredible to me!
How do we learn to trust ourselves and our experiences when we are never taught?
Here are some tips I use, and some things I shared with the girls when they were ill:
- You are the world’s leading expert on you, and your kids are for themselves. Help them and yourself understand what that means, how to decipher cues, and listen to internal messages and signals.
- Trust your body. It is doing exactly what it needs to do to take care of you – whether puking, diarrhea, or something far worse, as we could venture into the manifestation of chronic disease. The important thing to remember is this is feedback. Your body is trying to give you information and protect you. It’s existence depends on your survival.
- Being with, instead of fixing. Be with your self, or your children when the chips are down, tears are flowing, and pain is present. We are competent and capable of healing from pain and trauma, our body’s know how – and it’s not by fixing or changing the present moment. It’s by tending and befriending what is present.
- Embrace uncertainty. We cannot always know how things will turn out, in fact we rarely can. By trusting that whatever is happening is meant for us, we enter an empowered relationship with whatever life brings to our door. It isn’t always what we want, or our choice, but we always have a choice in how we greet it.
- Things to say to be with your little’s or yourself. I know it hurts. Ouchies. It hurts so much. You’re really in pain. Wow, that really hurts. This is really scary. I’m here.
I hope this helps you trust yourself and your kids a bit more as you move forward on your journey.
Life is so tricky, and it can be so much fun to truly embrace all of it, even the bits we don’t like. What do you do to build trust with yourself?