Symbol of the Month: The Owl, October 2019
How can we use thoughts about the owl to strengthen our connection to our kids? Since the owl symbol suggests being quiet, still, and aware, it seems like a good time to examine the link between our own awareness of self and our connection to our children. If we understand our own triggers and we see the ways in which old patterns tend to dictate current relationships, we can better navigate our connections with our loved ones.
What is the biggest obstacle between parents and children? The rise of the parental ego, unfortunately. What exactly does that mean? It means that when we are unaware of our own triggers, which have nothing to do with our children, we tend to act in ways that we regret. We are blindsided by residue from the past instead of being conscious and mindful about the way we choose to interact with others. So, how can we improve in this area? How can we move with quiet and stillness, but also with awareness?
Let’s start by setting up a red flag in our brains. When we notice ourselves parenting from a place of fear, the red flag should appear, and we should press pause. Unfortunately, fear drives our reactive, angry, worried reactions. Fear is really just another name for our egos. If you see someone getting angry, and you ask them to tap into that feeling, most likely they will say, “Well, I’m so frustrated,” or “I feel helpless right now,” or “I’m feeling out of control because this person won’t do what I asked.” All of these are expressions of fear. Anger is just the preliminary manifestation of fear. There is always fear at the bottom of every angry reaction---fear of not being liked, fear of not being accepted, fear of losing control.
Imagine teaching your tweens and teens this important information about the way their brains work. Any time we can be smarter about our brain functioning, it’s a win for everyone in the family. What if we developed the habit of saying to our kids when they act in an angry fashion, “I wonder what you’re afraid of right now? You seem angry, but you and I both know that “FEAR” is trying to undermine you.” What if we personify fear a bit, if we suggest that fear is the unwelcome guest who descends upon us, trying to trick us with a message that’s usually not very accurate?
The connection between fear, the feeling of lacking something, and the tendency toward micro-managing cannot be overlooked. In other words, take note of when you feel fearful and the ensuing tendency to become very controlling in that moment. We think that a slight semblance of control will help steady us, that it might relieve us from our fear.
Let’s look at an example that many of us will encounter with our teens. Teens love music. In fact, some kids develop a core sense of their identity based on which artists they align themselves with via Tik Tok or whose lyrics they re-post on Instagram. While we, as parents, might be quick to dismiss certain lyrics we deem offensive or crude, I think Dr. John Duffy provides some wise advice on the topic. In his book, Parenting The New Teen In The Age of Anxiety, Dr. Duffy suggests that when our daughter selects her music, she is “listening because the music touches her emotionally somehow. In all likelihood, you will learn that her music, whatever form it may take, speaks to her, and makes her feel understood and less alone. It may be noise to you, but it probably rings more like hope to her. So, listen with her. She will think you’re cool for doing so, especially if you go into this with an open mind. And, you will understand her far better than you would imagine. This should be fun, by the way, if you’re truly open and available to it, and your biases are put aside.”
“But hearing those nasty lyrics makes me so angry!” you persist. If we allow anger (fear) to run the show, then, most likely, we will ask our daughter to turn off that offensive music because it makes us uncomfortable or nervous. We will attempt to micromanage her taste in music, as if we know better. How does an interaction like this one usually end? With disconnection. The read-between-the-lines for your daughter is: “My parents don’t think I am old enough to select my own music” or “Do my parents actually think that the lyrics a rapper chooses will dictate how I talk?” Instead, what if we ask the previously mentioned question to ourselves in that moment: “I wonder what I’m afraid of?” What if we even voiced these fears, aloud, to our child? Might that lead to more openness, vulnerability, and, therefore, connection?
When we begin to identify and articulate our fears, it allows us to reclaim what it is about us that is being projected onto the situation, and to realize that it’s not necessarily the situation, itself. The more we can own this, the more we can control how situations turn out. Our job is to be aware of when our concern (because of our own baggage) becomes anxiety, and anxiety becomes control, and control becomes threats, and threats become anger, and anger becomes disconnection. Unfortunately, it’s like watching a line of dominoes fall neatly into place.
We have to silence our ego temporarily to stop it from sabotaging the connection our teens need from us. Connection is our ally. Letting our ego control the show just pushes our teens away further. Tweens and teenagers put our ego into overdrive. Know this, prepare for this, arm yourself with this truth in your moments of stillness so that you can respond gracefully and appropriately. Remember to be like the owl: think twice before you speak once. If this line of thinking resonates with you, I would highly recommend reading Dr. Shefali Tsabary’s book entitled: The Awakened Family.