No Escape: Part 2

For part one of “No Escape”, click here

There are certain parenting moments that bring you to your knees with regret and despair. These are the times when you look at yourself from above and think, “I can’t believe I’m saying this to my child,” and later, curled in the sheets, you sink into the well of remorse and cry yourself to sleep. These are humbling moments, unbearably painful moments, and, in the end, the moments that break us open to a new level of learning about ourselves and shine the unwavering light of consciousness on the places that need attention.

And then there are moments when we know we’re doing something very good for our child. These are moments when we’re in the tao of parenting, sitting centered in the saddle where nothing – not the screaming, not the tantrums, not the accusations – can knock us off balance. These, too, are learning moments, where the beautiful light of consciousness shines into the places that have grown and can continue to be watered.

I had one such moment a few days ago. We’ve been struggling in the throes of threes with our little guy. My dear friend, who also has a three year old, describes this stage from the child’s perspective as “a new awareness, like a veil falls away, and the world is sharp after that.” My son is clearly struggling to make sense of his new world, his new awareness, and as he tumbles around in his exquisitely sensitive out-of-control awareness, he’s trying to take me down with him. And down I’ve gone. Down, down, down, until, at the bottom of the well, I finally surrendered and then looked around for the coins of clarity that would help me find my way back out

After two in-depth conversations with my wise-women, I woke up Sunday morning clear on how to handle Asher’s attempts at controlling his inner world by controlling me. He’s perseverated on one theme for several weeks now and, because it’s been easier not to fight him, I’ve gone along with his demands. Specifically, he’s demanded that I wear my hair back. Sound ridiculous? It is! But in his little mind, if he could control my hair, perhaps he could control the maelstrom of emotions, thoughts, and sensations turbulently bursting and birthing inside him. But I finally reached my threshold and decided that, while I’m okay with supporting him in places that are clearly about his fear – like his refusal to go swimming – I’m not okay with allowing him to control me.

So when we woke up Sunday morning I said to him, “Asher, I know you really like it when I wear my hair back, but I don’t always want to put it back. Sometimes I like it down and sometimes I like it on top of my head, especially when it’s hot. So I know that you might not like this, but I’m going to wear my hair however I want. And you can have any feeling you need to have about that.”

“Okay, Mommy. It’s just that when I’m sad, I like you to wear your hair back.”

This was an extraordinarily insightful comment, and one that corroborates with my instinct that his attempts at controlling me are his way of trying to avoid his difficult feelings.

“I know, sweetheart. But I also know that you can handle your sad feelings without trying to control my hair.”

“Okay, Mommy.”

Hmmm, that’s it? We snuggled for a few minutes, and then he said, “Mommy, I’m sad. Could you please put your hair back?”

“No, Asher, I’m not going to put my hair back. Remember you can choose for your own body but you can’t control other people’s bodies.”

And that’s all she wrote. He went from zero to sixty and screamed at the top of his lungs. He screamed and cried and rolled around and screamed some more. At some point, my older son came in and lied down next to us. I put my arm on him to reassure him that everything was okay. He smiled, somehow sensing that, even though the feelings were loud, Asher was being contained by my firm but loving boundary.

Asher screamed for a good twenty minutes, but because I was prepared for it, I held my seat with love. I touched him occasionally to let him know that I was there, not going anywhere. My internal knowing said that he could handle any feeling but what he couldn’t handle was the threat of or actual abandonment. In other words, I wouldn’t say to him, “If you keep screaming, I’m going to leave the room.” What I did say was, “You can feel anything you want. I’m not going anywhere. And I know you’ll move through this when you’re done.” It was like I could sense a quantifiable amount of frustration inside of him that needed to come out. When he expressed enough of it for the time being, he could come back to his center and move on.

And that’s exactly what he did. As quickly as it started, the screaming stopped and he said, “Okay, let’s go downstairs.” We went down, had breakfast, and went out onto the deck to play. I felt happy inside, clear for the first time in weeks about my parenting direction. And as I leaned back on the couch enjoying the lovely morning, I heard Asher telling himself a story:

“One day, Asher woke up and said, ‘Mommy, put your hair back!’ Mommy said no and Asher drove in his car to Whole Foods. He wasn’t scared. He drove to a cliff and looked out and said, ‘How beautiful!’ Then he drove home.” I’m assuming this was his way of processing what happened and that the storytelling helped him to arrive at a greater level of acceptance about the new terms.

Something my therapist said in my twenties has been popping into consciousness lately: “Most parents have no tolerance for their kids’ frustration, so the frustration is shut down, goes underground and comes out as anxiety or depression later in life.” Frustration. I’m not exactly sure why Asher is frustrated, but I have a feeling it’s connected to the inherently out-of-control experience of learning to be human, the realization that the world is so much bigger than he can control or even make sense of, the daily frustrations of being little in a world where everyone is big, of his words not always being understood, of having a big brother that adores him but isn’t always kind to him, and having parents that can meet his needs but can’t meet all of his desires. The veil of being two years old has fallen away, and in the searingly clear awareness of three, he’s desperately trying to avoid the big feelings.

Can I teach him that he can handle big feelings? Can I teach him that he can’t control others as a way to try to manage what’s happening inside of him? Knowing that having a clear and courageous relationship to one’s most painful feelings is one of the inroads to a fulfilling and joyous life, it is my deepest prayer that, if I teach him nothing else, I teach him this: that he can handle big feelings and not feel afraid of them, that feelings are fleeting, and that when he dives into the tumultuous waves of his emotional life while holding onto the tether of a loving adult – now me and one day his own inner parent – he will always, always emerge on the other side with more clarity, strength, resilience, flexibility, and joy than ever before.

12 comments to No Escape: Part 2

  • Ashley

    Oh Sheryl! So beautiful and honest and inspiring! Thank you!!

  • gardenia

    Beautiful Sheryl. It brought tears to my eyes (the specificity of Asher’s demand also made me smile; kids are so funny). “As he tumbles around in his exquisitely sensitive out-of-control awareness” — wow, that is such a stunning way to describe that experience. Your sons are so lucky to have such an aware and sensitive mom.

  • Carly

    Sheryl, I just loved every word of this. Asher reminds me of the childish part of myself. I too need to learn that I can feel strong emotions and not be anihilated by them. I must say i find it so adorable that Asher’s sadness was alleviated by your hair-do. It goes to show the randomness of the refuges we cling to!!

  • Jennifer

    Sheryl, thank you for the article–it also brought tears to my eyes. In the midst of some difficult transitions and a day in which alot of productivity seems impossible, I appreciated the light of your insight.

    Thank you too to the other ladies who share their thoughts.

  • Sweetie, I’m so blown away by your understanding of what’s going on inside Asher. This story is so moving – I hung on every word. And I love the story he came up with to process what had happened. I would guess that he finds both Whole Foods and beauty nurturing to him when he feel sad and out of control.

  • Thank you, Mom. Your comment touched me in such a sweet place. And yes, I think Whole Foods and nature are nurturing for him (which makes sense, considering how much I love Whole Foods and nature!).

    Thank you, everyone, for your comments. It always makes my soul smile to know that my words are landing and touching you in such beautiful places… inside your souls around the world.

  • Jen

    I love the fact that Asher “drove his own car to Whole Foods” and to the cliff.Can’t get any clearer than that on a child’s level,he came away with a whole new level of self.I also love how you supported him throughout his frustration.

  • Having two year old twins I am always interested to read about Asher and what may be down the path for me. I found that I most related this story to myself and I found it so touching and emotional when I read it. I’ve always had such big emotions and it took me many years to learn that it was a good thing and I could ‘live’ through them – the pass!

    I hope to be as tapped in to my sons and their feelings as they grow into more of themselves:-)!

    You are such a gift!!!

    Jennifer

  • MM

    Hi Sheryl,

    I’m just looking for a little guidance here. Been with my girlfriend about 2.5 years. I’ve dealt with anxiety my whole life and am on Medication for tht as well as OCD. My anxiety started in December, which was the anniversary of when I donated a kidney to my older brother. The surgery anniversary is right before Christmas. My therapist felt I never dealt with the stress of donation, but for some reason I started to question my love for my girlfriend. It was at this time our parents were meetung for the first time, and my brother who i donated to lives half way around the world. She is everything I’ve wanted. I still find that I’m anxious and I spike when I hear people say they get warm fuzzy feelings every time they see their spouse or significant other, because I don’t and it makes me think something is wrong with me. I smile when I think of my girlfriend or when I see a picture of her, but my mind seems to play these tricks on me. It’s been mentally exhausting. I don’t want to lose her, as she what I want. My family is really supportive and always tells me that they know I love her. When I’m calm it’s fine but when that fear voice kicks in, I do a tailspin .

    • If you’ve read through a bit of this site, you’ll quickly realize that you’ve found your way to right place and are in good company with a community of people who have struggled with the exact same issues. My recommendation is to read through as much of my site as possible and then take a look at the Conscious Weddings E-Course page. There’s no doubt that you’re in great relationship with a great girl and that the source of the anxiety lies in you. You could walk away, but clearly you don’t want to, and the truth is that, since the anxiety lives inside of you, you would take it with you wherever you go. If you want to experience serenity and clarity in your relationship, the work starts now. Hang in there!

  • MM

    To add, we have a great time together and have been living together for over a year and a half. I had bad experiences with relationships in the past and my family thinks i am guarding against being hurt.