The Evolving Relationship Between a Mom and Her Children
Once again, I feel grateful to have the opportunity to be interviewed by another inspiring woman. Faiza Sheikh-Mian, LCSW, LCADC, CYT, is a mother to two precious boys, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Yoga Instructor, and Parent Coach.
Through her Mom Meets Sanity online campaign, she’s on a mission to bring you all of the tips, tricks & tools that she wants you to have during your own journey through motherhood.
To get access to video interviews with 21 experts, visit https://www.ownyourjourneymom.com.
My interview with Faiza is below AND I’ve also put our juicy conversation in narrative form as well.
Our Starting Point as a Parent: Our Own Childhood Experience
Our starting point with our children is our own experience as a child. Whether you remember your childhood as joyful, mediocre, or traumatic, our deepest and most ingrained patterns of how we relate to others were established during this time. These patterns helped us survive childhood AND they often run their course at some point during our lives. They stop working.
For some, starting a family is a choice that follows much reflection and for others it is sprung upon them without much notice. Even the most conscious person likely will end up being thrown for a loop during the parenting journey.
Here’s what I know for sure. No matter how conscious you are about parenting, you’re going to end up projecting your shit onto your children. The fact that you have a goal for how you want your children to experience childhood is itself a projection.
I knew that I wanted my children’s experience of childhood to be better than mine. I knew enough to know that all I knew was my own experience and to prevent repeating that I needed some kind of model.
Books are always my answer. What I didn’t realize at the time though was how my perfection complex was at work, which of course was developed during my childhood as my personal survival mechanism. I was already projecting onto my children who weren’t even born yet. I was searching for the “right way” to parent.
The most impactful books that I read as I was preparing to start a family were The Sacrificial Mother and The Good Enough Mother. Not only did I have my own shit to overcome, I had the noise of cultural messages that were telling me I was selfish for wanting independence and a meaningful career warring against the messages that I could do everything and anything. Yikes!
When my children reached adulthood a couple years ago, I actually breathed a sigh of relief that I had been a good enough mother. It’s as if I was holding my breath for the past two decades. Believe me, it did not go as well as my fantasy wanted it to go. There has been much suffering along the way that I would never have anticipated. My heart hurts whenever I think about it.
AND now they are on their own karmic journeys, which are none of my business. Hoping for their lives to go smoothly is simply a selfish wish that I do not have to feel badly as I watch them grow as human beings.
Our Children Do NOT Belong to Us
I think because I didn’t trust myself, I was open to this spiritual idea that our children are not our property, nor do they belong to us. Children are creations of the universe, or God or the Divine, and they are placed in our care for the purpose of preparing them for their own unique journey.
This means we must accept them in whatever form they appear, and right there that can be a challenge. Sometimes the form in which they appear is meant to challenge us.
I knew my son was not usual when he was about three weeks old. My daughter never wanted me to stop rocking her, but my son wiggled and wiggled until I put him in his crib. Then he rolled over, sighed and went to sleep. He would go on to challenge our ideas of what is usual and what is not usual, and his not being usual would cause much suffering for him throughout his school years.
So, because I didn’t trust myself, after I worked through the What to Expect books, I searched for some kind of parenting framework and I came upon the book Smart Love, which was a parenting philosophy based on child development. I remember cringing at how many times a child hears the words “No” or “Don’t” in a single day. I remember learning how to harness my children’s sense of curiosity through redirection.
On the other hand, I also developed a very unhealthy kind of patience to compensate for the lack of patience I experienced in childhood and by others in my children’s lives, including family members.
I recall having my mind blown when instead of looking at my daughter’s actions as disrespect – how does a two year old know about respect anyway – that as she repeatedly threw her sippy cup on the floor she was discovering she was separate from me – that she had a different idea about things than I did – she was developing her own ego. So, as I watched other parents scold their two-year-old’s for pushing the buttons on the TV, I became curious about the purpose of the natural behaviors of children.
This approach of course was more work than the knee-jerk reactions we got from our parents and boy the grandparents’ judgments sure do show up as we explore and develop our own parenting philosophy. I didn’t get a lot of affirmation from others of my new parenting perspective, but sometimes I did.
My daughter’s kindergarten teacher called me one day and told me that my daughter was telling other girls to break their pencils. One voice in my head wondered why another kid would listen to her, and the other realized she was trying to influence someone else. I suggested to her teacher that she see her behavior as an attempt to be some kind of leader and give her opportunities to influence others in a positive way. Three weeks later the teacher called me and said, “Boy you know your daughter.”
Her third-grade teacher however was a different matter. My daughter had a stomachache every morning before she went to school and cried every night. When I went to see her teacher, she condescendingly stated, “I hear you give your children a lot of positive reinforcement. I hope they know who is boss at home.” I was so taken aback I couldn’t even respond.
I would go on to feel the need to advocate especially for my son who did not seem to fit into the traditional approach used in two wealthy school districts who prided themselves on meeting their students’ needs. That’s another story.
My point in sharing this is that our children are born to live out their own unique experience of being human, and I believe it is a blessing to be entrusted with the responsibility of providing the acceptance and love that will give them the sense of self-worth needed to fulfill their journey whether or not it conforms to someone else’s ideas.
The shit would hit the fan though when my children were about 13 and 15. My childhood complexes of perfection, patience, and attempts at managing the emotions of others all unraveled in very dramatic ways.
The unraveling of my marriage luckily coincided with a kind of synchronistic call to study depth psychology. Intellectual concepts came to life dramatically as I was forced to come to terms with my biggest projection of all having to do with how I wanted my children to experience childhood.
They say that during times of stress, our most dysfunctional patterns of reacting come right up to the surface. And they do it often with the force of a volcanic eruption. During these moments, we are so sure we are right - we’re in the grip of a complex - and it is only after much reflection that we are able to see the truth of the situation.
Often the truth has nothing to do with the incident that triggered the eruption. Instead the incident brings back or resembles something from way back in our own childhood. It feels threatening, we feel vulnerable, like a helpless child. Sometimes the other person - sometimes your child - just looks at you like you’re crazy, because in that moment you are kind of crazy.
As I was feeling the stress of a marriage falling apart, and the added complication of addiction suffered by my now ex-husband, I think I just could not hold myself together any longer.
During my own childhood, I was not allowed to have my own emotions, rather I played the role of proving to my mother that she was a better mother than her own mother. How did my mother know if she was a better mother? When my behavior was not “good” it was internalized by my mother as her failing at parenting. That was a big burden for me to carry as a child. So, I became super good at hiding from my own emotions and at developing this super-hero sense of patience with my own children.
And then I just couldn’t do it anymore. Once that broke down, I began just exploding over small incidents. One day it just became so clear and all of a sudden, I felt this intense heartache. I think part of my explosion was the release of emotions that I should have been able to express as a child. Now it was as if I was at the level of my children.
Because I had not been able to freely express emotion as a child, I was super committed to the idea that my children be able to express and process their own emotions. Eventually, this was going to catch up with me, because every good thing has a dark side.
I started doing two things that caused me to evolve. The first thing I did was create space for me to express anger and resentment, much of which was very old and hiding out in my unconscious and even in my body. But because my ego was so good at denying and hiding my anger, I learned to see what became obvious signals that something needed to come out and be expressed.
The second thing I did was learn to apologize to my children for my part in those explosive interactions. I would wait a few hours and say something like “Babe, I want to apologize for my anger in that interaction. That thing that you did isn’t what caused me to get angry and yell. That thing just triggered something in me that happened a very long time ago. I’m sorry.”
Now, this was not an easy skill to learn, because it requires admitting as parents, we make mistakes. It requires great humility to tell your teenager you were wrong. The thing they did might still have been wrong or annoying, but if our response was disproportionately emotional, then it was not about that thing they did, it was about us.
I started looking at the things our children do that don’t please us as “Just Things,” things that just happen, that are neutral, that are natural, and when I looked at it this way, it became less personal and I became more clear headed. Before I was making it all about me. I wasn’t even helping my children learn any kind of lesson.
I shared with my children that I needed to express my own anger sometimes. I would do this by walking around the house yelling “I’m angry right now.” It felt so silly, but it actually worked. I’m still too good at hiding from my anger, but the universe will help me out just in time. One day, I was trying to adjust the fancy wooden blinds on my living room windows. The pull string wasn’t working, and all of a sudden, one by one, the individual wooden slats fell onto the floor. It was as if this acted as a match thrown onto a pile of dry straw. I felt the heat welling up inside me. I cried. My son was behind me, and I think he could feel it. He tried to help me, and I couldn’t even deal with it. I told him that I had to be angry, but not at him, that I needed to just be angry. So, I actually screamed and walked around saying I was angry. My son was starting to understand, but also thought I was a little crazy.
I share these personal stories as examples of what it feels like to begin to have more consciousness around our responses to our children’s behaviors, especially when they do not conform to our own limiting notions of what is proper or appropriate.
We Get the Children Who Are Meant to Make Us Grow
I really do believe that the situations we are living through, the people we fall in love with or are attracted to, and the children we are presented with are meant to help us grow. We either learn the lessons or we don’t.
I don’t like conflict, although I’ve become a master at crucial conversations in my professional life. My heart also hurts when my own behavior ends up hurting someone else. As a child I had to constantly adapt to whatever emotions my mother was feeling, without having the right to have my own. The good thing is that I’m good at managing my emotions. The bad thing is that I’m too good at managing my emotions.
I am still trying to figure out what I’m supposed to be learning from a dynamic that now seems to be a stubborn part of the relationship among my daughter, son and me. The stress and fear related to addiction is always right below the surface. The three of us one day realized that this stress gets expressed very explosively via awful fights between brother and sister, where Mom attempts to play the role of mediator, which ends up escalating the negative emotions.
Not one single time have I been successful playing the role I seem to feel required to play. Further, my son sees my attempts to defuse the situation as manipulative. I end up feeling like a helpless child. My children are now 21 and 19, and they are in college and functioning like normal young adults, who also happen to be very kind human beings. But there is this suffering underneath the surface. I am beginning to see that it is not my job - that I can actually be released from what feels like a burden - to manage their emotions or tell them how to manage their emotions.
Apparently, I have carried my burden forward for proving my mother was a better mother than her mother. I haven’t quite gotten down to the bottom of it, but I know this dynamic is meant to teach me something about myself.
From Parent to Parent/Friend
The awesome thing about becoming more conscious about your own shit is that your relationship with your children begins to evolve into a friendship of sorts. You can watch them approach the world in a different way than you and NOT personalize it as a rejection of your parenting. It’s just the way they’re meant to show up in the world. Their different approach prompts you to question why you’re so attached to your way of doing things.
You also begin to see that their lives are none of your concern. That your over-concern is just a way for you to avoid doing the work that you need to do on yourself in order to grow. That’s what’s going on for me right now. I very easily feel pulled back into some kind of savior role. Yikes! It’s not only familiar but it fills some kind of need. It’s very complex of course. It was exhausting to allow myself to get pulled back into a conflict, but it was so automatic, like I had no choice. I think it’s one reason I feel the need to pick up and move out of state and fulfill my dream of living in a beach town and now publishing a memoir and writing a screenplay. I need to be released, and I think my children need to be released, from this dynamic. I didn’t feel released from my mother’s need to look to me for validation as a parent until she died.
When I learned to look at my children’s behaviors and even mistakes as “just things,” I became more curious than judgmental. They began sharing almost everything with me - things that they said their friends would never share with their parents. We had involved conversations about weed, sex, drinking, relationships. Today, we have juicy conversations about science, spirituality, the environment, presidential candidates. The only time I try to influence their opinions is if they feel intolerant or unkind.
But it’s time for me to get on with the rest of my life and let them get on with theirs without my interference.
I'd love to hear your stories about moments of consciousness about your parenting. Feel free to share here or shoot me an email at email@example.com. Visit www.deborah-alinea.com for information about my services.