I had thought this story was irrelevant. I didn’t really see much in it, until during one of our webinars this week I mentioned it in answering a question “when do you know if tears have gone too far?”. The conversations in the group that ensued from there over the next few days blew my mind. One mum with a grown son identified how to hold his space through depression, without needing to rescue him. Another, how to listen to her child’s depths during night time weaning. Another, how screaming and raging are safe and healing, not harmful and hurtful. So I thought it was worth sharing with you too.
Lola has never seemed ‘at home’ in her skin; always a bit uncoordinated, always preferring stillness over action, but I am also aware that if we don’t provide opportunity for her to expand those ‘underpowered’ areas of life, they will remain that. So I push. Sometimes hard, sometimes gently. I take her out on her bike, her scooter, on walks, as often as is manageable, but I nearly always have an action plan for a quick escape in case it goes badly….which most often it does. She hates it.
This sunny Sunday afternoon was no different. A trip that should have taken us 20 minutes, took about an hour and a half.
It started as we left our friends house, the “I don’t want to. I can’t!” Mexican stand off at the end of the street. Her dad played it out with her.
Then it was the next street over “It’s tooo hard! I don’t want to. I can’t. Don’t tell me! Stop saying that!”. We coaxed and we cooed.
“You’re doing great!” we’d encourage as each pedal movement got slower and more apathetic.
By the time we were half way home, her dad was starting to get frustrated. “You’re doing it! Just keep going” . She’d ark up and say just the right thing to have his voice edging with anger and his body ready to move away, and then she’d say just the right things to ‘call him back’ so he’d help her again.
I watched this whole thing play out for about half an hour. I could see the push-pull within her and him.
She wanting to do it, but also not, because then she had a way of getting some irritated angry feelings out and a way to push them back down when she called him back in to rescue her .
He wanting her to succeed and wanting to support her, but stuck on how to do that in a way that didn’t leave her ‘on her own’; support, agitation, guilt, it was a perpetuating cycle.
Now I was irritated.
Stop rescuing her! I heard my body screaming at him…silently of course. You have everything you need inside you already to do this, I thought as I looked at her ridiculous tussle with her dad.
“Lola, you can see our house from here. When we get to ‘that’ brick fence, there is no more help for you, not from mum or dad. It is your responsibility to get your bike from here to home”.
We reached the fence.
Her dad backed away and we watched her, a driveway’s distance from her. She wailed. She screamed. She yelled. She got off her bike.
“I CAN’T DO IT!”
“IT’S TOO HEAVY”
“I DON’T KNOW HOW!”
“YOU’RE NOT HELPING ME AND I CAN’T DO IT ON MY OWN!”
“IT WON’T MOVE! IT’S STUCK AND I CAN’T MOVE IT ALONE, SEE?!”
We had it all yelled at us.
You have everything inside of you. I knew it in my heart and I knew it in my body, so I didn’t need to swoop in and save her. Following my congruence, my husband stood with his arm around me as we watched her and told her in between screams that we loved her and she could do this.
“It’s okay if you struggle Lola” I said “It’s okay if it’s hard. You will work this out”
Lola: “I’ll leave my bike here then! I can’t do it!”
“Ok. But if you do that, your bike is left out in the street and it may get stolen, you may not get it back again.”
Lola: “but I just can’t do it! It’s too hard!”
“It is hard, but you can do it. This is YOUR responsibility. It is YOUR job to get your bike back home”
Now out of apathy, resignation and helplessness she moved into anger, rage and fiery determination. She flashed a daggers look at me and practically picked her bike up by the handle bars and moved it to the road….where we had our next Mexican stand off.
Lola: “I can’t!”
We stood at a small distance either side of her , so as to protect her from any approaching traffic. I explained in a calm voice that this was a road and she needed to cross it safely and quickly. THIS was not the place to stand still.
But she’d found our next edge, our next point of uncertainty and she wasn’t moving.
Lola: “I can’t! do it!”
A car approached. There’s a car coming, you need to stay where you are” We moved closer to her, the car drove past, she frightened herself a little. She swiftly moved her bike across the road, until we hit the curb on the other side…we’re now two houses down from our house.
Lola: “I can’t do it! Look! See! It’s too heavy!! The handle bars twisted and it wont’ move! See!”
We stood next to her. “I know, but you can still do this”
In a last ditch effort and with “fuck you!” determination, she pulled her bike up onto the footpath all on her own. Halleluiah we’re nearly home. Two houses to go.
She stopped. She screamed so many things on that footpath, in her rage, through her tears. She was red, sweating and screaming till her voice broke. She was a red, hot, mess. But still we didn’t save her.
She’d been whinging and whining all week, that morning she’d been particularly ‘painful’ and I even said to my husband “this is good for her, she’s needed to get this out”. So we stood together, embracing each other, smiling lovingly towards her, and answering her every scream with “we love you Lola”.
Lola: “I HATE YOU!”
“We love you Lola, even when you hate us”
Lola: “If you say that again I’m going to hit you with a stick!!”
“We love you Lola, we’re right here with you”
Lola: “All I want is for you to go away and LEAVE ME ALONE! Just go into the house and THEN I’ll come”
Ahhh, the bartering. The multitude of creative ways they find to numb the pain.
“I’m not leaving you Lola. You’re out in the street and I need to make sure you’re safe”
Lola: “I am safe. I PROMISE I’LL BE SAFE! I AM CAREFUL! All I want is for you to go in and then I’ll come in”
“I’m not going to do that Lols, this is a street and I need to make sure you’re safe. That’s my job. So I’m not leaving you”
She raged and she ranted. I wondered if we’d even make it inside in time to cook dinner.
And then her sobs ‘broke’; they changed. The rage dissipated and the sobbing melted her body and I watched her body become more fluid, vibrating and moving in rhythm to her breath as she sunk to the ground.
She made eye contact with me “all I want is your help…” she whimpered.
This was my cue. I went over to her silently and got down on the ground in front of her. She looked deep into my eyes and I reflected empathy on my face and within my body. I opened my arms to her and she crawled in, eyes soft, body ready for connection.
I just held her. I didn’t say a word. I let her set the pace. “mum, can you hold my hand and I’ll hold my bike with the other and we’ll walk to the house together?”
“sure” I said “I’d love to do that with you”.
She picked herself up, calm and connected. She managed her bike effortlessly with one hand and she held mine with her other. She wheeled her bike home, over the driveway and into the garage, because she wanted to, not because she had to.
We had a cuddle and a drink inside and she played till bedtime in a beautifully connected, contented and concentrated state. The whinging was over.
One of the hardest parts of parenting is watching our children struggle. Watching them fail. Watching them meet defeat. Watching them panic and dissolve in anxiety. Watching them flounder. Yet if we don’t allow them the opportunity to do so, they don’t’ ever really learn what they are capable of. They miss the opportunity to know how strong they are, how able. We rob them of developing their creative thinking skills, of honing their street smarts and strengthening their intuition.
If we don’t let them struggle and say “I can’t” and “it’s too heavy for me”, then we teach them a type of learned helplessness. Love is not always support, love is also holding them while they struggle, listening to their pain, believing with our hearts and our souls that they have it inside them already.
Sometimes we just need a little pain to call it out and a body of love that has our back while we discover it.
If you need a tribe to support you to hold the space you seek to hold for your children, then our Aligned Parenting Program is for you. You get lifetime access to our Aligned Parenting modules and an online tribe, bi-monthly webinars and facilitation with us. If parenting consciously is your jam, then allow yourself the opportunity to expand and dive as deep as you want to.
Julie Tenner is Co-founder of Nourishing The Mother and is The Pleasure Nutritionist. Julie is a Naturopath, specialising in women’s and children's health, with specific focus on awakening women to their full potential – health for the mind, body and soul – creating lasting life change for you and your family by “coming home” to your magnificence.