CHRONICLES OF A VERY CONFLICTED MOMMY
Tonight, was part-5 of Sima Spetner’s 6-part Positive Parenting course, that I decided to take to improve my parenting skills. I am learning so much, and I love the class. Even though it's so tiring driving all the way there (45-minutes) after a full day working and mothering, then spending hours in the course each night, I know that honing my parenting skills is a priceless gift that I can give to my children.
Sitting through the course, I had so many mixed emotions. On the one side I felt empowered, and on the other side… incredibly discouraged.
Is it just me? Or does there seem to be so many fatal flaws and "crimes" that you can commit as a parent... that will totally mess up your kids!?!
And as I know all too well from my own work, and now my clients, that our parents can seemingly do just that. We can hate and resent them, spend time grieving the childhood we never had and wish we could have had, or we can learn new skills and tools to parent ourselves. Yes… I said “parent ourselves”!
A different class that I took with Perl Abramowitz called Self Parenting, focused on learning to be your own parent. To speak with your inner child. To understand your own love language and learn to give to yourself. When our needs were not met as children, they don't just suddenly become met as adults… It is our job to fill those needs.
This is incredibly important because…. HURT PEOPLE HURT PEOPLE.
Some people don’t even understand the impact. They don’t understand that they are hurting others by repeating the same patterns. Most people don’t even notice they are repeating the patterns. I feel the worst for them. And you can’t even blame them… to a certain extent.
We all only have a certain amount of self-awareness… I feel like that’s actually Hashem's (G-d's) doing. The ability to disassociate (within healthy parameters) is actually a protective measure. A gift. If we didn’t have this primal “shut down” response during harmful situations, we would not be able to survive. But with this gift, it’s really hard to know where our bechira (free-choice) lies and where it doesn’t.
Our lack of self-awareness, at some point in time was likely our greatest protection...but at a certain point we must choose to check back in. To deal. To heal.
The hardest part, is that I find myself OFTEN questioning which parts of my life were even in my choice? Regular self-reflection and many parenting classes have shed a light on this for me. Is it anyone’s fault when a child feels a certain amount of pain and resentment towards their childhood? Maybe and maybe not... Parents and caregivers do the best they can with the tools they have at their disposal... but that ultimately doesn’t take away from the child’s pain and feelings of neglect.
I, myself, have learned to feel this pain, and acknowledge that certain things were not ok, without blame or judgement.
In one of the Positive Parenting classes, Sima said, “Our children have to feel like they are our priority”.
That hit me hard.
Big sucker punch to my gut.
Do I make my children a priority...? Why would I? Was I anyone’s priority? Was this even a value in my generation? We are all juggling so many ways to make sure our children have their basic needs met - doesn’t that count as making them a priority?
We usually model and repeat what we saw at home... unless... we consciously work to change it up.
What bothers me the most though, is the mixed messages we all receive.
Everything she said resonated so deeply with me (theoretically), and I think I agree 100%... or 80%... maybe 70%... because there is a big BUT here… not only is it easier said than done, operating the way she prescribed would mean that I would have to learn to hold and balance two opposite truths inside my head at the same time.
We learn by osmosis, not by what is explicitly taught to us (you can learn more about that in Project Proactive’s Mental Health Monday Live with Sarah Chana Radcliffe by clicking here).
Generally, we learn patterns and behaviors that are not all that healthy, without understanding the subtleties that come along with this very challenging balancing act. Children are black and white thinkers for the most part… so it’s hard to pick up on the nuances in these lessons we are taught.
And as an adult... I’m also finding it hard to figure out that balance.
For example, we were taught; “In a marriage, it’s important to be a mevater (to put others needs above your own)”. Yet, we are also taught that it’s a good thing to be assertive. We can say in a strong voice “I don’t like that.”
As a child, I must have missed “assertiveness training day”, because being assertive, can be so easily misconstrued as bossy, demanding, overbearing… and I also must have skipped the day we learned to balance self-care and boundaries with being a mevater. So where exactly is the line between being a pushover or getting taken advantage of and being selfish or accused of not being a team-player?
This confusion actually shows up often when I work with my clients (who also must have missed the “healthy balance” training day).
Their go-to pattern is to start kicking themselves for using food to cope with their emotions. And then instead of writing or talking about their feelings, they push them inward and it seeps through their blood, causing deep emotional wounds. Why are they kicking themselves?
Talking about, and dealing with feelings is something either taught or not taught. Remember, we learn by osmosis (actually mirror neurons). When we don’t learn to balance, communicate and process our emotions effectively, it transfers over.
We now know that this is called intergenerational trauma.
As I mentioned before, our bodies are gifted with inborn tools for survival. It was such a blessing that our grandparents had that primal fight flight or freeze response, or they would never have been able to survive the holocaust. Many of them continued to use those same survival skills as they rebuilt their lives and raised new families. They “protected” themselves and their children in many ways. Many of their bodies stayed in that protective response mode.
Our generation was raised by their children, a generation that didn’t really speak of their feelings (generally speaking). What was a survival response for our grandparents, became the norm for our parents.
And until we break that cycle... we will still carry the wounds of our grandparents. Our children (and inner child) will live the consequences of not healing those intergenerational wound patterns.
As Dr. Sarnoexplains that unprocessed emotional pain does not just dissipate. It stays in your body, and can even show up as physical pain. Pain, whether physical or emotional, is not inherently bad... It's like a smoke alarm that makes us aware of when we need to get help and make a change.
When we learn to ignore those alarms, it can be bad news on so many levels.
Let’s say you were told that you were an emotional child. If you were told, every time you cried, even with good reason (like someone is picking on you) to stop being so emotional and just ignore it... it’s natural that this would be something you would try to “overcome” as an adult. You would beat yourself up and tell yourself, “hey, I’m a 30-year-old woman… What's wrong with me? Why can’t I stop crying?”
But guess what… it was totally normal for you to feel hurt when you were younger. Being made to feel that you were a burden for being emotional leaves a scar and brings up those old emotions when hurt as an adult. But because you never listened to the alarm bell your whole life, you are actually dealing with the part of you that always felt bad for crying and being emotional. You will need to heal that part and teach it to hear the alarm bells of healthy feelings and emotions once again.
I still don’t have it all figured out.
I have not found the perfect balance.
When Sima said that my children need to know they are my #1 priority… I felt lost. After all, I was basically thrown into motherhood. Was I ready? Not very likely. I remember one of my teachers telling me in seminary; “You know you're ready to get married when you're ready to have a baby”. I’m finding myself challenging this advice more and more. Not that I am against Daas Torah (adhering to rabbinical traditions) on any level - but this is definitely not a blanket rule. Nobody is ever really ready. You become ready when you are thrown into situations and are forced to start dealing with them.
Do you know how much work it was as a new mom to even realize how to support my child’s basic physical needs? I’m still so desperately trying to meet my own physical needs.
Now throw emotional needs into the mix… it’s quite overwhelming.
An important part of what I learned in this course was; “Only judge your children's actions based on effort, not on outcome”. Do we not owe this same courtesy to our own inner child?
And we need to recognize that we are human. Yes, we are responsible for other little humans… but we will mess up. A lot. It’s inevitable. And it’s ok. We are NOT the worst parents in the world.
We really need to infuse the next generation with emotional intelligence, while simultaneously working to increase our own.
We need to repair our own emotional wounds, not only for ourselves, but for our children... so that they will not be carrying our “hand-me-down broken alarms”.
We need to help them find balance and equilibrium in a black and white society.
We need to accept that we can only do our best, and then... let Hashem (G-d) do the rest.
 Rebitzen Sima Spetner is a world renowned education expert whose classes are based primarily on the Torah teachings of Rav Shlomo Wolbe zt”l. The course also includes teachings from traditional & contemporary master Torah educators, Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch and the Slonimer Rebbe.  Dr. John Sarno was a professor of Rehabilitation Medicine at New York University School of Medicine, and was an attending physician at the Howard A. Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine at New York University Medical Center. Sarno originated the term tension myositis syndrome (TMS) to name a psychosomatic condition producing pain. His opinions are historically controversial in the medical world but have gained traction and legitimacy since all of the new research has been published on body trauma and subsequent books have been popularized such as “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel van der Kolk.