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Parenting Perspective: Separating Your Emotions From Your Child's Experience

Our family has been dealing with bullying this year. Some circumstances have shifted, and with those changes has come a different side of some kids my children thought were their friends. Honestly, it’s been pretty rough. I’ve experienced a wide array of emotions, including sadness, grief, and absolute, white-hot fury.

In some cases, my reaction wasn’t in keeping with the situation. When you want to lash out and make others hurt as bad as you're hurting, you have to ask yourself if the way you feel is appropriate - or something else. When I prayed about what was going on, I realized I had unhealed hurt.

I was treated harshly by other children for several years in school. I’d been removed from the situation and a lot of time has passed, allowing me space to breathe freely. I rarely ever thought about it. Until this happened to my own children, I’d never acknowledged how traumatizing it had been and dealt with it. That kind of on-going abuse in childhood isn’t a joke. Its ugly fingers reach out and touch everything.

I had to bring my pain to the Lord and allow Him to enter into it with me, reveal the ways it had been crippling me as an adult, and set me free. Then, I was able to pray with my children for the kids involved. I was able to guide them to cultivate new friendships, letting go of the ones that had turned negative. Things settled down all around, and we had a chance to breathe.

Then, they all came crashing back down again with new problems. At peace with myself and the Lord, I was able to think clearly about what was going on. I prayerfully responded (not reacted) by calling the parents involved. Although I was hurt, I didn't bring all my emotion to the table. With what I hope was an appropriate level of emotion, I stated the facts. This is what happened, it’s been happening, and this is how it feels on this end of things. I was able to say, “If it were my child treating your child this way, I would want you to call me.”

I comforted my child, talked it through, and we kept on going. We didn’t allow it to cripple us. We discussed the name-calling and asked ourselves if it was true, then got down to the business of dealing with whatever truth there might be, dismissing the things that were ridiculous. (Most of it was completely ridiculous and almost comical, if it hadn’t hurt so much to have it said at all.)

When we face issues with our children, it’s easy to uncover our own pain and disappointment. We have to be self-aware enough to recognize when our reaction isn’t in keeping with the situation. That can be so hard to separate your emotions from what's actually happening. If I’d reacted from my un-healed hurt, I might have made things much worse for my children. I could easily have turned into a bully myself, making sure all involved suffered to the point of feeling pain like I’d felt. I could’ve taken out my pain on the rest of my family, spreading my own misery until everyone was as miserable as I was.

When you face these circumstances and swirling emotions, here's a prayer guide to help get you separate your emotions from what's actually happening:

1. Ask God to help you notice when you start to feel out of control. What are the sensations in your body that let you know you're not in control?

2. When you recognize you're over-reacting or out of control, stop. Breathe deeply. Ask God to show you what’s really going on.

3. Take a few minutes to do an internal scan of your emotions. Ask Got to help you identify all the thoughts swirling around in your brain and try to categorize them. That’s when you discover stray emotions that don’t belong. (That’s why I saw my younger self, wounded, crying in a corner of my mind. She didn’t belong there.)

4. Ask God to help you recognize past hurts or situations contributing to how you feel about what’s actually happening to your child. Ask God if there’s anything you need to deal with now.

5. Prayerfully seek a friend or counselor to talk to about what happened. You deserve to be emotionally healthy. Take the time you need to allow God to heal your heart.

6. Ask God to help you make a plan, then go back to the issue with your child and respond appropriately.

This doesn’t just have to be a bullying issue.

Do you push your children extraordinarily hard in academics or sports? Do you live and die by their wins/losses? Is there something in your childhood that makes you want to be sure your child is a high achiever? Are you trying to make up for your own missed opportunities? Is it vitally important to you that your child be popular? Do you go into debt to make sure they have the right clothes and shoes? Do you micromanage who their friends are because you see their value reflected in who they hang out with? These things all reflect your own sense of pride or unhealed emotions. In order to be a healthy parent, you have to separate your emotions about what happened to you from what's happening with your child.

When your unhealed emotions about things you've experienced get tangled up with what's happening with your child, which is a difficult thing to separate, you're not able to respond appropriately. Being a special needs mom has shown me this truth in meaningful ways. Before my youngest son was born, I never realized how much personal pride I took in my older children's ease in school, attractiveness, athleticism, and any number of other factors. It made me feel good about myself that they were so acceptable to our culture. Then, our son with Down syndrome was born, and I was confronted with it. I course-corrected, realizing a child's need to be delighted in just because they exist, not because of how they perform. I fail as a parent if I withdraw my love and affection, my joy in my child, when they don't meet my standard of beauty or athleticism or academic achievement. So, it's essential to get ourselves out of the way so we can fully love our children like Christ loves us.

What about you? Have you ever found yourself reacting to a situation from your own negative experiences? Do you catch yourself doing any of these things? How can I support you as you consider this message today?

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