Moving it Forward: When moments get tough, from a place of co-regulation and calm, you can parent your child and yourself, through almost anything.
I read something recently that described the end of summer as a “down elevator,” an event to dread, or to grieve. The sentiment was that we were losing a valuable opportunity and that we needed to make the most of it before it went away. Sometimes, however, endings are a relief, not filled with nostalgia. Because metaphors can resonate differently for each of us, they often lead to personal reflection.
This got me thinking about one of my own metaphors, a phrase I use in parent coaching: “keep it moving forward." Not long ago, a preschool director colleague reminded me about how my metaphor touched him when I used it in a presentation to his staff. I suggested that this metaphor could be used to help move children out of messy moments. When we get stuck in a confrontational parenting moment, we often find ourselves in a power struggle. The easiest way out is to move the child and yourself forward.
For example, a child’s emotional level might rise because they are frustrated. A desired goal is to calm the child. Rather than over-verbalizing the issue or over reacting to the child’s stress, an adult can calm the child by co-regulation. Co-regulation can be done with a child of any age. The adult models calm, by slowing their own breathing, thus reassuring the child nonverbally that they can relax. In doing this co-regulation, slowing the moment, breathing together slowly, an adult helps a child transition from their "downstairs" brain's emotional amygdala reaction to engaging the "upstairs" brain, the frontal cortex, which is capable of understanding language, communicating a need and planning how to move forward.
Summer is a transition too, and whether or not yours has been enjoyable or mixed or difficult, the forward movement of time is something to embrace, for many reasons. But before embracing this transition to a new season, maybe there is something in your parenting experience, from the summer, that you want to reflect on, rewind or fast forward through?
What are your highs and lows, any parenting wins or lessons? How about for your children? Asking them, "What's been memorable for you this summer?" What have you learned and what are you most proud of? It's a great question for the dinner table or the next car ride, with your loved ones. When your child shares, listen with curiosity.
Children experience time at a much slower pace than we adults do. Remember when summer lasted “forever?” When we ran into our neighbor’s daughter last weekend, she shared that she was returning to college the next day. She commented that a month ago, it felt like forever before school was scheduled to restart. Now, she finds it hard to believe that the car is packed.
Parenting is a lot like summer. We anticipate it, we prepare and plan for it and yet, so many experiences are totally spontaneous or an unknown adventure. Days with newborns can seem excruciatingly slow on difficult days and wonderfully memorable on connected and smooth days.
Watching children grow and go, is something parents do with mindfulness and with mindlessness. So, as summer moves forward, and you are thinking about buying school supplies, re-starting routines, letting go of older children little by little in middle and high school or seeing your adult children off to college, take a moment to savor your summer moments, as a very important part of the transition to welcome the fall and say goodbye to the summer of 2022. "Move it forward" for yourself and your children when moments get tough. From a place of co-regulation and calm, you can parent your child and yourself, through almost anything.
Maryellen P. Mullin, LMFT
"We never go anywhere, I don't feel special."
"What's wrong with us, we used to have so much fun."
"We don't know how to get along."
"We can make time for ourselves later, work and the kids are all I can manage."
Sound familiar? As a Certified Gottman Therapist for couples, I hear this on a weekly basis. Does your relationship seem like it is in a rut? Would you like to learn how to uplift each other, together? Join us at our monthly workshop (register here), and read on for tips to improve your relationship.
1. Talk to your partner about how you feel about the rut. Try to avoid blame, and focus on how you feel and a positive need. For example, instead of saying, "You don't take me out anymore." Say instead, "I miss having time with you alone, and feel lonely. I need a date night, how can we make that happen?"
2. Respond to any "bid" your partner makes. If you are in a rut, and your partner is trying to express this, be responsive! Even if you hear a criticism, such as, "We don't go out," be curious! Ask your partner how they feel and what they need. Then, respond with an idea of how to connect.
3. Plan for regular time to connect to get out of the rut and stay out of it! Weekly dates, walks or time just for the two of you, makes space to maintain an emotional and physical connection with each other. Like a bank account, you have an emotional bank account with your partner. Making frequent "deposits" keeps a high balance, to counter those challenges life and relationships may present.
4. Partners can fall into ruts by mistake, usually by circumstances or obligations, and a lack of understanding of why and how to prioritize regular times to connect. Partners who parent, often prioritize children's needs. But, if a relationship is not nurtured between a couple, then there is no "nest" for the child. Plan for time to connect as a couple instead of relying on spontaneous opportunities. Couples who make it long-term, have habits to keep intimacy alive, by taking time together daily and weekly.
5. Keep moving forward through the rut. Meaning, you may be facing something as a couple that will take time to recover from or get through. Talk about it. Plan small ways to connect, and be supportive with mottos you create with each other, such as "even though it is hard right now, we'll get through it together." Be a team. Getting through a rut together is a lot easier than trying to pull you both out on your own.
6. Give appreciation to each other, on a regular basis! It's important to take a few minutes daily or weekly, and be intentional about the small things to express gratitude. Make sure you say how it makes you feel. For example, "I appreciate you taking out the trash, it made me feel supported." Or, "I appreciate you texted me during my crazy day; it made me feel loved." Appreciations minimize contempt and resentment, increasing feelings of love for each other.
7. Check in with a couples therapist. If if you cannot think your way out of a rut alone or together, get some help! A couples therapist can teach you ways to connect, compromise and bounce back, together. Expect homework. You two need to make the effort outside of counseling; showing up to the appointment is only part of the work. Ask for ways to connect in-between appointments or read articles like this, and try out strategies
Remember, while ruts are normal, getting out of them takes some effort, but is worth it! - Maryellen P. Mullin, LMFT
Join our monthly ONLINE couples skills workshop, 75 minutes, once a month, make it a date! (register here).