When our children are triggering us

by Lisanne Lambert Stoop

I desperately want a nap but my two-year-old refuses to go down for hers. She is clearly tired as she is rubbing her eyes and grumpy. She just had a temper tantrum because even though she clearly said she wanted peanut butter, she was highly offended when I actually spread it on her bread. In the meantime, my four-year-old is relentlessly pulling on my sweater and then pushes his sister because he is annoyed by her crying. On top of that my eye catches the never-ending pile of laundry and dishes, the lemonade spill to mop up and messages to reply to. I feel I am about to burst.

As a mother we are challenged in ways we could not have imagined before having kids. You might have been very calm and in control before, but like most parents, having children made you discover a whole new temperament you never knew you had.

Failing as a mother?

It seems that children are very skillful in transforming even the calmest mother into a raging volcano.

As there are often feelings of guilt and shame involved around our experience of anger, this can be a delicate subject to talk about openly. Especially for mothers who have a spiritual practice. Mothers on a spiritual path often have this (unrealistic) vision of being at peace no matter what comes our way. Whether our kid throws a major tantrum in the super market or suddenly crosses a busy street without looking, we think that because of our practice and knowledge that we should be able to maintain our equanimity and a loving gentle smile. If we are flooded with anger or frustration and react in an intense way, we feel we have failed, not only as a mother, but as a spiritual practitioner as well.

We need a new role model

I have come to realize that this image of proper spiritual composure might originate from getting my spiritual guidance from a lineage that mostly leads back to male monks and yogi’s, living in some remote mountainous place, far away from any distractions and responsibility of raising children. It is simply unfair to take them as my example and I feel that we as mothers desperately need a different role model. The other day my friend who just had her second baby shared with me how she felt bad for getting angry with her kids sometimes, despite all the spiritual teachings she has been taking in and practicing. I know she is a very loving and dedicated mother doing her awesome best. We can be so hard on ourselves. Thinking that we are somehow failing when we reach a point where all we want to do is snarl. I sent her pictures of wrathful Dakini’s (female enlightened beings) as inspiration, with bared teeth, hair on fire and menacing eyes. The imagery (originating from tantric Buddhism) symbolizes the idea that emotions we experience as negative, like intense anger, can be transformed into a liberating force and when handled skillfully, can be sacred gateways to the divine.

All triggers have a function

Emotions like anger and frustration are primal, and they have a function. They tell us a boundary has been crossed, or a need has not been met. We have a right to any emotion. It is simply energy in motion (e-motion). And regardless of how much spiritual practice you do, emotions will always be part of this human experience, of having a body and a mind. So that we cannot change. What we can do is practice being aware of our emotions, holding space for them so they can move through and ‘out’ of the body, without immediately reacting unskillfully in an attempt to get rid of the discomfort that this inner motion can bring. This takes practice.

Luckily imperfection is a natural part of existing, you are allowed to make mistakes. I catch myself maybe 1 out of 10 times, but my intention is true, I really am practicing this and I am aware when I mess up. That is something already. (When you truly get to a point of desperation where you are really hurting your children, please reach out and get professional help.)

A yogi’s guide to parenting

Of course, it is not nice for our kids when we explode. And I am sure you already know practical ways to prevent this from happening. Self-care is really important here, because when your own battery is loaded you will be able to generate more patience. Also getting to know yourself deeply so you can feel when you are being triggered in time, so you can step away and take a breath. But when it does happen, and you find you have reacted in a very intense way, there are some things you can do that I find really helpful and would love to share with you, inspired by a video of Elena Brower called ‘a yogi’s guide to parenting’.

  • Firstly, immediately apologize. Explain what happened, how you were feeling. “Wow mommy just had a really big storm in her belly, I do not like how I was behaving just now, I am really sorry”. I have noticed that the moment I own my part and release them of blame, I feel the energy clear up. Then try right away to make a different connection. A hug, a sweet word, a kiss.
  • I also really love the concept of a do-over. “I’m sorry, I do not like how I just reacted, let me do it over”. It is a very simple, effective and sometimes even fun way to override the previous situation. Offering your kids the chance to do a do-over when they have crossed a line can also be really supportive.
  • Last but not least, forgive yourself. I find this one difficult. I have a tendency to keep blaming myself, thinking that if I punish myself by keeping my bad feeling about an outburst going that I will earn some kind of redemption. But in reality, I am just dragging the negative energy along into the next moment, serving no-one.

Instead of shaming ourselves (giving off the signal that emotions are bad), allowing ourselves to make mistakes and to forgive ourselves is a much more valuable lesson for our kids.

Dear strong, vulnerable, temperamental and compassionate spiritual mother out there, I know you love your kids to the moon and back, that you are doing your utmost best. You deserve much more praise then you allow yourself to receive. Your wildness is sacred. Let’s keep practicing together and support each other in truth.