Being a parent is one of the hardest things to do. We never get it right, our buttons are always being pushed, and every one of our weaknesses comes out in blinding color. Every child goes through a period of time blaming their parents, and actually have every right to do so. With all of that, it is still one of the most rewarding things we can do in life; if we so choose to do so, to parent. In parenting, there is an issue that comes up a lot; when to comfort the child as opposed to coddling them. Another way to say this is that as parents, teachers, therapists, mentors etc., when are we comforting the child, and when are we really coddling them? When does comforting change to coddling?
As someone who works with children in some capacity we know that at times what the child needs is to be comforted, and other times they need to be lovingly pushed or stretched. We can easily get confused as to what is best for the child at the time and we can give too much comfort when what the child really needs is for us to support them yet push them to move forward. Without the loving push, it is easy for the child to over bask in coddling and keep them too close to us which doesn't allow them to take the steps they need in order to become their own strong individual selves.
I was working with a young woman who was sharing painful memories from her early life. This was expressed as her crying easily and not being able to get out of her tears. She could and in fact did cry for hours. In our session, as we would go back to her early life and bring compassion to her young wounded self, she would go into these tears with her eyes closed and resist moving from that wounded place. After working in this way for awhile it became clear to me that what she needed here from me wasn't more comforting compassion in helping to teach her to be compassionate to herself, she needed a loving push or hard love. Hard love is also teaching compassion, just differently. I changed how I spoke with her and told her that I saw her staying stuck in her young stories and refusing to budge. I asked her what her young self-needed and was asking for that kept her in that stuck old place. She was used to getting her needs met through her expressed sadness and trauma and unconsciously was afraid that if she wasn't upset and crying that her needs wouldn't be met. She hadn't learned to ask for what she needed, and that she might get what she needed if she could ask without the drama. In her young life, her mother was depressed and unavailable and her father lived somewhere else and also wasn't available. The only way she learned to get her needs met was to be upset and cry. Then she was noticed; in an extreme state. I asked her how that was working out for her now, and if she liked it? She certainly didn't like it. I helped draw her out of her state of being through pushing her, in a way, to ask for what she needed without the drama. She smiled for the first time and told me that she had been kind of waiting for someone to push her instead of giving into her and, my word, coddling her.
She knew on some level that even though a part of her wanted the comfort and she couldn't get out of that state because it was unconscious, that she also needed some firm guidance. All of us know that on some level. Children push us and stretch us and make us get stronger and better, or they push us and we give in. Usually, we do some of both.
The question becomes, are we comforting our children, or are we coddling them and keeping them young? Another way of asking us this question is are we doing this for them, or for us? Is it easier for us to give into their demands at the time than to work with them? Do we unconsciously and consciously want to keep them too close for our own needs so we don't encourage growth when we can? These are all questions to ask ourselves. The more we ask the questions and look for honest answers inside of us, the better we become as people, as teachers, as parents, and so on. It is all about us and our growth.
Shift Your Story/Shift Your Life
Growing up is hard no matter what our age. Let's begin with us. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Ground your feet on the ground beneath you. This is a time for self-honesty. What did we need when we were little that maybe we just didn’t get? Who was unavailable, either physically or emotionally in our lives? This could be a teacher, a parent or a caretaker, etc. What was that like for us? What example comes to your mind here? Let the example take the time to expand in your mind's eye. What was it like and what occurred? How were you affected? What would you have liked if you could have received it? How did you respond at the time? What were your outer, defended, and inner, vulnerable reactions? Now take yourself into the present tense. Can you think of a time, or a place or an example of how that dynamic plays out in your life now with you or with others? How do you respond when you aren't heard or your needs are not met? What do you need and how did you learn to get your needs met? Just be with what comes to you without blame or shame, we are just seeing. What could you do differently in getting your needs met now that maybe you couldn't do then?
Just be with what comes to you and breathe into it a couple of times. Now breathe deeply and open your eyes. Take a few minutes to write down, free write, what you gained from this experience. Share if you feel moved to do so.