When your child is doing something that makes no sense to you, you make up a story to help make sense of it. Sometimes this story is helpful. Sometimes it’s not. We all do this. And it happened to us when we were growing up, too – our parent(s) made up stories about our behaviors.
Maybe you’ve had the experience of dreaming when you’re hearing a noise in real life and it becomes a part of your dream. Earlier this week, I dreamed I was on a cruise and I had a feast set before me. Right before I could take the first bite, I woke up and realized my night owl 19 year-old chef son was cooking in the middle of the night (again) and it smelled heavenly. I didn’t get to eat it, by the way. 🙂
We also make up stories about our kids when we only have some of the information. It’s normal. We all do it.
The story we make up, to fill in the details that we don’t have, can have a profound impact on our relationship.
3 months with a crying baby
Last week, I shared a story about a mother who came to see me. She had a baby who had been screaming for 3 months. The story she had made up was that she wasn’t a good mother. That idea became part of every interaction she had with her baby, and became a negative feedback loop between them. The baby cried, her mother couldn’t soothe her, so she felt overwhelmed, the baby cried more…
When the mother finally understood that her daughter was showing mom her story of her experience, mom was able to connect with her daughter. It shifted their whole interaction.
If that story had continued on, they would have really struggled in their relationship. We were able to change the story and the path of their relationship. When I followed up when her daughter was a year old, they were thriving.
Grace, mom of a teenage daughter
Recently, I spoke to Grace, the mother of a teen who hasn’t been going to school every day. She told me that her daughter was experiencing a lot of anxiety. Grace, like most in this situation, had made up a story that her daughter didn’t care about school or her future. Mom had given up a lot for her daughter to go to the school she was attending and then her daughter didn’t care enough to even get out of bed to go. It’s certainly understandable to come to that conclusion!
We spent a little while talking about what it was like for Grace to have a daughter who was really struggling. And then we talked about her daughter’s experience and what it’s like to have anxiety. We explored how her daughter was finding ways of dealing with the anxiety with the tools she has available – staying in bed and being on screens – the very things that were driving Grace crazy. We talked about how to add in some more support for her anxiety and for naming that her daughter actually cared a lot and was doing things to try to help herself from her own tool kit. That changed how the mother was feeling, and the story she had about her daughter changed almost instantly so that they were back on the same team.
Shifting the Story
When the story you’re telling yourself about your child and yourself is helpful, things have more space to shift. When the story you’re telling yourself keeps you stuck, there’s room for the story to shift.
We’re exploring these ideas for the next 6 months in our course that starts today, Your Parenting Instruction Manual. We’ll be exploring the hidden stories we have going on in our families and learning how to make those shifts. I hope you’ll join us!
P.S. Someone just asked me about the idea that there can be ONE parenting instruction manual. That’s actually an important distinction here. This course is for YOU to create YOUR OWN instruction manual of sorts, for YOUR family, by understanding your own story and your child’s story. There is no one right way to parent. There is no one all-knowing solution to any problem we face in life or as parents. But you can learn the tools to connect more deeply with yourself and your family, so you can find your way in connection and with respect.