"You can't control your emotions, but you can control your behavior."
Aidah is a girl with Big Feelings. She gets that from me, along with her freckles and aversion to strangers. But Aidah has the added sparkle of her dad’s Big Responses. Drew’s booming voice and animated reactions and heightened performer persona all play out on a grand scale when they mix with my Big Feelings in her tiny little body. We see a lot of meltdowns and tears and wailing and SWEEPING DECLARATIONS from our girl. Which is usually pretty funny and fairly harmless…but it’s still our responsibility to help her navigate that and grow up to be a functioning human.
And it’s really complex to help a three-year-old to see the distinction between her feelings and her behavior. To help her see that we are ONLY disapproving of the behavior. I always feel kind of hypocritical when we have these chats because these are lessons I'm still learning.
I've only recently begun to see my Big Feelings as a superpower. It wasn't until I was in the depth of grief that I realized how powerful my familiarity with my emotions is. My Big Feelings are old companions, ones I’ve learned to sit with and examine without feeling overwhelmed. I was able to share with my community and get the help I needed and navigate what could have been a catastrophic season of my life with surprising strength.
I'm not moody or overly sensitive. I'm just paying attention. I'm tuned in. So is my Aidah.
I want her to feel her new feelings – especially the seemingly negative ones. Frustration, Anger, Disappointment, Sadness, Fear, Surprise, Uncertainty, Pain, Embarrassment… I don't want her to cover them up or ignore them. Our feelings tell us how to navigate in the world by pointing to areas of friction between ourselves and our environment.
I want her to feel the fullness of them, uncomfortable as that may be, so she can ask herself WHY. Because - at least for me- when I follow that trail from my “negative” emotions, I usually end up at either FEAR or SHAME...and God help me if I let me kid be controlled by either of those monsters.
What we do with these feelings - that's where Aidah and I are both learning to be grown-ups. (Maybe we all are!) We are learning that while our Feelings can certainly be big and feel sudden and uncontrollable…we always have a choice when it comes to our behavior. That’s what we are in charge of. Our behavior needs to be KIND and CONSIDERATE. That’s a non-negotiable. It’s how grown-ups act and it’s how Jesus called us to act.
I've learned to talk to myself and to Aidah with basically the same script…(what’s concerning is how interchangeable our responses can be…)
It seems like you're feeling frustrated - is that right?
(YES. THIS IS THE WORST DAY EVER.)
Is it okay to feel frustrated?
(I THINK SO.)
What's not okay though?
(NOTHING. I AM GOOD AND DON'T TALK TO ME)
No, let’s talk about this. It's okay to feel frustrated, but we can't be…
You can always make it right. Why don’t you go apologize for your behavior and then we’ll talk about your feelings later.
And when things simmer down, we chat (her at bedtime or me with my journal…)
Why were you so frustrated?
(I TRIED TO RIDE MY BIKE AND I FALLED DOWN.)
And then we get to talk about the practicality of the situation. Trying new things is always hard, etc.
But why did you BEHAVE that way?
I tried something new and I'm embarrassed that it didn't work out.
I want to be great at things.
I don't want to waste time.
I don't want to fail.
I’m afraid of failure.
I’m afraid of what people might think.
I’m angry that you let me fall...
Explosive, “negative” behavior almost always finds roots in SHAME (usually a socially conditioned response!) or FEAR (I tackle this as a spiritual issue. I am both honored and overwhelmed at this responsibility). This is so powerful because then I'm able to speak Gospel truth over both of us in response.
YOU ARE FREE FROM THAT.
You don’t have to perform for love or approval – from me or anyone else. You are loved and celebrated unconditionally. You are never alone. You are purposed. You are forgiven. You are hemmed in behind and before.
You are Beloved
You are Beloved
You are Beloved.
And the laughable, beautiful truth of parenting is that I myself need these reminders just as often as she does. We’re both only human. I’m just the big kid walking her home.
(originally posted to my Instagram page. Do you follow @marikoclark ? Come find me!)