The hidden trap in peaceful parenting.
Have you been snapping and yelling at your kids?
Do you feel bad about it afterwards and give yourself a hard time?
There’s a trap waiting for peaceful parents. I know it’s there because I fell right into it.
It’s the trap of trying harder to be good.
Why is that a problem? Why shouldn’t we try and be more accepting and respectful of our children, less angry and reactive, more kind?
The problem is self-judgement.
Struggling your way to peace doesn’t work.
Beating yourself up for not being as good as you’d like to be doesn’t make you more peaceful.
We are trained to think that self-judgement and self-control are useful; that if we could just control our thoughts and feelings we would be better parents. What really happens is quite different.
When we experience self-judging thoughts we end up feeling worse. We try so hard to be “good” and then something happens and we think we’ve “failed”. We’ve failed to control ourselves or failed to live up to our own expectations.
What happens within you when you think “I shouldn’t have got angry and yelled at him” or “I said the wrong thing — I shouldn’t have been so controlling”?
When those thoughts visit me I feel emotional pain. It might be emotional pain that I’m very used to, but it’s there nonetheless.
When the self-judgements continue, the emotional pain builds up until it ends up being projected onto someone else. We feel awful and we unconsciously take it out on our children. We judge them and try and control them, even in subtle ways, and then the tension and conflict ramps up even more. Our angry reactions and controlling behaviour become more likely to happen and now our child feels hurt too.
As long as our pattern of self-judgement continues we will keep projecting it out onto our children.
What is the way out of this vicious cycle? If trying to be good is keeping us trapped, what do we do instead?
You might be thinking “Do I just give up trying?” and in a way the answer is Yes.
Instead of trying harder to be good you can start asking yourself some questions. Self-inquiry is a simple practice that can dissolve the pattern of self-judgement and judgement of others.
When you believe “I shouldn’t have yelled at my child” or “I’m so disappointed in myself for snapping like that” it’s time to pause and inquire. All we need is a willingness to look deeply within ourselves for some answers. As a guide to self-inquiry I use the questions of The Work by Byron Katie.
- Is it true?
- Can you absolutely know it’s true?
- How do you feel when you believe that thought?
- How would you be without that thought?
“The Work doesn’t say what anyone should or shouldn’t do. We simply ask, ‘How do you react when you argue with reality? How does it feel?’ The Work explores the cause and effect of attaching to painful thoughts, and in that investigation, we find our freedom.” — Katie
You come to see that self-control is an illusion and your natural state is one of innocence. You yelled or snapped. It happened. You couldn’t control it and to believe that you should have is only going to make you suffer more. Those judgemental thoughts never served any purpose other than to create pain and separation. They don’t have to be believed. This realisation brings true inner peace that radiates out to fill our relationships with joy and ease. We can give up trying to be good and relax instead.
There are still occasions where I yell at one of my sons. The next moment could bring a laugh, an apology or something quite unexpected. The next precious moment appears and I’m in it, fully present with my child, without the baggage of the past. Without self-judging thoughts there is an effortless kindness that includes all of us. Even me.