Reactive: Tending to be responsive or to react to a stimulus. Characterized by reaction.
Proactive: Creating or controlling a situation by causing something to happen rather than waiting to respond to it after it has happened.
~The Free Dictionary online
As a 14 year old girl, I was running wild. I took my first drink at 12, and by 14 had moved onto parties, weed and actively lying to my parents to get out of my chaotic home. I had allowed hands on my body, many a kiss, and was fully invested in how I looked from a boy’s eyes. My opinion of me, was not so important. My opinion of me, was an after thought. If I were an adult, watching me at 14, I would surmise that I was a “wild child”.
What does a “wild child” look like as a parent?
Last night, my 14 year old son hung out at the park with a group of kids (boys and girls) until dark, when they changed the venue to a neighbors back porch, remaining until I couldn’t take it anymore and needed to shut my weary eyes and fall asleep.
I was worried.
I was anxious.
I was mindless.
I was creating stories in my head.
I was reactive.
I suddenly realized, that since my son turned 14 last week, I have felt triggered. I had become more protective…more irrational, and more moody. Somehow, I had allowed my thoughts to react to who I was at 14. Treating my son as if he was the same.
I tell my clients, when they are feeling anxious….listen to your body. What is your body telling you? My heart was racing, my thoughts were ruminating and my shoulders were raised and tight. My body was screaming out that I needed to be on guard. My amygdala wasn’t letting shit get past to my frontal lobe, where everything would finally make sense. My intuition was speaking, from my frontal lobe, but my amygdala was so invested in freaking out, that I couldn’t hear my intuition.
I was so rooted in my old story, that I was letting it color what my story looks like now. If I were to access my rational mind, it would sound like this. The characters in my old story were dysfunctional. They were angry, confused, exhausted, and not paying attention. They had bigger problems to deal with, than a 14 year old girl trying to figure it out. At 14, my parents had just gotten divorced. My sister had just been sexually assaulted. Our home had just been taken from us. No one was looking. My family was scattered, and I was an after thought. I could do whatever I chose…because no one was looking. I was left to come up with….what do I choose?
I chose to skip school.
I chose to accept any label assigned to me.
I chose to push old friends away, scared of being judged.
I chose to self medicate the pain.
I chose to give my body away, before I was ready, and with it, my confidence.
Turns out, a former wild child, can easily become a reactive parent. We remember what it was like to be 14, but our memories are skewed by emotional mind. We feel the anxiety in our hearts and assume there is a reason for it. We recount late nights and bad choices, and fear our child will follow suit.
Parenting is hard. Isn’t that an understatement of epic proportions? Mindful parenting is even harder. Mindful parenting requires I don’t lean on old stories. It requires I just be present with my emotional mind….do my best to bring in rational mind, and make my decisions from wise mind.
I know this….I don’t want to be a reactive parent.
A reactive parent assumes that our children are doing what we did.
A reactive parent parents in reaction to our own childhood.
A reactive parent imposes guidelines according to our fears, instead of facts.
A reactive parent dismisses all of our hard work.
A reactive parent ignores our child’s specific make up, and groups according to age.
A reactive parent is not mindful….they are operating on auto pilot.
A reactive parent doesn’t trust.
This former wild child wants to parent proactively and mindfully. I want to take the gifts from my old story and let them inform my present story. I study mindful parenting, and teach it as well. I still wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready for the wonder. I wasn’t ready for the fear. I wasn’t ready for the vulnerability. I wasn’t ready for it to be so damn hard.
It’s so easy to teach others, however, when it applies to yourself, it is harder to see.
My reactive parenting colored the characters in my present story.
The main character in my present story is an honor roll student. A good kid, by all accounts. He has two very involved parents, who are watching. We see him. We are curious about him. We notice changes and we are there to guide, not impose punishment for the sake of punishment. The main character in this story….just wanted to hang out with his friends…after dark…..laughing, trading sarcastic remarks and growing. No trouble needed.
He has made mistakes, of course. Mistakes that measure quite small on the yard stick of childhood. Mistakes that should inform our parenting, not guide it. He will make more….of this I am sure.
How does a former “wild child” parent a good kid?
A proactive parent looks at patterns of behavior.
A proactive parent listens.
A mindful parent doesn’t let feelings cloud thoughts.
A mindful parent doesn’t assume motivation.
A mindful parent has empathy for what a teenager goes through.
A proactive parent welcomes mistakes.
A proactive parent uses mistakes to create growth.
A proactive parent cares less about punishment and more about making sure the lesson gets through.
A mindful parent takes inventory of our experience and ensures we are not operating from old story.
When you are in reactive mode, you will know. It doesn’t feel right. It feels uncomfortable and on edge. This isn’t where your parenting should derive from. Mindful and proactive parenting, come from your gut. It comes from knowledge, and being firmly rooted in present story. It comes from recognizing and being in tune with your thoughts and having the wisdom to not believe them all. Let your child’s actions inform your parenting. Nothing else. This puts your child and you in control, instead of your emotions driving the bus.
I wouldn’t change a thing in my childhood. I love who my authentic self is….and without my inner wild child, who would I be today? Should we discount all of our experiences? Absolutely not. Our experiences are there to inform and to create a place of wisdom. But wisdom knows the difference between decisions based on emotion and decisions based on facts. Tap into your wise mind. Know the difference between emotions and thoughts. Treat yourself tentatively. Just because you are the adult, doesn’t mean you are behaving rationally. Question yourself, and allow yourself to be put on trial by you.
Lastly, hang on friends. Parenting teenagers is a bumpy ride……even for this former wild child. It becomes much easier, if you don’t expect perfection. Listen to your emotions, and don’t trust every thought that comes your way.
Mindfulness of Emotion:
Notice the feeling.
Observe the feeling as:
Accept the feeling- don’t judge it or try to change it.
Investigate the present moment of the feeling.
Stay present with it.
Don’t identify with the feeling.
Examine the thoughts and the story behind the feeling.
Identify the trigger for this emotion.
When have you experienced this emotion before?