Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

Conscious Parenting May 6, 2014

Marveling at my first granddaughter.

Marveling at my first granddaughter.

I am so proud of my children: how they turned out, who they married, how well they are raising their children.  Their parenting styles are different in many ways, yet both sets of children are delightful: sweet, funny, bright, good-natured, well mannered….(I could go on, of course, but I’ll spare you more grandparental gushing!) My time with them reminds me that no matter how well-prepared we may believe we are for the role of parenting, much of what we bring to it comes from unconscious factors over which we have no control.

I loved and respected my mother. I saw her as an intelligent, well-meaning, independent woman with an unemotional personality and a hands-off parenting style. Having a full-time job, she was never involved with my brother’s or my education or social lives, trusting us to get along fine without her participation or advice.  And we did.  Get along fine.

Well, except maybe for a couple of little things…  As a child I longed for her to attend my plays and concerts at school.  How good it would have felt if she had been a room mother or attended PTA meetings, how nice to come home to a clean house and find her waiting for me, perhaps with a tray of cookies or freshly baked bread. But I understood and forgave her for having to work and vowed never to let my work interfere with my children’s happiness. Other than that I assumed raising my children with the same love and trust I had received was about all that was necessary.

As it happened, my choices, combined with a lot of good luck, an education in child development, help from a good husband, and a strong desire to be a good parent made me a good-enough mother.  But beneath the conscious aspects of my upbringing and later on, of my parenting, was an emotional undercurrent of which I was utterly unaware.

Helping my son change a diaper.

Helping my son change a diaper.

As a child I took my mother’s emotional reserve and unwillingness to discuss family problems for granted. I would never have guessed that her untaught lessons, unexpressed feelings and unrevealed truths would leave me ill-equipped to handle many psychological aspects of child-rearing.

I never heard or saw my parents argue. (Of course, that could have had something to do with the fact that Daddy was rarely home!)  Moreover, I can think of only two instances when my mother and I exchanged heated words. The time she used the word “damn,” I was shocked into silence. Intuiting her emotional fragility and wanting to spare her more pain after my parents’ divorce and Daddy’s death, I spared her the normal adolescent phase of rebellion by disowning my uncomfortable emotions.  For years I thought that was admirable. What a good girl I was!  Just like Mama.

Naturally, this influenced my parenting.  Without knowing it, I was so intimidated by conflict and anger that at the first sign of agitation my default response was, like my mother’s, avoidance.  Since my family rarely saw negative emotions from me, I believed I was very good at keeping them under control. I was, but that wasn’t a good thing!  On the rare occasion when shutting my mouth, swallowing my emotions or distancing myself didn’t work, I was quick to grow impatient, irritated and stern.  And if that didn’t shock them into silence, an angry eruption from me would. That may have been an effective way to relieve my anxiety, but it was a dismal model of emotional maturity.

Our parents’ unresolved issues flow into us through dark underground passageways, and if we don’t bring them to the light of consciousness we pass them on to our children. With every gain I’ve made in managing my anxiety,  I’ve gifted my family with one less problem to contend with. I’ll never be a perfect wife, mother, or grandmother, whatever these elusive creatures might be, but knowing I’ve lightened my family’s inherited psychological burdens gives me comfort.

Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Diesel Ebooks 

 

Gender Wounds: Feelings and Emotions February 12, 2013

emotionsWe’ve all heard people say that men are out of touch with their feelings and women are too emotional. Are these observations true or are they stereotypes? If they’re true, then why? When we try to answer these questions we face the problem of not being sure what we really mean when we use the words emotions and feelings. In my effort to raise more awareness about gender wounds, I’d like to begin by clarifying these terms.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines feeling as 1. The sensation involving perception by touch. 2. An affective state of consciousness, such as that resulting from emotions, sentiments or desires. 3. An awareness; impression. 4.a. An emotional state or disposition; emotion. b. A tender emotion; fondness. 5.a. The ability to experience and react to the emotions; sensibility. b. feelings. Sensitivities; hurt his feelings. 6. Opinion as distinguished from reason; sentiment. 7. An impression produced by a person, place, thing, or event. 8: An appreciative regard.

Emotion is defined as 1. A complex and usually strong subjective response, as love or fear. 2. A state of agitation or disturbance. 3. The part of the consciousness that involves feeling or sensibility, as in a choice determined by emotion rather than reason.

As these definitions show, sometimes we use the word feeling to mean an emotional state or emotion. At other times we mean sensitivity. And sometimes we mean the ability to experience and react to our emotions, or sensibility. The word sensibility seems key to this discussion. Two definitions that apply are 1. The ability to feel or perceive, and 2. Mental or emotional responsiveness toward something, as the feelings of another; being sympathetic.

Everyone feels and everyone has emotions. Yet attitudes toward emotions seem to differ between men and women. Recently a male friend half-jokingly voiced the common criticism that women are too emotional. People sometimes cite Myers-Briggs data to support this belief, but the Thinking (T) and Feeling (F) indicators are about how we organize information to make choices, not judgments about whether we’re overly emotional. The data simply indicate that the majority of women (75.5%) prefer to make decisions in a personal, values-based, emotional way (F), whereas men (56.5%) prefer to decide in a logical, objective, unemotional way (T). Is there something inherently “wrong” or undesirable about either of these positions? Is women’s preference for subjective value a feminine wound? Is men’s preference for objective logic a masculine wound? Or are both preferences appropriate in differing ways and situations?

Later in the conversation my friend mentioned being angry about something in the news, so I said, “You’re angry about a lot of things, aren’t you?” “Yes,” he readily admitted. When I responded, “Anger’s an emotion, isn’t it? So aren’t you being emotional too?” he was quite surprised. He said he’d never really thought of his anger as being emotional! Yet teachers and students alike often report that boys are more prone to being agitated and creating disturbances, i.e. being more emotional, than girls. Why hadn’t he recognized his own emotionalism? Why did he project “being emotional” onto women?

In summarizing what I’ve said so far, I find five areas for discussion: 1) What do women mean when they say men are out of touch with their feelings? 2) What do men mean when they say women are too emotional? 3) If everyone has feelings and emotions, why might women experience and react to their emotions, i.e. have more sensibility to emotions, and men have less? 4) Why do we perceive emotional differences between the genders in terms of “good” and “bad” stereotypes? 5) How can we overcome damaging gender stereotypes?

I’ll share my thoughts about these questions next time. Meanwhile, I’d love to know yours.

 

Conscious Parenting July 15, 2011

I’ve just spent two weeks with my five grandchildren and their parents. I am so proud of my children: how they turned out, who they married, how well they are raising their children.  Their parenting styles are different in many ways, yet both sets of children are delightful: sweet, funny, bright, good-natured, well mannered….(I could go on, of course, but I’ll spare you more grandparental gushing!) Our time together reminds me that no matter how well-prepared we may be for the role of parenting, much of how we approach this most difficult of all jobs is the result of unconscious factors over which we have no control.

Many of these factors result from the way our parents raised us. For example, I thought of my mother as an intelligent, well-meaning, independent kind of person with an unemotional and trusting parenting style. Having a full-time job, she was never involved with our education or social lives, trusting us to get along fine without her participation or advice. I took this for granted as a child, but as an adult I realized how much I had longed for her to attend my plays and concerts, how good it would have felt if she had been a room mother or a member of the PTA, how nice it would have been to come home to a warm, clean house and find her always waiting for me, perhaps with a tray of cookies or freshly baked bread. So these were things I vowed to do for my children. As it happened, my conscious choices, combined with a lot of good luck, an education in child development, help from a good husband, and a strong desire to be a good parent made me a good-enough mother.

But beneath the conscious aspects of my upbringing was an emotional undercurrent of which I was utterly unaware. For instance, I never heard or saw my parents argue or fight. (Of course, that could have had something to do with the fact that Daddy was rarely home!)  Moreover, I can think of only two instances in which my mother and I ever exchanged heated words. And when she used the word “damn,” I was shocked into silence. Intuiting her deeply repressed anxiety and emotional fragility and wanting to spare her more pain after my parents’ divorce, I by-passed the normal adolescent period of rebellion and unconsciously developed a deep-seated fear of anger and conflict.

When I became a parent, these factors had a powerful influence on the way I treated my children.  I had no idea I had inherited my mother’s anxiety and emotional fragility. But the reality was that agitation and conflict made me so anxious that too often when my children argued with me or each other my intervention was based more on appeasing my anxiety than on patiently seeking the most fair and just resolution.  It took years of inner work before I could see my anxiety and  understand the part it played in the unhealthy aspects of our family interactions.

The unresolved issues of our parents are handed down to us through underground passageways that connect their emotional flow to ours, and we pass them on to our children the same way. With every step forward I’ve made toward seeing and resolving my anxiety, my attitudes and behavior have changed for the better. Best of all, my family no longer has to bear the burden of my unconscious “stuff” of which I’ve become aware. I’ll never be a perfect wife, mother, or grandmother, whatever these elusive creatures might be, but sparing my family the worst of myself has been more than enough reward.

 

 
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