Dear Maxine,

Whenever my son is upset, my heart breaks. It’s got to the point where I find it difficult to go out because he gets so upset. I know I need to do stuff for me but it tears my heart apart when I see him so upset. I know he’s fine after a while but I feel like a terrible mum leaving him like that.

Any insight you could give me would be really great.

Dear Follower,

Thanks for getting in touch. I know the heartache you mean, when they’re so upset and suddenly your conviction starts to fall away. Maybe they could just play with that knife, maybe I don’t need to go to the toilet, maybe it’s not so important for me to meet my own needs.

There’s a few things that have come up for me that, as always, I will try to address with reflective questions.

  1. What happens if you don’t meet your own needs?
  2. What happens if you never say no?
  3. Can you see any value in allowing your child to be upset?
  4. How are you affected, when your child is upset? What do you need?

What happens if you don’t meet your own needs?

How does ignoring your needs affect you? If you don’t eat enough? If you don’t get enough sleep? When you haven’t had enough adult interaction for a while? A space for you, to express yourself however you need. To move your body in a way that feels beneficial?

What happens to your mood?

How does it affect your behaviour?

Do you notice it affecting your patience?

Maybe it’s easier to think about it a different way: what are the conditions you need to make you the parent you want to be? (because nobody is the parent they want to be all the time)

Think back over the last week, when did you handle things in a way you’re happy with? What was going on then? How about when you found it harder to? What was going on then?

What makes it easier and what makes it harder?

Usually, what we find is that, if we don’t meet our own needs, eventually, it becomes impossible to meet the needs of the people around us.

What happens if you never say no?

If your never hears you say ‘no’, how do they learn what it means? How do they learn to respect other people’s ‘no’s? How do they learn to expect other people to respect theirs?

Can you see any value in allowing your child to be upset?

Oh I can so understand the desire for our children to never have to feel pain. To be free from suffering and heartache and to grow up in a world of joy and delight.

And yet, that will never be. At some point, something will happen and they will know pain.

What would you like for them?

To understand it, have the experience of being soothed and loved through it, accepted and helped to face it and acknowledge it?

Or to be confused by it, need to run away from it, to push it down or avoid it with whatever means possible?

When we haven’t been cuddled by the comforting acceptance of all of our feelings ourselves, it can feel totally alien to do this.

To trust that sadness will come and sadness will go. Same for anger. Same for joy. Feelings come and, if we allow them, acknowledge them, give them the respect and space they need, they will pass.

However, if we try to avoid them, we never learn this. We never learn how to accept them and we continue to fear them. That fear then leads us to do all sorts of things to avoid our feelings.

So what do you think your child could learn from being given the opportunity to be upset? This is not advocating for doing things to intentional harm our children, nor is it advocating for crying it out. It’s about noticing when feelings are naturally stirred up (which will happen quite often!) and making sure there is someone available to accept those feelings and love our children through them. Unfortunately, that cannot always be you.

It is not our job to make our children happy. It is our job to allow them to feel however they feel. We do not have to take away or change their feelings, only to accept them, however they come.

How are you affected, when your child is upset? What do you need?

All of the above is only intellectual and won’t make enough of a difference, until we understand what happens for you.

Why is it so hard for you when your child is upset? What comes up for you? This is tough stuff. Take your time, seek support if you need to. What are your fears? What are they founded in? Reality or your own history?

What do you need when you see your child upset? How can you hold onto the knowledge that this will not break him? That, if done with love and support, this is one of the best things you can do for your child. To teach them how to know pain and accept it and move through it.

What do you think? Have your say on Facebook or Instagram, or below in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.