In our lighthearted moments my 4-year old daughter and I sometimes squeeze cheek-to-cheek and say “Uh-oh, we’re stuck together... with strong glue!” And giggle with full hearts.
But this was not one of those moments. My little girl had been weeping and whining for the last ten minutes. She was already seated in my lap when I let out a groan as I adjusted myself to a more comfortable position to accommodate my growing, expectant tummy. She stopped suddenly and turned to look at me. In her eyes - a wariness, looking to see if there was trouble. She needed a safe space but in that moment she felt a threat.
Sensing there was no such threat she continued expressing her frustrations, complete with kicking, screaming, and heartbreaking sobbing. All I had to do was empathically give her the space to let it all go, remembering that the present situation was just a trigger - in this case it was because her burrito started falling apart in the middle - a window of opportunity for a slew of pent up emotions to escape. These were not new emotions, but existed from the hour before, or the day, week, possibly years past and had somehow never made their way out. Perhaps the lunch disaster had become a metaphor for the times she felt like falling apart herself, but was not allowed to express either by herself or others.
But it was that fearful glance that haunted me in the wee hours of the next morning - the look saying she needs a safe place to be, and that place has become fragile.
After multiple attempts to express herself only to be shut down, I had slowly become less of a sanctuary than I had been in her earlier years when crying was, if I may unfairly say so, more acceptable. My own unrealistic expectations, tiredness and lack of compassionate consciousness contributed to my inability to be the steadfast vessel for her every episode of distress we rather carelessly call “meltdowns”.
I hope, going forth, to remember that when these moments arise where release is possible, I can allow it to its end. If it stretches out longer than expected, or stops briefly only to start once again - this only means that the process is not all done. In these moments we are at risk of feeling a myriad of triggers within our own bodies and minds, such as, “She’s manipulating me”, “He just wants his way”, “She has no regard for my feelings”, “I should stop this because - what will others think?” These and other fearful thoughts potentially deceive us into rejection and negativity. Sometimes a great effort is required not to believe them.
Outbursts are a gift not only for the child who is offered relief, but for the parent who has the opportunity to address what irks them. The parent might find, for example, that the undesired behaviour triggered a rejected or forgotten part of themselves. Identifying and working through it within one’s self makes it possible to better deal with future outbursts.
As my daughter put it, “Mama, when you are angry just remember that you are kind and remember that I love you”. Have wiser words ever been spoken? I would further add my own reminder to connect to love even in tough times.
Negative emotions such as anger and pain arise when we stop ourselves from feeling our love, or when we withdraw it. Getting back into the natural flow of being loving automatically disperses and dissolves those heavy emotions and so that we be present with our loved one.
I welcome the notion that through this exercise of simply opening my heart and my lap to a fussing preschooler, our relationship wounds are given the chance to heal, we may become closer at the heart level, and we can form a pure, clear bond that sticks - like strong glue.