Removing Shame From Parenting
We have all experienced the painful moment of being told there is something wrong with us. Something essentially not right to who we are. When we feel this, especially at a young age, we begin to feel this sense that we are not right. Shame is the feeling that we are less than our full self. It is a kind of moving away from a healthy integration to an unhealthy disintegration.
Growing Up With Shame
For many of us it wasn’t uncommon go grow up in households where shame was used as a way of controlling our behavior. We may have been told we were bad or ungrateful when we were not behaving in the ways our parents wanted us to. This type of parenting style can develop an inner critic for a young child that keeps them controlled but doesn’t allow for their true self to emerge.
Two Ways That Shame Shows Up
When parents knowingly shame their children by calling them names and degrading them this is overt shame. It is out in the open and hopefully the parent can realize they are doing this and come back to the child and repair the damage.
The other way that shame often shows up for children is covert shame. This is shame where the child’s needs are not being met because none of the caregivers are able to attune appropriately. When a child at an early developmental stage is trying to get something from their caregiver and they continually are denied they begin to think that something is fundamentally wrong with them.
In her book, Understanding And Treating Chronic Shame, Patrica DeYoung, explains how this happens:
…A child has to have at least one caregiver who is able to respond in an attuned, consistent way to what the child feels. If this is missing in a major way, the child will translate the distress of the mismatch into a feeling like, “I can’t make happen what I need… so there’s something wrong with me.” (DeYoung, 2015)
When parents are not paying attention to their children this feeling that the child doesn’t matter can crop up. The child never blames their caregiver. They are only, at this early stage of development, able to blame themselves.
A better approach to parenting is to bring a more present way of being with our kids. This means letting go of all of our thoughts and concerns for periods of time and just focusing on the fun of being a parent. This doesn’t mean we are faking it but when we are with our kids we use the power of mindfulness to be fully in the moment of our kids. We notice the worries, the difficult emotions and we let them go so that we can stay tuned into our kids needs.
This type of parenting requires a different level of commitment to being a parent. It means you have to let go of your needs at times and put your kids first. This is most essential in the early years of child’s life.
You’re Already Doing This
I want to make it clear that most parents are already doing this and attuning really well to their kids. For some parents, however, it is challenging not getting overwhelmed by the details in life. When this happens, as it does at times, we need to be able to have outlets for this and not bring this into our relationship with our kids. We talk with our partner, a close friend or family member to resolve these adult issues before we are with our kids.
Obviously this isn’t always possible. In those times we use mindfulness to let the overwhelm move to the background and allow our hearts to open to our kids needs in the moment.
You Don’t Have To Be Perfect
Being a parent is a constant state of attuning and mis-attuning to our children. This doesn’t create shame. Covert shame comes from chronic mis-attunement. If you are committed to being attuned and see your connection with your child as a major priority your children are going to be fine.
How I Find This With My Kids
I know that at times in my life, I can get worked up about the financial pressures in life. I can also worry about my ability to provide for everyone. This can lead me to feeling stressed out and overwhelmed at times. My commitment is to come into my children’s lives with a fresh mind and a willingness to put these pressures aside until I can talk with my wife or a close friend. It is not always easy but it is important for me to be as present as possible with my kids.
If you would like to find ways to be more attuned to your children please contact me.
DeYoung, Patrica A. (2015). Understanding and Treating Chronic Shame: A Relational/Neurobiological Approach. London, England. Routledge.
Photo by Caleb Woods – Unsplash