I splashed my face with cold water, hoping to wash away the tears intermingled with anger. As I toweled off my cheeks with the fluffy hotel towel, my father’s words rang through my head, stinging me once more. “You might want to gather up all of your swim stuff before you leave. I'm going to get an earlier flight and leave tomorrow. These kids…my nerves just can’t take it. The screaming and crying morning, noon, and night... I mean…this generation is different. If I’d act that way growing up, my dad would have beat my ass. I can’t handle being around the discipline.” And there it was, laid out before me in all honesty.
I put my children’s swim trunks in a wet bag and tried not to think about how disappointed they would be that Grandpa left early. I shoved their towels in and screamed in my head, “I am trying my best! I am working SO HARD on raising them!” As I gathered up their goggles, I started going over all of my father’s faults and retorted silently, “Yah…you were beat for showing emotions and everything else. Look how well adjusted you turned out…NOT!” Clearly, my mama-bear instincts and my wounded inner child were having their say, even if it was just within my own mind.
After a very brief, distant good-bye, fresh tears fell as I lead my little ones down the stairs to our car. My feelings were hurt. But with a little time and space, I could also appreciate he was telling me his truth. My father didn’t continue to act out his anxiety and overwhelm with his own tantrums or lashing out at the boys or me, which has happened in the past. He used his words matter-of-factly, which for that I was grateful.
And, if I was honest, it made perfect sense he couldn’t be around children expressing their emotions from time to time throughout the day. He was never allowed to express them himself. Children were to be seen, not heard. They were expected to comply without complaint to their parents or severe consequences were given. Whenever my son cried because he was disappointed or yelled when overwhelmed, it triggered memories of pain, shame, and fear within my father. I know. It has taken years of work on myself to not meet every big emotion with all of these feelings as well. It has been a journey to see my children’s upsets as normal processes of learning how to regulate their emotions, a sign of an unmet need, or communication…not a reason to punish.
Gentle parenting isn’t always serene. It isn’t always holding hands while dancing and singing…although sometimes it is. It is also sometimes messy. And loud. And it takes tremendous patience and inner strength to see young children for more than just their behavior in the moment. It takes unconditional love. It takes trust that this generation CAN be different. We can raise children who are free to feel and express their emotions without pain, shame, and fear. We can leave this world a little more gentle, a little more tolerant, a little more accepting of others through their highs and lows.
My dad called me later that evening, full of regret for what he had said. I honestly told him that he did hurt my feelings, but I was glad he was authentic with me. Because when we speak our truth, it gives us the ability to openly know each other better, to reflect on our own inner truth, and to resolve to either continue down the path we have chosen or to alter course. For me and my family, I am continuing to mother as peacefully and gently as possible, regardless of the uncomfortable feelings and conversations that will inevitably come my way in the process.
Amber Sparks is a homeschooling mama to two young boys and a Mommy/Baby and Parent/Child Yoga Teacher. She writes about parenting with heart, looking within, and creative exploration on her blog Heart Wanderings.