Parenting Respectfully When Triggered
August 4, 2017 10:50 AM   Subscribe

"The trouble with triggers is that they can rob us (at least temporarily) from being able to be the parent we want to be. We can act impulsively in a protective way to stop our own emotional discomfort instead of how we genuinely want to for our children." Racheous.com on Parenting Respectfully When Triggered

"Disclaimer: I’m using the word triggered to describe the process of an experience/feeling that a child has that triggers a response in us as parents. As someone with depression and an anxiety disorder, I’m aware it can have other meanings regarding trauma and mental health. This will hopefully be helpful to many. "
posted by jillithd (28 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
Oh yes, one of the biggest challenges for me has been differentiating my impulses to discipline my kids between "This will help $child learn and become a better person" and "The thing $child has done has made me angry or embarrassed and this is my animal side lashing back at them." (It's, for example, why you might react more strongly if your kid acts up in public.) It's the difference between the surge of anger when your child does something very dangerous like dashing away from you in a busy parking lot, versus when they smack you in the face while thrashing and refusing to be buckled into their car seat. The former is about THAT IS A LIFE THREATENING ACT AND I NEED TO IMPRESS UPON YOU NEVER TO DO THAT AGAIN, and the latter is more about feeling disrespected - WHO THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU ARE, NOBODY HITS ME IN THE FACE LIKE THAT.

It's easy to tell yourself that you have to teach your kid not to hit people and so a strong response is appropriate - but it's also a little dishonest not to acknowledge that there's probably an undercurrent of desire for revenge, or at least to assert your greater power, in that situation. Or maybe I'm just a monster ;)

My big trigger is defiance. I can deal with it when my older kid gets anxious and wails that he can't do something; I can (usually) take a deep breath and coax him through and remind myself that it's my job to teach and guide as I swallow my frustration. I can stay calm through episodes of hitting (my husband is terrible at this). But man, my younger one is just defiant in a way that the older one never has been, and it's hard for me to get through. When she gets that 3 year old arms-crossed glare, with the fuck-you-i-won't-do-it-and-you-can't-make-me attitude, I feel this swell of anger and it takes so much effort to swallow it down and respond calmly. I generally manage, because that's a priority for me, but wow, it's hard!
posted by telepanda at 11:14 AM on August 4, 2017 [29 favorites]


Trigger alert: "Trigger" is used 51 times in a ~2000 word article.

That said, I struggle with my kids being defiant and irrational like any other parent.
posted by ryanshepard at 11:32 AM on August 4, 2017 [2 favorites]


Being upset that your kid just threw lunch on the floor is normal and not something you need to work out with your therapist. Where did we get this idea that emotional responses are all the result of trauma?
posted by empath at 11:32 AM on August 4, 2017 [6 favorites]


This is really insightful for me, too. My oldest daughter has always been territorial aggressive and even abusive to her younger sister and this gets my back up like nobody's business. Not normally quick to anger, I'm shocked at the feelings I have toward her when she hurts her sister, and scandalized by the steps she takes to do it behind my back. Not to mention dd2 has adapted by learning that she can get her sister back by claiming injury when there was none. Damnit! The experience of this potent anger is a shock to me every time, and knowing that I have not always reacted well to it makes me really sad. Intellectually I know that we are all a bundle of our past experiences and emotions, and our reactions are rarely completely rational or in keeping with our ideals.
posted by maniabug at 11:32 AM on August 4, 2017 [4 favorites]


I need a "parenting help for when your kid just pushed every single damn one a ya buttons and you have zero chill and are flooded way the fuck out" article.
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:39 AM on August 4, 2017 [8 favorites]


Saying "emotional responses are all the result of trauma" is a dismissive oversimplification. It's not just having a feel, it's being triggered. My partner has one around people being loud and physical and out of control around them. Once they IDed this, suddenly they were a lot better equipped to handle times when our toddler gets upset/overwhelmed.

A lot of mine comes around having a physically abusive father. I don't ever want my child to fear me because they did an art on their own furniture. (One example from my own childhood.) But that trauma combines with parental "keep my child safe!" impulses very poorly. I'm literally in therapy right now to correct some of that incredibly erroneous thinking so that I don't pass on that learning to my child.
posted by XtinaS at 11:40 AM on August 4, 2017 [4 favorites]


Even simply being honest and saying “I’m finding this hard, give me a moment please”.

What a great thing to model for the child!
posted by maniabug at 11:42 AM on August 4, 2017 [22 favorites]


Annika Cicada: The only way I've been able to cope has been to tap in another parent, and then go sit in the bathroom with the fan on and a Star Trek book for 20 minutes. >.>
posted by XtinaS at 11:42 AM on August 4, 2017 [1 favorite]


Being upset that your kid just threw lunch on the floor is normal and not something you need to work out with your therapist.

Being unhappy that your kid just threw lunch on the floor is normal. Raising your voice is normal. Breaking down and crying or screaming because your kid just threw lunch on the floor is outside the realm of normal. I'm not a parent but a very good friend of mine just yesterday was talking about sobbing over the dishwasher about being a bad parent because one of her kids was having some issues yesterday that were definitely not good behavior, but were not behavior that should have led to that. Having bad feelings is normal. Having bad feelings and then totally falling apart because you don't know how to cope is exactly what having a mental health condition leads to in a variety of settings, parenting included. Lots of people do in fact need help and sometimes a therapist to work out how to cope with stressful situations in appropriate ways because of their mental health conditions.

Do not tell other people what they do and do not need help with. If you don't, congratulations. You are not the gatekeeper. This is not about parenting while normal, this is about parenting with depression and anxiety disorders.
posted by Sequence at 11:43 AM on August 4, 2017 [51 favorites]


Where did we get this idea that emotional responses are all the result of trauma?

The author literally clarifies: "As someone with depression and an anxiety disorder, I’m aware [the word "trigger"] can have other meanings [not necessarily representative of what I am attempting to explore] regarding trauma and mental health."
posted by suddenly, and without warning, at 11:54 AM on August 4, 2017 [14 favorites]


Being upset that your kid just threw lunch on the floor is normal and not something you need to work out with your therapist. Where did we get this idea that emotional responses are all the result of trauma?

This article wasn't written for you then. You're right. It isn't 'normal' it's a trauma reaction, it comes from a completely different place. Parenting with a severe anxiety disorder, depression, or PTSD is different. When you're doing anything, parenting or otherwise, with a mental health problem in those arenas it's not just a reaction, it's an uncontrolled flood of reactions. There is a chasm of a difference between having an unpleasant reaction when your kid does something negative and having an uncontrolled, completely out of proportion flood of reactions when your kid does something negative.

I personally have a shit-fuck-ton of trauma surrounding a conservative religious upbringing. Guess what happens when my kid starts talking about how "god created the sun"? I have an irrational, huge, fucking awful reaction that I'm not totally in control of. I have to work really hard not only control my reaction to him, but to prevent a full on panic attack. So, that's super fun.

And for shit's sake, many of us with these problems DO talk about those things with our therapists. Regularly. Like, every visit.

Props to you that you don't have to deal with that.
posted by furnace.heart at 11:54 AM on August 4, 2017 [25 favorites]


I need this article so bad. My daughter, head strong and defiant especially with me, just... drives me around the bend these days. I'm THIRTY TWO and she's THREE, it shouldn't be this way. I snap at her in ways that I shouldn't, and regret immediately, and I'm pretty sure it's because I have a deep need to be heard and listened to. My husband is... not the greatest at that. When she pushes her brother and I tell her not to and she immediately does it again while saying "sorry!" I... I. Argh.

I've been working on it. Deep breaths. Measured responses. And still if I'm tired, frustrated or otherwise mad (at my husband, mostly) it's so fucking hard not to get really impatient and annoyed. I hate it in myself. I HATE IT.
posted by lydhre at 11:57 AM on August 4, 2017 [7 favorites]


My mother was really honest with us about struggling with this, and from what she tells us, Dad was trying to do the same in the early years. They both had super-abusive upbringings; doing better than their parents might *seem* like a pretty low bar, but not when you have to make it up yourself as you go along.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:02 PM on August 4, 2017 [8 favorites]


Oh man. Yes. Parenting a child with attachment issues is 180 degrees different from how I was parented...and I also had attachment issues (different circumstances though). I can read Purvis and Forbes and Siegel all day long--trying to learn a better way to parent than I was parented--and still struggle in the moment of extreme emotion to resist falling into a parenting pattern I'm so familiar with that it is imprinted in my brain like a brand.
posted by jeanmari at 12:12 PM on August 4, 2017


This seems to dovetail with the excellent thread a while back about the cycle-breakers
posted by maniabug at 12:14 PM on August 4, 2017 [1 favorite]


sobbing over the dishwasher about being a bad parent because one of her kids was having some issues yesterday that were definitely not good behavior, but were not behavior that should have led to that

Hi, this is me, more often than I'd like to admit, since my daughter was born. It's not the reaction to the "bad" behavior, it's the lack of control over the reaction, and then the shame and ... maybe bewilderment? ... that comes after, like, what is wrong with me?

On the one hand, it's helpful that my wife doesn't feel this way, because at least one of us is grounded, but then it's like, why am I the parent who can't cope?
posted by uncleozzy at 12:14 PM on August 4, 2017 [3 favorites]


I deeply wish I'd had something like this (and this vocabulary!) 18 years ago. Maybe my kids will benefit from it in their own child rearing someday.
posted by ZakDaddy at 12:18 PM on August 4, 2017 [1 favorite]


Being upset that your kid just threw lunch on the floor is normal and not something you need to work out with your therapist.

Sure, but the point is to be honest with yourself that your overwhelming desire to punish your kid for throwing lunch on the floor is coming from an outsized emotional reaction within yourself (because $reason), rather than a calm, considered strategy to teach your kid how to exist as part of a family unit. This is true of people with specific traumatic histories, and also true of bog-standard folks who have some buttons their kid pushes.

Calm, measured punishment can be a reasonable and appropriate part of child-rearing. However, being aware that your kid is pushing YOUR specific button, and has not actually committed a felony, is useful in not flying off the handle - and therefore keeping punishment in the realm of calm and measured rather than rash and impulsive.
posted by telepanda at 12:22 PM on August 4, 2017 [5 favorites]


and also true of bog-standard folks who have some buttons their kid pushes

quoted for truth! There is no false dichotomy of people who have mental conditions and triggers, versus everyone else; we all have our issues, and they can be hidden but important.
posted by maniabug at 12:29 PM on August 4, 2017 [4 favorites]


lydhre: I'm THIRTY TWO and she's THREE

Oh man. Three was the *worst*. We thought 'hey, everyone told us about the terrible twos, and we coped OK with two. Three should be a doddle!'. Nope.

It was three that made me sit down and realise that I had to change the way I was parenting, because getting angry with a three year old is a) an exercise in futility and b) eventually turns into emotional abuse.
posted by pharm at 12:38 PM on August 4, 2017 [6 favorites]


We thought 'hey, everyone told us about the terrible twos, and we coped OK with two. Three should be a doddle!'. Nope.

There's a reason it's the terrible twoS -- it lasts for multiple years.
posted by Etrigan at 12:43 PM on August 4, 2017 [5 favorites]


Heh, we've found 3 to be the biggest mismatch between cognitive ability to imagine exactly how the world should be, and the ability to cope when it doesn't live up to your expectations. (Also imperfect ability to explain how things should be to those around you, and limited agency to make it happen.)
posted by telepanda at 12:56 PM on August 4, 2017 [8 favorites]


Being upset that your kid just threw lunch on the floor is normal and not something you need to work out with your therapist. Where did we get this idea that emotional responses are all the result of trauma?

Being upset is normal, but how you respond to being upset matters. Have you ever met someone who grew up in a house where if they made a mistake, their parents responded with screaming, cursing, threats of violence, or actual violence, and was still processing it as an adult?

So in this article, there's a distinction between "I got upset because my kid threw lunch on the floor" which is normal and not something you need to work out with your therapist, and "I got upset because my kid threw lunch on the floor, and it's just another example of how my kids will never do anything right, because I'm such a bad parent" which is.
posted by capricorn at 1:04 PM on August 4, 2017 [10 favorites]


My trigger is when I offer my super smart, talented kid to teach him (or get lessons in) music, programming, drawing, etc., all things he's already interested in and working on, and he's like 'no, I'd rather just keep doing it the way I'm doing it', which really gets my goat because he's 9 and doesn't know everything about everything, yet, and there is actual information and experience he should be absorbing if he wants to be good at any of these things, and it's hard to explain, cos I don't usually stress him about school or grades or sports or anything much, but this really pushes my buttons for some reason which I'm 110% sure has to do with my own frustrations about my own life, a sort of 'but you have all this information/opportunities that I never had as a kid why aren't you jumping on them????'. And I get mad at him in a way I never get mad at him for the things you're supposed to get mad with your child about, and he gets mad back and we end up sort of in a parallel sulk which ends with making up and hugging but still, I get the whole 'irrational self-referential trigger' thing.
posted by signal at 1:23 PM on August 4, 2017 [4 favorites]


This was so useful. I wish I had had it sooner. Parenting is fucking hard.
posted by Mchelly at 4:12 PM on August 4, 2017 [2 favorites]


Great topic. Forgive me while I rant. I have PTSD on two axes - one from having grown up being abused, fearing for me life while being moledted on holidays and dealing with other stuff during the regular months and the other from losing my first child.

This is what one kind of trigger looks like: my son has a normal toddler accident and needs two stitches in his heel. I am up for two nights terrified that he will...suddenly die, picturing his funeral, his plot in the cemetery near his sister, flooded with fear, knowing somewhere in my brain that this is crazy But unable to stop my mind, to the point that all I can see whenever he is asleep and therefore not interacting with me is his death, until finally I manage to slowly climb out of the hole of worry, although I spend the next week obsessively cleaning and removing breakable things.

And another: my child refuses to sit in his car seat at the grocery store and I finally kind of poke his tummy and gets the belts clipped. He is screaming indignantly and I close the door, walk a couple of feet away, thrown up in a garbage can because my body remembers what being raped in a car is like and I cannot actually, in that moment, tell if what I did is ok, and I have finally gotten my child in the car and I am now too upset to drive and what do I do? What do I do.

And one more: my husband intervenes after I slam the door (not on anyone, but loudly) after finding pee all over the bathroom and I think everyone is nuts but me (pee! In a bathroom!) for a good 5 hours. Two days later I realize my eldest is the age I was (9) when my mother woke me up at 2 am screaming that I had not cleaned the bathroom right, locked me in, and I mixed ammonia and bleach products and ended up with a trip to the ER with her hysterical, furious and panicking her. I figure this relates, thenks to my 6 years and small down payment on a house's worth of therapy (duh.) and resolve to be centred.

And finally: my mum used to go hysterical about germs when I would have the stomach flu. Stomach flu was like bubonic plague in my house growing up. While pregnant I worked with my therapist on plan after plan of how I would not beat my child if he threw up on the floor. So at 2 he got a wicked flu and as I was carrying him in from the car, threw up down my hair, into my best winter coat, etc. And...nothing. I don't like it when my kids have the flu but it is just...the flu. It's not a trigger for me despite the fear and planning.

So...yeah that's triggers for me. (Fortunately pretty rare.) I guess it's kind of a spectrum.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:13 PM on August 4, 2017 [18 favorites]


Normal is one of those sleeper loaded words. Do you mean common or healthy?
posted by maniabug at 7:05 PM on August 4, 2017 [1 favorite]


I didn't read this as being solely about PTSD-esque triggers. I read that intro as saying that this was about even the most mundane moments of feeling triggered, but that she's aware that it might even be useful for the crying-at-the-sink moments.

She's talking about "respectful parenting," so she may not believe in punishments, "timeouts," bedtimes, making children share, "you have to have at least three bites before you get up from dinner," or a bunch of other aspects of what sometimes gets termed "authoritarian parenting."

So I think she's talking about everything, including when I'm at the park wanting to snatch a toy from my son's hands and say "you have to share" because I suddenly got a pulse of embarrassment that the other parents might think that we don't have manners. Most of us weren't raised with the degree of autonomy that that movement aspires to, and the modern world offers a lot of potential things that can trigger a reversion to a more "we're leaving now because I said so" approach. That's how I read it, anyhow. But as she said, it certainly applies to other, more intense triggers as well.
posted by slidell at 10:34 PM on August 7, 2017 [2 favorites]


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