A few months ago my husband and I lost a key chain that belonged to my husband's parents. Their car, home and office keys were on it, altogether.
We looked everywhere, but we failed to find it. It was gone. There was no other option but to give them the bad news. "We lost all your keys. We are terrible borrowers," I rehearsed.
We went over to their house for a meal. At the table, we made the big confession. "Your keys are gone. We are so sorry."
Not even a single moment passed. "It's all right," they said. "We can order a new copy from the car manufacturer in Germany. And it's easy to replicate home and office keys. Don't you worry about it."
They were untouched. Not even a slight disappointment on their face.
Of course, I wasn't expecting a blast. What I was expecting was a semi-emotional reaction like "oops" or "oh, no". A reaction that wouldn't make us feel terrible, but a bit guilty at least.
But there was none of it.
At that moment, it hit me. We had zero power to push their button.
In that single moment, my brain was rewired. This was completely new to me.
Doing something bad and not being able to upset the other person. Feeling sorry, but not having to feel sorry? This was possible.
What they did was respond to the news we delivered with logic, rather than react to it with emotion.
That day I truly understood how non-reactiveness felt for a child.
Non-reactiveness is reframing our immediate reactions to triggering events through awareness.
Reactiveness is a brain process. It even shows itself in brain scans.
When we react to our children, here's what happens in our brain:
Our amygdala, a key part of our limbic system orchestrating our emotional life, is able to detect a potential threat in less than 1/10 of a second, a lot before our sense-making brain parts produce conscious thought.
When we get stressed, our brain short circuits, delivering fight or flight response, rendering us incapable of logical reasoning.
In those times, we become emotionally reactive. We say or do things we regret. Even for conscious parents, these moments are inevitable somewhere along the relationship.
But you know what? Repair and recovery are healthy experiences too. Our children need to see that we are human and we get big emotions. In fact, rupture and repair is an important part of secure attachment, just as much as feeling safe is.
Here's an excerpt from the book Everyday Blessings by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
"Out of such moments can come a felt experience that parents and children can see and experience things very differently and still be safe within a loving and trustworthy relationship. Not only is the relationship strengthened by going through this process, but so, too, is the child’s sense of autonomy and connection, both of which are essential for healthy development."
The important thing is to know how to escape our reactive state. To practice it. To make sure our children understand what's going on. An apology, an explanation for our reaction, and a reassurance that we will do better next time.
"Our children have an uncanny ability to show us our wounded places, to draw out our fears and angers." Laura Markham
Were my in-laws only being kind? Maybe. It doesn't matter.
The real win for me was not feeling responsible for the other person's emotions. And this is exactly what I want to achieve in my parenthood. To make sure my child does not feel responsible for my emotions.
As a final note: the keys were found a while later. Best part is, nobody was hurt in the process.
🥄 Nurturing my favorite moms and dads
This week's theme is reframing our immediate reactions. Here's what I wrote around this topic lately:
Reactiveness in relationships and how to stop: Here's a short read about what reactiveness looks like in an ordinary everyday situation. Towards the end I provide a small exercise that can help turn a reaction into a response.
Self-regulation theory: What it can teach us about our parenting: In parenting we often feel like behaving one way, but choose not to. How do we do this? Social psychology can explain. Here is a peek into self-regulation theory and how to use it for our parenting mindset.
Thank you for reading. ❤️
If you've enjoyed this letter, consider sending it to a loved one. It always makes me very happy.
They can also subscribe using this link: https://blog.apparent.today/letters/#subscribe
Send me your thoughts! I'm on Twitter and love seeing a DM in my inbox. You can also send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next Saturday!