Turning Towards Feelings
“The more painful your feelings, the more likely you are to hold the experience at bay, never able to fully let it in so that it can be processed and relinquished. Nor are you able to let it go…for you cannot fully let go of what you have not yet welcomed in.”
– Peter Levine
After dropping off kids at school last week, I spoke to several moms about the process of saying goodbye to their kids the first day of school. I was surprised that so many moms were not only open to talking about the separation between themselves and their children, they seemed eager and even relieved to talk about it. I was touched by the wide range of experiences….and how emotionally rich the experiences were.
In our Mindful Moms group this week, we practiced turning towards and being with the feelings that come up for us during the major transitions in our lives – particularly the transitions many of us are going through with our children right now. We shared stories of the separations we have been moving through as school begins.
It’s so refreshing to hear these authentic stories of real moms with real feelings. It helps normalize the challenges that arise in these situations and reminds us that we are not alone. Of course we have feelings about our children going off to school when they are either feeling 1) really nervous and clinging to us, or 2) not needing us at all! Either way, their process tends to elicit a lot of strong feelings in us, as moms.
Mindfulness teacher, Jack Kornfield, writes:
“If you can sit quietly after difficult news; if in financial downturns you remain perfectly calm; if you can see your neighbors travel to fantastic places without a twinge of jealousy…you are probably a dog!”
We are human. We have human feelings. And it helps to acknowledge those feelings so we can welcome them in, process them and ultimately let them go.
Most of us moms go through this separation process alone, in secret, which makes it all the more challenging. When we go through this alone, we tend to judge ourselves for feeling the way we are feeling. And when we judge ourselves, we often come to the conclusion that there is something wrong with us. And when we believe there is something wrong with us, we try to stop feeling the way we are feeling, which isn’t usually successful. So – we stuff our feelings deep down inside, where they fester, build and often come out unconsciously in reactive behaviors which can ultimately impede or aggravate the separation process.
I find it so helpful to hear stories from other moms and to learn from their experiences as their kids separate from them. Here is one mom’s attuned response to her daughter’s needs for both closeness and space as she headed to her first day of middle school:
“I thought (my middle schooler) was going to want to walk to the first day of middle school alone. But she actually asked us to walk with her! I was so delighted! Then, when we got close to the school, she said, ‘Ok – this is good enough. I got it from here.’ And I said, ‘Absolutely! This is your day. Whatever you need!’ And we said goodbye and I felt so glad that she could ask for what she needed. She’s going to be ok!”
The grace and ease with which this mom attuned to her daughter’s needs in the moment is inspiring. The daughter asked for support, and mom was there. Her daughter set a boundary, and mom was able to honor it in an emotionally “clean” way – without making her daughter feel guilty or giving her daughter any signals that her daughter was hurting her by wanting to separate.
The reason this mom could be so “clean” in the separation process isn’t that this mom didn’t have strong feelings about the separation. It’s that she has taken the time to explore, turn towards and “be with” her feelings about her daughter growing up and separating from her. It is this courage and willingness to be present with our true feelings that affords us the freedom to choose how we want to respond, so that we are not merely imprisoned by unconscious drives and compulsions. In this case, it allows us to facilitate a healthy separation process, and let our kids go when they give us cues that they need space from us.
May we all practice turning towards our feelings – especially when we are in the midst of major transitions with our kids. And may we compassionately acknowledge that the beginning of the school year is usually a pretty major transition for us all!
– Jaclyn Long, MFT
Mom, wife, friend
Founder & Director
Mind Body Moms