It’s that time of the year again when students of all types start or go back to school after a working or time-off break in the lazy hazy days of summer! For some It can be a time of excitement and fun as they look forward to connecting with old friends, making new ones and enjoying another year of discovery and learning. But how many of us have experienced this time as one of anxiety and distress and feel the angst of seeing our children going through the same thing?
The ‘back to school’ shopping hype in the media at this time of the year often only adds to the stress. As a parent of two young adult daughters, I recall the tightness in my chest during the shopping trips for clothes and supplies that are a ritual part of family activities in the last days of August. Whereas for some parents the focus on back to school shopping at this time of the year can serve as a distraction or relief as they prepare for the upcoming year, for others it can reinforce feelings of inadequacy and failure as they seem unable to meet their child’s needs and expectations. And in either case, the thoughts and questions lying just below the surface are often the same. “What if they have difficulty making or keeping friends again?” “How will we deal with the bullying issue?” “What if they drop back a year or drop out?”
“As a parent of two young adult daughters, I recall the tightness in my chest during the shopping trips for clothes and supplies that are a ritual part of family activities in the last days of August.”
As parents, we put expectations and responsibility on ourselves for our child’s performance, success and happiness during their school years. And at the same time, we put our attention on THEIR experience – their friendships, the class environment, their relationship with teachers, their learning challenges, their study habits etc. Not that this is not merited and can be very helpful, but in putting most of our attention there, I suggest we are missing a very important piece of the puzzle. That missing piece is our OWN school experience and how the unresolved issues from that experience can have a profound influence on our children’s school experience. What if I were to tell you that by putting our attention there, on what we are still carrying and where are still stuck around what happened to us at school, we are going to learn one of the biggest lessons that school ever offered us! And it will be an immensely beneficial lesson for our children as well.
I want to emphasize that my aim in making the connection between a child’s anxiety and parents unresolved issues about their school experience is not to REINFORCE parent’s stress and sense of responsibility for their child’s struggles at school. In fact, it is quite the opposite. It’s actually to see that as parents we can RELEASE ourselves and our children from the emotional and behavioural patterns that limit us, not just at school but in any area of life. And we do this when we have the willingness and courage to look at our early life school and family experiences, which formed the lens through which we view ourselves, others and the world.
If we choose to undertake this often challenging but ultimately rewarding assignment we come to see the ways in which we made these experiences mean there was something wrong with us. Although this interpretation was made in instant and then pushed out of our awareness, we came to strongly identify with it and, as mentioned, it became the lens through which we viewed everything that happened to us in our lives. Thus before we know it we find ourselves struggling with incidents or patterns of:
- being picked on
- isolating ourselves and withdrawing from social connections
- alienating or dominating others
- physical or emotional acting out
- performance anxiety, and more
Such behaviours, in turn, provide evidence for and perpetuate a set of limiting beliefs and as parents, we will often unknowingly act out or project these limiting beliefs onto our children. Likewise, our children will unknowingly internalize these projections and come to believe (as we did and our parents before us etc.) that they are bad, incompetent, lazy, stupid, weak, a failure and a whole host of other beliefs. How often do we say things to our children that we heard from our parents and swore we would never repeat? Although these beliefs are false, we nevertheless experience them as very real in the form of the constraints and narrowed perspectives that fundamentally impact every aspect of our lives. The result is the self-perpetuating cycles and patterns of communications and behaviour that impede flourishing and thriving in BOTH children and parents.
“Who as a parent hasn’t heard themselves repeat to their children what we heard from our parents and swore we would never say to our children?”
When as parents we start to get in touch with these limiting beliefs by paying attention to how they are activated, and being willing to be shown a different interpretation of them, we are undertaking a life-altering lesson. In our work with this lesson, we learn a radically different understanding of the experiences and relationships in which these beliefs were set in place. This, in turn, fosters our ability to forgive, to let go of stories and the associated guilt and shame of how others hurt us and what we did to get back at them or to protect ourselves. We come to see that our false beliefs are not set in stone but are actually errors in our thinking and judgement that can be corrected. And we ultimately learn to see that the gift is in the wound, inevitably connecting us to a deeper truth about ourselves as well as that of our children and all our fellow humans. From this place we begin to show up in life fully and authentically, expressing and extending from our natural state of joy, peace, curiosity and compassion for ourselves and others.
In ending I’m happy to say that while my shopping trips with my daughters are now infrequent (strangely enough, they have different tastes than me:-) when they do happen, the only thing that is tight is my hand in theirs or my arm across their shoulder in a gesture of support or shared excitement. (However, my younger daughter would probably add that she still notices some stiffness with the zipper on my wallet!)
Helen Loshny is a Vancouver-based Registered Therapeutic Counsellor (RTC) trained in Transpersonal Psychology, Family Systems, Cathartic Breathwork and Spiritual Counselling based on the teachings of A Course in Miracles. She is also a co-founder of Empower Health Clinic, where she heads the Clinic’s Counselling and Personal Growth Programs. She brings a wellspring of professional as well as life experience and love to her clients. Helen has been married over 30 years and is the proud mom of two amazing adopted daughters. Together with her colleagues Merissa Turner, Shama Zeynep and Mehmet Yaygin in the Empower Health Mind-Body program, she offers leading-edge transformative services in the field of mental and somatic health and wellness.