Parenting is emotional edge work, and each phase of child development presents unique emotional challenges to the parent. Emotional edge work is the practice of willingly and compassionately facing the emotional pain of life. As a new Dad, I’m knee deep in opportunities to work my own edge. This includes working through the defense strategy of “This shouldn’t be happening,” the antidote to which I’ll discuss in detail.
As a new father I’ve been fortunate enough to have two months of paternity leave to get 24/7 bonding time with our little bundle. And depending on who is recalling their experience of raising a newborn, it’s either described as a deeply magical time every moment of which needs to be cherished, or as profoundly stressful. Of course it’s both, and in my experiences of the stress I’m noticing a particular emotional defense creep in. It’s a sentiment I’ve heard muttered by so many clients doing in the midst of emotional edge work. It’s an inner voice which says, “This should not be happening.”
Our little one has had acid-reflux painful enough to block her attempts to feed and sleep. This results in an experience of desperation in both father and daughter, especially during the delirious 3-5am feeding hours. I watch my mind produce sentiments such as, “This shouldn’t be happening, why can’t she just drink this bottle?,” or “She should be able to sleep right now,” and “There shouldn’t be a baby shrieking in my ear this loudly.”
“This shouldn’t be happening” is a well worn strategy used throughout human history as a response to overwhelm and feeling out of control. It is a voice of protest that says, “If only I could control this, I would feel better.” It’s a normal and understandable response, but it keeps us stuck in denial, despair, and victimhood. The fact is we can’t control much of life, so we are left to contend with how to feel better when life happens without our consent.
Steps to take in the desperate hour of emotional edge work include:
- When you hear “This shouldn’t be happening,” remind yourself that you’re overwhelmed
- Initiate the gears of self-awareness and self-regulation; breathe more deeply, scan for body sensations, make big movements to discharge arousal, access positive self-talk
- Remind yourself that your task is not to control life, but to care for yourself through it (to Regulate the Regulator)
- Remind yourself that you do not have to like what is happening, but that the way through is to nurture yourself in this moment
- Seek internal and external help and ride it out
To continue the endless loop of “This should not be happening” is to stay stuck in denial, non-reality, and insecurity. It stems from a belief that life is our perpetrator, and we are her victim.
By choosing to say, “I choose to be here and embrace myself in this moment,” we let go of the need for external control. We find love and care for ourselves and others regardless of circumstance. And isn’t this the task of parenthood, to care for and regulate ourselves through difficult experiences, so that we are available to care for and regulate our children? Especially when life is desperately screaming in our ear!
When do you hear yourself saying “This shouldn’t be happening” and what do you do in response?