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Remaining the Parent in Challenging Circumstances

Written by:  Ms Sonia Appleby 

Holding the Parental/Child Space when a Child is Upset

Managing the ‘parental space’ can at times require more effort, thought, empathy and patience than we may feel we have the capacity to impart.

Most of us will well remember the immediate post-birth experiences of bewilderment juxtaposed to joy; sometimes profound sadness, relief, the uncertainty of coping with the next few hours let alone the vast vista of childhood that should be boundaried by the age of majority but realistically lasts well into early adulthood.

Getting to know your baby and then child is a profound journey of learning in understanding oneself through the prism of being able to identify with your child.  Most parents instinctively attend to these emotional and parental issues.  They are alert to their babies’ noises, how they sleep, how they like to be held etc. and accommodate themselves and their personalities in the service of their babies’ needs in an entirely naturalistic way.  There is no perfect script for doing this thing called parenting.  For the most part in the very early days, parents are learning about their infants and babies and are mostly satisfied in ensuring their child’s needs are met.

This is all well and good but being able to tolerate an apparently upset baby or child can drive some parents to the very edge of ‘parental space’.  A bit like real space where the capacity to be centred by one’s own ‘gravity’ or sense of self becomes distorted.

In responding to an upset child, some parents mirror a form of confusion, or may even enter a state of temporary disturbance.  This could easily manifest when children are upset and can be profoundly provocative for their parents.  In some it might affect their sense of being able to control the world to protect their child and having to confront the reality of the limits to parental omnipotence.

Sometimes our child’s upset takes us back to our own childhood and sometimes without proper thought, we respond to our child’s upset either reflecting our own parents’ responses or retaliate against these old memories and do the opposite.  The problem with these understandable responses is they are anachronistic attempts to manage a child in the here and now.

Rafan House now offers “Parents’ Hour” – non-clinical discussions for parents on how to talk to your children about sensitive parenting topics.