Healing while parenting and parenting while healing isn’t easy—but it is possible.
I was 16 when I became a mum and by my mid-30s, I was a single mum of five children. That is when I went to my first personal development workshop. I was searching for happiness and peace, and while I knew I’d got closer than ever before, I still felt far away from where I wanted to be.
So, when a workshop for women to learn more about stepping into their power, creating happiness, and finding their joy in life, was advertised in my local area, I didn’t hesitate to buy a ticket.
The speaker was quite obviously passionate about wanting to support other women on their healing journeys by teaching and sharing what she’d learned along hers. I got a lot out of it, but I didn’t completely resonate. The speaker had once held a corporate career. No longer satisfied, she left that to find herself, visited Peru and several places of spiritual significance, spent a bunch of money on flights, accommodation, and experiences, and had an amazing time along the way, discovering her purpose.
This sounds absolutely beautiful—but what was I supposed to do with the five kids at home, while I was doing all of that? And who was paying for it?
Healing while parenting is a whole other level because, at the same time we’re trying to tend to our own needs, there are actual other humans, needy little humans, who we’re also responsible for providing for.
Parenting while healing can be extremely challenging—particularly when we’re triggered by something our children did, or didn’t do, said, or didn’t say. We have to learn how to deal with that, soothe ourselves and get back to homeostasis (baseline), while also tending to the needs of the other little humans who have their own emotions, reactions, and level of (mis)understanding.
Here are five practices that will be helpful as you continue healing while parenting and parenting while healing. It’s not easy, but it’s possible to make some headway.
1. Identify your triggers.
Being a parent will be triggering at times, especially if you experienced trauma in your own childhood. The trick is to identify what they are, so you can work with them. The easiest way to identify a trigger is to remember a time you reacted in a big way. This could be yelling, or arguing (a fight response), or jumping in your car to leave, or going to another room (flight), or going numb, disassociating, not being able to respond (freeze), or going into people-pleasing mode, and desperately trying to calm the situation, ease the mood, and change the energy by doing everything and anything you can think of (fawn).
Your trauma response is your reaction a trigger. What had happened before your reaction? Did someone say something? Did any particular words or tone bother you? Did someone not do something that they were supposed to, or said they would? Whatever happened before your trauma response is your trigger.
You may have multiple triggers and that’s okay. You just need to know what they are, so you can move beyond them. Give yourself lots of kindness with triggers, because you deserve it.
2. Reset your nervous system.
The moment you become triggered is the moment your body instantly and automatically goes into survival mode. You’ve been knocked out of balance. You’re either above or below your baseline, and the only thing you can do is to stop and attempt to reset your nervous system, otherwise, you’re headed for a trauma response.
Try any of these to help you reset your nervous system, which is your first priority when you’re aware you’ve been triggered:
>> Take slow deep belly breaths (always my first go-to).
>> Splash your face with cold water or have a cool shower.
>> Meditation or prayer.
>> Laugh out loud.
>> Move your body, dance, and shake it off.
3. Work through it, name your feeling, and think of some different choices.
When your trauma response has passed, your breathing and heart rate will have returned to their normal rate, and you’ll be back to baseline, in homeostasis, or your “normal.” Then, you’re able to think about the event in a loving and logical sense and can start asking yourself questions:
>> What did your body feel like as soon as you were triggered? Did you clench your fists, feel the rage rising? Did you shut down? Have a mental blank?
>> What was it about the word, phrase, tone, or the action, that caused a reaction inside you? How did it make you feel? Angry, frustrated, scared, hurt, or unimportant? That’s the emotion that’s underneath the trigger.
>> What is it about that particular emotion that potentially causes you to respond that way? Have you felt that way before? When you were a child perhaps, at home, or at school? What was happening at the time? Maybe you felt helpless, maybe you felt insignificant, and this feeling is being triggered again in you as if you were right back there in that situation?
While we can’t always avoid triggers, we can learn to identify them, recognise them before they’re full-blown, acknowledge them, and consciously make a different choice. Different choices include saying, “I’m feeling triggered right now, I need a time out.” Or, “Woah, I need to stop and take a few slow deep breaths right now, so I don’t scream my head off.”
4. Use any and all of the tools that you know work for you or try something new.
There are a range of different professionals, books, strategies, and healing modalities out there to help you work through your trauma, triggers, and negative self-talk. Psychologists, counselors, group therapy, retreats, personal development books, workshops, teachers, healers, sound therapy, inner child work, meditation, lifestyle choices, mindfulness, physical movement, breathwork, emotional regulation, coaching, and many more support options are out there if you’re interested.
I’ve tried a number of different tools, most of the list I just wrote, and I’ve taken something from every single experience I’ve had. Go with the ones that resonate the most, try something new, listen to someone new, read a book by someone you’ve never heard of, and you may just find another piece of your puzzle. The key is to not force anything. If it’s not for you, that’s okay. If your best friend did it and it worked amazingly, or your favourite spiritual teacher does it every morning but it doesn’t feel natural for you, that’s okay. If it feels right, do more of it. If it doesn’t feel right, do less of it. Let yourself be led by your feelings—it has to feel right.
And make it part of your daily or weekly practice to get the most benefit along your healing journey. Make that time for you.
5. Learn to love you.
This seems to be the most difficult one. I’ve asked many women if they can look in the mirror at their reflection and say, “I love you.” I’ve heard everything from, “No way,” to looks of horror, swear words, and laughing nervously, but I’ve never heard anyone say, “yes.” I get it. I was there too. It has taken me years to be able to lovingly look at my reflection and say out loud, “I love you. You are enough.” And believe it, without having a physical reaction, and without my mind responding with, “Why would she love you? What’s there to love about you?”
It will be uncomfortable at first. It may even be unbearable. Your mind will try to convince you of all the reasons you are unlovable, and why you don’t really deserve to be loved. Keep pushing through that anyway, because the more you say it, the more your brain begins to cooperate and begin to let it in.
If you can begin to love who you are, you’ll begin to see incredible things happen in your existence.