Stop for a moment and think about what kind of adulthood you want for your child. The premise of Time-Out for Parents by Cheri Huber and Melinda Guyol is that you must become what you want for your child. Modeling a happy, fulfilled adulthood is the best method of raising happy, fulfilled adults. And to do that, you must take time for yourself, and allow yourself to feel and express all your emotions.
Huber and Guyol emphasize that the way you parent is usually the way you were parented, or a conscious decision to not do what your parents did. Either way, it’s not much of a tool kit. Many adults are carrying around baggage related to expressing emotions. The authors ask parents to examine their own attitudes around emotional displays. Certain emotions are “good” and others are “bad.” Parents will go to great lengths to prevent the expression of “bad” emotions in front of their children. The authors warn, “Having a fixed formula of How-I-Have-to-Be is a recipe for failure, and a poor message to give a child.” They go on, “It’s not a particular emotion that is threatening to a child, it’s how the parent feels about expressing the emotion that is frightening to a child.” This statement hit home for me. The other day my husband was really upset about something about accidentally wrecking something that was important to him. In my head, I didn’t want him to express that much emotion about an object in front of our daughter. This is completely off base. It should be okay for Nora to see her daddy genuinely upset, what she doesn’t need is me having bad feelings about his having feelings. We need to talk about our inner process of dealing with feelings with our children. It’s the classic, “all emotions are okay, some actions are not.”
They also introduce a four step process for checking in with yourself during your parental time-out. They recommend finding a quiet place for the following exercise:
1. Be present to your inner self.
2. Accept that you have needs.
3. Attune to what is needed.
4. To the best of your ability, meet the need.
Here’s an analogy from the book that made perfect sense to me: Waiting to express an emotion until you’re on the brink of losing it is like gobbling junk food because you’ve waited too long to eat. It doesn’t make you a bad person, but you’re better off geting in touch with your body and acting sooner next time.
Throughout the book, the authors ask you to stop at various points and look inward. Pay attention to your breath and your body. Identify any emotions that surface as you read.
This book is grounded in zen philosphy. You don’t need to be a buddhist to appreciate the concepts in this book, but the language about looking “inward” and finding our “true selves” can be a turn-off to some. If you hear an inner critical voice when you come to those concepts, I recommend you tell the inner voice to get lost. Keep reading, keep breathing.