How to Let Go of the Past So You can be a Better Parent Now

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Let’s be honest, when kids do something we have asked and taught them not to do, or when they refuse to do something we have asked and taught them to do, it is probably not the first time. It probably won’t be the last either. Learning and change take repetition, time and practice. With that being said, it is important to note that the most effective teaching takes place when we deal with each offense or issue as if it were an isolated incident.

When we let multiple incidents stack up over time, it’s easy to start to see the issue as a defining feature of our child’s character rather than just seeing it as a mistake or cry for help. At that point people move from a position of problem solving to a position of shaming. Sometimes when an issue happens repeatedly it can be hard to let it go. For example, if you have asked your child 20 minutes ago to clean his toys off the living room floor without his compliance, the first time it seems easy to simply set an enforceable limit like, “You are free to go play outside or come to lunch as soon as the toys are cleaned up” or to make it into a game and join him in cleaning the toys. On the other hand, when you have asked him “a thousand times” every day for the last 6 months without seeing a major change, it can become easier to justify using more forceful methods or even resorting to making judgments about his character like, “I can’t believe how lazy he is.” When we can’t let go and move forward with TRU, effective principles and methods, we start working against our children and even against ourselves, sometimes without even knowing it. If we continue to hold onto it and harbor negative emotions about a situation or a child, it may even turn into a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. We can actually create the problem rather than make it better.

Letting go may also include letting go of past emotional pain that isn’t necessarily associated with a specific issue or even with our child. People often talk about letting go of past hurt or grudges, but that can sometimes be easier said than done. Each time the issue arises, it seems to bring up everything from the past. It seems to trigger all the emotions again. It’s not that you want to hold on to it and let it canker your reactions and your interactions and relationship; it just seems like you can’t let go.

Why is letting go so hard?

The actual act of letting go is not hard at all. It is actually very simple. If you have ever really, truly let go of something and moved on successfully, you have probably experienced its simplicity in retrospect. When you finally actually let go, it was effortless.

I often use a symbolic exercise with clients in my office that are struggling with “letting go” of some event or painful emotional fixation. Without prepping them in any way I hand them a pencil or some other small object that fits comfortably in their hand and ask them to grip it tightly. Then I asked them to let it go. Inevitably, the item slips from their open hand and falls to the ground. I then ask, “Was that hard?” I’ve never had anyone say yes, that it was a difficult task to let it go. Then I ask them to pick up the item and picture that the item was a check written to them for one million dollars or that it was the end of a rope that was holding someone they loved from falling off the side of a cliff. “Would it be hard to let go now?” I ask. The answer has always been a resounding “yes.” The task itself of physically letting go of an item is simple and easy, and the task itself does not change in difficulty. But the value we place on the item may indeed change the difficulty of letting go.

I meet with a lot of people that struggle with this concept of letting go. The truth is that most of us tend to have something that we’re holding on to. Sometimes people consciously think they have forgiven, accepted or let go, but when a situation arises where their child exhibits the same or similar behavior, they find themselves thinking and saying, “You always do this. Last week you refused to pick up your socks and shoes; yesterday you left your backpack in the middle of the floor, and now your toys are everywhere. I’m not your maid. He’s so lazy and ungrateful.” This almost unconscious triggering of the past can even happen at a neurological level. That is often why we struggle to recognize that we have not let go. When we fail to let go of events, emotions and stresses, they compound and lead us in directions of thought that are often distorted and untrue. In the example above, the child that didn’t pick up his socks, backpack and toys may have had a different motive in each situation and may indeed be a very grateful and energetic child, but he simply forgot, was preoccupied with something else, or was just displaying normal mistakes in his developmental learning process.

Sometimes holding onto past hurt can create a feeling of personal entitlement. It gives us what we consider to be evidence or justification for our own negative reactions. It may also help us to establish a self-indulgent sense of martyrdom. We may also believe that holding onto past events and emotions gives us ammunition in seeking what we want or need from our children or others. We may also feel that by holding onto the past we are preparing or protecting ourselves or others from future struggles. People think that if they let go of the bad things in the past, they’ll happen again. Of course, these beliefs are fallacies. They aren’t true. They don’t benefit us. They don’t protect us. They just hold us back from living lives of growth and abundance and providing an environment where our children can do the same.

To simplify why it is often hard for parents to let go, generally it is due to 1 of the following 3 basic value based reasons.

1. First, we simply don’t know we haven’t let go.

2. Second, we perceive that there is some sort of benefit or payoff for holding onto it.

3. Third, and lastly, we believe that what we are holding onto somehow protects us or others in some way.

If we are able to deal with the issue at hand without holding onto the past, we find cooperative solutions that teach our child, build the relationship and upgrade ourselves in the process. So how do we let go? The following is a list of 4 exercises that will help you to let go.

How to let go:

1. Be aware of what you’re holding on to: Do an inventory of the things that trigger strong physical and emotional reactions in you. Write them down and think about if there are any related events from your past that influence your thoughts and feelings regarding this trigger. (It doesn’t have to be some major traumatic event from your childhood, but those that have significant trauma may want to consider how it affects current events, triggers and reactions. It could be something as simple as the fact that you have asked your child multiple times to change a specific behavior that you feel is inappropriate.)

2. See it for what it really is: Recognize the value you are placing on holding onto whatever you are holding onto. Recognize that our reason for holding onto it is a counterfeit. It holds no real value. The fact that you are more upset about your son not cleaning his room because it has happened 10 times in the last 12 days does not more effectively teach the skills of responsibility for his things and cleanliness, nor does it motivate your child to get it clean more quickly or with better quality.

3. Let go physically: Relax. When you notice that you are being triggered, do a body scan and release any tension in your body. Use the Quick Calm Technique to practice letting go physically and managing our physical response more effectively. Pay close attention to what happens to how you feel. When we release our physical rigidity we are better able to also release our emotional and mental rigidity.

4. Visualize letting go of it emotionally: As you perform the Quick Calm technique and your body and mind relax, close your eyes and visualize your emotion as a physical object that you are holding in your hands. Then release your grip both physically and mentally and visualize the object of your emotional reaction floating away.

Most of the time we know that we need to let go and move forward, but we struggle to know how. Whenever I find myself dredging up the past with my kids I apply these 4 skills above, and then, just like my clients let go of a pen, I let it go. It feels as though a weight has been lifted from my mind and body. When we can finally let it go, we can be more present and make the most appropriate and effective decisions. I have seen it in the parents I work with and have experienced it myself. When we let go we Teach more intentionally, we act in ways that build the Relationship and we Upgrade ourselves at our very core.

What do you need to let go of?

Family lifestyle portrait of a mum and dad with their two kids having funWould you like to learn more about letting go of the past and changing negative parenting and family patterns and cycles once and for all? You can get a FREE sample chapter of the TRU Parenting ebook “5 Jump Starters for Powerful Family Cycles” that will give you simple principles and tools that can help to set you and your child on the path to positive patterns of growth and happiness!

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