It is mid-morning, and we're in the car driving home. Avery had taken off one of his sandals.
"Mummy - Can you get my shoe? I want my shoe!!".
"Honey, I can't - Mummy finds it hard to turn around and reach down for your shoe. We're almost home - as soon as we stop the car, I'll get your shoe."
"Mummy, I want my shoe!!!". Avery whimpers
"Honey, I know you want your shoe... I promise I will get it for you as soon as we park the car. I can't turn around now". My attempt to explain and reason.
"I WANT MY SHOE NOW!!!" Avery screams. He starts having tears in his eyes. He then proceeds to take the other sandal off, and it falls to the ground.
"I HAVE NO SHOES!... MUMMY GET THEM FOR ME! I WANT MY SHOES!". He exclaims through the tears.
"You can be frustrated and upset Avery. I'm here." I responded.
His emotions have hijacked his brain.
I took a deep breath. As much as I wanted to "teach" Avery to be respectful, or ask nicely, or don't shout - I knew his mind was hijacked and overwhelmed by big emotions. It wasn't a "teaching moment" as Dr Dan Siegel would say.
Now, for those that have toddlers, this is the age that they are experimenting.
It is the age of curiosity, and while it might not make sense to us why they do what they do - it doesn't need to. It makes sense in their world. Their brain is also growing at a rapid rate. This means they don't know how to regulate their emotions. I'm going to write that again.
THEY DON'T YET KNOW HOW TO REGULATE THEIR EMOTIONS.
Emotional regulation is a learned skill - and it can only be learnt when we feel safe; when we feel loved; when we are free from feeling judged.
When we can respect the incredible way in which we humans "grow" - we will work with nature - rather than try and force an outcome.
Emotional regulation is something we continue to master in adulthood - and even as adults, we don't always get it right.
We park the car. Avery starts sighing. Tears have rolled down his cheeks. There was a rollercoaster ride of frustration, anger, upset.
I put his sandals on and get him out of the car. I hug him. He runs off to the elevator. I can sense he is upset with me.
We get into our apartment, and he goes to play. I give him space.
It is early afternoon, and I can sense he feels disconnected with me.
"Avery are you still upset with mummy?" I ask.
"Yes." he responds.
"You're allowed to be upset with mummy. Just know I love you.". I remind him.
"When you're ready to connect, I'm always here."
What may seem like a small and insignificant thing to me - is a big deal to him. I may not understand it - and what he wants is to know he is loved no matter what.
And this is the work in practising Unconditional Parenting.
To love our children, free from condition.
My proudest parenting moments are when I can overcome myself.
It is when I meet my child's Fear, with love.
It is when I can admit my mistakes and be vulnerable with my humanity.
It is the moment when I take responsibility for my energy, for my mind, body, and spirit - and actively choose a different path from projecting my hurt, pain, suffering, and expectations onto my child.
I don't always get it right, and I remind myself parenting is a practice, it is a learning experience, and when I know better, I can do better.
Later that evening, after his bedtime routine, I then ask him;
"Have you been upset with mummy since the car?"
"Yes - You didn't get my shoes for me. I wanted my shoes." He responded.
"I understand...and Avery, did you think you asked mum in a kind and nice manner or was it unkind and not nice?"
"It was unkind and not nice."
"How do you think it made mummy feel?"
He went quiet. "I don't know."
"I understand you really wanted your shoes - and the way you asked me, isn't how you talk to someone you love."
"Was your heart sad?" He asked.
"Yes, it was. My heart was sad!"
"You're allowed to be upset with mummy. I want you to know even when you're upset with me, I love you... AND yes, my heart was sad when I felt you spoke to me in a not-so-kind way. I know it's hard sometimes. Can we work through this together?"
My intention in sharing this story isn't to highlight my parenting skills or that Avery has excellent conversation skills... I get it wrong PLENTY - and Avery isn't always this open to having a conversation!
My intention in sharing this story is to remind ourselves that this parent/ child relationship is a two-way street. It is a relationship.
I can't influence Avery, unless he feels safe, loved, heard, and met where he is at.
Equally, I can't meet Avery where he is at unless I feel safe in my own being, love and compassion for who I am right now, and have an inner knowing that I am learning. I meet myself with grace.
There are a few relationships at play. The relationship I have with myself. The relationship Avery and I share.... and the relationship I have with "unconditional parenting" and my "why" choosing to practice "unconditional parenting" is important to me.
If we want our children to turn to us in times of need when they are 16 - the turbulent teenage years, the work in building that trust starts when they are a baby - Not when they are 16.
...If your child is 5 or 10 - and you feel like you've missed the boat in building this safe space - You haven't. It's never too late to start. Even if your child is 18 - you can meet them where they are at and create that safe space.
It starts with you doing the inner work and loving your inner child when he/she felt most unworthy — loving your inner child when he/she felt unloved.
Tap into that love for your self and watch the magic unfold into your parenting.
....If you are feeling unloved right now, I want you to know you are loved. So loved. You are worthy of love. You are worthy of joy - and there's nothing that you need to do to prove and earn the space to allow love in.