At the ages of 7 and 5, my daughters lost their father.
To be honest, they lost their dad at the ages of 5 and 3. Many who have dealt with cancer in their lives will understand when I explain that the illness had taken hold and the man that was their father was not able to be present for them during his final years on this earth. It did not matter how much he loved them – he loved them dearly, and tried with all of his might to be the best father he could be given the trying circumstances. But his mind soon let him down, as did his body, and on September 27th, 2012, the girls found themselves fatherless.
Three weeks after our eldest daughter was born, the diagnosis came. It was leukemia, and it was moving rapidly. But after three rounds of chemotherapy, and many long nights in and out of hospital, he returned to the family in very good shape. Some would argue he was even better than before. He began running regularly and was the strongest I had ever seen him.
When the news came that we were expecting again, something shifted in his spirit. I could see him struggling to find his happiness. He was thrilled with the prospect of another child, but he was scared. Finally, when we found the first lump on his throat, he opened up and explained that he was worried that he was going to relapse. And when he did, the diagnosis was bleak. The only option was a bone marrow transplant. So we signed him up and we tried our best to find the courage in our hearts to do this all over again. We both knew what this meant: both our children would have lived their early years visiting their father in hospital, spending time in hospital daycares so that I could visit with him during the day, or spend the time with family so that I could spend the night at the hospital when things took a turn for the worst.
If there was ever a moment in time when I felt I needed to become an emotional coach for my children, it was during the period following their father’s bone marrow transplant. No amount of love in the world prepared me for the shift in personality that came with the intense drug treatments. And with a newborn on my hip and a toddler at my side, the challenge to remain grounded, present, and positive was unbelievable.
So we made it through some very difficult times, and now, re-married, and with hopes to expand our family, being an emotional coach for the children is an integral part of our lives. But I have also realized that being an emotional coach for my children can only arise if I am first, and foremost, an emotional coach for myself.
I learned the hard way as I dealt with cancer and the untimely death of the children’s father that I cannot be there for the children if I am not firs there for myself. The notion of self-empathy, then, rings true: If my needs are not met, and my emotions and feelings are left unattended, it is not only me that suffers. The children suffer as well. I cannot be a supportive parent if I do not find ways to support myself in times of need. And, if it is true that all of our behaviours are based on needs that we are trying to get met, then becoming aware of our needs is an integral part of opening ourselves up to truly be there for our children.
I also believe that modeling self-empathy for our children has huge benefits. Given that we live in a society that often implies that ignoring our personal needs is good, teaches that attending to our own needs is “selfish”, and suggests that a “good parent” is one who puts everyone before themselves, it is essential that we model a different type of being-in-the-world for our children. Modeling for the children the need to attend to our feelings, to develop the vocabulary to ask for what we need as well as having the presence of mind to know what we are feeling and needing is a huge part of being an emotional coach for our children.
Becoming an emotional coach for our children allows us to play an important part in the development of their emotional intelligence. And as they become accustomed to paying attention to their feelings, naming their emotions, and speaking up about their needs, we are changing the face of parenting one child at a time. What is amazing is that being the children’s emotional coach is not fulfilling only in times of need. There starts to be an undercurrent of peace that runs through our families as we re-assess why we do what we do, and how our emotional realities are impacting upon other members of the family. And then we can take that out into the world. Emotional coaching at home is moved into the communities when our children begin to ask their friends how they are feeling, and when they begin naming emotions that their teachers may think are well beyond their understanding. Emotional coaching at home also moves into our communities when we ask our colleagues at work how they are feeling about decision, and when we ask someone at work what they might need to make the project they are working on feel better to their spirit.
Being an emotional coach for a children is something we do without realizing it. We teach our children how to relate to their emotions whether we mean to or not. But it’s in the awareness of the lessons we can share with our children as their emotional coach that we truly engage in the biggest parenting shift ever imagined.
With love, light & healing,