Let’s talk about negative emotions. In the past 24 hours, have you lost your temper with your child? Felt guilty for not being a good enough parent? Gotten upset because things didn’t turn out as planned? If you have, welcome to parenthood! Parents have the toughest job in the world, and feelings of frustration, guilt, and anxiety seem to come with the territory. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We all know that parenting also brings us incredibly positive emotions like joy, pride, and unbreakable love for our children. What if we could find a way to decrease our negative emotions and make more space for the positive ones?
It sounds incredible, but there is an ancient philosophy called Stoicism that offers us a way to do this. Stoicism is a philosophy of life: not just an abstract theoretical system, but a vibrant framework for thinking about the best way to live. No wonder it’s recently regained popularity after hiding in plain sight for about 2,000 years. Stoicism helps us direct our thoughts and energy in a positive direction. And of course, no one needs positive energy more than those of us who are raising children. We have someone depending on us for love, support, and guidance 24 hours a day.
Stoicism offers some specific mental practices that can help you start to decrease negative emotions and develop more positive energy when you interact with your child. I’d like to share one of these with you: removing your negative value judgments.
You may not realize it, but you attach a value judgment to almost all your thoughts about the world. We often believe we are seeing events objectively as they happen, but in reality we often tack on an evaluation about whether something is good or bad for us. This positive or negative opinion of the situation then influences how we feel.
Let’s take a common and very stressful example: running late in the morning. You’re trying to get out the door and your son isn’t dressed for school yet, even though you’ve already asked him five times to get ready. Your stress level is through the roof and you feel yourself getting angry. The thoughts running through your head may be something like, “What is wrong with him?! I’ve told him a million times to be ready on time in the mornings. Why is this happening to me? This is so horrible!”
Stoicism can help us remove these sneaky false judgments so that instead of getting angry or upset, we can stay calmer and in control of ourselves. When we’re stressed out, it’s easy to start thinking that our lives are uniquely awful and the world is out to get us. But in our cooler moments, we can look at this thought pattern and see that it’s not an accurate way of describing the situation. Let’s strip away the stressed out emotions here and look at just the facts:
1. Your son is not dressed yet.
2. You need to leave the house now.
That’s it, right? You don’t need to add in “and this is the most horrible thing in the world” or “why is my son such a mess?” Those thoughts are not objectively true, and thinking them is not going to help you deal with the situation any better. They will take you further away from the truth, not closer to it, and they will make you feel bad at the same time.
A better way of dealing with the situation is to remove all those thoughts that are not objectively true. When you peel away all the false value judgments, you are just left with what’s actually happening—and you can easily deal with that. You don’t get stressed out, your mind is clear, and you are in much better shape to effectively solve the problem with your child. Bonus: you become a role model, showing him how to handle difficult situations peacefully.
Stoicism is a whole life philosophy, so it goes both deeper and wider than we can discuss in one post. But I hope the suggestion above will get you started on a path toward greater tranquility and positive energy with your child.