When my oldest son was in his early teens, I had a hard time with some of his behavior. By that I mean he reminded me a lot of his dad, someone I did not get along particularly well with.
You see, while I believe my son was loved into the world by God, he came through two young, unprepared teenagers. And though his dad and I tried to make the relationship work for a few years after Nick's birth, I ended up breaking it off before he was old enough for preschool. Nick's dad remained very involved in his life, but I am afraid the two of us weren't great at co-parenting during his upbringing.
So, needless to say, as Nick grew into adolescence, some of the physical features and mannerisms became [not surprisingly] much like a mini version of the less than attractive aspects of his dad. Which was hard for me to deal with, and, quite honestly, sometimes triggered feelings and reactions I was not proud of.
Until, one day (by the grace of God) I realized what was going on. I acknowledged and made a decision that this child was NOT his father, and therefore was absolutely NOT responsible for the fact that in some respects he looked and behaved like him.
It was in that revelation I was then able to appreciate Nick for his individual and unique self.
Having your child's behavior trigger feelings of anger, frustration, disappointment or sadness in you doesn't have to come about because of an "ex" relationship. Your kids misbehavior can trigger strong emotions in you because of (believe it or not) unresolved issues and anxieties inside of YOU.
Having nothing at all to do with your child.
Yes, I am serious.
Think about the last time you were upset with your son or daughter. Let's just say it was because they forgot a book at school and were therefore unprepared to do homework. In response to your frustration over the situation you may have said something like, "What were you thinking? How could you be so forgetful? Now what are you you gonna do?" But, what I want you to think about is why you were really angry and frustrated...
BEYOND the obvious answer.
Could it be that you were upset because you saw your child's forgetfulness as a reflection of your inability to parent effectively? Like a forgotten book is the result of some sort of "lack" on your part?
Your child's behavior is continuously trying to tell you something. AND every misbehavior has a natural consequence built in. For example, you don't need to do anything other than say, "Wow, that's too bad Jimmy, I guess you will need to explain what happened to your teacher tomorrow when she asks where your assignment is." Then, move on.
Jimmy will learn, maybe it will take a few times, but the consequences of our actions are always built in and we don't need to project our own crappy feelings or attitude on top of those. When you frame your response and project your anger, anxiety, and frustration onto your child you cause them to feel a sense of personal lack and abandon.
Because that's what happened to you, by your parents, when you were growing up.
So, the big question, once you understand this concept is ...how can you build a better relationship with your child when their bad behavior is triggering anger, frustration, disappointment, disillusion, and/or sadness in you. (I am addressing bad behavior because, hey there is no way we're going to get triggered by good behavior, right? That's the stuff we take personal pride in. Which is wrong...but a whole other blog post...)
First you have to make a decision, based on the current unrest you are feeling about, and observing in, the relationship, to commit to looking inside yourself in order to improve your contribution to the relationship (which is the only thing you actually have any control over, right?)
Once you are committed to doing what you can to improve the relationship, you will need to do the tough work (which may, by the way, involve a professional counselor...depending on your situation). You'll need to (a) stop, look at yourself, and listen to what is coming from your mouth as you are entering into a confrontation with your child. Remembering you are the adult in the situation it's up to you to reflect on what's going on underneath the surface. Because, there is always an underneath.
All this is to say you must be present, in the moment, and not in the midst of 100 other thoughts and activities while you are yelling at your child.
In looking back on our own upbringing, we learn where we need to heal our inner lack, much of which came from our parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors. This is not to suggest we go back to our parents and say "look what you did to me", it is understanding our parents and the other adults in our lives did the best they could with what they knew to raise us and remember, they were once in the process of being raised themselves. This hierarchical method of rearing children has gone on for many generations. It's the cycle of continuous inner lack which gets passed on from one generation to the next.
Once you work through those few steps, which sometimes takes quite a bit of time/practice and it definitely takes commitment and patience on your part, you can then begin to truly see and appreciate each of your children for who THEY are, for who God created them to be, which is not the child YOU want them to be.
What does your child's misbehavior conjure up inside of you? Why? If you were truly honest with yourself, how often do you project your frustration, stress, or anxiety onto your offspring? Are you able to commit to looking within to see what's going on so you can build a better relationship with your child?
They deserve it. So do you.