The Very First Thing I Learned To Become A Safe Parent

I am going to share with you how at 36 years old I became a safe parent.

This didn’t happen overnight and wasn’t without backward slides. 

In this case study, I’ll show you the very first thing I learned.

A professor that taught human development

You do something you swore up-and-down you wouldn’t…

For me it was to parent my young daughters using fear and intimidation. I justified it for several years, or at the very least ignored it, until one morning I couldn’t. 

You see something very common transpired one day. 

My estranged husband had come over, and we’d gotten in a yelling fight. He stormed out and my then 5 year-old daughter wanted my attention. 

She was scared, but the situation with my soon-to-be ex-husband totally shut me down in “flight mode.” My daughter, then five years old, tried harder to get my attention. I snapped. In a rage, I grabbed her around her shoulders and pushed her. 

I’m sure at the time I felt some level of guilt, but to be honest, it was just how things were in my house and I probably justified my action by saying that she should have listened. I’m not entirely sure, but I do know it felt familiar; you know, “normal.” 

When we woke up the next morning and I was helping my daughter get dressed for school, I noticed a bruise on her neck. 

The sight of that bruise made my entire world collapse. 

I helped her put on a turtleneck, got her off to school, called my best friend and told them everything.

My best friend was loving but firm. Things must change starting today. I literally had no idea what to do, who to turn to, and how to get help without getting in trouble. 

And here’s the very important thing: I was, at the time, a professor that teaches human development at a university. I have a Ph.D. in Education. I was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” in high school. 

From the outside, I had every preparation I needed to be a “good enough” parent except the most fundamental, my own childhood experiences being parented.  

The first time I shared this story publicly was March 2020. 

I realized that this “scar story” was my call to serve. 

And this case study shares the very most important thing I learned in the year after I called my best friend in 2013 and confessed I was an out-of-control parent. 

The first thing I learned

In September 2014, here are some unsafe things I was doing in my parenting:

  • Yelling
  • Using physical force to feel in control
  • Blaming my children for my emotional states
  • Not protecting them from knowing too much about adult problems
  • Providing inconsistent attention

Wow, that list is hard to type out. But it is the truth. 

And here’s what I did to stop all of those things and start my journey to become a Cycle-Breaking Parent. 

The first, most transformative step

I learned to self-soothe and self-regulate. 

Things I should have learned as a child, but didn’t. 

Learning at 36 years old what I should have learned as a child was humbling and difficult. 

Three powerful, but simple, practices formed the core of my strategy. 

All of them aimed at strengthening my  ability to cope with intense emotions so that I was better able to regulate my nervous system.

All of them are possible to do in less than a minute with no special expertise or equipment. 

Practice 1: Notice & Observe The Physical Sensations of Your Body

Start this practice when you are comfortable and relaxed.

What does your belly feel like?

Can you feel sensations in your feet?

Do you feel your breath entering your body?

Then, with practice, try noticing when you are upset or distraught.

Practice 2: Add A Visualization 

Start this practice by tuning into sound, breath, or physical sensation in equal parts. 

Draw in the dark and heavy and release the light and clear. 

Transform the feelings generated into a loose, light visualization.

Practice 3: Engage in Quick Relaxation Techniques

Relax your eyes

Notice your belly

Imagine being on a super comfy couch

Feel everything draining out of you

Drop your attention to your feet

This the first step on a longer Road to Recovery

These three simple practices launched a life-changing journey for me. 

It was the very first baby step I needed to start breaking an intergenerational cycle of trauma. 

It will take a longer commitment of deep inner work and practice with your nervous system and the courage to re-engineer an external environment of safety and security, for you to fully embody a safe parent, but a single first step is always the beginning.

If you found my story inspiring, share it with a friend that could use some support. 

I’d love to hear from you if you’ve used any of these practices to become a safer parent. Leave a comment and let me know. 

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