UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONS

Learning from Overwhelm

The past month has been incredibly challenging as the feeling of overwhelming stress crashed upon me. There were physical manifestations and mental lows.

Many of my friends seem to suffer from this especially during the fall. The days get shorter, the temperature chillier, and for those of us who do not love winter, the season of mush and sleet looms drearily ahead. Aches and pains get worse, fatigue sets in, and the day after a night where sleep is allusive, mini despair and spiraling start: I am tired. Why am I always tired? I didn’t get {such and such} done. I should have gotten it done. Why didn’t {so and so} do it? They don’t care about me. My back is sore. I want to nap. I really shouldn’t nap. I should doing {this and that}. Oh look at how together that person looks. I’m such a loser. I can’t make my life work. And so on.

The slide is a steep ride right down to: I don’t like this feeling. I don’t like where this is going. If I get any more anxious or depressed, I’m going to end up at that horrible moment at the (mental) cliff, the precipice, that line I really, really don’t want to cross.

So we try all sorts of things:

  • meditation (can’t because brain is chaotically in madness and won’t quiet down)
  • distraction (helps a bit, but is only temporary)
  • eating (helps a lot, but also temporary and has side effects that have to be undone at a later date)
  • yelling (sort of a distraction and valve to let off steam, but temporary too and hurts relationships)

The only way past it is through it. I hear that a lot, but didn’t really know what it meant. So many things just start sounding like clichés and sound bites. But today, I had an ah ha moment. Through it means feeling it, not running away from it. Through it means listening to it, not ignoring it. Through it means experiencing it to learn from it.

Okay then. I asked myself: What does my stress tell me? What are my feelings trying to tell me?

Emotions are what we feel after we compare our Expectations with the Reality. If the outcome is good, we feel positive. If the outcome is bad, we sad or mad.

Then I wondered: WHY do I think my emotions are trying to tell me something? And who is it exactly that is using my emotions to talk to me? Is it their language?

My theory: My body is host to so many ecosystems that make it possible for me to function. And when I feel overwhelmed, it is because what I want to get done is more than what is possible to get done with the systems in place and the resources needed. So the systems start shutting down or slowing down to rest. And the systems that haven’t done so start to bear the burden even more and then they start to shut down or slow down. As different ones respond at different times, different feelings emerge – they are the symptoms of what is happening.

My conscious mind is governed by thoughts that I try to control. And it will say things like: Suck it up. Don’t be such a baby. Just do it. You can do this. Don’t be lazy. You can’t afford to stop.

My subconscious mind is the one who is listening to the systems and making sense of it all. It knows when it’s time to stop, secure and start. It can sense when a system is breaking down. It can see when a system is slowing down.

If I listen carefully when I’m overwhelmed, I think I hear:

  • Rest and retreat
  • Recover and repair
  • Reflect and remember
  • Restart

It certainly feels a bit counterintuitive to slow down when everything in my conscious mind is screaming DO MORE! GET IT DONE! HURRY UP! But, when I do, I realize that my subconscious has been working on a solution that may be more creative, efficient or enjoyable. Or it’s trying to warn me of potential roadblocks ahead that need to be considered.

In any case, I’m learning not to panic now when I feel overwhelmed. I’m learning to just stop and let the chaos run its course, come apart and then come together again. It’s very hard and I’ve only tried this a couple of times, but inevitably after I emerge from the overwhelm with some energy or headspace to productively handle something that has been bothering me.

PARENTAL ASPIRATIONS, PODCAST INTERVIEW

A Chin-dian Parent in Singapore

Visit the Learning Parent SG Facebook page, check out Chapter Zero, and listen to our interview below.

Joline Lim comes from both a Chinese and Indian background (Chin-dian!). Living in Singapore, which is a very competitive environment with a huge focus on academic achievement, Joline has embraced Gentle Parenting, but felt that there is much to learn from a variety of experts and approaches. As she embarked on her learning journey to be the kind of parent she wants to be for her kids, she launched The Learning Parent SG to advocate for respectful parenting with a Singaporean representation! She is also an active volunteer for Chapter Zero in Singapore, a social enterprise promoting mindful parenting in Singapore.

The Learning Parent SG with Joline Lim

I had the joy of chatting with Joline and learning more about her very cool background and what brought her to setting up The Learning Parent SG (Facebook Community Page and Instagram). She was a delight to converse with and I know I’m going to have more conversations with her as I continue to learn more about how I can be better parent, more in tune with what my kids need to grow up with resilience and patience. Her intention to share resources, inspiration, comfort and encouragement is a beautiful light, especially during difficult times in the world nowadays.

She recently joined social enterprise Chapter Zero, running their social media, because she benefited from their workshops and now wants to help the outreach to help other Singaporean parents. This is an exciting organization doing important work in Singapore. The future of our children depend on this kind of support for parents.

In our podcast, Jolene touches on numerous topics:

  • Growing up with intense pressure to conform to social expectations, like each generation improving achieving more success over previous generations, can create a lot of anger, shame, guilt, and fear in our lives.
  • Expectations vs Reality! Parenting is like a test, but we really have no idea what it is and what we are doing! Prior to doing it, we may have preconceived notions that get tossed out as we deal with challenges we never knew we would have to deal with!
  • That ‘ah ha’ moment when we know that what we are doing just isn’t working. And it’s not about ‘controlling behaviour’ anymore but meeting the emotional needs of children.
  • A gradual implementation of respectful parenting changed everything. The more she connected with her child through understanding underlying reasons for his behaviours, the more he was willing to cooperate.
  • Parenting, and respectful parenting in particular, is playing the long game. It’s like running a marathon – it can be overwhelming so we need to be kind to ourselves and take care of ourselves so we can do the important work. They then can see what it looks like to value ourselves, so that it becomes the norm that they should value themselves.

Her Key Message: Parenting is hard. Respectful parenting is especially hard because of the all the unlearning we have to do. It is both a privilege and a huge responsibility to break the cycle of behaviour.

PARENTAL ASPIRATIONS, PODCAST INTERVIEW

Untigering Parent

Visit the Untigering website, preview a chapter of her new book, and listen to our interview below.

As a Chinese-American and daughter of a pastor, Iris Chen played by the rules and succeeded, but felt that those (impressive) achievements didn’t quite have meaning in her life. She is now on a journey of Untigering which she defines as Gentle Parenting and Unschooling. Always thoughtful and insightful, Iris has brought together a community of parents from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds to share with and learn from each other.

Untigering with Iris Chen

When I first realized that I was parenting my children in a way that *I* didn’t want to be parented, I went on a search at the University of Google. The concept of Untigering quickly jumped out at me and I immediately became a fan of Iris Chen’s and joined the community she was building on Facebook. What surprised me most was how many people related to what I was going through… and that they weren’t all Asian American! They came from all over. We really are more alike than different. While she writes and speaks from her own experience of being Asian American, there are common elements for all of us unlearning and unprogramming in order to build an approach that works for our own unique family. (You can access a preview of a chapter from her book: Redefining Success: An Untigering Parent’s Guide to Our Beliefs About Success, How We Came to Them, and How to Change Them.)

In our podcast, Iris touches on numerous topics:

  • Obedience: Coming from a cultural and religious background that meant strict rules and the expectation is that you’re do as your told, she knew that she was going to do things differently with her kids. It was difficult, because she defaulted to an authoritarian style of parenting and had a tendency to demand obedience.
  • Acknowledging Past Trauma: It is very important to explore our own wounds, our past trauma, not for blaming purposes, but to move forward. She could see that our personalities responded to our parenting and social conditioning and what she was doing was harmful to her children. She got back in touch and got to know herself. This is very hard! It is unnatural and there is a lot of work to be done.
  • Learning: The world is changing so rapidly. The content that kids learn in third grade become irrelevant. Instead of focusing on content, we should be giving them the skills for how to learn. She sees learning as a life process… learning in many different ways, not just in school. She points out: as adults, we are constantlyg learning new things in organic ways. We should allows kids to learn that way too.
  • Curating Own Lifestyle: Living in China for 16 years, they were able to curate their life and culture, not American, not Chinese, a Third Culture. They created the family and community culture they wanted. It gave her the freedom to say, this does not work for our family, can we create something new? It gave them the freedom not to fit in a box. We often don’t question things when we are in it, because ‘that’s just the way things are’.
  • Achievement and expectation: We shouldn’t focus on the outward markers of achievement to prove that we’ve made it. For her, those achievements didn’t end up meaning anything. When she no longer had anyone telling her what the standards and expectations were, she was at a loss… did not know how to manage time and what to do with life. As she got older, she had to get back in touch with what she loved to do.
  • Consent-based living: It’s not just about education. It’s about relationships and parenting. It’s about how to honour our children. Unschooling isn’t just about education. It’s consent-based. It’s not coercive, not about ‘sit down and pay attention to what I have to teach you’ says someone with authority and a lesson plan. It’s a way of living and relating with each other with respect and consent.

Her Key Message: Know and love yourself.  All the details will stem from that one place where we know who we are and can know and love and accept who we are.  Everything should come from a place of unconditional love.

PODCAST INTERVIEW, STORYTELLING

“Perfect Chinese Son” to “Backpacking Bum”

Watch Jonathan’s TEDx talk, enjoy the Su Family photo album. and listen to our interview below.

Annie and Jonathan Su of Su Family Adventures


The Su Family on their last day of quarantine in Hong Kong!

When you visit their robust website, you can tell that they are living their lives THEIR way, not necessarily the way they were brought up by their parents to. But they have been able to balance the best of the East and West to parent their three amazing children.

Authentic (and brutally honest), Jonathan and Annie share their experiences in our podcast, touching on numerous Sandwich Parenting Topics, such as:

  • Generational Difference: Their parents grew up during in World War II and lived with chaos, war and starvation. Their parenting mentality was all about how to survive, to be safe, and to provide for the family.  Jonathan and Annie had to move from survival mode to a focus on living with meaning.
  • Education: For Asians, education is important and its costs are usually all covered by parents.  The Sus did not want to have the kids graduate with debt, but also wanted them to develop a sense of responsibility. As they did not want their kids to feel like they were getting handouts, they developed a graduated educational cost covering system. This is such a good idea, I’m going to copy them! Listen to the interview to hear about this awesomely thoughtful system. Pro skills!
  • Cultural Differences: Annie was parented with a Confucian mindset, which includes a top-down approach where elders (even strangers) “feel entitled” to tell us what to do, what to think, and how to look.  Learning a Western approach to disagree was difficult for her.
  • Mental Health Issues: Annie had to go through counselling to learn how to push back and encourage elders to mind their own business.  Simultaneously, in a typical Sandwich Parenting situation, she recognizes that her former parenting style may have caused her kids problems, but now she’s able to say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know better. Yes, my life choices or mistakes may have negatively impacted you, but what are we going to do now? Let’s figure it out.”
  • Meeting parental expectations: Jonathan did everything the Chinese immigrant parents want for their son. He had made his parents very happy with his model education, career, marriage, and even two kids (one boy, one girl)… Then, at age 30, “he became a bum picking up trash with the street children in Kunming” when he decided to pursue a more meaningful life for him and his family.

Their Key Message:

Don’t be confined by your culture or environment.  Be creative in finding and pursuing your passion and helping your kids find and pursue theirs.

Jonathan Su’s TEDx Talk at Yunnan University 2018.

Su Family Photo Gallery