corrective emotional experience

There is a whole school of therapy based on the premise that people just need empathy for their childhood wounds. The assumption is that most parents are unable to give empathy or apologize to their children for things that are difficult, which leaves them with a gaping hole that a therapist can fix by providing a corrective emotional experience in adulthood. I have seen a lot of people come to therapy with the underlying issue of never feeling understood or validated by their parents. So as I became a parent, I wanted to provide a lot of empathy for my kids. It is surprisingly not that easy for me. Partly out of my own guilt (if I apologize I have to change) and partly out of my own pride (if I apologize I'm saying it's my fault).

Nonetheless, I have been trying very hard in this department but realized today that I haven't really submitted myself to my kid's feelings about my pregnancy and the way it has affected me. India very kindly pointed this out to me last night when Mark took the kids to the mall to give me a break. She said to me as they left, in a not-so-nice, preteen voice, "Just stay home and watch tv, mommy". Suddenly I realized that not only is she noticing the sidelining effects of my pregnancy, but she might actually be a little bitter about it. And that in her little mind, she may be thinking that I am just not wanting to participate, and sitting at home watching tv as an active choice.

It is realistic to admit that I am a lame mom right now, and have been for several months. I don't go on family activities because I am tired and can hardly walk. I look at photos from last summer and barely recognize that active mom that went to the beach with the kids all the time, and took them to parks, and actually participated instead of just trying to get through the day. We stay home most days now, and have since I battled with morning sickness at the beginning of my pregnancy. I am short with them. I snuggle them less because I can't just crawl into their bunkbeds anymore. Daddy does the bedtime routine. I yell across the house instead of getting up because getting up is painful. I threaten them with punishment if they get out of bed during their naptime. I am parenting very differently than I used to, and I just realized I never had a sit-down with them and acknowledged that this is their truth, and that I feel badly about it. Why? Because I do feel badly about it, really badly about it, and part of me wants to be in denial that it is affecting them.

So, yesterday I sucked it up and layed out my apology for being a seemingly lazy, distracted, and indifferent mom. I told them I was sorry for how I stayed home a lot, and how much I missed doing fun things with them. I told them how proud I was for how they were learning to play at home, and how I realized how hard it must be to not be involved in the outings we used to do. I told them I was looking forward to being able to do things together after the baby comes. I also got out their own baby pictures and talked about their own baby stories, because sheesh, there has been a lot of Karis talk and these kids have already taken a backseat to her. I told them it was okay if they were frustrated with me, or sad about it.

It seems basic. But it was hard for me. It's hard to be that vulnerable with my kids, and to acknowledge that I might even be causing them pain. I am hoping that in talking about it, they have experienced a corrective emotional experience; that even though I can't change things, I can empathize and listen and be sorry, and that we can all sit in that pain together.


  1. wow! you are so brave, not just to acknowledge this but to post it and take steps to change things with your children. you're absolutely right. it's hard to allow children to own their own feelings, because in some cases it means that either: one, mommy was wrong ***gasp!***; or two, something's not working ***double gasp***. in many cases it's more about my own pride then it is about the kids. and because my kids are so small, it's easy to dismiss their "irrational" behavior (then again aren't all feelings irrational because they're all so subjective). after all they're kids; what do they know--they've only been on this earth 4 years... but i can't stop this inner voice which is constantly prodding me to take a pause--a pregnant pause and reflect on the long term damage i could be inflicting on their delicate emotions. you so eloquently capture this internal struggle!!!! i want to encourage you... we've never met, but i have read quite a few of your posts. you are a wonderful mom! kids are resilient. we will adapt and grow. :0)

  2. Wow can I ever relate!! Thank you for reminding me to think about how they see things. I know I often get stuck in the "its just how life is" without thinking about that... I need to do better at talking with them - I'm with you - its so hard to say "I'm sorry" to them. Sometimes though, I'm sure it would be good for them to hear "Even though there is nothing I can do about it, I am sorry". Way to go mama - inspiration!!

  3. Great post, Kristen. I really appreciate your professional insight as well! My second pregnancy was SO HARD for me. Not that I was unhealthy, just that I was beyond miserable, as you are describing. I, too, felt like a horrible, negligent, cranky mom. I just want to encourage you that the end is near! Even my torn apart, sleep-deprived, post-delivery body was happier than my 9 months pregnant body. You WILL be back to your real self soon. You'll be exhausted, but you'll be able to climb into those bunks and snuggle. And I'm pretty sure they'll forgive you for this lapse. ;)

  4. Great post. I too appreciate your openness and willingness to be vulnerable.

    I think if we are honest with ourselves, we've all struggled with parenting during pregnancies.

    Grace is amazing.


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