Coping with change, the ladder of inference, boundaries and motherhood

Early this year, I had an incident in my son’s childcare centre that marked a turning point for me.

I felt all the mum-guilt being put on my back, and I felt blame for all that was going on. I felt I was failing as a mum for making my son behave like this. I’m sure you, as a mum, have felt like this before. No one can prepare us for this. Am I doing it right? What should I do in these circumstances? Am I being a bitch?

My current mindset is set to look for the lessons, this incident taught me the following:

  1. I need to work on setting boundaries and becoming more assertive.
  2. I must step away from the mum-guilt
  3. My role as a mum is to support my son’s wellbeing and to guide him through change while checking on my own wellbeing as well.

Last February, when I picked my son up from daycare, his main carer told me he’d been looking sad, hadn’t been eating properly, had been hiding from her and not interacting with other kids.

“Something may be upsetting him”; his behaviour had been this way for weeks.

 

She asked me all the routine questions: “Have there been any changes at home?” She also asked a question that triggered me: “Is his daddy still around?” I wanted to say: WTF! That is a personal question. You are crossing boundaries here, and if his daddy is around or not or if there’s no daddy at all is none of your business. 

but.. I didn’t say anything, just left the centre crying, thinking what did I do to upset my son that much! 

 

 

Triggers

When facing a problem, something that sparks an instant reaction, ask yourself, why is this triggering me?* 

Why did it trigger me?

  • Because we made changes at home. I resigned from my corporate job to start a business in order to spend more time with my son, but he clearly didn’t like it because he was upset. I’d better be working full-time, going back to “normal” because I wasn’t doing a good job as a mum since I was causing distress to my son.
  • I was dealing with my own set of changes from being an employee to being a business owner.
  • Because I felt she crossed a professional boundary, and I blame myself because I was always allowing that to happen, “people never respect you, Claudia”
  • Because my whole life I’ve been battling anxiety and depression. Maybe he had inherited this from me or he was projecting me at daycare.

That’s the story my brain created. There’s a need to process and explain everything; it’s how we are wired. However, my conclusions were based on assumptions, not reality.

The Ladder of Inference

“ The Ladder of Inference describes the thinking process that we go through, usually without realizing it, to get from a fact to a decision or action” – Mindtools

I was high up in that ladder, assuming that I was the problem. However, it may not be true at all. In order for me to find the facts, I needed to step down the ladder to find out what was really going on.

Bye, bye, blame, guilt, feeling bad about myself, beating myself up for feeling I was failing as mum. I needed to stop thinking “I don’t want to be a “difficult person” when I asked them to investigate the matter further and decided to take action. I needed to get over the thoughts of being the “annoying mum” because I was concerned for his emotional wellbeing, but then more guilt and anxiety came because “I don’t want to be a helicopter mum.”

Stripping down to facts

Changes at home happened 6 months before this incident, and sure, I was still adjusting, but we were happy spending time together.

There have been changes in the centre in recent weeks: 3 staff members had left and we started toilet training. His closest friends had moved to a different room on another floor once the oldest kids left to start school. One of his favourite carers moved on with his career and left.

I think all the above situations can have massive impact on the life of a then almost 3-year-old and could explain his withdrawal behaviour in the centre.

Defuse your emotions

By defusing my emotions, I was able to think clearly, and then I knew what I had to do.

I was very happy with how the centre handled the situation. They listened to my concerns and supported my request for changing carers. He went to a new room with his old mates and was back to being his usual self. He still enjoys playing solo, but no one is concerned about that, certainly not me.

Changes affect us all… but not all of us cope in the same way.

In my mindset toolkit I keep tools to help me strip down to the facts so I could find a solution. However, how did I fail to recognise my son’s struggles with change?

Are you ready to build your mindset toolkit?

Ask for help, you don’t need to have all the answers

Even though no one prepares you for motherhood, we have people around us who can help us become the parent we want to be. One of them is Jodie Thornton.

Jodie Thornton is a parenting coach who helps mothers build their kids’ emotional skills. She sees this pattern regularly where we adults look to our conditioning first to explain any issues that our kids are experiencing. So daycare educators often look to the most common reasons for a particular behaviour – in this case she may have seen similar behaviour from kids when their parents have separated – and we mothers are quick to assume that the cause must be our failings as mothers, as our culture tells us that we are usually to blame.

“It is that cultural conditioning that is getting in the way of us adults looking to what is happening for kids as individuals in the specific situation they are in” Jodie said.

Our cultural conditioning often goes even further to say that when our kids are experiencing change, that we should just ride it out and accept that our kids are having a hard time, sometimes from a softer space of “they’ll get used to it” and often from the harder energy of “they need to understand the world doesn’t revolve around them”.

While time often does help, in this case with my son while there was a lot of change happening in his life, it turned out that the specific change that had affected him was an issue with this educator which time was not going to solve. Potentially the educator could have improved her relationship with my son but time alone wouldn’t have been enough. If I had chosen to ride out the changes, or if I had been focused on the changes at home, I wouldn’t have realised that a positive relationship with the carer was what my son really needed.

Jodie’s suggestions for helping our kids through change:

  1. Treat any ideas that come up about how the changes are affecting your child as just ideas. 99 children might have the same reaction to a situation but the 100th child might have a different reaction. Our children need support for their specific experience rather than what is likely happening for them based on the situation.
  2. Regularly mention the changes without any agenda for the conversation so that your child is turning their attention to how they are feeling about it. Use sentences that aren’t leading to positive or negative feelings, just stating the facts so that it leaves space for them to share whatever might be coming up for them: “It’s so different at your new daycare” “You used to have Aaron as your carer and now you have Jane” “I’m at home more these days now that I have my business”. Sometimes validating their feelings about the process of change is all that is needed and sometimes you’ll find out new information about what they need to help them thrive through the change.
  3. For young children, creating a scene with toys in play to mirror the changes allows them to role-play to process their feelings, find words to and get creative about what solutions they might like to ask for. So set up the dolls or transformers and say “oh look, this is a kid going to daycare and they are saying goodbye to Aaron because he doesn’t work here anymore. And now here’s Jane, the new carer” This can be a brilliant insight into how your child is feeling and what they’re thinking about the changes.

Once you believe you’ve worked out the cause of their struggle to accept the change, try out a solution and keep an open mind. It’s normal to need to try a few things to help them fully adjust to the change.

And finally, Jodie suggests that you have some support to move through change too. Part of the role of the village in raising our kids is how they support us to process how we feel, to be supported and to lovingly let us know that we might be focusing on blaming ourselves rather than looking impartially at what our kids are really needing right now.

And finally, Jodie suggests that you have some support to move through change too. Part of the role of the village in raising our kids is how they support us to process how we feel, to be supported and to lovingly let us know that we might be focusing on blaming ourselves rather than looking impartially at what our kids are really needing right now.

*Resources available for you right now:

Listen to Jim Fortin’s podcast episode on triggers to start seeing them as blessings. Click here

Book a session with Jodie Thornton and follow her on Facebook. Register to her free webinar: “Getting your kids to listen” here

Check out our resources for kids. (available only in Australia)

Start building your mindset toolkit with us, join the 3-day challenge!

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