Tears spilled down his reddened cheeks again. His bottom lip quivered ever so slightly as he sat in the green chair at the end of the hallway. I hated the feelings rising inside of me, but I pushed them down and reminded myself that this was what I had to do.
Even as the tears gathered in my own eyes, I held my ground. I was heeding the warnings I’d received about toddlers. “He’ll walk all over you if you let him by with things.” “He’s just trying to see what he can get away with.” As though this beautiful, small boy had come here with bad intentions. As though he had it out for me from day one. As though he was plotting against me at the tender age of three.
These dire warnings had come from people who were older and wiser (I thought). They had been there before. Their children were grown - or nearly grown. Surely they knew. And so I listened, determined to “show my kid who is boss.”
As I sat there holding my infant son, watching as my firstborn sat in that damn green chair at the end of the hallway, my heart ached at the turn our relationship had taken. I missed our connection. Ever since the new baby had arrived, his big brother had been misbehaving.
I supposed the “terrible twos” had just come a bit late. I thought perhaps it was already time to start picking my battles and bracing for power struggles. “Discipline isn’t supposed to be fun,” someone had said to me. “If it’s fun, it won’t work.”
I heard that voice and many others as I stuck to my guns and made my boy sit in that chair for what was sure to be the first of many time-outs that day. I knew the rules. One minute per age; time starts over if he gets up. No talking during the time-out. He needs to sit there and think about what he’s done. I did not engage. I was a stickler for the rules.
The problem was that none of the voices that urged me to follow through with this punishment were my own. They were the voices of family, doctors, and experts that I’d accepted as truth. My own voice was a tiny whisper that I continued to silence and push away. The one that said “Stop this. It’s hurting.”
Instead of listening to my inner voice, I allowed everyone else’s to drown it out. It was only when I finally learned to tune out everyone else and tune back into my own intuition that mothering became easier, and I learned that things went so much better when I followed my own heart.
I’m sure you’ve noticed that everyone has an opinion on how you should raise your baby, and they will share it with you freely and frequently. We are absolutely bombarded with parenting advice through social media and websites in addition to family, friends, and neighbors. There is a never-ending stream of information available to us all day, every day. The problem is that it has become very difficult to separate fact from opinion and to separate your own opinion from everyone else’s.
And while there are certainly some advantages to having access to all that information, the dark side is that the nonstop voices can clutter your head. Your own intuition is drowned out, and learning to listen to it again can be a real challenge.
In The Gift of a Happy Mother, I explain how often your inner knowing isn’t a voice in your head. It’s usually more of a gut feeling. Did you know that you have more than one hundred million brain cells in your gut? Your enteric nervous system is a system of neurons that governs the gastrointestinal tract and is sometimes called “the second brain.” It is in regular communication with your central nervous system. If you’ve ever had “butterflies in your stomach,” that was your brain and gut talking back and forth. This may provide an understanding as to why we have a “gut feeling.”
In addition, scientists have discovered that we appear to have two operating systems. According to Kelly Turner, PhD, the first is controlled by our right brain and parts known as the “reptilian brain.” It’s instinctual, quick, and often subconscious. The second is a slower, conscious, analytical system controlled by our left brain and the neocortex. Intuition is part of that first operating system. Turner says, “In other words, intuitive decisions are not something that we have thought out carefully with reason, but rather choices that have arisen quickly out of instinct.”
Studies have shown that our first system often knows the answer well before our second system, and most often, our “gut instinct” is correct. Long story short, that gut feeling is going to give you a better outcome than something Susan posted on Facebook.
Remember my time-out story from the beginning? I was stuck in a cycle of time-outs and tears with my son because I listened to every voice but my own. Every time I put him in that chair, my gut told me it was wrong. It turns out, my gut was right.
My boy wasn’t being naughty or defiant. He was processing BIG feelings about having a baby in the house who took up so much of his mommy’s time, and he was sad because he and his mommy had been so very close. Listening to outside voices caused me to miss something very important - my child’s distress. I was so focused on the behavior that I didn’t see the pain at first. Instead, I saw what I expected to see - a defiant child. Terrible twos. A kid vying for control. But once I looked at what my son was actually experiencing and listened to my gut, I learned that he has the trait of high sensitivity, and all he needed was reassurance, connection, and gentle direction. This is when I switched to time-ins and started my journey into positive parenting.
Sprinkled throughout the story of my motherhood are many instances when I was unsure of the choice I was making, and many times I shushed my gut because my thinking brain took over, but I can’t think of a single time I was glad that I didn’t follow my gut. Distinguishing my inner voice from the world’s loud voices has not always been clear or simple, but here are 3 things that helped me cut through the noise:
- Slow down and create some space. If you’re always on the go, it’s hard for you to get a word in edgewise. Pencil in time to just sit and feel. I don’t want to use the phrase meditation practice because that can feel like another to-do chore, but if you make time to just sit with yourself in silence, you’d be surprised at what comes up.
- Pay attention to your emotions. Emotions are data. If we get curious about them, where they’re coming from, and what they are telling us, we inch a little closer to our inner knowing.
- Get into a creative flow. My favorite method is writing, of course, but yours may be painting, drawing, sculpting, or dance. It doesn’t matter as long as you just let the creativity come - let it flow as you enter a kind of meditative state, feeling the art.
These simple practices will help you learn to lean into your own voice, and with time and practice, you’ll be able to discern it above all others most of the time. While I’m sure everyone on the internet means well (sarcasm), your gut is really smart. Listen.