How parental safe spaces can change your child’s life.
“It’s okay,” I whisper.
He doesn’t hear me. We’re rocking or bouncing or swaying or something, and he’s finally asleep. It’s been hours since he first started showing me his tired eyes and attempting to go down for a nap, and I’ve only just succeeded.
I’m already in my head thinking about what such a late nap means for our day.
Will he be wired at bedtime in just a few hours? What about dinner? When are we going to eat? And on and on.
So, we both know those whispered words are really more for me than for him.
“Calm down, little one. I’ve got you. It’s okay.”
That’s what I’m saying, but really it’s more what I need said over me. I want control and predictability but also freedom and a nap myself.
I want to get out in the morning, go see friends and play and not have to worry about naptime. Also, I don’t want an overtired kid. “It’s okay, little one,” I say again and listen. I sense a reply in my spirit, and it’s this: my son is safe and resting and peaceful. It’s me that needs a safe place to admit my eyes are weary and my soul is tired.
Being a parent is the hardest job I’ve ever had. Definitely the most rewarding, yes, but also definitely the hardest.
When there’s crisis or stress in a marriage, it gets even harder too. I know you’ve had those days like I have, where you’re reassuring your child but really you need the reassuring yourself. That’s what has me thinking about shame researcher Brene Brown’s quote so much today.
“We can’t be brave in the big world without at least one small safe space to work through our fears and falls.”
So often, we know that about our kids, right? They need us to take care of them and help them be brave so they can conquer the world. Most parents can get on board pretty quick with that.
We can even take it a step further with our kids and talk about the safety we need to create for them in this chaos of fighting and yelling and divorce, right?
What a job for us as parents to create that safe space for our kids. It’s beautiful, challenging, pruning work, but we’re up for it because we love them. In the future, we’ll have several blogs on just how to create that safe space for them.
Today, though? What about you? Has there ever been a time that you’ve needed to put on more of a brave face out in the big world than right now? Often times, when a marriage is crumbling, so are finances, homes, friendships, and self-esteem.
Which makes me wonder… Has there ever been a time you’ve needed your safe space more?
So, what does a safe space look like for an adult and how does one go about creating it?
My definition would be this: a safe space is another person, a group, or a place where an individual can show up just as they are, without putting on any shows, and be their most vulnerable, authentic, sometimes broken self and feel loved.
In marital crisis, I’ve seen it play out several times in several ways. Maybe you had a safe space with your family and now your in-laws are choosing sides. Maybe you had these great couple friends and they don’t know who or what to believe anymore. Maybe people are pulling away from you at school or church or the baseball team because of rumors they’ve heard and he said-she said running wild. I don’t know.
All I know for sure is this:
You need a safe space to work out your fears and falls and tired eyes and lonely days.
That space is not your child.
What if when my bone-tired, weary son had finally fallen asleep, I’d turned to him and woken him up and demanded he meet my needs?
First, how tragic for his little toddler self to never get to rest.
Second, children are not meant to take care of us.
We are meant to take care of them.
The reason it is vital to get to work finding that safe space outside of them is this: If we don’t make a safe space for our fears, failures, worries, and sadness outside of our children, it will default to landing on their tiny shoulders. I assure you, their shoulders are not equipped to carry our heavy load.
So, when you feel that weariness kicking in and you need a soft space to land, who can hold your fears and falls to help you face the brave world?
Maybe for you, it is a person you are already familiar with. Maybe it’s your parent or sibling or aunt who has known you all your life. Maybe it’s a friend: someone who has been through it all with you and knows all the places that trip you up anyway.
Maybe it’s time to invest in a new friend, a new safe space… someone who doesn’t know everything that’s been going on these last few years and has no prior judgments. Sometimes starting over can feel so fresh.
Maybe it’s time to take the next step with your book club or small group, inviting them into your pains and joys, ups and downs.
Maybe it’s a time to reach out to a therapist – a truly impartial safe space lack of any judgment or guilt. Often for me, a therapist’s office is the safest place I land all month long and the sense of refreshment is irreplaceable.
You may have been burned or had poor experiences in a counselor’s office or small group or with a friend, and that’s okay too. You can start with what you have. Sometimes, in the thick of parenting with no money for a sitter, my safe space looks like a closet under the stairs with a journal and a pen.
I know you may have to get creative with this right now. Crisis can cultivate necessary creativity, I know. I just need you to know it’s worth it to create this space.
You, my friend, are worth it.
I’m also anticipating your next argument before it’s even out of your mouth: time, time, time, there is no time! Between work and school, kids and homework, dinner and practice, there is no time for creating safe spaces for yourself. You have to focus on the kids!
I hear you and I even believe you. Time is an ever-vanishing resource that I certainly need more of too. What if I told you that your children will never have a safe space in you or in your home if you don’t have a safe space outside of them first?
I know you want for them to have the skills to be brave in this big world. They’re worth it too.
My simple game plan for you is this: tonight when your last kid goes to bed and you find yourself alone, take five minutes and make a list, the old fashioned kind with paper and pen.
Here is your prompt: where or who are at least two places that I can consider safe spaces to work through my fears and falls?
Please, let me know what you come up with by commenting below!
As for me, I’ll be back in the trenches of parenting within the hour too. It’ll be dinners and baths and stories and bed. I’ll give my all, just like you, to make sure my little boy has a safe space here as he grows.
As I whisper to him, “it’s okay, you’re safe here. Calm down, little one, I’ve got you,” I’ll be thinking of my safe places and how to gather my bravery in them this week too.
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