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Monday, November 11, 2013

Providing Emotional Support

Research has a term called "emotional labour". This refers to work that requires emotional management. You manage others' emotions. You manage your own emotions. Motivating someone can be classified as emotional labour. If you cannot control your own feelings, then there is no way you can manage your child's feelings towards his schoolwork.

One Mommy that I coached 2 months ago wrote to me today these words... 

"This term, I remembered what you said and I buffered her. It was really an uphill task. I told myself, "I HAVE TO"... even if it went against my natural non-confrontational self. Every time anyone ( the father, the grandparents) said or did anything to make them feel bad, I defended... or I buffered them. 

It was also hard for me to not nag nor scold. Every time anger surged up in me, and I wanted to release it by correcting her harshly, I swallowed my anger. I must say, that swallowing feels like silent rays of negative energy going into the chest. It feels almost physical when it actually is not. I felt emotionally battered in these trying moments (especially when I am really tired). I lost a lot of my own joy. Truly, God is my strength and help. Church has become a solace."

This Mommy's daughter has improved in leaps and bounds, both academically and physically. The little girl used to get asthma attacks on the eve of every exam. On various occasions, the girl had to be rushed blue in the face to the hospital. In this latest round of exams, there were NO asthma attacks.

It reminded me of all the emotional labour I did for my son.

Little Boy Was My Emotional Labour
No matter how afraid I was, Little boy never knew. No matter how frustrated I was, Little Boy didn't guess. As I accompanied my son towards the PSLE I knew full well that my Little Boy needed every ounce of his own emotional energy to pull himself out of the depths of poor grades. He not only needed his own emotional energy, he also needed mine to power his effort.

So, for 3 years, I swallowed my own stress. For 3 years, I swallowed my son's stress too. For 3 years, I gathered up positive emotional energy from within me and fed it to my son in the form of encouragement and cheerful confidence. No matter how hopeless things looked, I never shared with him my fear nor my misgivings. I dove into searching out the best materials I could find. I experimented with strategies that I made up, because conventional strategies had so far not worked... and I needed to do something that would help me son cover 6 years of primary school in 3 years. I wasn't sure of my strategies. I didn't know if I was guiding him correctly. I feared so much that the day would arrive where he would tell me, "Mom, you made me work so hard, but I learnt the wrong thing... studied the wrong books."

Thank God he did well at the PSLE!!

A Wellspring of Clean Positive Emotional Energy
It was MY positive emotional energy that sustained my son through 7 hours a day of memorising-reciting Potato Chinese(R), and pulled him out of failing Chinese. It was MY constant encouragement throughout the day for 15 days that kept him going as he memorised 15 compositions of 2000 words each, pitched at 4 years above his grade level. It was MY constant emotional support that kept him emotionally stable and calm throughout the entire P6 year when all the other kids were falling ill and breaking down.

In those 3 years, I gave him my ALL. I took all his toxic stress, fear and anxiety. I swallowed my own toxic stress, fear and anxiety. I didn't get angry with him. I swallowed my anger. I did the same for The Daughter and The Husband because those years were definitely challenging for all three of them as well. At home, with me, I would heal their hearts, give them comfort... make the world alright again... patch them up... and then they had strength to go out there to do their best. I told no one because I figured that this was my responsibility as a Mother and a Wife.

It was my load to bear alone.

To be fair, there were some things I chose to take on - challenges that I fell in love with and decided that I wanted to do. Write a book. Teach university classes. Consult. Build a house (without prior building experience). Things to do that make life interesting and worth living no? They were fun! They made me happy (except for the bloody house building exercise). Anything that's challenging is stressful to some degree.

Together, all this exacted a price.

The Costs to Me
My entire adrenal-thyroid system collapsed from internalising the combined stress of 3 people and my own. I can tell you that Little Boy's PSLE stress was as much as the The Husband's and The Daughter's combined. If PSLE can break the body a grown woman like me (because my mind is stronger than my physique), it's no wonder that across the board there are worrying signs of increasing mental illness in children in the past decade.

I had NO idea at the start of the 2013 what was wrong with me. I thought this and I thought that. Meanwhile, my mentality was still geared for "Yay! Yippee! I have my life back! I wanna do so many things! I wanna make good money again!!"

It didn't occur to me that I needed rest till now. I've been able to rest since end October 2013. Things are so much better! The other enrichment centres rely on staff. In Dr Pet's English Enrichment, I make it a point to know EACH parent-child pair, in-depth. In other centres, they rotate Teachers and staff. In mine, I do it all. So, if Dr Pet's parents are reading this, you now know why I don't teach during the holidays. Your children do ONE composition a week. I mark 36 every week. I am not Energiser Bunny. I need rest as much as anyone else... if not more.

Feeding someone positive emotional energy seems like such a trivial thing. Reaching out to give emotional comfort, remove fear... or lock the self's raging fear and anxiety away seems like an easy thing to do. However, when you do that all day for weeks and months and years, it takes its toll.

Fleeing Irreparably Negative and Disempowered People
It is NOT a trivial thing to be an ENCOURAGER. I know because I am now dry. I have little to give my family. Instead, they are now getting used to having to resource me. Happily, both kids are big and relatively stronger. I am now the one that needs their support. Right now, I flee people who are negative and who disempower themselves into complete helplessness. I don't care why they are like that. I just don't want to be near them, absorbing their negative energy and having them drink what little is left of my own positive energy. They might feel better after my encouragement and support. I would feel drained and sad. What's worse is that after I've paid the price, nothing improves. Nothing positive comes from such encounters.

I refused to go to dinner with a long time friend because I could not bear to spend an entire evening listening to her sob stories... which aren't really very sobby compared to other REAL sob stories. Having to hear it on Whatsapp is bad enough!

Let me get well first.

Mommies Must Feed Positive Emotional Energy to Children
Mommies must know that their positive emotional energy makes a huge difference in their child's motivation and ability to expend effort. Mommies who are careless with their emotions and readily communicate fear, anger and anxiety every day to their children... force their children to perform emotional labour. What effort the kids pour into emotion management is effort not used for school. These children under perform.

Mommies who are centred on filling their own emotional voids... who are themselves needy, clingy and starving for comfort and encouragement suck emotional energy out from their children... and then these children under perform VASTLY. Academic performance is not just about mastering material. It is also about cultivating emotions that sustain effort.

God is Necessary to Life
In every case where I have turned a child around from zero to hero, their Mothers have made valiant efforts to control their own emotions. They have made valiant efforts to feed their children positive emotional energy. In every case too, the Mommies were practising Christians (or Buddhists). They might not have had enough emotional strength, but their religion gave them enough.

Now tell me that God is unnecessary? To me God is as necessary for Living, as breathing. God is my solace... my wellspring of emotional strength... and He never runs dry.


ET said...

Hi Petunia, I needed this timely reminder...God bless you, take care and Thank You!

Celine said...

My initial thoughts are unprintable.... as I huffed and puffed at how unfair that mommies have to provide the emotional labour in the house and daddies are free (relatively) to disperse emotional rubbish around.

Then I realised after praying that the mommy's growth journey is different from the daddy's. Each has to complement the other in the family.

I am still young in my journey and need those who have gone before to share, to be open about both the trials and the joys. God bless for sharing!

Petunia Lee said...

ET - You're welcome.

Petunia Lee said...

Celine - I sometimes envy my friends from Finland and Israel. Husbands do actually do more around the house. In our home, I guess things evolved very differently.

In some families I know of, Daddies support every front (including the emotional). Then I know of many Single Mothers who bravely tackle Mommy & Daddy roles. I'm not sure there IS a consistent pattern.

When we talked about it in our home with my kids, one of the things that was pointed out was that I myself expected a lot of me... I would offer or take over even after the others said they would help.

It is partly my own fault. In the past few months, they have become more conscious about not assuming that things will magically get done. I am more conscious about not stepping in to do things for them.

My husband has also stopped complaining when we eat out a few nights a week at the food court etc... or when we eat out at a nice restaurant. It does help me cope.