At the end of every Circle of Security Parenting chapter, we like to ask if there was anything surprising from the session. During a group in a prison setting with incarcerated men, a young dad said, “Yeah everything.” It was an expression of astonishment and curiosity. “Do other dads know this stuff? But how could you unless you had someone to teach you? It doesn’t just come naturally.”
This father, who was doing time for assault, described a long-term pattern of aggression and violence. “But I never wanted to be violent, I remember being really terrified of my own dad’s aggression growing up and not wanting to be like him. And now here I am, responding in the same way to my own kids.” Procedural learning is powerful – we don’t just imitate the behaviors of our parents but learn the “rules” for relationship through experience – what is OK and what is not OK to express, which needs and feelings can be shared and how they should be shared. And none of this is conscious – it’s a deep ‘in-your-bones’ sort of knowing.
The Circle can seem intuitive, as if we’ve always known it, but at the same time completely unfamiliar. As we learn about attachment needs, we often have strong feelings of surprise, hope, sadness, regret, anger, a wish that we had known it already and, often, a wish to have experienced it ourselves as children.
“I thought that because I’m the dad, I’m right. That when my kids challenge me, being a good dad means protecting my position and showing them I am right – that’s my duty. Whenever my kids question my decisions or complain when I say “no”, it’s like I’m wired to get aggressive, to defend my position. I have to be right.”
“But of course, this isn’t how I want them to see relationships or experience me. Being wrong doesn’t have to mean I am weak or not in charge.” Making these links allowed this dad to commit to new ways of being as a parent. Bigger, Stronger, Wiser and Kind offered a new map and new way to practice responding to his children’s behaviors he found challenging.
Each of us can find surprise in some aspect of Circle of Security Parenting. And while it doesn’t always feel good to discover the errors of our ways, new learning opens up new choices we didn’t have before.
I invite you to share with me your comments, reflections, Circle stories and experiences with Circle of Security Parenting. Your submissions may be used in future blog posts, with all identifying information excluded, unless you specifically request to be identified. Contact me at brooke[at]circleofsecurityinternational[dot]com.