Living Arts Weekly: The Hard Days of Parenting

February 20, 2022

This deep, instinctual knowledge of our kids- like everything else- waxes and wanes. While our love may always be there, our attention can suffer; our connection can sometimes falter, and when this happens understanding them can seem like a whole lot of work.

–Kim John Payne, Simplicity Parenting

Last Sunday was pretty rough in our house. Our two younger sons are both moving through a phase of developmental disequilibrium, and their increasing individual stress made a perfect storm when mixed with sibling rivalry. It became clear that we have a bit of “soul fever” happening, and when “storm clouds” rolled out, their dad and I cooperatively took action.

As Kim John Payne explains in his book Simplicity Parenting, “soul fever” refers to moments in which children are overwhelmed, stressed, or at odds with themselves and the world. He says that much like a physical fever, it’s “raging within,” affecting their behavior and the emotional climate of the home. As parents, we help to heal a “soul fever” similarly to a physical one. We slow down for more rest. Simplify our routines and postpone some obligations so we can draw them closer to really “tune in” to their needs. We create a nourishing and calm environment. For example, our youngest had been expressing stress with larger messes around the house, so we packed away many of his toys for a little break. Their dad and I also discussed changes we could make to simplify our daily and weekly routines, and spend more quality “time-in’ supporting both boys as they find balance again.

“Soul fever” can also be an expression of underlying problems that have been prolonged without complete recognition. It’s helpful to collaboratively reflect on these problems with my husband. Coming from the different relationships we have with our sons, our perspectives helped to round out our understanding of the whole situation. We shared our perspectives openly and honestly, and reflected on what changes need to be made by each of us and our children. When they were very young, such changes would be implemented by us without explicit explanation, taking shape within our rhythms and boundaries. As they grow, we have more conversation, but it still remains that most of the changes take place in our doing and boundary-holding.

Collaborating with each other also helps to alleviate pressure that can worsen conditions when one of us is more emotionally invested and having a hard time being objective. On Monday evening, our middle son and I had a very emotionally heated conversation and I was grateful that his dad could take over for a while to give me space to re-center. Being on the same page, he was able to de-escalate with our son and get some of the answers I had been seeking. My feelings shifted when he told me how our son was really feeling; I felt deeply empathetic to his emotional grappling and wanted nothing more than to help him heal. Together, we were all able to find a calm space to move forward from peacefully and productively.

After moving through this more intense discovery and first days of action, we are laying on a lot of love. We recognize the value of such internal struggles, and that time is needed to work through  them. As Payne says, “Your support doesn’t ‘fix’ anything, it just provides a loving container for them to process the things that are bothering them.” Our sons are the ones truly struggling, and I’m grateful that their dad and I work as such a solid team in facilitating their process.  We grounded each other, provided fresh perspectives, and gave the emotional support that we also sometimes need as parents. As parents, we all need a team to help us work through these challenging moments, to empower us to be consciously present and attentive to our children.