The recent Pixar movie Inside Out took a bold step into what counselors like me attempt to do every day—uncover one’s hidden emotions. Many people go to great lengths to appear intact externally so others will assume they are the same internally; if (and when) that doesn’t work, then they just bury their heads and try to escape. The main character in Inside Out is Riley—a happy and outgoing Midwestern girl whose world is turned upside-down when she and her parents move to San Francisco. Riley’s emotions become discombobulated throughout the movie, with feelings of joy, anger, fear, disgust, and sadness all collectively vying for their voices to be heard. Ultimately, Riley is left to sift through the emotions and find a new sense of joy.
We live in a society that places such a high value on having it all together, and, I’ll be honest, this movie struck a chord with me because it forced me to look back on how I have led my children emotionally. When we moved to Dallas three years ago, the anger and fear characters were running rampant in my kids. I just wanted some joy to show up on the scene so I wouldn’t feel so guilty for uprooting their world. During those initial months, I often neglected the opportunity to relate with my kids at a level that empathized with the upheaval that had just gone down in their world.
So it begs the question, am I relating to them on an emotional level in other areas of their lives? Areas like the anxiety around peer pressure at school and wanting to “fit in,” the fear that comes with so many changes during puberty, and the disgust sprinkled with curiosity from seeing pornography (whether intentionally or inadvertently). We parents are given the unique opportunity of having a front row seat to our children’s emotional, spiritual, and physical development. Are we leading them from the outside in which simply says, “Don’t do that!” or are we the people in their sphere of influence who seek to understand them from the inside out?
Culture—or should I say, parents within our culture—have done a good job encouraging children to don masks that hide their true emotions. Thus, the question I ask myself frequently is: “Am I sitting in the emotions my kids are experiencing or am I parenting from the outside in?” It’s time to be engaged and recognize that doing any one of the following can negate their experiences:
1. Telling them, “Suck it up, I went through the same thing.”
2. When they accomplish something, responding with, “That’s great. Now, what’s next?”
3. Reacting before engaging by saying things like, “What are you doing looking at that trash? Don’t let me ever catch you doing that again!”
If these are my go-to responses as the parent, I have missed a golden opportunity to connect with my kids on the heart level. When was the last time you cried with your kid? Not from a position of “how can I fix it?” (that’s about you) but with the following words coming through the tears: “I may not be able to make it go away, but I am here with you for the long haul, and I love you unconditionally.” That is what it looks like to parent from the inside out.
Special thanks to Daniel Lebsack for contributing to ParetingPathway.org today! As Stonebriar’s Associate Pastor of Recovery Ministries, Dan is focused on walking alongside individuals and couples who struggle with the realities of living in a broken world, specifically around addiction and marriage. Dan has been married for 15 years, and he and his wife have 12-year-old twins. Dan graduated with his undergraduate degree from the University of Nevada, Reno. He served as a Connecting Pastor in Reno prior to moving to Dallas. Dan graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary with his master’s degree in biblical counseling, and he is a certified Christian Sex Educator. Beyond ministry, he has a passion for almost anything that involves being outdoors.
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