The Gates Arrest: A Teachable Moment for Parents
July 28, 2009 · Posted in Fatherhood, Mental Health, Parenting · Permalink

imagesThe controversy over the arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. by Sgt. James Crowley in Cambridge, Massachusetts is a “teachable moment”  about race and an opportunity to learn how we tick as humans. We can use this situation to learn about our own psychological trigger points.  It is easy to understand that Gates’ trigger was the idea that he was being racially profiled. The police officer’s trigger may have been fear or being disrespected. Triggers are issues that live inside us that are so tender or raw or provocative that when touched, produce a huge reaction that doesn’t quite feel under our control.

As parents this kind of triggering happens all the time. Raising children is provocative. Each of us have our triggers from childhood–it can be anything from feeling ignored to shyness, or grades, or fighting with your siblings. Family life is filled with situations in which these issues are played out. Something in the present day  sets off an overreaction of some kind. If you could rewind the tape you would have handled it very differently.

Here’s an example:

A father, who was very shy growing up was very athletically able and played sports all the time.  It was his gateway and savior, helping to gradually make friends. His eight year old son is shy as well, but he resists joining soccer or baseball. This dad becomes enraged when his son refuses to do sports, he likes science. The father is panicked that his son will never make friends if he doesn’t play sports. When he understands the trigger he can calm himself down, remind himself that there are many ways to make friends and that pressuring and fighting with this son will only make matters worse. Knowing your triggers helps to diffuse a tremendous amount of conflict.

Identifying your triggers from childhood is helpful in parenting int hat it gives you more control over your reactions and helps you understand your child more clearly.

This exercise can help identify potential hot buttons and so you can be on alert when they get pressed:

When I was little I worried about…

When I was little I hated when my parents…

When I was growing up ……was hard with my siblings

I get most jealous about….

The thing I most want to protect my child from experiencing is…

When you and your partner write these lists and share them you can troubleshoot the issues that are hard to handle for each of you.  You then will have a road map for those triggers bound to be pulled and you can prepare yourself in advance to handle them.

I think we can more deeply understand how that interaction between Professor Gates and Sgt. Crowley escalated so quickly. Let’s use the situation to learn something about ourselves as parents.

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  1. Lauren
    July 28th, 2009 | 11:39 am

    Too often parents are so scared of their own triggers that they deal with them through avoidance. It is crucial to be aware of your triggers as well as the behavior that follows, especially once you have children.

  2. Beth
    July 29th, 2009 | 4:25 pm

    Great post

    Something good we can take away from this media circus.

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