| Family Reflections |

Seeing Red

When you lose it, you’re letting your child self drive the bus. Take back the wheel



"Sometimes I just want to quit motherhood! Last week, I took the kids to the zoo. I got up early to pack up lunches, do laundry, and get dinner ready so that I wouldn’t have to deal with that later. I woke the kids, dressed the little ones, fed everybody, cleaned up, packed everything and everyone into the car and headed off.

Fortunately, the outing was a huge success. We visited the gift shop afterward and I picked up some coloring books, toys, and even found a bag of kosher animal candies!

“We were heading home when my six-year-old, Aliza, asked if she could have some candies. I told her that dinner is waiting for us in the crockpot, so I didn’t want anyone to have candy now. About 15 minutes later, I heard a strange muffled noise in the back seat so I peaked in the rearview mirror. Guess what I saw? Aliza, stuffing candies into her mouth!

“Well, I saw red! After all I had done for that child today! That little ingrate! How dare she defy me like that!

I turned onto a side road and pulled the car to an abrupt halt. I leaped out, ripped the candy bag out of Aliza’s hands and tossed it to the curb. Then I put my face right into hers and said, ‘That’s it! That was your dinner! You’re going to bed as soon as we get home!’ She deserved even worse! What kind of kid does that? Why did she treat me that way?”


Who’s Driving the Bus?

This mom finds parenting hard. That’s because the part of her who is trying to parent is a little kid. How do we know? Because when we think like a kid, speak like a kid, and act like a kid, then the part of the personality in the driver’s seat at that moment is a kid. We are all a multiplicity of parts, some of which are adults and some of which are children.

Now let’s imagine that an individual human being is constructed (psychologically speaking) like a bus. In the front of the bus is an empty chair. Whoever sits in the chair gets to drive the bus. The driver will be called “I” and will be able to generate the thoughts, feelings, words, and actions of that human body.

“I want to drive this bus to California so I’m going to get onto the highway and head west.” The passengers on the bus — all the other parts of the personality — will be going along for the ride. A “witness” (observing part) hovers above the bus, able to notice who is in the driver’s seat and organize adjustments when necessary.

We’ll generally want an “adult” to be driving our bus when we have important work to do at the office, when we’re addressing marital issues, when we’re making financial decisions, and when we’re guiding our kids.

A child part is too young to do these things and if it somehow gets into the driver’s seat, it will often crash the bus. Even if it doesn’t do that, child parts who try to do adult tasks tend to feel overwhelmed, confused, helpless, and distraught.


Getting the Child Out of the Driver’s Seat

When we activate the “witness,” we can observe that we’re “seeing red” and note that a part that is in that state shouldn’t be driving our bus. We need that “child” to get her hands off the wheel asap. The “witness” can escort the child back to the passenger seat. “This isn’t a job for you; we have an adult here who can handle Aliza’s disobedience.”

Indeed, the adult ego state is aware that little Aliza is a normal child experiencing a temporary lapse in impulse control. She’ll need some education and guidance. If Mom’s child part is very upset, screaming and yelling from the back of the bus, some private time might be needed first in order to be able to address her emotions.

A short interview is sure to reveal that she feels disappointed, hurt, unappreciated, unacknowledged, and unloved, and that this has been going on forever... the adult in Mom can provide this inner child with understanding and compassion. This will allow the child to take her seat while the adult can get back into the driver’s seat. And they’ll all — little Aliza too — live much more happily.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 763)

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