Understanding Shark Music

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” ~ Maria Skłodowska-Curie

Two years ago, my partner and I attended a workshop called Circle of Security® Parenting™ as part of our stay at Tresillian for our first son where health practitioners help parents with sleep training and settling techniques for their babies.

The workshop taught us so much about the concept of secure attachment (where a child feels safe and secure enough to explore the world out there, outside “the circle” and to return to the parents/caregivers knowing  they will be there to embrace, encourage and delight in the child). Most importantly, it taught us how we can become more attuned to our children’s emotional needs and better understand their behaviour.

Shark Music is the term used in the workshop material to describe uncomfortable, painful feelings from our past that are triggered by our child’s behaviour. When those feelings are activated, it is like hearing the eerie, tense background music from the movie Jaws as the shark fin appears out of water.

Shark Music, when unaddressed, can make a situation look so much worse than what it really is. Understanding our Shark Music is crucial for meeting our own as well as our children’s real and raw emotions.  Both my partner and I have found the analogy very useful, and we often share with each other what specific situations press the play button for our own Shark Music.

The very first time I recognised my own Shark Music was when I dropped my son (he was about 8 months old at that time) off at Daycare just around the corner from where I worked. As I said goodbye and got up to leave the room, he started crying, bursting into tears, which was not unexpected. But watching him cry triggered so much pain inside of me, even though he would be taken good care of by the wonderful staff in a safe, pleasant environment – for a half day.

I found myself in tears, feeling extremely guilty as I left the room. I felt like a bad mother for leaving my son in the hands of people who I felt would never love and care for him as much as I did. Of course, that’s not true. When I went to pick him up later that day he was absolutely fine. He had already forgotten about it all. In fact, he had a great day at Daycare and was very happy to see me again! It was really my own guilt, more than anything, made an emotional drama out of the whole situation.

Later I also realised, after writing about it in my journal, that the Shark Music that played at the drop-off was directly related to my past, my childhood. When I was about seven years old, my mother left my sister and I behind in South Korea (where I was born and grew up) for Australia to pursue her dream and freedom, shortly after my parents’ divorce.

This was a traumatic event for me, to see my mother leaving and not knowing when she was going to come back. As a result, I felt abandoned. I felt unlovable, unable to process the fact that my own mother left me. I wasn’t capable of separating my sense of self from my mother’s choice, and her absence.

Although we reunited when I was a teenager and we have a relatively good relationship now, those painful feelings associated with fear of abandonment still arise from time to time, especially in situations like dropping off my son at Daycare. But I do not want to let the painful past shape who I am and how I parent my children today. Therefore I must actively understand and do something about these feelings every time they re-surface, however painful it can be, in order to release them.

Understanding my Shark Music: recognising in what situations it plays and realising that most of the time it has nothing to do with the situation as-it-is but all to do with feelings from the past – has been incredibly helpful in other challenging moments of motherhood.

Now I am less reactive when the Shark Music plays, but am aware and responsive – meaning I listen to it, identify its trigger and move on. I don’t let it define or doubt my abilities as a mother or my relationship with my children, but instead I let it reveal my fears that I must work on in order to become a better, more conscious parent and human being.