The week between school and camp is usually met with a cringe on my part. This week I was excited to spend time with my children relaxing and enjoying them and I did but come Saturday and I was done. Spent, sensitive, sick and selfish are all words I could use to describe my Saturday and unfortunately the kids got the brunt of it. Although I was able to hold on to most of my patience, I was quiet and moody and a part of me feels guilty. So now in this moment I have the opportunity to beat myself up for it or be kind to myself. The question is what is the benefit of beating myself up does it make me a better parent?
I recently went to a talk by Geneen Roth author of Women, Food and God. For any of you out there who have not read her book I highly recommend it. She speaks of a non-diet approach to weight loss. She encourages trusting our bodies to self regulate while at the same time exploring the beliefs we hold of ourselves that cause us to eat. During the Q & A someone in the audience asked her if she ever falls off the wagon, if she has ever had a relapse and started bingeing again. And her response was lovely,(this is paraphrased) “Sometimes I go into the kitchen and say to my husband, Matt I am going to have a binge now you can join me or not. And then I sit at the table and eat as much as I want and it is usually not that much more than I would have normally eaten. I allow myself to eat I get up and move on with my life I don’t judge it, I don’t hold on to it and I don’t beat myself up about it.” I loved it, we can have a bad day, and we can welcome the bad day or we can have a bad day and punish ourselves for it.
I choose compassion and love for myself. Okay I wasn’t the greatest mother today. I am lucky in that there will be a new day, a new moment, a new opportunity to embrace my children with all of the love that I am. For now I will just rest in the knowingness that I am ok even when I make mistakes, even when I have a bad day. So with this in mind, I will verbalize to my children my sadness over the missed opportunity and open them up to the wonder that what will unfold in this moment. My children in their resilience will be able to develop a trust in the fact that I love them even when I am having a bad day.
I went to a friends house recently who has an adorable five year old son with the energy of a bouncing ball, zooming from one end of the house to the other in seconds. That day, there were 10 children over and the house was flying. Mom was frustrated because everyone dumped their kids in her house including me. At the same time we were working on catering a party. We were baking hundreds of cookies, assembling platters of hors devours and cutting lots of fruit. Talk about overwhelming!
This little boy only wanted his friend to come over. Granted there were 10 children there but not one was his age. He had the choice to play with the 3 year olds or torture his older sisters. And of course, as the day wore on this became too difficult for him until finally, he snapped. He pinched my son so hard that my son started to cry and his mother marched him upstairs for a timeout.
Oftentimes we say, “enough with this behavior.” We don’t take the step back that’s necessary to see why our children are acting in this way. As parents it is our responsibility to figure out how we can support our children to make better choices and to feel more contained in the chaotic world that we live in. Five year olds aren’t always so good at verbalizing their thoughts and feelings therefore it is our responsibility to notice when there is just to much stimulation and when our children are losing it. It is in this moment that we can notice when our children are feeling overwhelmed and respond to their needs with love and understanding.
During lunch that day he started climbing on the table and acting like a monkey. His mother said “just ignore him. He only wants someone to come over to him and invite him to the table to eat. He just wants someone to give him attention.” How interesting that we are taught to ignore the child rather than get down and dirty and figure out what is really going on. When we can take a minute to figure it out, we are showing the child that they are the most important, that nothing else takes precedence and we believe in them and their own ability to self regulate. When we punish children we are putting outside constraints on them rather than teaching them to regulate themselves. But we can’t ask them to regulate themselves if we are not mirroring for them their own behavior rather than our own annoyance. Mirroring for our children the emotions and difficulties they are experiencing validates their feelings. If we mirror our stuff then they can’t develop their own sense of self, of who they are. They just become a mirror of who we are or should I say who our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents are. It is remarkable because we have the opportunity to encourage growth in a child by just mirroring for them who they are rather than who we want them to be. It is our mistake to believe that we as parents can teach them what they need to learn without engaging with them. It is only in the moment getting down and dirty that the true lessons can be learned. If we come in with our own agendas, with our own history’s we don’t strengthen our children we strengthen our pasts.
The most important thing we can give our children is our presence. When I say presence I mean our full undivided attention within this moment without using our old thoughts and beliefs to guide us but rather using the moment itself as the guide. When we are able to be fully present with our children discipline becomes a new opportunity to love them and each moment we as the parent have the chance to meet that opportunity or let it pass us by. Oftentimes I see a child who is misbehaving, as we as parents perceive it. This misbehaving is met with a look of disdain from a parent. Oftentimes I hear parents say to ignore a child when they are looking for attention using negative behavior. I believe the goal is not to ignore the child but rather to notice what it is about the behavior that is roping us in. What belief do we have about that behavior that causes us to react negatively. When my child is roaring like a lion and trying to get my attention but at the same time I am getting annoyed-that is a sure clue that it is my turn to look inside and recognize my issue and let it go. Was I discouraged from making noise when I was younger? Was I discouraged from acting silly? Were my parents annoyed that I was around? What belief system or thoughts come in when I hear that loud roar? And in this moment can I let them go? Then I am able to meet the moment, bend down and look into my dear sweet innocent child’s eyes and say, “Hey, what’s going on? What are you trying to tell me?” When it appears that our children are trying to annoy us, when we feel our children are driving us crazy; that is the moment, the split second when we have the opportunity to go from being a good parent to a great parent. It is in this moment that we get to look inside of ourselves and recognize our own meshugas about our own childhood. The beliefs we have about how to love and the stories we keep repeating. In this moment we get to make the ultimate parenting decision. Do I allow myself to repeat history or do I grab onto the moment and transform my past into my children’s future? What an amazing opportunity for us.
Wow, becoming parents, what were we thinking? Some of us spend our whole lives planning the day that we will hold that newborn baby in our arms. We start from very young rocking our dolls, feeding them bottles and cooing at them. Thinking this child will give us all the love we ever needed. They will fulfill our dreams, accomplish our goals and make us whole. Little do we know, that they will shape us, teach us who we are and open us up to the truths of this life we lead. If we are honest and caring the expectations we have, will fly out the window and this child will humble us and break us open until we live the authentic life we were meant to lead. That is if we allow it to be, if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and learn from the teachers they are born to be. Being a good parent means opening ourselves to the lessons the child brings to the table. Parenting gives us a chance to be aware of our past and come into the present that is here and now. Who better to teach us this than a child who is always present, always now? Our children need our presence more than anything else. This is the time to take responsibility for our past; to let it go and give to our children what they need rather than all the things our parents couldn’t give us.