This month I mentioned we are going to be looking at temperaments, love languages and nonviolent communication in an effort to be better wives, husbands, parents, friends and people. We kicked it off with a post on love, a post on patience, a post on changing our language and now this week we will be moving into the heart of the matter.
So let’s dive in. I wrote a post not too far back about “Parenting Exhaustion” that seemed to really strike a chord for this time of year, you can read it here:http://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/04/13/parenting-exhaustion/ This post today is sort of a piggyback on the “Parenting Exhaustion” post and the post about yelling in parenting available here: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/04/30/yelling-in-parenting/
Sometimes mothers talk to me and feel as if they are doing a relatively good job at controlling their actions, voice and thoughts during a time of parenting challenge, but worry that afterwards, they just don’t feel loving toward their children for several hours. They don’t feel like taking their child somewhere, and they are still thinking about whatever happened even though the child has obviously moved on quickly and is no longer thinking about the time in the morning when they were so frustrated and screaming, or hitting their parent, etc. Children live in the moment, more about that in a minute, but let’s start with the mothers.
Some mothers I have spoke with really do attribute these feelings to fatigue and perhaps not enough exercise or time to themselves. I think this is a possible contributor. It certainly is easier to let things roll off your back when you are better rested and feel positive. Many mothers describe how hard it is even to get fifteen minutes alone. Even if husbands have taken the baby to give the mother a break, they are sometimes walking around with the baby right in front of the mother so the minute the baby cries, it is, “Why look, he wants Mommy!” Some mothers feel as if they are on duty all the time, or at least on call. Some mothers want to exercise and recharge that way, but have a really hard time leaving their children, even older children, in the child care section at a gym. And, it is easy if it is nighttime and Daddy is home but everyone is falling apart to sort of feel as if one cannot actually leave. So self-care does become a hard-to-fulfill priority.
Some mothers have told me they thought anger and holding on to parenting challenges was lack of self-care but then they realized that they were fairly angry all the time about many things. They scheduled sessions with a counselor and realized they had issues coming from their childhood that needed to be addressed so they could be happier parents. That is a possibility as well. I don’t think there is one thing wrong with seeing a mental health care professional for a tune-up just the way you see a physician for a physical check-up. Parenting is a big adjustment, and each stage in parenting can bring different challenges.
The books on anger that I most often recommend are “love and anger: the parental dilemma” by Nancy Samalin and “How Anger Hurts Your Kids” by McKay, et al. For other books about gentle discipline, please see here: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/11/27/favorite-books-for-gentle-discipline/
So, if we handle things well, why do we feel so badly that we don’t bounce back as quickly as our children do? As I always say, it is one thing to read in a parenting book that a child of “X” age is likely to spit, or hit, or kick, or scream in your face, but it is a whole different ballgame when those behaviors actually happen to you! In real life!
So, I think in some ways this boils down to how you handle forgiveness in general. What do you do, and how do you handle forgiveness in such circumstances as when someone won’t apologize to you, if you remember some “wrong” that has been done to you, how do you handle yourself when you make a mistake? How do YOU react if someone talks to you about something you have done that wasn’t right? We all are human, aren’t we?
And please do know that with a very small child, a child up to the nine-year change, that child really just lives in the present moment with probably very little connection to what just happened and how you are feeling (and do remember my mantra about the verbal games young children can play about feelings and such if they have been “trained” in such ways. See back posts about this).
I think this can also go back to the original incident. Did you handle the parenting challenge by stuffing your feelings so far down and smiling through the whole thing? Probably not very authentic. Gentle discipline still means you can be authentic. I think it is okay to say,”Mommy doesn’t like that when you do that.” It is okay to feel angry or frustrated. What is not okay is hitting your child or screaming at your child. Show them what to do with anger or frustration that is productive, how to handle conflict. Don’t show them the way to handle conflict is to just stuff it down so you feel sick the whole day! Model calming down and forgiveness.
I think it is okay to say, “Would you please draw me a picture and tell me you love me?” as restitution once things have calmed down. I think it is okay to go sit outside and say, “I am going to sit here a minute until I feel better.” l think it is okay to assume a child must be rather tired or over-stimulated and perhaps just need to be home instead of going out that afternoon and to go to bed a bit earlier. But, what doesn’t work is the guilt trip thing, the “write the lecture down and leave it under their pillow so they can read it thing”….Because if you are having a hard time moving on from some incident that happened, , some part of your own Inner Child is saying, “Wow, that child was not nice and on some level I would like to see more remorse on that child’s part! More angst! In fact, that child should feel terrible… treat your mother like that! I gave birth to that child!” So, essentially we want to see more sorrow and sadness and restitution.
I think what happens as we parent though, is hopefully that we get better at forgiveness. We become better at forgiving ourselves, our spouses, and yes, our children. We start to realize that a little self-care goes a long way, and that as mothers we can make our children a top priority but that we also need some inner work for ourselves to make the family run better. We can hone our skills of compassion, of meeting our child where they are and enjoying them. We can choose forgiveness and essentially choose to be warm and loving and to realize a child is not going to react to things the way an adult would, which is often really what we want. We want that small child to be able to say, “Wow, I will never do that again” and how horrible they feel..Your child in their first seven year cycle of life does not view things the same way you do being in your thirties!
That is the hard thing about parenting, to understand and carry what children do when they are small and don’t know better and need to be guided over and over. To understand that whilst developmental stages still need to be guided because children have to live out in the real world eventually, that most of all what they need is love and compassion and forgiveness.
We all learn together.