I'm not talking about good behavior from my children.
I'm talking about good behavior from myself.
Parenting is HARD. (I'm sure I've said that about 7 billion times on this blog.) And as of late, I know I haven't been doing the best job. That's the thing about being an intentional parent - it's something you constantly have to give your awareness to - and if you're not careful, it's easy to slip back into old ways of being and doing. The last couple of weeks, I have felt my reactions becoming stronger and less controlled. I have noticed myself becoming a reactionary parent instead of an intentional parent. And it's time to reign it back in.
Last night my eldest daughter said that things "weren't fair," and that we "never do anything fun," just before tucking her in the bed. I had heard those same words uttered [what seemed like] a gazillion times that day and this time was the one to break the camel's back. I launched into a lecture - using my very-frustrated-mom-voice - and I was towering over my children as they lay on their beds. I went on and on about all the fun things we do during the day, threatened to do absolutely nothing fun tomorrow to "show them" how not-fun the day the could be, and warned them of how frustrating they were making their mother feel.
Like an out-of-body experience, I watched myself saying these things, and I felt all the anger and frustration boiling inside me, as my children looked at me with expressions of fear and hurt. I absolutely hate these moments. The moments where I see myself spinning out of control - saying or doing things that I don't want to - and becoming exactly the type of parent that I try so hard to avoid. It's easy to blow up. It's easy to yell, hit, spank, scream, send-away, or retreat. But in these moments, it's not my children whose behavior needs to be fixed. It's my own.
As my oldest daughter hid under her covers and started crying, I had a chance to model the behavior I wanted - for both my children, and myself. And while humility has never been my strong suit, my daughters needed it from me. In that space of both frustration and hurt feelings, was a chance to connect with them in a real and meaningful way.
So what did I do?
I said I was sorry for saying all those mean and hurtful things. I said sorry for the tone of voice that I used.
I was honest.
I told my daughter that the reason I felt frustrated was because it hurt my feelings to hear her complain about her days. I opened up to her about my desire to be a good mother - that I felt like I was doing my best - and it made me feel uncomfortable and insecure to have her say otherwise.
I asked for her help in fixing the situation.
I asked if there was something bigger bothering her. I asked why she felt the way she did, and if she had any ideas about how we could make her feel better. We talked a bit about how she hasn't had much control about what she does during the day - she often feels like she's being ordered around - and so we came up with a plan to have a "meeting" soon where we could discuss the things she'd like to do, and how she would like the day to go.
I was willing to hear her.
Whether or not I agree with her, or think that all her ideas are feasible, is not important. What is important is that she feels valued and heard. By being present and listening - really listening - to her, we connected, felt better, and left space for new possibilities to emerge.
When our children are having an experience that we feel is uncalled for, handled incorrectly, or full of bad choices (a.k.a "bad behavior"), we need to take a step back and question what is being triggered in ourselves. My daughter is allowed to feel frustration, boredom, and unhappiness. But instead of giving her the space to experience those emotions and work through them, I took them personally and found my own feelings of inadequacy, and my need to be validated, bubbling to the surface. And in turn, I took it out on her.
This. This is why parenting is so difficult. Because the true work of parenthood is that we only ask of our children that which we are willing to embody ourselves.
So many times, however, we demand much more from them.