So make them count!
It’s someone’s birthday here today. A little someone, turning 4, who had a dinosaur party last year and is having a dinosaur party this year, because that’s what he wants.
In the spirit of mindfulness, we had a very low key party with family allowing me to spend time cuddling, playing and reading to him on this very special day. Fish and chips in the park with family and a few special friends, and, of course, cake (yes his new dinosaur did a poo on the cake)!
I guess it might be clear to you by now that the emotions and behaviours of my eldest daughter often cause me a bit of angst (to say the least). So, it goes without saying that on our recent weekend away, our relationship was at the forefront of my mind.
I’ve been contemplating a lot lately (since penning my thoughts here) the root cause of our combined anxieties, and to be honest, I seem to be going round in circles looking for a definitive cause. Somewhere to lay the blame. Not that her behaviour is too extreme or concerning, it’s more our relationship I worry about. And I want her to grow into a nice person. You know? That basic kind of stuff that can play on your mind as a parent.
After thinking hard about it and trying to be as objective as possible, I feel the biggest issue for her is a conflict between her desire for independence, to be “the big girl” (maybe that’s me, pushing my eldest too far?), and her lack of confidence and self esteem. She wants to do it all. And she wants to do it herself. And there has been no middle ground. If she can’t do it, she falls in a heap, or screams, or abuses the nearest person.
Until recently. I’ve noticed a bit of a shift lately and am starting to think that a LOT of hard work on my behalf is finally paying off, but I’m not going to jinx it, so let’s just say things are improving for now.
I’ve been trying to think about the old rubber-band-of-attachment analogy (from uni? I can’t remember!) and how it applies to our relationship. Whether she doesn’t feel nurtured enough, either by my own lack of nurturing in her infancy or just because she was always going to feel this way due to her personality. Whatever the case, I’ve been trying to rein her back in, attach to her as much as possible. Love bomb the hell out of her (more on that another time), playfully parent with her, kiss her, cuddle her, remain calm when she melts down (easier said than done) and do my best to spend lots of one on one quality time with her. Basically trying to restore a bit of trust between us.
My thinking is that by holding her close, we can start the journey of independence again, this time with a very intact rubber band that she can feel very securely around her heart, so that at any stage she can come back close to me and try again. And again. And again. So that she can gradually stretch the rubber band, a tiny bit further, and further and further without feeling thrown out to the wolves all alone and feeling she has to make it in the big bad world without any help.
I want her to know I’m always here, that being the biggest and the eldest doesn’t mean she has to put on a brave face, that success doesn’t mean not asking for help, not persevering, being perfect first go.
And, for the first time in a long time, I feel this approach is working. She is calmer, she is trying, she is less embarrassed and angry about asking for help.
Just yesterday she was trying to get her new shoes on, and I could feel myself tensing up, waiting for her to lose it. I felt that walking-on-eggshells feeling as I quietly and nervously asked her if she wanted my help. And she did! “Yes please, I can’t undo the knots.” I was gobsmacked!
So, our recent weekend at the beach, staying in a quiet holiday village was the perfect opportunity for her to feel some success. For me to test the strength of our rubber band. I knew it was risky, but I really felt the benefits would pay dividends.
While away we were staying in a villa by the sea, short walking distance to the local general store. There were no roads between us and the store, just foot traffic and cyclists, several other villas and a playground. On our first day there she came with me to the store to buy the newspaper and again to buy supplies for dinner. On our second day I casually gave her a $5 note and asked if she’d pay for the milk while I looked at the magazines. And finally, on our last day, she and her little brother walked from our villa to the store, bought themselves an ice cream and walked back. Alone. My husband and I waited excitedly inside our patio, peering over the fence, praying they wouldn’t be coming back with their tails between their legs. Now, this was no NYC subway ride, but my goodness you should have seen their little faces when they did come back! The smiles said it all! That sweet ice creamy taste of success was well worth it. About 2 minutes after returning she offered to go and buy me an ice cream. And she did.
So, the ice cream story was me going off on a bit of a tangent, but really, my point is that by bringing her in close, holding her hand, letting her know there’s no expectations, that I can help, that I want to help, that I can cuddle her to sleep, that I can tie her laces and brush her teeth, we seem to be repairing the bond, and both trusting that rubber band again. And we had ice cream to prove it!
“Gratitude provides life meaning, by encapsulating life itself as a gift.” Emmons and Shelton (2002) in Gratitude and the Science of Positive Psychology.
On my meditation journey, I have discovered the remarkable virtue of gratitude.
I don’t often dive head first into an idea based on a whimsical notion of warm fuzziness, I usually look for the evidence, the science, and for a sign that many others have created a well worn path for me to follow, and come back to tell their (successful) tale.
This idea is no different. I am not wandering down an airy-fairy path of peace loving hippiness, thanking all the world for the divine gift that is this day, I am trialling being truly grateful for things which I have, or have received. In a matter of fact kind of way.
So after looking into the science of gratitude, and having a bit of a go at cultivating it and feeling the benefits, I am going to share the love here on this blog. My intention is to gain some perspective on gratitude, and then be able to model and share the concept with my children. Practicing what I preach.
By definition, “virtues are acquired excellences, acquired only through sustained focus and effort” (Emmons and Shelton). Our children are not born grateful (ain’t that the truth!). They acquire virtues (or not!), and specifically, a concrete understanding of gratitude between the ages of 7 and 10.
In their book, The Psychology of Gratitude, Emmons and McCullough explain how positive emotions outlast the experience which created them. Simply experiencing positive emotions protects us and gives us a reserve to take into any new experiences. So by repeatedly experiencing gratitude, we take with us the benefits of gratitude and the emotions that go along it, into the future, even when the object we are grateful for is long gone. A good reason to count our blessings eh?
My plan is to model grateful language and behaviours in front of my children as much as possible up until around age 6 or 7, and then test the waters and see if they can join in sharing their gratitudes.
For now, we ask our children regularly at dinner time “What was your favourite part of today?”, hoping that this will be a scaffold into “What are you grateful for today?” in coming years.
Wood, Joseph and Maltby found that gratitude has a strong relationship with a person’s satisfaction with life. Not only are the feelings and emotions that come with being grateful handy, the actual act of being grateful is an experience of wanting what we already have, and therefore doesn’t leave us pining for something we don’t have. It doesn’t leave us feeling any discontent or looking to fill a void with other people or material things. The benefits seem limitless!
Each Thursday, to remind myself and any others who wish to come along on this journey, I will list three simple things that I am grateful for. If you feel like doing the same, list yours in the comments.
Have you ever finally agreed to let your child have a special treat, only to then resent the time it takes them to choose which one they want? Almost like you resent giving them the opportunity to begin with?
In our house, sweet treats are incredibly rare…so the offer of a milkshake and cake in a cafe or a refreshing icy pole on a hot day is very, very exciting. And I have to remind myself that it is such a rare and exciting treat that the kids are overwhelmed and literally about to pee their pants over the choices available.
Similarly, when I offer to paint their faces, I have to remember to be patient while letting them flick through the face paint book looking for the perfect makeup to suit their mood/make-believe scenario. It’s very easy for me to tell them to “hurry up and choose, I’ve got things to do”, but I try hard to remember the feelings I had as a kid when I was finally given the opportunity to choose something special for myself.
I remember drooling over catalogues as a kid, spending hours choosing a new book, or new piece of furniture for my doll’s house. That’s at least half the fun, especially when you know you’re actually allowed to choose something at the end of all the daydreaming and fantasising.
So when they’re choosing what colour to have their nails painted, what to have for their school lunch order, which movie to watch or what colour balloon they’re going to choose, I try so hard to remember I’ve offered them this special treat to make them happy. The least I could do is give them the gift of enjoying the excitement, anticipation and choice that goes with it without getting impatient.
So when you do offer your kids a special treat, remember that letting them take their time to relish in the excitement of all the choice is just as important to them as the treat itself. All that umm-ing and ahhh-ing is so worth it!
Today in my weekly meditation class I learned that my patience is not tested, it is created. I learnt that when you grit your teeth and say nothing, this is not patience. Patience is accepting the situation as it is and being ok with that.
I also, very interestingly learnt that being a virtue, patience must be practiced, learned and formed. It isn’t just a part of our nature by default. To develop it we have to practice it, to improve the habit of being patient and to become accomplished at using it in all manner of situations.
So, it is my conclusion then, that when one of my kids (this one in particular) is flaring up, what she is really doing is forcing me to practice my patience, to become better at it, because I won’t get better at it without practice. She’s strengthening my habit of staying calm and being patient. How kind of her. Seriously. How fantastic that I have this little teacher in my house, day in, day out, so that I can become a kind and patient person.
Oh, and the added bonus is that by staying calm and patient with her, I am modelling patience, so that perhaps in a very different way I can be her teacher too.
I’d like to share something that’s been happening to me and a precious child of mine a lot lately, in the hopes we are not alone. First of all, this relates directly to my 6 year old, the one I mentioned here.
I have come to realise that a lot of her behaviours are born out of a lack of confidence and sense of security and so I try as much as possible to let her know she is loved and cherished, even when those are not the first feelings that come to mind. Often when she feels embarrassed or shy, she behaves in a way that comes across as erratic and irritating, and it has taken me a long time to see the vulnerable little girl in her at these moments instead of barking at her to snap out of it.
I’ve realised it’s so easy to get tense and frustrated with her at these times, because they are always in front of other people. Strangers, friends, relatives, anyone. She can go from being a calm and considerate person with me, to a wild animal, bouncing off the walls, or a loud baby, forgetting how to use words, and instead making loud babbling noises. Sometimes I can’t tell the difference between her wanting to be focussed on by others and her anger at being focussed on. I sometimes get the feeling she’s angry at herself because she wants to be outgoing but doesn’t know how. But I do know that at these times she needs my help. I have to pull those words out of her that she wants to say and help her to say them, I have to hold her tight so that she knows she’s as treasured as the next person, I have to encourage her, and also protect her.
It’s taken a lot of give on my behalf to care less about what others think of me and my parenting skills, and to let go of the frustration at her being seemingly normal one second and a child possessed the next, in front of people whose opinion I respect.
I have to reassure her that no one expects anything of her, that it’s polite to say “hello”, but if she really is having trouble I can help her out. That it’s polite to say “yes please” to the waitress, but if she wants to bury her head in my chest, I can say it for her.
So for now, I’m happy for her to whisper in my ear instead of speaking in front of others, I’m happy for her to sit on my lap and smile instead of telling people her name. I’m happy to tell Grandma she’s not in the mood for a kiss today, and I’m happy to give the Easter gift to the teacher while she acts all loopy and loses her voice.
I love the advice given by Jan Hunt on The Natural Child Project here:
While there is no way to force a child to be friendlier in social situations – any more than we can force a rose to bloom – there are things you can do to reassure your child. When you are alone with her, you might talk about a recent get-together that was challenging, validate her feelings, and offer encouragement: “I remember how hard it was for me to meet new people. When we see them next time, they won’t be so new to you, and it should be a little easier.” If a situation has been especially stressful, it might be helpful to try some doll play or art work to help her express her feelings about what happened. If you consistently show that you accept your child and love her unconditionally, she will then be free to develop in all areas at her own best pace.
I’m continuing to work on our united defence in these situations, so, where is the fine line I speak of?
At these times, I feel judgement from others. Sometimes more than just judgement, they tell me outright to take charge, or even worse, they tell her to stop behaving like a baby. Or they tell her she’s shy. I certainly remember being told to look adults in the eye and say Hello/Please/Thank you when I was a kid and being labelled as shy or rude when I didn’t. So, where is the line between a shy child needing nurturing and a rude child with no manners?
I hope that by being her crutch she will eventually become that well mannered person, but who knows?
Right, so I’m seeing the irony in a new blog about being present with my children. I have one of those minds that latches onto things, attaches, so that I can no longer live in the real world. I can’t sleep, be present or get things done because I am constantly referring back to my new project. It’s not so bad when it’s a craft project, I don’t mind the kids seeing me get excited about something creative they can join in on, but when my time is taken up with the laptop, and my mind is elsewhere, it bothers me.
So, in the spirit of being mindful to both be a better parent and find happiness, I have to come up with a plan. Perhaps limiting my blogging time to a few structured sessions per week, and trusting that my ideas will come back to me at those times? Or keeping notes on my phone until the next session. I’m trying to watch the thoughts and ideas come and go and let them come and go. Trying to trust they will come back when I need them, or newer, better ideas will take their place when the time comes. Watching the thoughts and not engaging seems to be working a little for now. And if that fails, I jot down a word or two in my “notes” on the phone to jog my memory later on.
How do I stop thinking about it and just be?
I’m assuming this will be a battle for a week or so until the excitement subsides and the new ideas stop consuming me, so until then, I will just have to accept that my mind will wander…
Here are some interesting thoughts on being distracted by technology by Hands Free Mama.
For now I think I will go with the excitement and new-ness of it all, and aim to be spending some structured time in front of the screen. Never when I should be with my kids, but more as my new job. And if it were a paid or volunteer job, the kids would either need to be cared for by someone else, or sound asleep tucked up in bed. So to start with I’ll aim for after bed time. We’ll see.
In these sacred “me” times, I’m going to give the Pomodoro Technique a whirl. More on it here.
Oh yes, this sums it up perfectly. Just imagine those little people running around with a big smile on their dial, because someone they loved, trusted and adored passed it on.