Kids are people too! Maybe this seems like it goes without saying. I think it is worth exploring a little, because when I say “people” I mean independent souls and bodies who should be thought of and respected as such. Kids are their own people and I want to be conscious of this in the way that I treat them and think about their feelings, actions and desires. I believe that each person is an individual with unique personality traits and needs that have been with us since we were born. Each of us have been shaped by our families in certain ways, but inside, we are who we are, totally separate from them. The same goes for our children.
Long before I had kids, a Rabbi and teacher of mine told me that our children have all of our good and bad midot (attributes). He was saying that if we pay attention, our children can help reveal all of our own positive and negative traits through their own behavior. When I see something in my children that frustrates or even infuriates me, it is most likely something I dislike about myself as well. If I see something beautiful and praiseworthy in my children, my first thought is not that I have that characteristic too, but maybe it should be.
Figuring out how to treat my children is a complicated dance with endless possibilities. In any relationship I truly believe that acknowledging how my own thoughts and emotions are coloring my experiences is the first step to my own best path. With my kids this is extremely important. When interactions with my children bring up uncomfortable, angry, sad feelings in me, it is so easy to say to myself, “Why are they acting this way?” or “They should be doing ____!” There is not always an answer to the first question and the second statement is the ultimate recipe for futile frustration. So what can I do? I don’t know! I’m not sure, I try to take it on a case by case basis. The first thing I try to say to myself when I feel really upset with my kids is “this is not an emergency” (as long as it isn’t an actual emergency!). I think I read this on Dr. Laura Markham’s blog. It helps me create a little space between my impulse and my reaction. Sometimes my frustration is about something that really is inappropriate and I think it is okay to express that. As I said in my previous post, I don’t want to pressure myself to try to move through life with a constant smile. I get angry sometimes, and sometimes for good reason. What I’m trying to avoid are reactions disproportionate to the action. These visceral reactions are not pleasant, I think everyone has experienced this sensation, when we are taken back to another place and time by an experience in the present. It is not a pleasant feeling!
We all have buttons and it is our kids’ job to push them. Why else would they be so good at it!? I believe that if I pay attention, my children will reveal all of my own best and worst traits and give me endless opportunities to heal. This takes time, or at least I try to remind myself of that even when I feel like I’ve taken the “low road.” I try to remember that it is never too late to “connect with respect,” and say “I’m sorry” to my child or my husband or myself. My hope is to then to see patterns in damaging thoughts and actions and begin to change them.
On the subject of difficult situtions, tonight was Mo’s late night at work so I had to put both kids to bed by myself. Our usual bedtime routine is bath for both of them, books for Ben with Mo and nursing for Ella with me, then lights out. I stay with Ella and Mo stays with Ben until they fall asleep. You can imagine why one person trying to fulfill this routine is literally impossible. It started out fine but I was stressed about getting them to sleep by a certain time and by an hour after bedtime they were both still awake. After I thought he was asleep Ben came out and I totally snapped and yelled at him to get back in bed. I saw that I really startled him by yelling, he literally jumped. I felt terrible! I went into his room told him firmly to get bed and turn out the light. Then my frustration started to fade and I and asked him if I had scared him when I yelled. He said “Yes, did you see me jump?” I said “I did and I’m so sorry, I’m having a really hard night and it’s an hour past your bedtimes. I’m sorry I yelled and I’m sorry I scared you. It’s not nice to be scared right before bedtime.” He said, “Right, because it gives you the creeps.” We talked for another minute until I felt like we had reconnected and that he would be able to go to bed without feeling upset. I stayed in his room holding Ella for a few minutes but left before he was asleep. It wasn’t a total disaster but they both finally fell asleep over an hour after their normal bedtimes so we are going to have to figure out a much less stressful plan for the nights when Mo isn’t home for bed time. I don’t want to give up laying with either one of them because it is one of the sweetest times of day for me and for Mo to take a minute and have quiet time with the kids. If you have any suggestions for how to change up the bedtime routine for the nights when we aren’t both home I would love to hear them. I would prefer not to have to give up the routine we have now for the rest of the nights, but I’m open to changes.
Alright, I’m not sure how much of this made sense because it has been a really long day! I hope you will take a minute to share your ideas about what I said.