Sometimes the Positive Parenting just doesn’t work….for me….

angry baby

(Image courtesy of clip-art)

I’m sorry, but sometimes reading a bunch of mini-articles and blogs on “positive parenting” techniques is just a bit too much for me. Like when Mr. Ornery has drawn his battle lines – he’s not going to kindergarten today; he’s not going to put his shoes on; he promises to take his seat belt off in the car. His arms are crossed. His brows are furrowed and the eyes narrow to slits. His feet are planted….without socks on yet – he refuses them too.

I look at him. I size up my worthy opponent. I conjure up all that I’ve read about being a “great parent.”

Okay – the kid is apparently experiencing some pretty intense emotions.

  1. Take some deep breaths and calm yourself.
  2. Label the emotions – “Wow, Mr. Ornery, it looks like you are feeling very angry about school today.”
  3. Provide support and love as “those big emotions can be scary.” I kneel beside him and extend my arms to offer a “supportive loving” hug. He shoves me off balance.
  4. Empathize
  5. Encourage
  • Check
  • Check
  • Check
  • Check
  • Check

“Whatever!” I finally yell. I tuck the 47-pound obstinate soldier under my right arm, scoop up his shoes and backpack and coat with the left arm (we small wily moms have incredible strength) and march through the door graciously opened by our Thai guest (who must be thinking, “these American parents are nuts!!”). I toss him into the minivan and glare intently into his eyes ~ “GET  your  seatbelt  ON  NOW!!!!  And I mean NOW!!”

Yep – “positive parenting” at its best. Did it – failed. Tried it – failed. Resorted to….Power.

I know – in the long-term, the physical power of picking up a kid is not going to get me anywhere (especially when he’s 100 pounds). But on Thursday it got us to school on time.

Mr. Ornery does not like his new kindergarten class. I understand that. I understand that this month of “change” in every single aspect of his life is a bit disruptive. I understand he’s stressed and expressing his inner turmoil through obstinate defiance. I understand his emotional woes.

I understand a lot.

“Get in the car now!!” is how all that soft stuff boiled down in the moment of confrontation.

I’m not a bad parent. I’m a stressed single working mother. I get three kids off to daycare and before-school YMCA care before many people finish their morning coffee (thank goodness for Keurigs at the office!). I’m trying to be sweet and sensitive and sometimes I am. Sometimes I’m a really super mom. Sometimes I’m not.

Do you know that if you meet your dear sweet baby on their first day of life…and stick beside them for 18 years, you’ll spend 6570 days together (give or take a few necessary “business trips” and “I just need to get away” trips!).  That’s 6570 opportunities to completely mess up – but in reality, you’re more likely to have thousands of awesome days, thousands of “pretty good” days…. and just a few “that was really truly awful” days.

So on those downright no good truly awful horrible days (like when I’ve threatened to return the dog to the pound, have grounded the boys for the next 5872 days, or carried a flailing screeching kindergartener out of a birthday party at the bowling alley)…. I just tuck those little ones in at night with a kiss and an I-love-you and remember – tomorrow is a new day. And it’s likely to be an awesome day.  Day number 3184, day 2173, and day 1379, respectively…to be precise.

 

 

 

 

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You must have texting friends

And you need quite a number of them because you never know who might be too busy at the moment….changing a diaper, engaged in a heated argument with a three-year-old over whether cows have four legs, locked in an endless cardgame of “War” with an eight-year-old, or actually (no way?!?) be engaged in an adult-only activity!  For when a mom is busy – a mom is busy.

But when a mom is hurting or scared or frustrated or feeling so guilty that she knows her kid will need counseling the rest of his adult life, then a mom is hurting or scared or just out of her mind. And at that moment, she needs another woman. (No doubt this applies to dads too – I just can’t speak from that experience 🙂 ).

If you’re a mom today, you must have texting friends (and your texting mom!)….because that’s how we “do it” nowadays. In other times, there were the quilting bees – sitting around an edge of a quilt, needle in hand, sharing life’s moments, passing along wisdom from one generation to the next. There were the book groups – I mean, really – who’s ever been to a book group where you actually read and discussed the book?!? There were the church women’s groups for tea and cakes. And in some developing countries, there’s the long walk to the watering hole with the empty jug and the heart full of the day’s worries.

These days, for me, it’s the text. When my heart is full, I don’t actually want to “talk” to someone….because they might notice my red, wet eyes. They might hear the crack in my voice, the sniffle of my nose. And sometimes I don’t want to talk face to face because I’m in my pajamas. And I’m home alone and the kids are sleeping upstairs. And I’m on the couch with a huge heartache. But when I send my woes out in the void, I need the return “beep” of comfort, wisdom, advice….or sometimes just “I hear you.” “It’s hard.”

Mr. Ornery has taken his namesake to an all new level. He has become that obnoxious, bratty little kid that every parent dreads and every parent wonders, “How did I create this monster?” I react and push back against his hurtful words. I demand he clean up his toys and get to bed. I grump about how “bad” his behavior is….until suddenly it dawns on me that he is speaking from a place of pain. (I’m slow at these realizations, I know, but am trying to get better.) You see, my Mommy job is to explore that pain and figure out what’s really bothering him deep in there – you know, other than the fact that he just started a new school – um, yesterday – and returned to his prior daycare center for the afternoon, and his buddy The Flipper is not around anymore, and it’s no fair that they get to stay “at the new house and he doesn’t.” I could go on and on. texts2He should be angry, sad, stressed, exhausted, tearful. So I finally get control of myself and wrap him in my arms beside his bed. I “secretly” cry enough silent tears that he finally sits up and says, “Why is my hair wet?” We wipe his head. I grab a tissue. He sleeps. I text the void. My friend replies.

I’m not saying that that’s all you have. In fact, you can’t “have” texting friends until you actually make friends and develop enough of a relationship that they can “read” the subtleties of your text. That your friend can “feel” you through time and space and “know” that they need to respond. And your relationships can’t all be built upon texting, either, because that can get too messed up and sometimes mistaken (or auto-corrrected!). You actually do need face time (not on a screen!) and you do need time that you sit beside someone in silence and you really do need hugs (find those hugging friends too!). To survive this thing called parenting, you need all kinds of friends.

But find those women who will be your texting friends. Some day….late at night….when the heart aches….you will find comfort.

Thank you to all my friends (and my mom….who texts!).

 

5 things to do differently next year so that I’m not apologizing again

Because I really do owe my boys a great big huge apology for totally underestimating their amount of stress this week with the start of school.  It became pretty clear by school day number 4 when every single person in the house was tantruming in the morning, including me. It was a bit obvious the night before when the 5-yr-old new kindergartener cried every 5 minutes about absolutely everything in big weeping, sobbing tears punctuated by blood-curdling screams.

Yes, it took me three days to become reflective enough to see that the boys were exhausted and I certainly had not done well enough to prepare them nor to help them navigate the huge change of starting school. By the time I got them to bed on day #4, I had myself a little cry-out of emotional exhaustion on my bed (and though I stumble on the “language” in this post about emotionally exhausting mothering, when I read it the next morning, I thought – wow, that’s exactly what I’m thinking!)

I was actually glad there was no school on Friday. I took the “little boys” (ie, Mr. Trouble and the Little Guy) in to day care with Mr. Ornery so that he could “visit” and say hi to his friends again. Then we all just played at home for the morning – the school boys on the computer, me in the weeds – until the afternoon when IMG_4478we explored a new pool (thanks to Pittsburgh Mommy Blog’s mention of it). It was exactly what we all needed. No stress. No worry. Something new and fun. Time on a pool lounge chair for me to just sit for a bit, to breathe. A chance to regroup and become friendly to each other again.

So, today I say:

Super Tall Guy, I am so sorry for being so grumpy with you this week and for not being more patient. You knew you didn’t want to go back to school because “it’s too boring” and “second grade is too hard.” You have changed classrooms, changed teachers, and changed most of your classmates. And to top it all off, your best friend from the past two years is in the other second-grade class. Despite all this, you have “stayed on green” every day, and I haven’t had a call yet from the teacher!, and you haven’t even given (too much) of a fuss about getting ready for school. I shall try to give you a little extra attention this next week and let’s find the fun in second grade.

Mr. Ornery, I owe you a super huge apology for completely underestimating the amount of change you would be going through and how exhausting that would be for you. Your cheerful smile and bouncy energy mask the fact that you’re so nervous inside that you just can’t hold back the tears. Your whole daytime world has changed and Mommy’s just been like, “hey, you’re going to kindergarten now….have fun!” I know – it’s the second time “kindergarten” for me….but it’s the first time for you. I’m sorry. You certainly needed many more cuddles and hugs and explanations than you were getting from me, even with the whole “Kissing Hand” bit. Thanks for being such a brave little boy and for loving your awesome teacher so much (but, um, hey – don’t forget about your Mommy!). I promise to give you much more “lovings” this coming week and find time every day to listen to just you tell me about your day at school.

Hey Little Guy, sorry for kind of forgetting about you…..again. With all the excitement of the brothers going back to “real” school, there certainly wasn’t much hoopla to celebrate that you were also moving to “the big kid class” at your day care center. Yes, you visited it a few times and you always seem to handle transitions well, but maybe your extended and extraordinarily annoying whining fits are just your way of saying “Hey Mom, my life is stressful too, you know! Where’s my attention?!?  Hello!!!”

So….to possibly avoid future apologies (yeah, right!), next “Back to School” season, I’m going to try to remember to:

  1. Acknowledge that it’s going to be stressful and tell the boys that. Let them know that they are going to get so tired from meeting new teachers and new friends and old friends and figuring out new classrooms and new seating arrangements and new schedules. They have new desks and new chairs. New backpacks and lunch boxes. New clothes and new shoes. New readings and math and homework. It sure is a whole lot of new at one time – and how many of us like change?!?
  1. Have something fun and special in their lunch boxes every day. Take some time to write a little note or draw a little picture. I’m not super creative like some parents, but I would like to do something a little more meaningful than a hurriedly packed sandwich.
  1. Celebrate the end of summer and the beginning of the school year by having some one-on-one time with each boy. I thought about it a bit late this year and asked Super Tall Guy to go out to breakfast last week…and he wanted The Flipper to join us. I wish I had done the same with the other boys.
  1. Stock up on a little more patience and a lot more sleep! I definitely needed to be in bed earlier myself each night to be more rested and ready to handle their emotions. I had a hard enough time managing my own emotions and feelings feed off each other like wildfire!
  1. Slather the boys with as many hugs and kisses as I can get away with. After all, they are still young enough that they’re letting me hug and kiss them before they walk into the school and I know this isn’t going to last long.

In fact, none of these days and years and moments of time last long, so I don’t want to live in regret. We’ll have a re-do next year and next week!

Losing the Art of Interpersonal Connection

I read a wonderfully written commentary the other night about violence and mental health and anger. I agreed with Laura Hayes – violence is not a product of a mental illness, violence is a product of anger and the inability to control one’s anger. She asserts that the US is “a culture awash in anger”….and I wondered “how did we get here? When did we lose our ability to handle anger? When did we lose our ability to communicate?”

We stand in line at Starbucks and can barely tear ourselves away from the phone to give a drink order before rapidly returning to the distraction. Head down we wait, sometimes unaware that we’ve stopped right in the middle of the aisle blocking others. We are not “available” for a smile or a comment about the weather or the hometown team. We are “busy.”

We walk down the street weaving through streams of silent stares and budded ears. They are within their own cocoon. We are within ours. We are not “available” and we bump and jostle along the way.

We stare blankly on the public transit, the music in our ears filling our minds. We do not need conversation. We do not need the “other” over there. They clearly don’t need us.

We send text messages that communicate some of our deepest feelings….words punctuated by an emoticon. Yet, the “feeling” is subject to a variety of interpretations depending on the “receiver’s” state of mind, level of attentiveness, time at which they finally saw the text. We hit “send” in the attempt to connect, but have no control over whether we did at that moment or whether we even “connected” at all.

Even more than this vague attempt at connecting for ourselves, we are often unaware of the response of the person reading the text. We are not aware that we might have interrupted a very personal or intimate moment the person was having….now lost forever because of a beep. We do not know that they might have turned away from the windshield to look at the phone and swung the car into a pole. We do not know that they might have looked down from their toddler and missed the catch as the body dropped from the high bar. We cannot begin to fathom the effect of our “message” on its receiver…..because we are not actually connected.

We laugh at the “auto-corrects” and how information became twisted, but we forget the fact that someone’s stomach twisted, someone’s heart dropped, someone’s breath got caught in their throat when they read the text….until the correction came through and they sighed.

We sit across the table from each other in a restaurant, lost in the virtual world of a flat screen, neglecting the three-dimensional breathing, speaking, vivid person in front of our own eyes. We interrupt our conversations with a “let me check this” or “oh, it could be…” – as if the information coming in was more important than the person we chose to be with at the time.

We are isolating ourselves and isolating each other all in the name of being “connected” by our technology.

More importantly we are isolating our external communication from our own inner emotion. We are becoming more and more distant from our feelings and from understanding the feelings of others.

When we feel happy, we try to text our joy….or “Facebook” our excitement….but the response can never match our euphoria. We want someone to hug us in excitement. We want someone to jump up and down and do the happy dance with us. We want someone to feel the excitement and increase it by their shared joy. The text goes off into space….. “yay” is the empty reply…. We are deflated.

When we feel hurt, we spew out angry words into space….We want someone to acknowledge us, to validate us. We want someone to say, “I know. It stinks.” We need reassurance that our emotion is “correct” and “normal” and will pass. But we cannot find that in the two-dimensional space….the silence that follows the “whoosh” of the sent.

When we lose touch with our emotions…. when we lose the ability to share those emotions with others….we lose the nature of our own personhood and we lose others. Then we have no qualms about walking through a high school hallway wielding deadly knives. Then we hurt someone who “bothered” us that moment. Then we engage in violence because that “someone” is just a faceless, empty digital someone. We have lost our connection.

  • Today…. we need to connect.
  • Today we need to feel.
  • Today we need to label our emotions and share them deeply and meaningfully with someone else.
  • Today we need to be able to cry with someone.
  • Today we need to hold someone.
  • Today we need to help our children sit in the moment of their emotions and name them and feel them and know that it is real.
  • Today we need to visit someone or call them and hear their voice.
  • Today we need to put the phone in our pocket and read a book or giggle at the splasher in the bathtub.
  • Today we need to remember that we are a human, created to be in relationship with other humans.
  • Today we need to and can change.

Today we must.

 

My eldest is exhausting

He loves to bounce basketballs in the house ….near the chandelier….why hasn’t that thing broken yet?

He doesn’t quite grasp why I gasp every time his foot makes contact with the soccer ball and it goes flying…guess he’s never seen a glass door shatter….

He wants to wrestle.
He likes to trip his brothers.
He thinks football is an indoor sport.
He wants me to pick him up and throw him on the couch….and I can barely even lift his 82 pounds on the back of my light frame.
He doesn’t accept my praise unless I body-slam myself into him…a simple high-five won’t do it.
He has trouble controlling his anger and escalates battles with me until my head ignites and rockets off past the moon and orbits Saturn. Literally.Matt disney

And yet….. he is a quiet, sensitive soul.
He’s easily upset when thinking that others are teasing him.
He’s shy around new people.
He doesn’t want to go to Sunday School class because he “doesn’t know” anyone and prefers to torture me by goofing off (semi-quietly) in the back of the church space.
He cannot express his feelings very well. I can’t tell if he is feeling bullied or if he is the bully in the situations.
He’s sad that he has to sit alone at a table at lunch and hasn’t been eating his lunch during school. And that makes me sad.
He occasionally has trouble with his bowels and sometimes does soil his pants – but it’s not right that the second-grader on the bus sings out “You are a poopy-pants!”

I sat in a parking lot the other day and let huge tears splash onto my lap after a call from the principal of his school. There had been some words exchanged. Super Tall Guy wasn’t happy and struck out at the other kid (a kindergartener….) hitting him in the eye, but not hard. Super Tall’s response, “it was an accident. I didn’t hit him hard. He was bothering me.” That’s your story, eh? There’s so much pent up in there. I know there is.

The thing is…
I don’t know how to help him release it.
My heart aches for his inner pain.
My soul grieves a child in turmoil.
My brain just wants the “easy fix” – snap out of it; quit acting that way; grow up – all the things we want to say….all the things that won’t help a single bit.

We talk about the “hitting situation”….and get nowhere. I suddenly write in his Spelling book: calm, cool, collected.

Calm – focus for a minute
Cool – blow out that heat bubbling inside you
Collected – wrap your arms around yourself and collect yourself

Got it? Remember the C’s.

I don’t know. It’s a work in progress. I don’t know if this “new method” will work, but I have to keep trying. We’ve been working…and working…together for years now. I’ve read 7 or 8 parenting books and tried countless “techniques” and “words of wisdom.” We’ve done time out. We’ve done reward charts. We’ve done grounding and missed special events. Super Tall Guy doesn’t seem phased by all those attempts. I grasp for straws. I grasp for anything that will tame the beast within.

Because I know that I love the beast, the tiger, the lion, the lamb, the teddy bear….the little boy trapped within a huge body, struggling to “be good.” This week, we celebrated the adoption of my dear sweet, exhausting Super Tall Guy, and I love him more and more every single day.

So… wine explodes

It was National Wine Day – there’s always a “national” day for something. I had been reminded of it several times, and I looked down with a smile at my glass of red on the counter, taking a bite of leftovers….and BOOM! The full glass exploded into a million shards and I promptly choked on the beans I had not yet swallowed.

The kitchen quickly filled with four sets of eyes….wide and staring….waiting for me to finish coughing and spluttering…wondering how I would respond. The fact that pieces of food were in the wrong place within my interior anatomy and I sneezed out tiny fragments of green beans (I know, TMI, but the passages are all connected back there oddly enough…), all that choking made me hesitant to jump into a passionate tirade.

I had a moment to think as I cleared the airways.  I had a chance to compose myself. I had a chance to prevent a human explosion. I had a chance to be calm, cool and collected. But I wasn’t. Instead, I broke into tears and melted…. “It’s just stupid,” I said. “Sometimes, this parenting thing is just stupid.”  Now those inquisitive little boys weren’t expecting that. And I’m pretty sure they had no idea what I was talking about.

I cleared my throat. The culprit looked at me and said, “But, mom, it was an accident.”

“An accident?  An accident?” exclamation, exclamation!!

“Yes”

“Wait….was the pillow in your hands?”

“Yes”

“Did you decide to throw the pillow?”

“Yes”

“Well, let me tell you something. When you came down the hill on the sled and hit into my legs the other day, and I fell into the snow – that, that my dear child was an accident.  But when you run into the kitchen with a pillow in your hands and you throw at your brother….that is NOT an accident!” (I mean, it is…in a way, the whole glass exploding part of it….but that was not my current point!)

I stopped talking. I handed Super Tall Guy a handful of paper towels and was kind enough to pick up the shards of glass for him.th

The other characters slunk off – show’s over – not as exciting as it could have been….not enough power and emotion there….sigh….maybe she’ll do it the next time crazy Super Tall Guy makes his next mess.

Too often I give them the fireworks they are looking for. Too often I pull out the ol’ soap box and climb aboard and give them all the drama of why such and such behavior was (almost) the worse thing that’s ever happened. But that’s not actually the message I want to give them, to be honest. Mistakes will happen. Accidents happen. We all do stupid things (pretty frequently, it turns out). It’s how we respond to the situation that’s important. And I need to watch this and model this a little better myself.

“You make a mess. You clean the mess.” That’s it. Whatever it was.

Drama over. Move on.

Here are the paper towels.

I abhore 5:00am….Just ask the dragon

I do not like 5 am.

I was not created to be a morning person and the only time that I will intentionally wake up at 5 am is when that is the only time during the day that I have any chance of being alone. And the only times I’ve had to do that is when I’m on mission trips in third-world countries and I’ve wanted to wake up to see how the world around me is rubbing their eyes and embracing the new day.

I do not embrace the world at 5:00 am at my house. In fact, I’m not even embracing my own boys. I am generally, thoroughly, shockingly, surprisingly angry. Deep down angry that they have the gall to make any noise or heaven-forbid to say “hi, Mommy.” And I’m even angrier if they decide to say hello to a brother and thereby have more than one child awake when the birds haven’t even gotten in tune yet.

Naturally, the first step to solving a problem is to admit that you have a problem. I have a problem. I do not like the person I am when I growl at my innocent, bright-eyed bouncy children in the morning. It’s just not pretty when I try to push a 70 -ound Micah off the bed because he won’t be quiet and won’t stop poking me.

I tell myself stupidly unhelpful things like – you know, if you went to be at 10pm (it’s 11:43 pm right now) instead of midnight or 1 o’clock, you wouldn’t be so tired and grumpy in the morning. It doesn’t work. I’m a night-owl, my children are early birds. And the Great Horned Owl is known to eat over 50 species of birds, including ducks, herons, Canadian geese and hawks. I’m just saying – don’t mess with me at 5:00 am. You will face the dragon.

I have, in my own head, for the past few years thought of myself as “Dragon Mommy.” (In fact, the folder on my laptop which stores my writings is titled Dragon Mommy.)  This description is based purely on my emotional state. I don’t know, the dragons in children’s books always look pretty benign….until of course, they are disturbed. Then the faces turn red and they spew fire and burn up castles and forests and trees (eg, “The Paperbag Princess” by Robert Munsch). It can get pretty nasty….and that is what I can become. In fact, just this evening, Micah said “let’s play where you’re the dragon and you capture me and throw me into the tickle jail” – a great game which gives me fantastic exercise, but really – am I the dragon a lot?

So when Micah previously woke up at the respectable hour of 5:47, I would go against my conscience and hand him my cellphone for Netflix at 6:00 am….but not until “6-zero-zero, Micah” so that he doesn’t want to wake up earlier and earlier just to watch it. But after a few days of 5:02 and 5:08, I have totally compromised my morals. This morning when I was stuffed between Micah on one side, Noah pressing in on the other side, and Seth reaching up his hands and mumbling through the binky and toothless grin “up please”  – I handed Micah the phone, convinced Noah to go back to sleep and sent Seth off to “find Auntie” – gosh, I’m really bad a 5:00am. Please just let me sleep until 6:20 – that’s all I ask.

Maybe tomorrow morning I’ll work on a strategy to settle the dragon….maybe….

Maybe check in later in the week….and we’ll see.

…… It’s Friday….my sister comments, “wow, I can’t wait until tomorrow when I can sleep in!” I sigh – “wish I could….but my lovely little ones will have me up by 5:10.”  Yes, no change, no resolution….except that I have succumbed to it and got myself to bed a little earlier last night.  Seth probably thinks that I’m the meanest mommy in the world, because even at 5:38, I’ll bark “get back in bed – it’s nigh-night time!”