Teaching stuff like this is hard. I never know when to let go.
(Viewpoint of a spying mama)
There are days where I feel guilty for not spending enough time with her.
Actually, there are a lot of days I feel that way. I sit and pour through Pinterest trying to find new ideas for activities to do together, making big plans for things I want to teach her and experiences I want to give her.
And it’s not just because I feel the pressure to be one of those moms, the kind who is never caught browsing Facebook when they could be spending quality time with their kids or hiding in the bathroom just to get to read a few pages of a book other than Dora. There’s no shortage of reading material out there on the vast Internet machine designed to shame parents into spending more intentional time with their children. And to be honest, I’m a huge advocate for grownups slowing down and paying attention to their little people. Children are magic and they have a gift for teaching us things we most need to learn: patience, authenticity, courage, love.
But that doesn’t mean I should never touch my smartphone or read my own book or just say, “Mommy needs some me-time.”
The truth is, I WANT to spend time with her. She grows older every day and I will never get this exact version of her back again. The things she says and does make me laugh until I cry and blow my mind and leave me in awe. She sees the world in such a unique way and it’s a privilege to catch a glimpse of.
But I’m a human. I don’t always have the energy to devote myself completely to another human for every waking hour. And even if I could, I’m not sure it would be the best thing for her.
Parenting changes with each passing generation. I don’t remember my parents down on the floor entertaining us every moment. And I guarantee my parents’ parents weren’t constantly searching for new and unique ways to keep their children occupied.
Children are vibrant and creative little brings. To constantly provide entertainment for them robs them of the opportunity to utilize that creativity.
I miss her when I send her to her dad’s for the weekend. But I know that is what’s best for her. I will miss her every time I send her out into the world without me, but I know she needs to go. In the same way, I hate passing up any opportunity to spend time playing and creating with her. But for both my sake and hers, she needs to be left alone sometimes.
She needs to go outside and play out whatever fantasy she wants, however she wants it. She needs to disappear into a pile of My Little Ponies and learn how to play all of the characters herself. She needs to learn how to be alone. She needs to learn how to be bored. She needs to learn how to be something other than the center of attention. In fact, she needs to learn how to have no attention at all. She needs to learn how to make choices for herself, especially when no one is watching.
In fact, as I’m writing this, I’m starting to believe that the lessons she will learn from being alone are just as important as the ones I will teach her.
So perhaps, rather than feel guilty about not spending time with her, rather than wear myself thin trying to have a Pinterest activity for every day, I just need to shift my perspective and remember that giving her space IS a valuable activity. In fact, perhaps I shouldn’t be waiting until I’ve reached the end of my patience and need a break to implement alone time… Perhaps it should be a planned learning activity just like all the others.
Kids need our attention and our love and our support. They need to be heard and held and helped. But they also need to explore the world without us so that when they’re grown they’re ready to explore the world without us.
A sink full of glitter residue is a hard thing for a photo to capture.
Why is my sink full of glitter, you ask? Because the truth is, even as much as you want to believe change is easy, it just isn’t.
I just wrote in a post about how well my four year old has handled the transition out of only childhood. And she has. She adores her baby sister and I hear her say daily how she is “exactly the baby she wanted.” It’s adorable.
And it’s not entirely true. Because by the fourth week, the novelty is wearing off and sh*t is getting real. Don’t get me wrong, she still loves having a baby around. But after so many times of being told to “quiet down” or having to be patient while mommy pumps or when evening routine gets changed up because baby is crying from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. then it starts to get old. And her four year old self demands a rebalancing of the attention the only way she knows how: by being naughty.
Now, I’m not an unreasonable person. Nothing we have encountered has been unmanageable. A little mouthiness here and there, a lot of bouncing off the walls and not following instructions, and the more creative ones like hiding food and wrappers under all the furniture in the living room. No major pieces of the household have been ruined, no major expenses incurred, no one injured or even truly put in danger. When this stage passes, the few incidences we even remember will be remembered with humor.
But I’m tired. Going on three to five hours of sleep per night for four weeks now, in addition to adjusting our entire lives, juggling visitors, and having my needs come last every day takes its toll, no matter how much I wish I could be super mom. So today when I came out from putting the littlest down for a nap and found a living room full of toys covered in glitter glue (as well as carpet, pajamas, and hands), I lost it.
I yelled. I stomped. I ranted. I confiscated toys and not-so-quietly deposited them in the sink to be washed. And I kept ranting, my anger growing, as I washed the glittery preschooler in the tub and then stood over her as she cleaned up her room and then went to time out. For a while. Like an hour, moving rooms with me wherever I went, jumping from one time out spot to the next because, as I explained to her, I could no longer trust her to be alone.
I washed the toys and finally sat down in the living room to supervise her still ongoing timeout. She sassed. She cried. She went through the whole lineup. And try as I might, I couldn’t stop being mad.
I know it is a cry for attention. I know it is. And it was a mess, but it was cleaned up. No permanent damage was done. But I just couldn’t stop being mad. This isn’t a two year old learning right and wrong: she knows we only do glitter glue at the table and not to put food or wrappers anywhere but the trash, etc. These are all established rules that she normally follows. How could I not be mad? As I sat there, trying to reason my way back to reason, I wondered for the millionth time what the right thing to do is.
Somehow in my life I have come to the belief that if a consequence isn’t severe enough, the lesson won’t stick. I can see the reason behind the theory. But human behavior rarely follows predictable equations. So I find myself wondering if it is true. Isn’t the very nature of a negative consequence to inflict discomfort, thereby dissuading the same behavior in the future? If it’s not uncomfortable, there’s no reason not the repeat the behavior.
I don’t know the answer. Theorizing aside, having to enforce consequences sucks.
But I believe it’s necessary. When you do something that impacts other people or their things in a negative way, you should experience discomfort. I hate being the parent that’s constantly nagging my kid to be polite, respect people’s space, and so on and so on. But I also know that I don’t want her to grow up thinking it is ok to be disrespectful and rude to others. Because then people will never see the amazing human she is, they will only see the bad behavior. And I would hate that even more. She is incredible and she deserves to be seen.
So I sit and I wonder: how long, how severe, how uncomfortable do I have to make this for her to remember? How can I make this an effective learning experience and not just a crappy afternoon?
She crawls in my lap and I look into her big brown eyes and ask, “What should I do? How do I teach you that this isn’t ok so that you will remember?”
She looks back at me and says simply, “You could always just use hugs.”
And my heart breaks and melts and I love what a beautiful little human she is and I hate that this is so hard. Because I would love to just use hugs. But it doesn’t always work like that.
And then her dad comes to get her. It hurts to let her go on the good days. It hurts worse to let her go in the distracted days. It hurts the most to let her go on the mad days. I spent the afternoon being mad at her and now I have to send her away.
Everything. About. This. Sucks.
But I help her put her shoes on. And I fake it so she doesn’t know how much I hate this. And I hug her and tell her for the millionth time that I love her even when I’m mad. Always. No matter what. And she brushes me off because she already knows that and she’s excited to go.
And when she walks out the door, the sleeping baby wakes up and is ready to eat. Life doesn’t slow down long enough for you to wonder if you should have done it all differently.
And maybe next time I will. Or maybe I won’t. The truth is, raising a human is one of the most beautiful things you will ever do, but sometimes things can get ugly and hard and uncomfortable. No matter what you do, there will be hard parts and consequences and anger and frustration.
But there will also be hugs. And even though it can’t always be only hugs, there will still be hugs.
Yesterday I wrote a post about how our children reflect who we are. Today I found this quote on Facebook that reminded me of the same message, but it also brought to mind another topic.
This blog is centered around raising children to be authentic, or true to themselves. But what is their authentic self and where does it come from? Is it something that they are born with? A predestination toward a certain personality or way of being in the world? Or is it something that is created by their experiences and encounters? The classic debate: nature versus nurture.
I personally believe it’s a little of both. Because I’ve looked into the eyes of my children and other children and seen something there before they’ve had a chance for experience to put it there. Some children come into this world full of joy and wonderment. Others come in like they mean business. Still others like this is old hat for them. These characteristics will shape the way they interpret the world, and thus, who they are and who they are becoming.
But there’s no denying that experience changes us as well. Experiences that are out of our control: where we are born, who our parents are. The other day I was reading a book about the spread of polio and the evolution of the vaccine and I was suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude that I had been born here in a country where preventative medicine was available to me, not because I was grateful for my own good fortune but for the good fortune of my children. Any parent knows how awful it is to watch a child suffer, even just from a cold or flu virus. Imagine having to watch a child become paralyzed from a preventable illness simply because you don’t have access to the medicine. Circumstances change us. Period.
And our choices change us. So not only are our children being affected and changed by every experience, those experiences affect the choices they make which then lead to different experiences which will further shape them. I could choose to sit and watch tv all day or I could choose to read or I could choose to volunteer. Each of those choices will lead to experiences that will change who I am. Maybe not big drastic changes, but changes none the less. Not only will our perspectives and feelings and all the parts that make up our “authentic self” be impacted, but the actual physical makeup of our brain changes, a science referred to as neuroplasticity.
Bottom line: we are all constantly becoming who we are. The “authentic self” is not a fixed point we arrive at, but rather something that is constantly changing. Which means it’s not enough just to know ourselves in one moment; we must constantly be curious about and present with how we feel, what we believe, and what feels right and authentic to us.
Which brings us to the most important question of all: how do we reach our children to truly be authentic if their “authentic” changes every day?
There are a few things I’m guilty of being overly dramatic about. Probably the most ridiculously obvious of these things is being hungry. Even when I’m not eight months pregnant, I’m basically a toddler when I’m hungry. I get cranky and, when I get really hungry, I feel sick. So I know I’m guilty of saying “I’m so hungry I feel like I could throw up.” Sadly, I never really thought about how overly dramatic it sounds until now.
Tonight while climbing in the car my four year old announced out of the blue “I’m going to throw up.” A combination of mommy instinct and observation skills led me to ask, “Are you really going to throw up or are you just hungry?” The reply was, of course, “I’m hungry.”
The car ride that followed was spent in deep discussion of how saying that you’re going to throw up doesn’t necessarily let people know that you’re hungry. It can, in fact, be misleading about what you really mean; thus, it would be better to simply say what you mean.
Which reminded me of one of my favorite things I’ve ever read called The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. The first agreement is to “be impeccable with your word”. In other words, say what you mean, and mean what you say. There are a million ways I try to teach this to my daughter, but to have it broken down into the simplest possible intention is… inspiring. It reminds me that sometimes the most complicated things to teach are actually the simples.
The rest of the agreements share a similar gift of simplicity. The Four Agreements are:
1. Be Impeccable with your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.
2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
3. Don’t Make Assumptions
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
4. Always Do Your Best
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.
(Read more here: http://www.toltecspirit.com)
They are big lessons, presented in simple language. And with all the things there are to teach a child these days, I’m all for borrowing the simplest form whenever possible.
I woke up this morning thinking about the difference between who our children are and how they are/how they act.
The first thought that came to my mind was how we try to teach our children to be kind, to be generous, to be patient. And then I wondered if I was contradicting my own movement. If I’m trying to make my child be that type of person, am I trying to control who she becomes? It would seem that way.
But on the other hand, perhaps being kind and patient and generous isn’t about who they are so much as how they are in the world. After all, people who are not patient people can learn to practice patience. People who are not inherently generous can be inspired to practice generosity. Perhaps our job as parents isn’t to make them into generous people but to teach the people they already are to practice generosity. To encourage them to practice kindness. To inspire them to practice patience.
Or maybe the best gift we can give them is the awareness that they have a choice. They can choose what they want to practice. It may not feel like it comes naturally. It may not be easy. But they can always choose.
I have learned a lot about myself in the last four years. I am on a constant journey of discovering who “me” is. And as I learn, I find things that I am grateful for in myself. Passion. Awareness. And I find things that I wasn’t aware of. Desire for control. Impulsiveness. These things are part of who I am, but sometimes I let them control how I am. And the outcomes are sometimes unpleasant for myself or those around me. Realizing that I didn’t have to resent those parts of me was an enormous gift. I could acknowledge that I am impulsive. And then make a conscious choice to be thoughtful instead.
If I could give my daughter only two things in all the world, I would give her the curiosity to discover WHO she is, and the awareness to see that she can always choose HOW she is.
Lucky for me, she was already born with more curiosity than I could ever give her.