What if we could parent from a place of presence, every moment? What if we could meet our children exactly where they are at, letting go of that voice that reminds us of all the other times we have had this same power struggle with our child, experienced this same tantrum, felt that deep sense of frustration knowing that once again, our child just isn’t cooperating?
One day on the drive home from dance class my daughter told me her big toe was hurting and she wanted to take off her shoe. “Go for it” I said, feeling the pangs of hunger creeping into my stomach because I had forgotten to eat breakfast yet again. When we arrived home I went inside to quell my hunger-induced crankiness but it wasn’t long before I heard my daughter, still in the car, in a standoff with her dad. She did not want to put her shoe back on, she did not want to walk to the door in her sock, she did not want to be carried – she wanted Mom!
I knew at this point I had two choices:
- Listen to the hangry voice inside my head that was saying “here we go again, I wish for once we could just have a day without some kind of epic meltdown” or
- Let go of my emotional baggage and call on the voice that says “what am I feeling in this moment? How can I make space for it? How can I pause to nurture myself so that I can meet my kid where she’s at and support her through this big feeling she’s feeling?”
I chose option two, of course.
In that moment, for that particular meltdown I chose option number one – I’m human. We all choose option number one from time to time. And do you know what happened? Epic meltdown ensued, mom guilt flooded in, I heard the impatience in my tone and I hated it, as did my daughter. For me these moments are gifts (huh??). Ok so they don’t feel like a gift at the time…but fast forward a few days and a few PMs to my best mom friend and I begin to see them as opportunities for growth. A chance to sit down with my daughter and to let her know that moms make mistakes too. Moms have big feelings sometimes and it’s our job to take care of those feelings so they don’t spill out and get in the way of supporting the child through whatever it is they’re dealing with.
Fortunately I had another opportunity a few days later to choose between the two voices and I chose the second option. This time my daughter had crumbled into a ball because I interrupted her to answer a question my son had asked. I felt the frustration rise in me and I paused for a moment. I took a breath and did my best to bring awareness to the thoughts that were creating my frustration – you know the ones, “here we go again” and “why can’t she just use her words?!”. Then (and this is the magical part) I invited new thoughts in to party with the old thoughts. That’s right, I didn’t try to force out the old thoughts, I didn’t tell myself I shouldn’t be having them, I didn’t try to distract myself, I simply chose to put energy into inviting helpful thoughts into my head to dance around with the not-so-helpful ones – thoughts like “my daughter is really struggling with this feeling right now” and “in this moment she is doing the best she can to communicate her needs” and “she must feel pretty alone”. And guess what happened? I felt my shoulders relax, I felt my heart get warm, and most importantly, my body language communicated safety and nurturance rather than ire and disdain. Wanna guess how long that meltdown lasted? Two minutes, tops. And my daughter walked away from it feeling stronger because she knew I was on her team the whole time.
I don’t expect myself to choose option number two every single time, nor do I expect the parents I work with to do the same. We’re human, we have big feelings too. However I encourage myself and the parents I work with to aim for more option twos than option ones, and on those days when we lose ourselves and wish we could have a redo, talk to your kids. Let them know how you wish you had handled it. Teach self-compassion, forgiveness, and most importantly, how to look for opportunities for growth in our everyday struggles.