One of my greatest mothering fears is that I’ll be a pushover parent. I don’t like conflict in general, so I try to avoid it, but that’s obviously not realistic in many situations, especially parenting. But I don’t want the fact that I don’t like disagreements to rule my parenting choices, causing me to let poor behavior slide and allowing rules to fly out the window. Actually, parenting my daughter is perhaps the one area of my life where I’m most comfortable setting and reinforcing boundaries, as difficult or unpopular with the three-year-old set as that may be.
We’ve had a rough couple of weeks. Lots of yelling, on both our parts. Lots of crying from both of us, too. It happened when I tried to transition us back to reality after, the week prior, I was a bit too indulgent while my husband was away for work. I thought it would be a fun treat for us to relax the rules a bit, say “yes” to more than I usually do, and pack our days full of activities, like a mini mother-daughter vacation just for us. I’m all for flexibility in parenting, but I didn’t play my cards right and our “vacation” didn’t end well.
It took me about a week of snapping, yelling, and reacting negatively for me to realize I didn’t like the pattern I was in. This wasn’t the type of parent I wanted to be. I turned to the internet for advice, and learned a couple things about mindful parenting that have helped me turn this around:
Your kid is having a moment. It’s not about you. A lot of what my daughter reacts to negatively is in her own head. Kids are so busy sorting out their world, there’s a lot happening up there that we don’t see. And sometimes by the time we do see it, it’s in the form of a melt down. Reminding myself that my daughter didn’t wake up that morning intent on ruining my day helps me help her so that our day isn’t, in fact, ruined by tantrums and poor behavior.
…but sometimes it is about you. That is, if you’re not in tune with your child. I find that if I simply give my daughter my attention and I’m not distracted when she tries to tell me something, that goes a LONG way. It’s easy for me to get wrapped up in what I should be doing and what I need to get done that I admit I can be dismissive of the things my daughter wants to share with me throughout the day. I’ve come to realize that if I stop what I’m doing long enough to see what she just created with play dough (even if it looks exactly the same as the last two sculptures she just made) and engage with her for a moment, that small gesture truly does make a difference in how we relate to each other all day long. I don’t know why this wasn’t more obvious to me. I was very in tune to my daughter’s needs as an infant and young child, and fostered a connection via breastfeeding and skin to skin contact; those needs don’t go away as they get older, we just need to find new ways to foster them. My daughter notices when I’m truly present, and when I’m not.
You’re the adult. You can choose not to yell. During those tough couple of weeks, I was quick to yell, and I didn’t like the way it felt. And truth be told, I didn’t see the yelling work. Trying to out-yell a toddler is, after all, futile; they are masters. But I didn’t like how my words sounded when I yelled, and hearing them more loudly didn’t help a thing or produce the outcome I needed. My “aha” moment was when I realized that I was asking my daughter to communicate better with me by choosing her words, saying please and thank you, and asking for what she needed without whining or yelling, and yet here I was, being very reactionary and yelling in response, demanding in a very loud tone that she act in the manner opposite of how I was responding to her. I learned that kids lack the maturity to know that yelling isn’t necessarily appropriate. As adults we have the responsibility to not only model a better way of communicating our needs, but we are aware enough to know that there is an alternative to yelling out our needs. It’s a conscious choice we need to make in each and every confrontation.
It’s a molehill to you. It’s a mountain to them. Toddlers have a way of blowing things out of proportion. To us as adults, their tantrums can often seem unfounded or disproportionate; but to a child still sorting out his or her world and who doesn’t have the same life experience, what is causing them to blow up probably feels like their whole world being overturned. Therefore, it’s important for us as parents to reason with our kids, even when it seems ridiculous. Helping them through even the silly things make them feel validated, heard, and understood (even when it doesn’t exactly make sense to you). Giving in on the little stuff, like when they insist on wearing a tutu everywhere, every day, helps them feel like they’re in a small amount of control of their world. Again, it may seem small to us, anyway, but it may mean the world to them.
Now removed from our hellish couple of weeks, it only occurred to me since that it wasn’t so much that I took us off of our schedule that caused each of us to behave how we did; it was that I wasn’t being a mindful parent. I was expecting her to make a seamless transition from our fun week back to life as usual. The minor indulgences I allowed us weren’t the problem; it was the way I was choosing to mother. Being a more mindful parent, along with working to get us back on schedule, has really helped us turn our days around. Mindful parenting isn’t always easy, and I’m certainly no expert, but for me the choice has been worth it every single time.