So…Remember that goal I made to read 100 books (but am happy with 35), well because of that goal I have been reading a bunch of different types of books. There’s only so much of one genre my brain can take, I need to mix things up. You probably also saw my review of “How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids”, “Girl, Wash Your Face”, and there will be other self-help/parenting type books throughout the year too. All of this is inadvertently helping me with an unspoken, rest of my life, type of goal I have had at the back of my mind since the first time I got mad at my kid, to be a better mother. I love my mom, but no one is perfect and there are definitely things I “inherited” from her that I see in myself when dealing with my kids, things that I didn’t like when I was a kid and things that kept us from having a closer relationship. Not all of it is on my mom, there’s also the temper I’ve had since…probably forever but didn’t come to light until my first temper tantrum as a child. There’s historical evidence of this, as my mom used to write me letters randomly when I was a kid (note: I absolutely LOVED this). In one letter when I was eight, my mom mentions my temper because she’s not one to sugar coat it and say, “You’re my angel baby, you’re perfect, I love you so so much” (p.s. yes, I am perfect). Instead it was like, “I love you, even your explosive temper and strong personality that I kind of wish you didn’t have but I also hope you learn how to use for the benefit of mankind instead of world domination.” Then it reappeared in a letter when I was nine. “You still have that temper!” I love reading these letters, but it also reminds me that I still have that temper and no where does it show up better than with my kids, when they’re fighting over asinine name calling or when I’ve asked them fifteen times to put away their shoes but they still won’t do it. Worse yet, when I tell my kids to go to the bathroom because we’re about to go to the store and my three year old says, “I don’t have to!” and goes to her room only to emerge five minutes later with with a pair of clean underwear because hers was wet…and oh yeah, she peed on the baby’s milk cup (intentionally) which is lying on the carpet in her room…(yeah, true story) and I think, “to heck with being polite it ain’t working!”
In “Girl, Wash Your Face”, she mentions near the beginning about how she yells at her kids, not this innocuous thing but scaring herself yelling. Yes—I can relate to that. Sometimes I scare myself with how angry I get, how loud I get, how demonic. It was so bad after Connor was born that I talked to my doctor and am currently on a low dose of medication. But I can’t just blame post pregnancy hormones, because as my mother’s letters prove, I have always had this temper. So of course, I pray a lot for patience and of course, I inevitably fail because when you pray for patience you “have the opportunity” to develop patience. (Yes, I am typing all that out with attitude because why can’t I just get patience without the work, dangit!)
There is a point here. Through my readings/studies, I am starting to see things differently. I shouldn’t be praying for patience, it’s not a lack of patience that is the problem. It’s a lack of direction/purpose. I’ve been reading, “Mothering with Scriptural Power” and she mentioned how she prays each day to be a tool for good in her children’s lives that day. I thought, “why not?” So the next day I shuffled out of my room, awoken by the kids fighting and my husband was making them breakfast and I snapped at the kids because I felt justified in my crankiness because, hello, they woke me up with fighting. And then I retired to my room and prayed, because I hadn’t done that in my hurry to come snap at my children for disturbing my slumber. I prayed to be a tool for good in their lives but I also prayed to know how to handle them, how best to teach them not just secularly but spiritually. I asked for assistance to know how to help them become the person they’re meant to become and hopefully that would also help me to become the person I’m meant to be—because I’m definitely not there yet. I want to have a good relationship with my kids. I don’t want them to be afraid to tell me on the way to school that they forgot their project at home because they know I’ll swear and bang the steering wheel (I’ve never sworn in front of my children, this is a memory that’s still clear in my mind from when I was in elementary school).
I remember the moment I realized my five-year-old has my temper, and let me tell you, there’s nothing worse than watching a small child throw a temper tantrum and realizing…that’s me! Do they behave like me or do I behave like a five-year-old? So I want them to know how to handle their emotions in a healthy way and how can I teach them that when I’m emotionally bulimic, stuffing in stress and grievances until I’m so full I let it all out at once, to whoever is closest.
So day one with this new, more focused prayer went really well. I still got frustrated and I’m sure I still had a tone and slightly raised my voice but my goodness what a huge improvement from normal. It went so well that I made sure to do it again the next day. Even better! I added a few more things in there too, like I had the kids help me make dinner (which, by the way, would have been a terrible job if I hadn’t prayed. I’m way too type-a to have children flinging rice from the pot or pushing the meat out of the pan—but I didn’t get upset this time). I’m going to keep it up, knowing that there will come a point where I will likely fail and slip back into my bad habits. But that’s life isn’t it? None of us is perfect, we try and try again, sometimes succeeding and sometimes falling flat on our faces and then we get ourselves up, go to the kitchen, grab a supersized ice cream bowl and eat our feelings (…or is that just me?). I was listening to a Come Follow Me podcast and she mentioned something someone said in her Sunday School class. He said, “Think of Peter. He walked on water and then he started to sink. What do you think Peter remembers, that he sank or that he walked on water?” How often do I dwell on when I’m sinking rather than when I’m succeeding? Remember the person you want to be, remember the times you’ve succeeded and not the times you fail.
For you parents out there, especially if there was anyone that related to this and isn’t judging me too harshly for being honest with you, here are some other things that have been helping me keep my cool.
- Pray more specifically, (as I explained above, praying for patience is a terrible TERRIBLE choice. Think about what you really want. For me, it’s to have a good relationship with my kids, to teach them how to be good people and how to deal with their emotions in a healthy way, and to not become some crazed monster I don’t recognize).
- When I ask one of my kids to do something and am being ignored, I walk over to them, touch their arm or face (so we can make eye contact) and tell them again.
- On that note – I’ve stopped (or am trying to completely stop) saying, “will you”, “would you”, etc. Instead I say, “We need to do this or that” and then I’m also willing to help.
- And because I’m willing to help them clean their messes, I’m involving them in mine (i.e. they help me make dinner) because I used to give them one task to do while I made dinner and I would do mine but they would fight about theirs and then I would start yelling “because for the love of all things why can’t I just make dinner without the two of you fighting me and you made that mess by yourself you can certainly clean it on your own…” Instead, we all help each other.
- I don’t praise them for helping me—I praise them for being good helpers. Helping me is something external, I think it swells their little hearts to be praised for something they are, rather than something they’re doing. And they are good helpers.
- Express how I’m feeling (before how I’m feeling tries to express itself). The other day while cooking dinner, Nicky was making faces at his reflection in the frying pan but I was asking him to do something and he kept ignoring me. I tried to hide the irritation in my voice, but failed, I got his attention and told him how being ignored made me feel, how irritated and angry I was becoming. Then I asked if he likes the feelings he has when someone is ignoring him. He said ‘no’ and then did what I asked (it’s a miracle).
- Overlook what you don’t like. I ignored the messes being made because, well, I’m going to have to clean up anyway (this is mostly applied to cooking dinner). I get most upset when I fixate on how something should be. That doesn’t mean how I think something should be is right, and fixating on it just raises my anxiety, which always bubbles over to anger.
- Choose how you want to behave ahead of time (from The Power of Habit). You know how you already react to things, and you don’t like it (i.e. become a crazed mommy monster, or stonewalling your spouse, or eating your feelings, etc.) Then PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. I think the example from the book was Starbucks employees, practicing how they would react if a customer was crabby or mean, and then they would practice it so that when that devil customer reared its ugly head they slipped into a routine rather than reacting in kind. So for me, I know I lose my temper when the kids are fighting or whining – so how do I want to react? I want to calmly tell them that if they don’t stop that terrible behavior I’m going to cut out their tongues and….oh wait, haha, sorry. I’m going to react calmly, explain to them that I don’t like it when they whine or fight and am less likely to give in to what they want. (NOTE: this one is still a work in progress)
The strangest, most beautiful thing happened the other day. When dinner was almost done cooking, Nicky hopped down from his stool and declared he wanted to set the table, and Izzy helped. Then he said he was going to “do so many chores”. He went and made his bed and Izzy’s, got in his pjs, then went downstairs and cleared all the toys off the floor in the den (because after dinner he wanted to play with glow sticks). He didn’t fight me at all, he was proactive because he knew what had to be done. I’m almost afraid to post this because what if everything changes now that I’ve given it a mouth? What if I’m jinxing myself? But I’ll post it for anyone else who may need to see this, to know that they’re not the only parent who isn’t as good as they want to be or who feels their kids are unruly. It’s working for me and I hope it will work for you too. And I can’t stress enough the prayer component, because without that, I don’t think I would have learned these new coping mechanisms on the very days I needed them. I asked the Lord to help me know how best to teach and interact with them and He gave liberally. It’s like in Mark 10:27 “For with God all things are possible”…
even especially raising kids and changing yourself for the better.
I feel the need to put a disclaimer, I’m not trying to sell some magical cure all for whatever ails you. Every person and situation is different, you have to experiment with what works best for you and your situation. Life is so incredibly imperfect, I still snap at my kids from time to time, my children insist on pooping in their pants multiple times a day (or peeing on Connor’s milk cup), I became a demon one day when everything seemed to pile up (poopy pants in three kids, three kids whining in unison, my five year old blaming me for something I had no control over (happens more often than you’d think)). But that’s one demon day in several weeks, that’s pretty darn good if I do say so myself. So–I’m working on it, and will be for the rest of my life because everything that’s worth it takes time, sometimes a lifetime. There are no easy fixes when it comes to making yourself a better person. So I’m going to keep at it and I’m going to work on not focusing on “sinking”–but rather the moments I seem to “walk on water” because those are the moments I want to repeat over and over again. Those are the moments that will bring me to my ultimate goal of having a good, long lasting relationship with my kids.