(Scroll down for Q&A and a story)
Mother’s Day is upon us. Cards and flowers are always nice, especially when your children have something to do with it. Or maybe that’s the day when your child doesn’t yell, You’re not my mother, and you’re not the boss of me, but instead says, You’re the best mom in the whole world. It doesn’t get much better than that.
But how are you? Are you at the end of your rope, exhausted, sucked dry, hopeless? Not only can you do something about that, but if you don’t, your children will suffer the negative effects as well as you.
A recent post on my Facebook page got the following comment from an obviously conscientious mother:
This further reinforces my dedication & efforts in parenting my very spirited boys with love, compassion & connection. I find that I put my ALL into parenting & end up neglecting my needs until I’m frazzled & totally burned out. I am a single parent so there’s just me “on” 24/7 with two intense but amazing boys. I’m trying to learn balance but it’s not easy or natural for me. I can’t think of a better or more deserving dedication of my time & energy, but I’ve unwittingly put my needs on the back burner & it comes out sideways at times, like my Inner child is screaming “what about me??” I try to be a machine but turns out I’m not. A lot of it too is struggling with what I learned in my own upbringing that I’m not worthy or capable so I’m fighting my inner critic, too, that tells me I should do more & better. It’s a process but I’m trying to be kinder to myself, for my own sanity but also because I want to model self-love & respect for my boys so they don’t continue my trend in their lives. I want the voice in their head to say nice things to them.
This mother says it all for the gazzilion mothers out there who want to do their best for their children yet lack the resources to help and often heal themselves. Putting your ALL into parenting includes making sure you are refueled. If you are not at least half full, you cannot be the best for your kids either.
It’s no joke that it’s hard to find the time, especially for single parents, for self-care. So I thought I’d make a list of some small ways that fit into busy schedules.
• Find little moments during the day to tune into yourself and what you are doing. That means acknowledging, I’m feeling really stressed right now with so much to do, I am walking upstairs to get the baby from her nap, Right now I feel like strangling my child, I am washing the dishes one at a time, I am folding laundry and now I’m folding Sam’s baseball tee-shirt. This is mindfulness and honestly does make a difference. When you notice what you are thinking, feeling and doing, you bring your attention to the present moment and stop yourself from flying into past and future fears and expectations.
• Go to the bathroom for an extended stay as long as your kids are occupied and old enough to be left. Sit for a few extra minutes on the toilet and breathe deeply ten times (or as long as you can). Then wash your face.
• Get in the practice of breathing deeply in the moment of dealing with your upset kids so your focus is on you and your breath instead of reacting ineffectively to your kids.
• Never react in the moment. You will be a more effective teacher if you take a moment (even if you have to get your kids apart) to breathe, wait for emotions to calm, and think about what you want to say or do.
• Tell your kids that you need a break to sit and have a cup of tea so that you will feel stronger inside and be a better mom. Ask them what makes them feel stronger and better inside?
• Get together with other moms and their kids. Adult company is critical. Help each other to help yourselves.
• Spend one-on-one time with each child every day-or as close to it as possible. You are always calmer when you’re with one only, which helps calm your kids.
• If you have the resources, plan at least one class, date, movie a week just for you. Hire a babysitter or share babysitting with a friend.
If prioritizing yourself goes against all those voices in your head, tell yourself that your self-care is for your kids. When you give your all to your children, and there is nothing left for you, your children will feel the imbalance. They may even learn that women don’t require or deserve much. Modeling self-worth has far-reaching effects.
Being a self-sacrificing, supermom will come back to bite you. Stop trying to prove your worth to yourself and others. Trying to be perfect keeps you tense, reactive, and less able to go with the inevitable ebbs and flows of each day.
Another mother commented on my post: I’d rather have a happy mom giving me 80%, than a burnt out mom giving me 100%.
Questions and Answers and Story
Aggression in a preschooler
Q. I was reading your response to defensive behaviors in children and how parents need to stop blaming for change to occur. Can you give me an example of a conversation I could have with my son? He is 5, has just started Kindergarten and has a history of being too aggressive with peers. He struggles with being impulsive but also is just very physical. I worry about the way it occurs, because sometimes I sense a deliberate tone in his actions. I’m trying to find a new way of talking about it with him because my husband and I are finding that he is blaming others, lying about it and getting angry. How would you proceed?
A. It’s very important that your son knows that you understand and accept him for who he is—physical and aggressive—nothing wrong with either of those innate attributes. If he grows feeling confident in himself they will serve him well. If he gets the message that he is wrong or bad, the aggression can go in a more violent direction. When he gets too aggressive it is either due to his impulses, which will become more controlled with development, or his is fighting back against those who think he is wrong and taking it out on a more vulnerable child. You might say:
“You really want what your friend is playing with and it’s too hard for you to wait your turn so I’ll help. Can you think of something else you can do until he’s done with it?”
“You are so strong and know just what you want. That is going to serve you so well in life. Now sometimes it gets you in trouble doesn’t it? Other kids get mad at you and I bet you wonder why. Do you know why? What do you think you could do instead?”
“That doesn’t work for me/I don’t like it when you do that. Want another chance to do it differently?”
“You are really mad about that. So mad you feel like hitting me. I won’t let you hit me but what can you hit instead?”
So the idea is to first connect by accepting and acknowledging his feelings, even if you are guessing at them (he’ll be happy to tell you if you’re wrong!). Then observe what the problem is and state it. And then use problem solving to ask him a question about what he could do differently or how he can get what he wants without hurting another, etc. Young children are totally egocentric. You will make better connection when your focus is on helping him get what he wants. The key to problem solving is making sure the solution works for everyone involved.
Q. My 9 yo daughter talks a lot. I think most kids her age do. However she has a tendency to be a bit of a know it all with other kids. If they are going somewhere she’s already been she may hold forth on what is there etc rather than saying ‘its really cool there’. Today she said that kids didn’t let her speak her turn when sharing experiences. I know this isn’t nice but I know she can take too long explaining something without cutting to the chase. In addition her consequential thinking is quite good and she can see things may end in tears before others and may warn her friends when they don’t want to be told and then may say I told you so when some mishap occurs. She also puts her hand up a lot in class and I have actively discouraged her from doing this too much suggesting instead to sometimes take a back seat and be quietly confident. I have also advised that sometimes she should aim to say less and listen more and that silences are ok and can often say more than words. She is a lovely and largely popular child who loves school, learning and being with her friends. I just want to be armed with some knowledge of how best to help her develop a bit of tact and diplomacy and be better prepared to deal with any unkindness.
A. If she is receptive to your advise about listening more, I would keep quietly working along those lines. You said that she told you that kids don’t let her speak her turn. In that instance I would suggest asking her why she thinks that is rather than telling her that perhaps she does the same to them. No one likes to be told how their behavior may come across to others—unless she is receptive and wants to change, which I doubt. You might ask her if it’s all okay with her or if she would like your help or support in this area. Some kids are bossy because they actually are ahead of their peers intellectually and they get frustrated when their peers don’t understand something. And some kids are bossy because they are insecure and need to prove themselves by telling others a lot about their own experiences. Which do you think it is? She will likely get her teaching from her peers and then your job is to listen to her anger/sadness about her friends. Then you can try a role play. You can take turns being her and the other child. When you play the other child, you might say things like, “You’re not giving me a chance to talk, etc.” When you are her, she gets to hear your bossiness. It’s tricky but might help.
He won’t take “No” for an answer
Q. My son is 11. Ever since he was 8, he can’t understand why we say no and feels we’re being unfair… so we do the usual thing, send him upstairs, no xbox, no pocket money etc… and nothing seems to work. I am worried that if we don’t correct this behaviour he will have problems in later life. He is great at school, works hard, has friends.. so no problem’s there. A friend told me that my son was punching her son on the arm. Her son and mine do not get on, never have, but we are close friends. So I talked to my son today and said (in quite a calm voice) “Can i ask you what happened in the car yesterday?” He didn’t respond.. so i said that my friend told me that you were punching her son on the arm.. and because her son didn’t say anything, she didn’t tell you off.. can you tell me what that was about ? did he wind you up ? what happened.. ?? he then refused to answer, so I unfortunately was less calm, ie i shouted and I did blame him and said you did something, you were caught, can you explain it ? He went on the major defensive (which he does anyway).. but has still refused to talk to me. How could i have handled this better without losing my cool? I don’t want him turning into a bully.. he knows right from wrong.
A. Are you are willing to rethink your approach to your son? Staying with the punitive approach will only push him further away. Your son feels misunderstood and powerless. Perhaps your “nos” don’t give him a chance to negotiate. Punishment and blame—sending him to his room, no money, no xbox—are arbitrary coercive tactics and feel entirely unfair, because they are. Children like your son are sensitive to the injustice of punishment and won’t be told what to do. More compliant children will do what you ask but are still being coerced and may have problems later on finding their voice. Punishment is always about power held over the child—the traditional way of doing what we think we should. However, it doesn’t work to raise cooperative, confident children. With a connective approach, relationship is more important than focusing on unwanted behavior. Once your children get that you care about how they feel and listen to their side of the story, a lot of unwanted behavior disappears. Problem solving replaces punishment—How do we make this work for both of us? Your son would likely communicate with you more if you talked about the fact that he does not like this other boy and doesn’t have to. It is after all your agenda for them to drive together because of your friendship. Acknowledge that. He refuses to talk to you about it because he assumes you will just get mad and lecture, blame or punish him, which you do. When you understand how hard it is to be with the boy he doesn’t like or are willing to hear his side when he thinks you’re being unfair and are willing to work out an agreement, communication will happen. Once he gets it that you get it, you can say, “If the same situation happens again, what can you do when you are tempted to hit him?” or “This doesn’t work for me. How can we make it work for both of us?” It may take awhile because he needs to trust that he will not be punished. Your consistency with understanding requires a shift in the way you see him and his behavior. You lose your cool with him because you are making assumptions of his behavior (he’s mean, he never listens, he can’t hear no, etc.) Naturally thinking that way causes you to feel angry, which provokes you to lose it. So it’s the way you think about him that needs to change. His behavior means that he is having a problem, not being a problem.