We all have issues. No matter how wonderful our parenting skills, no matter how peaceful and loving and gentle we strive to be in our interactions with our children, at the end of the day we all have issues. Often, our issues are clear. We know about them and work on them on a daily basis to try to keep them in check. Other issues may be more subtle or buried deep in the depths of our psyche. Or maybe we feel like we have conquered them. So when our children, our sweet-faced, big-hearted, little bundles of love bust out with something like, “Mama! Your butt looks like a million monsters stuck together!” we may be surprised at our own reaction.
True story. I will give you the full picture.
There I was, getting out of the shower, my children running in and out of the bathroom (I am sure all of you can relate) when my preschooler says, “Mama, you have a very big butt!” Now, he didn’t say it in his maniacal, I-need-attention-so-I-am-going-to-squeal-at-the-top-of-my-lungs kind of voice. Nope, he said it in the way one would notice a lovely tree or flower or maybe an overripe tomato on the vine. A sing-songy, quiet and sweet voice. A just-noticing kind of voice. I swallowed and held back all of the societal beliefs and pressures and unrealistic notions that were welling up inside me. “Really?” I tried to respond as neutrally as possible. “Oh yeah, it’s like a million monsters all stuck together.” And though I tried to hold onto my self esteem, I could feel it going down the drain with the water.
We can laugh. I laughed at the moment and I laugh now. But I am also aware of how it impacted me. I was acutely aware that he had, quite innocently, triggered an issue for me. I am also well aware of the fact that he is four, has no idea about body image or ideals or the struggles women in general deal with in our culture surrounding their body. He has no idea that big butts are considered differently from small butts any more than he would think big rocks are different from small rocks. They are just that, different. There was no judgment in his voice, no motive, no devious plot to bring me down. It was just his observation, mashed together with what he was thinking about moments prior. My butt is bigger than his butt. Fact. He was thinking about monsters. Fact. They merged together. He spoke it out loud and went on his merry way. The drama happened inside of me.
So, back to the beginning. We all have issues. We have body issues and food issues and anger issues and love issues and relationship issues. We have guilt issues and mother issues and control issues. We have deep issues and shallow issues, big issues and small issues. And the unavoidable truth is that our children will trigger these issues. When our issues get triggered, the drama inside us unfolds. And when the drama unfolds, it tends to come out in ways that we don’t intend. When we react to our children based on our inner drama, a couple of things happen,
2) When we let our inner drama lead the way, we have difficulty following through with our parenting intentions and find ourselves saying or doing things we don’t want to say or do.
3) Maybe most importantly, when we let our inner drama lead the way, we make our children responsible for our issues. When we make them responsible for our issues, they lose their right to learn and explore the world in a safe and genuine way. They now have to learn to manage us as well as themselves.
So what do we do? Or, as a friend expressed it more eloquently,
“What to do when your preschooler rips out your soul, throws it on the ground, and goes number two on it?”
(the true and rightful title of this blog).
1) Become aware of your issues. Use whatever method works. Journal, meditate, seek therapy, think, have wine with friends, whatever. Just be willing to take inventory and become aware of what your issues are. If you know that one of your buttons is being late, and you know that you become irritated and anxious and irate when people are late, it may explain why you hear your voice rising every time you have to get your family in the car. Dawdling children may trigger something in you that interferes with your ability to respond gently. But children are dawdlers. They just are. Feeling like they are doing it to spite you is your drama, not theirs. Can you identify your patterns and triggers? Can you notice how your responses to your children may be drama-led rather than child-focused?
2) Once you have a grasp of your bigger-picture issues, practice becoming more aware in the moment. Breathing and becoming aware of the thoughts and emotions that guide us can have a wondrous impact on our ability to respond gently in the moment. I strongly believe that the number-one, most under-appreciated parenting tool is simply breathing. When we take a moment to become aware and connected with our breath, we have a chance to also become aware of the thoughts and triggers and emotions that are coloring our vision. This gives us an opportunity to assess the situation. I like to use the acronym CORE. I have written about it in other blog posts, but basically it is:
C- Connect and center. Breathe, take a moment, notice yourself, notice your child.
O- Observe the opportunity. What is actually happening? What do you need? What does your child need?
R- Realize the moment. What path do you want to take?
E- Engage. Sometimes this means doing something, sometimes this means doing nothing. But often, it means doing something different from your first impulse.
The whole process takes the space of a breath and can change a moment drastically.
3) When you feel yourself triggered in the moment, take note of it and mentally file it away. Then respond to your child in the way that your child needs. Later (and this is the important part), process the issue in some way, shape or fashion. How is up to you. Use whatever you know works. You might try laughing about it with friends, journaling, getting help from a mentor, therapist, or coach, or just thinking it over.
So what’s the bottom line? The issues are our issues. Not their issues. And unless we want our issues to become their issues, we better make sure that we are fully aware of moments when the drama inside us is leading the way. Because when we feel like our children are “ripping out our soul and throwing it on the ground and going number two on it,” they probably aren’t. They are probably just being kids. And it’s our job to make sure our issues don’t get in the way of that.