Tag Archives: parenting

Building More Muscle

This morning on the way to school, Melody and I had a conversation that showed me something about myself that I need to work on. She said her notebook (that she draws “fashion” in. . .she currently wants to be a fashion designer when she grows up. =) only had 24 pages left. The kid has so many notebooks I can’t count them all. All over the house and the car. She’s addicted to notebooks and is always trying to get a new one.

Me: “That’s still half the notebook.”

Melody: “No it’s not.”

Me: “I’m sure it is. The notebook only had like 50 pages to start with.”

Melody: “I’m going to count the pages.”

Me: “Fine. But I don’t want to hear about it. You’re not getting a new notebook when you have that many pages left.”

*silence while she counts*

Melody: “I’ll just say that 30 is half the pages.”

I felt irritation starting to rise. Hadn’t I just TOLD her I didn’t want to hear about it? How dare she disregard what I said and tell me anyway. (No, I’m not joking folks. Just typing this here I see how immature that sounds. Yikes.) I opened my mouth to lecture her about disrespect and ignoring the fact that I’d told her to keep it to herself. . .then I closed it again. What was I doing? Was it really SO important that she not tell me about the pages in her notebook? Was the aggravation boiling around inside me really about a notebook, or was it something else. I decided to take a different path and just acknowledge that her notebook started with 60 pages and that it was a good thing she still had so many left to draw on. Then I reminded her that when that one was gone, she had several others in the house that she could replace it with. She smiled with that realization and went back to drawing.

I, on the other hand, starting to dig deeper behind the oddly strong feelings that had just surged about a silly notebook conversation. And I realized it wasn’t about her wanting yet another notebook. It was about control. I hate to feel powerless, and the fact that she creatively skirted my “orders” to keep quiet about the number of pages in her notebook triggered a feeling of powerlessness in me. . .and that feeling tends to push me toward anger. The good news is that today, I caught myself and acted like the adult. The bad news is, I don’t always. . .and when my coping skills are weaker than usual (due to exhaustion or a headache or some other unplanned issue), I tend to lash out in anger over minor things that make me feel powerless.

So I’m taking the time this morning for some introspection. How can I stop myself from reacting too strongly when my kids “disobey” an order I slung out that doesn’t even matter? How can I stop myself before I even make such unnecessary edicts? I want to learn to choose my battles for things that really matter. . .not just about things that might annoy me. I think I have my work cut out for me, but that’s no reason not to start today.

Building these emotional muscles causes as much pain and “soreness” as building physical ones. . .but I’m in this thing for the long haul. . and these little ones are worth the pain. =)

One Small Change

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” ~Lau-tzu~

I am the first to admit that I am a very “all or nothing” thinker. This leads to a lot of. . .well. . .wheel spinning when it comes to change. If I can’t get ALL the laundry done today, I don’t start the laundry. If I can’t clean the whole bathroom, why clean the dirty mirror? If I don’t have 2 hours to spend playing with my kids right now, why give them the 30 minutes I do have? And the big one at times. . .if I have one unhealthy snack in a day, why bother trying to eat healthy the rest of the day? I’ve come to understand that children think that way, so in a way, it’s the immaturity in me that dwells in that all or nothing place. When Jubilee, my 3 year old, is asked to clean her room, she becomes paralyzed with the enormity of it. We’ve found that asking her to clean up one area, say . . .the toy kitchen. . .is a more manageable task for her. Sometimes even that is too big and we have to start with, “Okay, pick up those two pots and put them in the drawer.” Suddenly, she feels able to begin moving towards the goal when just moments before she was sitting in the floor declaring that there was NO WAY she could clean up the whole room.

That realization has helped me be a bit gentler to myself, recognizing it as human nature that we’re born with, but I know I still need to work towards maturing emotionally so that I don’t stay trapped in that mindset forever. This is where I’m challenging myself these days, and I have to tell you, over several months, the level of overall change in my life is pretty pronounced. I know I’m not the only mom who struggles with this, so here are some common sweeping statements I’ve made (or heard other moms make) coupled with the one small change I’ve made (or plan to make) to start.

-Too big: “I need to spend more time with my kids.”

Just right:”I have 10 minutes right now. Let’s read a book/play a short card game/dance around the living room.”

-Too big: “I need to clean the house.”

Just right: “I have 5 minutes right now. I will unload the dishwasher.”

-Too big: “I need to read my bible every day.”

Just right: “I will subscribe to a daily scripture e-mail. That way, every morning when I check my e-mail, I am reading one verse.”

-Too big: “I need to drink half my body weight in ounces of water daily.”

Just right: “I’ll drink one bottle of water before breakfast every morning, then keep the bottle filled with me the rest of the day.”

-Too big: “Our family needs to eat healthier/get more fruits and veggies/ eat less processed food.”

Just right: “I will introduce one new food this week/add a serving of veggies to dinner/try one new recipe this month.”

This may not be profound to anyone else, but this change in thinking has changed my life. Our family diet is healthier, my house is cleaner (not spotless ever, but “clean enough” more often than not), and I’m spending more time playing with my kids than I was 6 months ago.

I love to help other people troubleshoot all or nothing thinking, so if you’re struggling in an area that you feel needs a sweeping change, leave a comment and I’d be happy to help you come up with one small change that just may lead to a situational overhaul down the road.

Exercise is my next small change to conquer that still feels a bit too big. I know I need to start working out 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. . but the day is young and spring is springing. I think we may take a walk today. =)

Learning is painful. .

As I sit here watching my 8-month-old become mobile through trial and error, I’m struck by the pain he’s going through learning to move around. He sits up, loses his balance and falls over. Sometimes he cries, sometimes not. But even after a particularly painful topple, he gets back up and tries to crawl, driven by the need to explore his world.

I feel like I can learn a lesson from watching him. Anything worth learning involves a bit of pain. Risk is scary. But when we focus on the goal, we can push past the pain. My goal recently has been to spend more time playing with my kids. “What pain is involved with that?” you’re probably asking yourself. For me, the pain of pushing past the exhaustion and recently, the migraines, to give that one ounce of weak energy to my eldest daughter in a rousing game of Battleship. Or leaving the laundry until after bedtime to read my youngest daughter the book about Dora that I’ve already read 3 times today. Change can be messy, and even the smallest risk can feel huge. I personally fight the need for perfection, even while knowing it is unattainable. My utopia is a perfectly clean house, laundry all clean, folded and put away and children quietly playing in their room. That is unfortunate, because my reality is typically dirty dishes in the sink, loads of laundry at various stages of progress, and kids pulling at my shirt wanting me to “play with us, play with us, play with us!!”

So here I find myself, pressing through the pain of imperfection. Of letting something go in favor of something more important. And much like my little newly mobile man-child, learning the new skill of redefining success hurts now and then, but I know once mastered will make my rhythm as a mother much more satisfying and much less stressful. And so I press on. . .

Maple Syrup

My Dearest Littles,

I blew it today. Just completely blew it. I offer no excuses. I’m the grown-up and I should have acted like it. And I’m sorry. The only thing I can truly promise you is that I will keep trying to do better.

The day started off rocky, nighttime hours of broken sleep typically drive my coping skills back to a minimum level. As in, I can feed you and drive you where you need to go, but that’s about all that comes easily. It’s a weakness of mine, and sadly at this point in time there’s really nothing I can do about the particular circumstances that are robbing me of sleep. I still wouldn’t wish these months of night feedings and night snugglings and night comfortings away just so I wouldn’t have days like today. I just wish I handled the situations that come up better than I do when my mood is already darkened with exhaustion.

So that’s where we started. Tired. And cranky. All of us really. And I barked orders to rush us out the door in time for school. We got in the car only to discover that the fuel light was on. What would have been a perfectly on time morning was now running late. So I demanded silence. I didn’t want to listen to you talk to me. Sitting here now in the quiet dark, I’m wishing I’d chosen differently. To hear your thoughts and chat with you a bit. It would give me a bright point in the day to look back on. But I didn’t, I talked on my cell phone and listened to the radio instead.

As the day went on, more and more things seemed to go wrong. Not really wrong so much as not according to my best laid plans and out of my control. I didn’t get the nap I’d been counting on to make up for the lost sleep. An unexpected doctor’s appointment threw more into our schedule. Chores that had to be done in preparation for tomorrow took longer than I expected. The littlest of you was fussy, the middle was whiny, the eldest just needed a little extra TLC and that’s when it happened. I exploded all over you. . .over maple syrup. Such a simple thing that became something so awful. I fed you dinner later than usual because of the chores I mentioned. I gave you your baths earlier than normal and before dinner, even knowing that you’d likely get messy while eating (you, my sweet youngest daughter, often wear more of your food than you eat). And true to form, my darling middle child, you attempted to drink the rest of your maple syrup. You got it in your hair, on your skin. . .everywhere. You were a sticky mess. And I did not see a 3 year old enjoying her meal with gusto. I saw a need for another bath, yet another chore on my verylonglist. You wanted me to hold you as soon as you saw that I was unhappy, but I did not hold you. I yelled. I yelled that we don’t drink maple syrup. I yelled that you’d made a huge mess. I yelled that I was going to have to give you another bath. And yelled and yelled. I grabbed you not so gently and took you to the tub, while you cried, your little scared face searching mine for some trace of the loving mommy you normally see. And I scrubbed you and lectured you about maple syrup while you sobbed and shook and said sorry and asked for hugs. I yelled at you, eldest daughter, when you tried to talk to me about something unrelated. I ignored your cries, little boy-child as I yelled and berated your older sister about maple syrup. This is the part I’m not proud of. I’m still sitting here trying not to hate myself for my reaction. . .because I know that hating myself will not lead to change. It never does. Changing something small leads to change, and that’s what I’m getting to.

After your second bath, I gave in to your request for hugs, and you collapsed into me, your little wet body sobbing and shaking still as you tried to understand what had just happened. And so I started to talk to you. I took a deep breath and told you I was sorry. Sorry for yelling. Sorry for being mean. Just sorry. I asked you how you felt and tried to give you words to use for your feelings. Scared, sad, angry just to name a few. I told you I had gotten mad and yelled and I shouldn’t have. And that I was so sorry I had scared you and made you sad and angry. You started to calm as you searched my face and saw the mommy that you trust returning. You told me we would try not to yell at each other anymore and I agreed that I would also try. You used your words to tell me how awful my behavior had made you feel and we cuddled and calmed and soothed and snuggled together. And I realized that for better or for worse, I am your mommy. I don’t get a do-over when I hurt you. I can’t go back and not yell. But I can own it. I can tell you that I made a horrible mistake. I can try to do better next time. I can show you how much I love you and help you find words to explain what’s going on inside. That is what I can do for now. . .and maybe one day soon, the yelling will stop for good. I hope today is the last day I will ever yell at you, but I can’t make that a promise.

I hate being both the one that causes you pain and the one that teaches you how to cope with your pain. Maybe somehow in the midst of my brokenness you will learn skills to keep your heart from hardening and scarring and forgetting how to love. My prayer is that you learn more from me about embracing your feelings than you do about hurting. And I will keep trying. . .and I will do better. Even tonight, I have some thoughts about how to keep this from happening again. Baths after dinner, not before. . .deep breaths when I feel myself getting upset. . .forcing a quiet, low voice when I feel the urge to shout. . .And I hope by making that small change, I really will be different the next time I’m upset about something as silly as maple syrup. Thank you, all three, for teaching me so much about love and grace and forgiveness and second chances.

Love, Mama