Nothing Here to Fix, Mom

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It feels like a lot has happened since my last post a few weeks ago!  It’s funny when we experience periods of upheaval in life… and they seem to come in all sorts of packages.

After surviving another tax deadline on 9/15, the weekend began with Teo coming down with a bad cold, and having to miss his second soccer game of the season.  Dennis and the kids even stayed home from church on Sunday and I got to relish an uninterrupted Divine Service.  So joyful!  Then, by Monday morning, I had the cold too.  I was actually probably fighting it off the entire deadline week, but my immune system knew I had to make it through the deadline before shutting down!  I was down and out with this cold for two full days, during which I experienced genuine boredom for the first time in years.

The following Saturday, it was time for Teo to get ready for his late morning soccer game.  He protested, saying he “didn’t feel good!” and fought any efforts I made to get him into his soccer uniform.  He’d been claiming not to feel well regularly, sitting out of soccer practice and going to the nurse almost daily.  I was at such a loss.  His cold symptoms were much better.  He didn’t seem to be physically unwell, but he was definitely emotionally out of sorts.  I finally texted the coach that he wouldn’t be at the game.

I proceeded to have a mini breakdown of my own.  I cried on the phone with my mom and again alone in my bedroom.  What was going on with my boy?  He seemed to enjoy soccer so much.  Is something stressing him out at school?  Is it the transition to first grade and just feeling overwhelmed?  What can I do to help him through this??

I recognize that my reaction over the soccer game was a bit much.  It felt like I was doing something wrong and needed to figure out what so I could fix it.

I’d recently dug back into a discipline model that Dennis and I learned about several years ago, called Conscious Discipline.  The book for parents: Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline by Becky Bailey had been on my bedside table for months.  I read 75% of it, but never fully implemented her plan.

One of the major premises is that parents must first gain self-control, self-awareness, and self-discipline, then they can teach those same skills to their children.  Clearly, I needed a refresher on the tenets of self-control.  Over the next few days, I read, watched video clips, and generally refreshed myself with the skills of acceptance and assertiveness.  I remembered that my goal in discipline is to teach my children to make good choices, rather than force them to concede to my will.  Also, when conflict arises, it’s an opportunity to teach, rather than a difficultly to suppress.

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One of Dr. Bailey’s comments really hit home.  She explained that our perception of a situation dictates our emotional state, and our emotional state then dictates our behavior.  Of course!  Teo’s recent struggles struck me as something that I, as his mother, needed to fix.  Clearly, if I said or did just the right thing, I could control his emotions and therefore his behavior.

When I stopped and considered another alternative, I realized my error.  He didn’t need to be fixed.  I needed to accept that he didn’t feel like playing soccer that day.  He was still recovering from a cold and overly tired from school and life.  He needed me to empathize with his state and help reflect back what he was experiencing so he could become more self- aware and grow.  He needed natural consequences to his choices, such as leaving soccer practice if he claimed not to feel well, instead of letting him stay so he could join the scrimmage after the drills (as he’d done the previous two weeks!).

It took me a couple days (and some timely feedback from my loving husband) to untangle my emotions from the situation, so I could help Teo manage his feelings.

Heading into soccer practice on Wednesday, I had reached a level of acceptance and decided I’d do what I could, as his mom, to help set Teo up for success.  Then, if he chose not to participate, we’d leave and he’d miss the fun of the scrimmage.  I wouldn’t lecture or express any dissatisfaction with his choice, I’d just matter-of-factly bring him home.  My plan was to pick up some protein bars at the store and get the kids early so he could have a snack and be prepared for practice.  Instead, my car battery died at the supermarket and I had to wait for AAA to come jump the car and Dennis to get home, so I could pick up the kids.  Instead of being frazzled and stressed at this set back, I took it in stride.  Oh, thank you Lord for all the lessons in acceptance!

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In the end, he had a great practice – played hard and had a lot of fun!  Then, he had a great game on Saturday and scored a goal.  I loved watching him and his teammates play!  Many of the boys were on our T-Ball team, so it’s super fun to cheer for them all.  After the game, I told Teo: “I love watching you play soccer!”

“Really?” he asked.

“Yes!  I love you and I love sports.  You put them together and it’s like my heart is going to explode, it’s so fun!”

He smiled.  “I love you too, Mom.”

This whole situation reminded me and Dennis of many truths.  We want our children to know they are loved unconditionally and don’t need to earn our affections through their behavior.  We also want to teach them that they have free will to make choices, and there will be consequences to their choices.  They will have all sorts of emotions, and they are all acceptable.  Our job as parents is to teach, guide, and help them to manage their feelings and take responsibility for their behavior.

As parents, we have to discipline ourselves and exhibit self-control when the world doesn’t go the way we think it should.  For that matter, we need to reflect upon the fact that we may not know how things “should” go in the first place.

So many lessons – for the kids and the parents!

Parental Growing Pains

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I’ve been continuing to reflect on why I suddenly felt motivated to train for a marathon, given my desire to have less distractions and activities in my year. It’s hard to admit, but I think it was (in the words of Dr. Harris) a control strategy I was using to avoid unpleasant feelings.

Which feelings? Basically, fear and anxiety about really engaging in the most important work of my life: being a mom.

As I mentioned before, I now recognize that my reading of two parenting books by Kevin Leman were clearly catalysts for these emotions. He advocates “reality discipline” which makes so much sense to me. Basically you teach your kids that their actions and behavior have consequences in reality. You hold them accountable for their decisions and let reality be the discipline.

Although I know this is what I want to teach my kids. I falter in the implementation when they have to deal with frustration, anger, or sadness. My desire to protect them from pain kicks in and I want to save them from the lesson. But, more than that, I struggle with the parenting decisions that aren’t always clear cut. I like order and knowing what to do. All the blurry areas that require discernment and consistency make me uncomfortable. Hence, I’m inclined to devote more energy to something that I can control – set a goal to run 10 miles, go do it, and then check it off the list. So much easier.

new kid by fridayThis week I’ve been reading Have a New Kid by Friday, by Kevin Leman. Funny though, it could really be entitled “Be a New Parent by Friday”, because it’s much more about changing your parenting behavior and therefore your kids responding more effectively and learning from reality.

My first big test came Tuesday night. Sienna said she didn’t want to eat the tortellini we were having for dinner. She ate a few bites and then said her stomach hurt and she didn’t like “the cheese inside.” So, she took a bath and then got her pajamas on. Then the pleas started, “Mommy, I’m hungry.”

I said, “Yes, you must be since you didn’t eat dinner. If you want to have the tortellini, you may.”

“No, I didn’t like it. I want something else.” She replied, expecting that I’d let her have something else (as I typically did). Sienna frequently complains about dinner and then asks for other food before bed.

“No, you may not have anything else.”

Now the tears and begging started. “I’m so hungry!” she kept whimpering. This went on for at least twenty minutes as we brushed her teeth and started reading in her bed.

It was the hardest thing for me to hold that line. Especially when she dramatically said “I really wish I would’ve eaten dinner now!” (Mind you, she still didn’t want the leftover dinner… not entirely logical).

She finally fell asleep while I sang to her. As she started to snore gently, I whispered “I love you so much Sienna”. Thinking she didn’t hear me, I was surprised when she murmured in reply “I do to”.

Being a mom isn’t just about cuddling and loving them. It’s providing boundaries, teaching them accountability, respect, and responsibility. It’s being strong and saying no, when it would be easier to say yes. This is why I had to learn the lesson that being “happy” all the time was not realistic or desirable. I wouldn’t have been able to stand strong and make wise decisions in raising Sienna and Mateo if I couldn’t handle the unpleasant feelings that are inevitable.

I’m growing as much as my kids are.

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