Thursday, June 30, 2011

Day 176: You Know Better!

I commented to a friend the other day that I felt I was a really great mom 0-2, and not as much so far 2-3. Which got me to thinking about why that is.

With Max I'm more patient, more flexible, more compassionate and understanding. And I used to be with Jackson too. But now I too often find myself thinking You know better! which is what leads to impatience, rigidity, and indifference. But does he? And does it matter?

As he has become more capable, my expectations have risen higher, and with them my intolerance for the times when he inevitably falls short.

I know development isn't linear. I know that the fact that he did something yesterday does not mean he's capable of the same today. But still I struggle to adjust my expectations.

And that adjustment is really what it comes down to. Sometimes he really doesn't know better. Sometimes he does, but has the impulse control of a child. Sometimes he does and he's making a last ditch effort to get my attention after his loving and respectful attempts landed on deaf ears and blind eyes. Sometimes it's just the only way he knows how to show me how he feels and what he needs.

But whatever the case, my expectation should be that he is always behaving in a way that is "right." Because "right" when you're two means being connected to your needs and feelings and doing your best to make them known, especially when you need help with them.

He's communicating important things with me through these behaviors that push my buttons, and I only need to change the way I'm interpreting them for it to become positive for both of us.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Day 171: It's Just...

As pretty much everything else has been this summer, our playgroup was rained out this week. But one brave soul volunteered to host, so we all took advantage of the opportunity to get our own kids out of the houses they've been strangely cooped up in for most of the month of June...and May...and, well it hasn't been a very park-friendly season so far.

We walked in to find a beautifully arranged table of art supplies, and before long we were all watching paintbrush double dipping and playdough colors being smashed together into one big marbled mass. I think a few of us started to hyperventilate. Then we launched into our own stories of OCD meets child rearing.

And the common thread in those stories was It's just... I wish I didn't need the reminders so often, but I'm certainly glad they keep coming. This one was one of my favorites.

It's just flour

So often the behaviors I try foolishly to change in Jackson are just the product of a two-year-old being two - curious, creative, and rambunctious. And always - always - the thing I'm upset about is just not as important as nurturing him and our relationship.

The mess he drags all over the house - up, down, left, right, this corner, that nook, anywhere you can imagine and then ten more places you can't - is more likely a great opportunity for me to learn to let go and focus on more important things than it is an opportunity to teach him responsibility.

Do the upstairs toys really need to stay upstairs and downstairs toys downstairs? Do they really need to be sorted? Aren't they his things and shouldn't he be able to play with them and put them away how he likes?

Maybe putting the singing hamster and the pretend razor in the same bin makes sense to him because the guy might need a shave in the middle of the night. And maybe overturning the ball pit to make a cozy place to lay with his animals isn't as much messy as it is creative.

Of course it's not that order and responsibility shouldn't be learned. But ranting like a crazy person about the mess while demanding that he pick it up and put it away my way might not be the most effective way to teach those things, certainly not to inspire them. I wonder how I would feel if he went off about the horrific stack of crap perpetually on my "desk" (aka the dining room table) and ordered me to rearrange everything, or worse yet, clean it up so there was no stack of crap.
It's just dirt

When it comes down to it, no matter what the situation is and no matter how huge it feels at the time, I can always say It's just...

It's just a shirt (which we probably paid a quarter for at a garage sale). It's just a camera (maybe using a disposable camera would be nostalgic, remember waiting to get them developed?). It's just an appointment (that I probably would've found a way to be late to if he hadn't). It's just a nap (which he will not die without, nor will his brother).

But I'll never find myself thinking, it's just our's just his's just his's just his confidence. No, those things have to be more important. And if I'm focused on his behavior, I'm showing him they're not.

I have to change my frame of mind. I shouldn't be asking myself how I'm going to motivate him to do what I want or worse, make him do what I want. In every situation I should only ask: How can I love him in this moment? Because balls neatly inside the ball pit or strewn all over the room, what matters is that he feels loved and cherished. It's just that simple. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Day 168: I Don't Wanna!

I feel like throwing a good old fashioned tantrum.

I've spent the past few days not posting, but actively working through the issue of letting go of some of the things that are filling up my life. I've complied lists galore, diagrams, and even pie charts (that's right, I said pie charts) in an attempt to analyze which trumps the other and relegate a few to the gotta-go pile.

But each and every one of the things I'm involved in is important to me! In their own way, as much as they drain my time and energy, they fulfill, equip and energize me.

I feel torn. Is it better to impact a few people in a big way or lots of people in a small way? Do I prioritize the things through which I feel I have the greatest positive impact or the ones that are most personally fulfilling. Does personally fulfilling mean it feeds me individually or our family as a whole? And what part of me or our family needs to be fed? Do I go with the numbers and get rid of the things that require the most from me or the ones for which the effort-payoff ratio is smallest?

So many questions with so many possible answers, none right or wrong. Not a comfortable way to make a decision for this black-and-white mom. The bottom line is that I do the things I do because they're positive and productive and I'm passionate about all of them.

Of course the things I really wish I could ditch are the non-negotiables that don't stir my heart with excitement, but which are vital to our family and business. And through all the pie charting I've been trying to see those things in a more positive light - being thankful that I'm needed, a part of the "team" and able to contribute, and viewing that service to my family as meaningful instead of a drag, no matter how much I hate paperwork and the like.

My pie chart would definitely be the inverse. No, scratch that. It would all be eaten and there would be a picture of another pie labeled "next."

Once the tantrum subsided, I got all the details sorted out and dove beneath the surface to get a little more honest with myself. And there were a few front-runners for the cut. There were also some painfully obvious imbalances in terms of energy in vs energy out and the target of that spent energy.

Ironically, "set priorities" has literally been written on my to-do list for at least two months now without having been addressed - a sign that perhaps priorities aren't in line, you think?

So in establishing priorities, these are the conclusions I came to:
  • Spending my time and energy on positive and productive things, does not necessarily equal a positive and productive use of my time and energy if priorities are not set and honored. In other words, a good thing in general can be a bad thing for me or our family if it takes precedence over something more important.
  • I'm investing a lot of energy in relationships - a valuable and positive thing, no question. But I'm spreading that energy among too many people and leaving gaping holes where there should be more invested, namely within my extended family. The list of women I genuinely want to spend time with is so long it actually causes stress based on the number of phone calls and emails I "need" to make and play dates I "need" to schedule. I simply have to allow those relationships either weather the long periods between talks and time spent together or fall to the wayside if they're not hearty enough to do so. A tough task when one of my great passions is community building!
  • I'm not engaging in enough self-care to sustain the load I've taken on. The piling stress leads to poor nutritional choices, either from a lack of time to nourish myself with a good meal and sit down while I eat or because a brownie masquerades as a reward before causing a crash and burn reaction, to say nothing of the guilt and self-loathing. (Seriously though, if you haven't tried the peanut butter brownies at the Good Earth Co-Op, you haven't lived.) When I'm over-scheduled I don't have time to run, an essential for my physical and emotional well-being. And I don't have the "luxury" of listening to my body when it's telling me to take a short nap while the kids sleep or just take thirty minutes to rest and read one of the five thousand books on my as-if-I'll-ever-have-time wish list. These are simple things that have to fit in if I'm going to be effective.
  • Real life has to come first. My research and facebook addiction is easy to justify, not only because it's a form of activism which has led me to the opportunity to help quite a few women and their families, but also because our family has gained so much from what I've learned through all that reading, often after seeing something posted on a friend's page. But some things, like nurturing those real-life friendships and a little self-care, are more important than piling up more knowledge, no matter how useful. 
  • Spirituality, which could easily also fall under relationships, self-care, and real life, has to top the list. It is the glue that holds all the rest together and gives it all meaning. I'm not modeling the kind of relationship with and reliance on God that I want my kids to see, and they're not experiencing his love as they should because it's not able to flow through me when I give that relationship little time or attention. The kind of energy and strength I'll gain from prioritizing this aspect of life will fuel me to do more and be better in every other way. Seems like a no-brainer, right?

And the practical application goes like this:
  • I will post for myself a visible list of priorities and make to-do lists and schedule activities accordingly.
  • I will leave at least two of five weekday mornings open so we have more freedom and less stress.
  • I will take an evening run by myself at least once per week and use one of those free mornings and one weekend day to run with the kids.
  • I will invest first in my family relationships and closest friendships and only spread my energy further if there is enough to do so. I must trust that there's enough of me to nurture the relationships that are meant to be sustained.
  • I will sit down to eat lunch with the boys and make a plan for dinner each morning so we can also eat as a family in the evening. Less chaos at meal times will be good for all of us.
  • I will take a hiatus from facebook reading and posting. When we settle into a less hectic routine, I'll allow myself to return to it only if other priorities are tended to first, and only at a specified time of day and for a reasonable amount of time which will depend on how much "extra" is available at that point. For now I will log on once during nap time to admin the Holistic Parenting group I created and check my inbox. No homepage. I repeat, NO homepage!
  • I will continue to respond to and prioritize calls, emails, and messages from women seeking support or information as these fall under the "real-life" relationship guideline when directed specifically to me. However, I will not address general online posts with the same questions unless the need is urgent or the response so simple it's faster to post it than think about it again.
  • I will delegate more responsibility to my Holistic Moms Network co-leaders and if something can't be taken on by one of them, I will allow myself to let it go.
  • I will use my now screen-free time to focus on finishing La Leche League training. A real-life passion that has taken a back seat to other less-important reading.
  • I will read a Bible verse each morning with Jackson during breakfast, a great way to also make sure we're sitting down to that meal together. Here's hoping I can answer the slew of questions that will come my way about each one!
  • We will jump back in to our church and seek relationships there, not just attendance.
  • I will ask for the specific help I need. I am blessed with a husband that is endlessly supportive, parents who bend over backward to help out, and in-laws who would do anything they could for us and I simply need to be organized enough to identify where and how they can relieve some pressure. This will not only help me (and as a byproduct, the kids who have to put up with me all day), but it will make our family function more as a team and deepen relationships as we rely on each other.
I think the goals are realistic and achievable. It's really all riding on staying focused. I'm easily distracted by so many things I want to accomplish and ways I want to contribute, but if I honor that list of priorities, I'll have no choice but to stay on track.

And when the pressure starts to lift, joy is abundant, and love flows more freely, I hope the rewards will be enough to make maintaining balance come a little more naturally.

    Friday, June 17, 2011

    Day 164: Time, Connection, and Stuff

    There's something wrong with the way we're living when everyone you meet agrees that there aren't enough hours in the day, when stress is considered normal and no one gets enough rest and relaxation to recharge and face another day or week.

    And the logic follows then, that there's something wrong with the way I'm living. Because when I peel back all the layers covering my struggle to see beyond behavior to the heart, it all comes down to time, connection and stuff.

    Not long ago when I had one child, no job, fewer relationships and no volunteer responsibilities, I had time to engage in the kind of connection and communication my relationship with Jackson needed. I was able to take our days at a slower pace and actually sit and eat lunch with him instead of frantically trying to do dishes and sweep floors or get Max to sleep while he eats alone. I was able to get some much needed relaxation and me-time just by going to the park and watching him play in the splash pad while I read a book in the sun. I was able to read to him and play during the day instead of being glued to a computer screen trying desperately to catch up on a workload that just keeps growing.

    It's easy to blame myself for being impatient when he needs to take his time (Ahhhh! We're late again!?) or to feel guilty about not engaging him the way I used to or as often. But the reality is that I haven't changed, our life has. I'm still the same person with the same capacity for love and patience, I've just slowly become overloaded by more and more stuff. Stuff that is eating up the time and energy I need to connect and be present with him.

    Of course Maxwell was the first and biggest change (and I think we'll keep him :D), but very quickly after him came one responsibility after another and eventually my relationship with Jackson got crowded out. He got less and less of my time and attention and it's now culminating in issues of jealousy with Max and desperate attempts to reconnect with me through negative behavior. (And here come the tears)

    I can't believe it took me so long to finally see what was lying underneath it all. The change was so gradual - adding one thing, then another - that I couldn't see how far we had strayed from what used to be normal for our relationship.

    But now it's clear that the behaviors I've been fighting against and trying to control (in him and myself!) have been pleas for me to come back to him, let go of the stuff and give him the connection he needs and the time he deserves.

    I was forgetting how intuitive and in tune with my energy he is. He's so painfully aware that when I'm with him, I've got a million other things running through my head - I'm not really there like I used to be. I may have convinced myself that I was giving him what he needed, but he knew better.

    I'm so proud and so thankful that the connection we built early on left him unsatisfied with my leftovers. Only his refusal to accept the scraps of my time and energy would ever be enough to pull me back to center and right our relationship.

    So on to the work. Learning new tools is helpful and I always want to pursue growth. But trying to manage the feelings of frustration, impatience, and anger that swell up when I'm stressed and overwhelmed is like putting a bandaid over a gaping wound. Something bigger needs to change. The stress itself has to go, and that means addressing the stuff.

    Because I am enough. I have enough patience, enough love, enough energy, enough of everything, even time, for the things that are truly important. Finding myself in this constant state of frenzy - rushing everywhere, always behind, too stressed to connect - isn't because I'm not enough, it's because the "stuff" is too much.

    And as I end on that thought and soak in its truth, I'm struck with the reality of having to move on to making decisions about what can stay and what needs to go. No easy task and a good topic for tomorrow.

    Monday, June 13, 2011

    Day 160: Mirror, Mirror

    I always see Jackson's behavior as a mirror, but sometimes I misinterpret the reflection.

    When he chooses to do the opposite of what I've asked, resists cooperation, and has a "bad" attitude, I've been allowing that negative, inaccurate script to trick me into thinking it's a reflection of my weakness, a lack of power and authority. So is it any wonder I've been reacting by trying to assert myself through changing his behavior?

    In reality, the reflection I'm seeing is of my own behavior and attitude.

    He has always freely offered respect and cooperation when he's treated with the same. He's always open and emotionally healthy when he experiences connection and acceptance.

    Of course this doesn't translate into being permanently cheerful, but it does dictate how often, to what degree, and for how long he feels sad, frustrated and the like. When those feelings do arise, he communicates so openly and honestly when he feels safe and respected that, as he's heard, understood and valued, they generally float out as quickly as they came in.

    When, on the other hand, he feels rejected, judged, disrespected or controlled, we find ourselves standing in a stagnant pool of those feelings - the ones that are there to guide us away from where we are and back to where we're meant to be.

    When I feel disrespected, the question I should be asking myself isn't: How do I make him respect me?

    It should be: How have I been disrespecting him? And how do I change that right now by showing him respect in this situation?
    Even Bob the Robot gets love and respect

    Kids truly do need love most when they deserve it least, and that means respect, acceptance, and connection in the face of real or perceived (as is often the case) disrespect.

    As I challenge the authoritarian script, I'm going to start taking a more honest look in the mirror of his behavior so I can see myself for what I am in that moment and choose a different path - one that leads to listening and connecting.

    Saturday, June 11, 2011

    Day 158: Trigger Happy

    With every problem in life one can choose to manage symptoms or address the cause. And physical or emotional, I prefer to do the latter.

    My current struggle to look past the surface of Jackson's behavior could probably be managed if I learned and practiced a few tools, and certainly that will have its place as I work through this. But I don't want to be satisfied with that; I don't want to keep pruning weeds and leaving the roots to continue growing.

    So what is the cause?

    It's the script I carry from childhood. Quite frankly his behavior is a trigger for the authoritarian values I absorbed as a child, but have consciously chosen to reject as an adult. And so the knee-jerk reaction when these abandoned, yet not escaped beliefs are triggered is to focus on behavior modification through punitive discipline.

    When he doesn't do as told, when told, he's "defiant." When he makes a choice that isn't in line with my desires, he's "disrespectful." When he doesn't fall in line, I'm not "in control." When he uses stall tactics he's "manipulative." When I "allow" him the simple freedoms he deserves he's "walking all over me" and I'm "permissive." Because as a parent my role is to be powerful, respected (read: obeyed), and in control.

    In only a few weeks of really butting heads with this issue, I've seen a sad decline in my relationship with him. He's not as open with me, he's not desiring cooperation and respect as he used to because so little is coming his way. He's feeling the adversarial context I've been setting us in, and he's reacting.

    It's devastating to watch these things happen and to feel so incapable of changing the pattern we're in. But I am capable of change and we are going to find our way back to center and back to the harmony we have experienced before. If I choose connection over correction, responsiveness over reactivity, and cooperation over control.

    Outing those beliefs and that running script is step one, so when I feel the anger rising and the need for control rearing its ugly head I'm going to look to the source - and remind myself that it's never my children and always within me.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011

    Day 154: Something New

    I'm thinking about doing things a little differently.

    The benefits of this journey in parenting and blogging have been many, but sometimes a certain issue or concept slips right through my fingers. I recognize it, write about it, then move on to another post on another topic and leave it behind me, not fully grasped and far from adequately implemented.

    The things that are hardest to soak in and live out are crying out for more than a post's attention, and so I want to give them that.

    I'm going to pick a single concept and stick with it until I've beaten it to death...uhhhhh...until I feel ready to move on. Given my last post on being a dweller, I'll try to make sure I'm not feeding that monster, but I do want to give myself time to get it - I mean really get it. Because if I'm not doing that, then what am I here for?

    And what better place to start than with the thing I'm 'getting' the least right now!

    I'm finding myself feeling result-oriented rather than relationship-oriented, which means I'm slipping into punitive discipline. This comes from an external focus - reacting to behaviors instead of seeking my childrens' hearts through their words (or babbles as the case may be) and deeds and meeting them there without judgment.

    So until a greater need arises, I'll be tackling this issue and sharing whatever comes along the way. With any luck that'll be insights and epiphanies, but more likely it'll be some roadblocks, some scary self-realizations, and a few small victories that remind me that it's worth all the energy and time it requires.

    Friday, June 3, 2011

    Day 150: To Dwell or Not to Dwell

    Oh self-discovery, how I loathe all the work you make me do. But oh how I appreciate what you bring when I find the strength to change and grow as I learn. *sigh*

    I'm finding out that I'm a dweller. When something catches my attention, positive or negative (let's be honest, more often negative than positive), it tends to stay there. Sometimes for too long.

    Since letting go doesn't come naturally to me, it generally only happens when undertaken with conscious effort. And while I work on living more openly and letting feelings, thoughts, and experiences freely come in and flow out as they are meant to, I'm noticing the powerful, albeit unintentional effect my dwelling has on Jackson.

    He loves to talk about his feelings, and whether that feeds my tendency to dwell or whether my dwelling brought about this trait in him, it's where he's at. And I'm noticing that he sometimes has a hard time moving on too. But why wouldn't he? He hasn't seen it modeled in me and I really haven't tried to teach it to him either.

    So in thinking about this, I've found that I don't know where the healthy line is drawn. When do his feelings really need to be processed and talked through, and when can I encourage him to let go and move on?

    I don't want him to ever feel as though I've blown off an experience he considered significant, but I also don't want him to go through life having to see every experience as a monumental event to be dwelled on and every emotion as something to work through. Trying to follow his cues at this point leads to lots of dwelling since he's so intensely thoughtful and sensitive, which leads me to believe that gentle encouragement from me is warranted.

    I'm hoping this is something that time, thought (dwelling?), and a little helpful advice will bring to a more conclusive end, so I'll pose the question: How do you handle this with your kids?