Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Can we fix it? Yes we can!

I haven't posted recently because I have been feeling like a fraud.  Respectful parenting seemed to go out the window when my son turned four last month and his behaviour seemed to change overnight and I didn't/couldn't get my head around those changes.  For the first time ever I was not enjoying time with my boy and that made me sad, angry, anxious, guilty and resentful.  I felt like I'd been blessed with this wonderful few years and it was disappearing right before my eyes. I got myself wound up about it because in my head I thought this was it for the long haul. 

Then I had a realisation.  The problem was not his behaviour, it was mine.  What may have only been a few days of over-tiredness or testing behaviours turned into weeks of challenges to our relationship and frustration for us both.  The second part of the realisation was that it didn't have to be that way - I CAN fix this!  The connection that characterises our relationship is still there, and lots of little steps and changes to my behaviour can re-cement it and cover over any cracks that were starting to appear. 

So for my little guy, this post is also like a pledge.  I will do better.  I loved you beyond words at three years old, you never doubted that for a second, and four and five and six (and beyond) are going to be the same.  Here is what I need to re-practice:

* I have always picked my battles.  Recently I've picked battling.  My boy is starting to want to argue.  It takes two people to argue.  I don't have to take the bait!

* I will change my language back.  I do not like 'if you do this...then this will happen' or worse, 'if you don't do...then.....'.  I can replace it with 'first...and then', and "yes....after'.

* I will remember he is still learning.  I don't correct every mistake he does when working with numbers, or telling stories.  I do not need to correct all the mistakes he makes with behaviour.  I have high expectations, and these aren't always fair.  I make mistakes at my age, he is certainly going to make them at his. 

* I will remember that 'who he is' is not set in stone and he is allowed to try out new roles and learn about himself.  I am so used to my sensitive soul that the sudden interest in 'biffing' and hurting unsettles me.  But I can choose to see it for what it is - an expression, a way of coping, imitating, whatever else it is at this moment.   His world is getting wider and the way he interacts with it will too.  I will relax, continue to guide, and continue to love him.

* I can choose what to notice.  I can choose kindness in my words.  I can be gentle with my touch.  I can lighten the mood. 

Things are improving already.   I am calmer and kinder, and wouldn't you know it - so is he!  His childhood fabric is not woven by a perfect Mum.  There will be missed threads and unpicking and re-sewing to do, but the point is that along the way, changes can be made.  Mistakes can be fixed, and the fabric created at the end of this long childhood will not be any weaker for a few weeks of my getting off track.  What would've been worse is abandoning my commitment to creating this wonderful childhood fabric at the first sign of unravelling.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Laughing our way through his childhood

Other than love and connection, the other key thread I want my son's childhood fabric to be woven with is laughter.  I come from a family of laughers, and am attracted to friends who make me laugh.  I want my son to know that life doesn't need to be so serious, and that being funny is something worth being. 

I am serious about parenting, but It doesn't mean I need to be a serious parent!  Just today when my son asked me to rip off some toilet paper for him as he couldn't get the roll started, I replied,  "sure, but how big is your bottom"? and rolled out the entire roll onto the floor.  Silly? - yes.  Likely to be repeated numerous times by a nearly 4 year old? - probably.  Juvenile? -Totally! But it broke the seriousness of a week of illness, runny noses and lack of sleep, and I truly believe that all the little moments of laughter will create a fun, memorable and connected childhood fabric for him. 

The seriousness of life creeps in all too easily, even with such a joyful little man in the house.  I realise that I can choose to let myself be stressed, or I can laugh.  I can panic about all the things I haven't done in a day or I do something that I find fun.  I can get cross at my son or I can make him laugh.  I hope that he learns he can also choose his reactions.  He can chose to get angry if something doesn't go his way or he can find the humour in the situation.  He can find fault with himself, or he can laugh at his own shortcomings.  I spend a lot of time thinking about what my son needs in life, and from me, and I think laughing is one of the things we both need, numerous times a day.  So I look for moments to lighten the mood.  We chase each other round the house, wear undies on our head, imitate each other, make silly noises, sing silly songs, play tricks and make up silly stories.  I love being a parent, truly 100% love it, and the odd days when it's less enjoyable I need to ask, has he laughed enough today?  Have I? Humour rebuilds our connection in the bad moments and less face it, it's far more fun than nagging.

And lastly, we celebrate each other's humour.  My son was just under three and a half when he first displayed the quick wit that my family shares.  When I fell off the edge of a pathway into a plant, his little eyes twinkled and he gave a huge smile as he asked, "Mum, did you go on a bush walk"?  I couldn't have been any prouder!

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Adult worries on children's shoulders

Today as we pulled out of a street, a road accident blocked our way and we had to stay waiting to be directed safely around the car and motorbike in pieces on the road.  I felt huge sadness for the driver of the car, crying on the side of the road, and the very injured motorcyclist lying on the grass being attended to by numerous emergency medical staff.  My other emotion was concern - for my nearly four year old son sitting in the back seat, with an even better view of the injured victim than I had.  What would he make of it?  How could i explain it to him?  How can i shield him from it when telling him not to look is just going to make him even more curious?

And then I decided to not make a fuss.  We just have to wait for the policeman to tell us we can go, I told him.  Yes, that is an ambulance, they are helping the man who has fallen off his motorbike.  And that was about it.  I waited to see if he would say anymore.  He didn't in any direct way but I did notice that on the way home he mentioned a train that might crash, and two different times he warned me to be careful.  When we got home and he shared his day with his Dad this did not come up at all.  He told him about the birthday celebration at Preschool, and that he could now open the car window all by himself.  He told him we picked up pizza on the way home and that it was "an awesome day".  There was no trauma, and I know that there would only have been trauma if I had told him the experience was traumatic!

I have mentioned before in a post about parents over-talking.  I also think we over expose children these days.  I will never forget teaching at the time of the Twin Towers attack and seeing how much knowledge and graphic images our three and four years olds had been exposed to.  Their parents wanted to "involve them in everything", with the best of intentions, but I think there are limits to what children need to see. 

Death is another area that I think children are often given too much information about.  I have seen children with far too much information being given when they do not have the experience or understanding to cope with these concepts, resulting in confusion and fear and an unhealthy interest in these topics.  Until he was about 3 and a quarter, I had had no deaths in our circle to share with my son.  I knew if it happened I didn't want to over do it with the information and 'involve him' in grief but I had thought I would explain in simple terms what had happened.  Then, unfortunately, it happened.  One of my closest friends lost a long battle with cancer, and while her actual passing away was difficult, the 21 days leading up to her death, when they had predicted she would last only two days, were when the real grieving happened.  I did not involve my son in these days.  With him I carried on as normal and I cried in my own time.  He was with me when I received the news she was gone.  In a cafe, he witnessed me put my head on the table and cry, for just a minute or two, and even the look of worry when I came back to him was enough to realise he did not need my adult worry on his three year old shoulders.  I had planned to explain that she had died, until it actually happened and instead, I chose to say nothing.  On the day of her funeral I arranged for my Mum to care for him, while I went to 'say goodbye' to my dear friend 'because she was going away'.  He knew this would make me sad and account for my slightly odd behaviour the past few days, and this explanation was enough.  A few months later when he asked about this friend of mine I said we couldn't go and visit her because she had died.  "Oh," he said, "that's sad".  End of conversation. 

I think that parents want to treat their children with the same respect that they show to adults - which is such a wonderful way to parent.  Unfortunately I think this can be misinterpreted as giving them the same information as you would give an adult, and this I think is a mistake.  Children do not have adult experiences.  They do not have adult understandings or adult rationale.  I know we can't shield them from everything.  There are circumstances that maybe we cant avoid.  But there are so many we can.  There are many times we can choose to limit their exposure.  Let's give our children the gift of a childhood free from adult worries, and let their childhood shoulders carry childhood problems.  I would much prefer my son to be worried about whether it will rain on his birthday than what happens to you when you die, or how badly hurt was the motorcyclist who crashed today.  (Who, I end my post, by saying quiet prayers for...).

Friday, 24 February 2012

Speak to me like I'm someone you love

The words we use matter.  How we talk to our children matters.  In one of my favourite parenting books - Raising Our children, raising ourselves, Naomi Aldort reminds us that:

   The words we choose in our interactions with children have the power to heal or to hurt, to create distance or foster closeness, to shut down feelings or touch the heart and open it, to foster dependency or to empower.

I have chosen to be very conscious of the way I speak to my son - both the words and the tone.  Even the intention with which I use them, for example am I using my words to engage cooperation or exercise my control?  My heightened awareness partly comes with his increased abilities in language and the tendency to copy what he hears, but also just with my desire to always parent with connection in mind.  Even though he wont remember every word I say to him as a child, he will remember how I made him feel, and I do not want his childhood fabric to be made up of sarcasm, name calling, blaming, shaming, nagging, insulting and yelling. 

I am opposed to the view that you need to 'toughen children up', and prepare them for the harsh real word by exposing them to all of the above.  I hear this view often, but it is not something I can relate to.  To me, home is the safe haven, the place for unconditional love, warmth and security.  People often think that resiliency comes from a child 'having to cope' but I think it comes from being nurtured, feeling safe, having a secure base and a strong sense of self.  This comes from love and kind words, not from parents teaching you to 'harden up'. 

I am not perfect.  I can't consciously choose my words 100% of the time, but I can try, and I can be aware.  These are some of the things I am learning:

* "I'm sorry", is so powerful when you treat your child with anything less than respect.  Your children don't need you to be perfect, but they do need you to be honest.

* Less is more.  Over talking seems to be the current parenting generation's style and I hope like anything that I avoid doing it. 

* "Let's" is like a magic word.  It is so much nicer than even the most polite, "I need you to pick up your toys".  "Let's pick up your toys" - cooperation, not control. 

* "Why can't you....", "you are always so...(when used in a negative sense)", "how many times have I told you..." - these aren't helpful to building your child's 'fabric'.  Facts work better.  "I see your toys on the floor again".  "It would be helpful if your dirty clothes went here".  "You haven't listened.  I asked you to.....". 

* Mixed messages confuse a child.  "Please don't hit Darling, it makes me so sad" in a sugary sweet voice does not help give a clear message.  You can express yourself clearly without yelling.  You can be honest about being sad or cross while still treating your child respectfully. 

* Awareness is an amazing thing.  If I chose to notice my words, I am likely to be more careful with them. 

And with all this learning, I have come to a simple reminder.  We have adopted a new motto in our house.  It is simply this:

Speak to me like I am someone you love.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

His childhood fabric - an intro

As a conscious parent I know that every experience and relationship in my young son's life form part of his 'childhood fabric'.  He is who he is currently because of his early environment, and more importantly, his adult self will largely be constructed from these same early experiences. 

The first six years of life form the foundation for his whole personality.  The first three years are the most crucial and I remember greeting my son's third birthday with excitement as he moved to a new 'subphase' of development, but also a concern that those critical years were over - had I done enough? Had I met his needs?  What had I missed?  Is he going to be 'ok'? 

That was when the idea for this blog came about.  I realised that we are still creating his fabric every day, and even more excitingly, he is adding his own stitches/threads (I am not the least interested in real fabric - but love the analogy, and this means my use of terminology may be a little off) and while his first 3 years are over, his childhood is still far, far from over and I need to be just as conscious in these following years.  The desire to record our experiences and learning has stayed with me for almost a year.  He is now almost four and it's the right time to begin. 

I plan to share insights into his development and my own as a parent, information from my wide reading, general thoughts and whatever else it is that happens spontaneously when you decide to blog.  It all really comes down to this for me...As I work to develop my son's childhood fabric, I am in turn creating my own 'parenting fabric'!