Tuesday, April 1, 2014

when parenting is hard: six ways to make it easier

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things with bonz have been a mixed bag for the last few weeks – the highs have been high and the lows have been low. when we get in a tough cycle like this it often takes me a little while to see it for what it is and find – and utilize – the tools i know i have within myself to keep our boat afloat and moving in the direction we want to be going in.

it seemed like things were just sailing by there for a good while, going swimmingly, really. then there was some sort of shift – maybe a planetary alignment, maybe a developmental phase – where his behavior just suddenly seemed to take a hard left.

i wish i could say i met it with understanding, patience and grace. i should have been understanding, patient and graceful, i know that would have been best – but it didn't really happen that way for whatever reason. instead i met his shifting behavior with resistance and irritation, fighting fire with fire – then, naturally, wondering why we weren't getting anywhere. i felt helpless and stumped, out of my depth and not sure how to handle things.

it took me a day or so to realize what i was doing and to make the correlation between my attitude and his and to realize that i do, in fact, know exactly what to do – i just have to do it.

i literally wrote out a list to have an action plan i could look at and here's what it said:







// set limits: early, calmly, clearly, gently, firmly.
i talk a big talk with this one but i find that it's often the first to slip – not let go of completely, but slip. if i don't set the limit early then the limit ends up getting set when i'm feeling too irritated and then that sets the tone for how it's all going to play out. this is the number one thing i need to tighten up on when the going gets tough. if i set the limit early, i can set it calmly, clearly, gently and firmly and feel like i'm on top of the situation instead of endlessly irked by it. which then makes my behavior just as bad – fire with fire, remember? no good. and it's important to remember that limit-testing behavior is almost always a sign that there are feelings surfacing that need to be felt,  and that it's not button-pushing for the sake of button-pushing. though sometimes it's hard to distinguish the two – especially if i haven't gotten myself in line first (see action plan above).

// connect.
this seems like it would come so naturally but there are totally times where i realize that i need to slow it down and just connect. frequently his behavior is getting iffy because he's feeling a disconnect. i have always been protective of our schedule and the overall rhythm of our days and make it a point to not over-book ourselves with plans and activities. i love having mornings or afternoons that are just ours to be within and i feel like we stay so connected during those times. but there are days when i feel like i'm cramming it all in, trying to get it all done. needless to say, those aren't the times when i'm feeling connected and, also needless to say, neither is bonz – or mush for that matter. it's real life, though, and some days are just busy. but it's worth examining, too.

// relationship > discipline.
on the heels of connection comes this one. in the heat of the moment, sometimes i lose sight of the fact that our relationship needs to come first because i'm hellbent on addressing his behavior. realizing that not every situation has to be a teaching moment or that sometimes letting it go and talking about it later (if at all) helps us stay on the same team and when we're on the same team we're working together, not against each other.

// prevent, plan, anticipate.
there are certain things – and the list isn't static – that are triggers for bonz to get off track. recently, a big one was me putting his clothes out and asking him to get himself dressed while i'm at my sink getting ready. it was working just fine or a while. but then it slowly became a ridiculous circus of unnecessary reminders, resistance, frustration, irritation. rad way to start the day! it took me a short while but i snapped out of it and just eliminated the whole scenario. one morning before any shenanigans shortened my fuse, i asked him if he'd like me to help him get dressed before i did my thing. he lovingly said, "sure" and that's how we do it these days. i take three minutes and just help him with the process – that he's more than able to do by himself, by the way – so we can get it done without incident. i so totally don't mind it at all because it's planned for and i'm not helping him out of irritation or exasperation. it's easy as pie and actually sweet little moments that i enjoy. then i get ready in peace without having to dish out reminders and feel frustrated. some days he'll just get dressed himself and those days are great, too. but noticing problem areas and preventing them? gold.

// ask for a do-over.
and this one goes both ways. bonz will be sailing along then suddenly, out of nowhere, he'll do or say something super off-track. whoa, buddy – want to try that again? or sometimes i'll just bomb with what i do or say and i'll announce that i'm going to start over and try again. it's a good way turn things around with a sense of humor and often saves us both from going totally off the rails.

// be calm, confident, unruffled, in charge.
easy enough, right? ha. if it were, would i need to write it down and tape it to the wall? if i'm not calm, bonzo won't trust that i can handle it. if i'm not confident, bonzo won't feel secure. if i'm not unruffled, bonzo will feel like he wields and uncomfortable amount of power. and if i'm not in charge, bonzo will wonder who is. it's really as simple as that. there are moments and even full days when i'm on it – calm,  confident, unruffled, in charge – and there are moments and days when i'm not. i like to think that the times when i'm on outweigh the times when i'm off but either way, the difference between the two is staggering. it's enough to make me wonder why i'm not always just on my game.

so yeah. i got out of my own way, went back to the basics and things have been looking up with bonz since. it's slow but it's steady, i'd say. some moments are harder than others but the amazing moments eclipse those any second of the day. he's rounding third base and headed straight for his fifth birthday in july – there's just much going on with him that i can literally see him processing the world as he takes it in. it's no wonder that he gets off track from time to time. being a kid ain't easy. and, as it turns out, being a mama isn't either.

on a cute side note, we took an after dinner scoot because some neighbors are replacing their driveway and, as such, have quite the attraction parked out front.
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there are no words to describe how much i love this guy.


Bridget said...

love this. especially the connection bit - i totally find that when i'm not connecting with one of the kids, poor behavior is sooo much more likely to arise. when i have quality time with them, everyone's so much more forgiving of each other.

Liz/ said...

That bonz is one handsome little guy, love these pictures! Also, love how you wrote this out....I needed to read it as my 4 year old girl and I have been battling lately and it doesn't feel good so thanks for the reminders!

dustofafrica said...

I love the do-over idea for the kids and for me.

butternutb said...

you are so inspiring. seriously, there is no other way to put it!

Rachael said...

I love the way you wrote this, thank you so much! Great ideas and lots for me to mull over.

Jordan Rose said...

I love this! We are not there yet, but will be soon I bet, when we are I will be visiting this post again!

Faith Orlando said...

That was a lot...that's so awesome that you can put so much thought into your parenting..and use the tools you have mastered...amazing...
I have five children from 20 to 1 in age and I know each one is so very diffferent and unique so I have had to do things different and unique with each one..what works for one doesn't always work for another...or maybe but on another day..it all kinda depends..
its good to read the struggle and solutions of another mom out there in the thick of it.
Good luck..sound's like your doing just great!!

Katelyn Heather said...

I really like this. Can relate a lot with my almost-4-year-old. I just finished reading How to Talk so Kids will Listen & Listen so Kids will Talk & Siblings without Rivalry from your post recommendation, really enjoyed them both.

It's just nice to hear someone who's going through similar stages, & handling it a way that feels right for us too. Thanks for sharing :)

Jen said...

Love all of this! Such great reminders. We had a ROUGH couple of weeks it seems about a month ago and the three year old behavior of fire with fire plus his rudeness and whining that really got challenging. We had a lot of do overs and somehow the hard days have minimized quite a bit. Maybe we were going though the same planetary alignment? :o) I may just tape your 6 tips in my kitchen next to my other parenting quotes and reminders because they really are gold. Thanks for the honesty. Comforting to know other people are also going through challenges that come and go with each age.

blake said...

Ah, so good. The best. Can I just say that I found FOUR to be The Toughest age of all (so far, haha). Not that our particular Five is a walk in the park, but oh man Four was a time of big transitions here. Maybe for your Bonz too. Keep on keepin' on -- those kids are so lucky to have such a mindful and thoughtful mama. xoxo

Claire said...

Thank you for those 6 ways and explanations :)