This morning I was awakened. Awakened to my behavior by my two little boys. It started when my 5 year old son went over to my 3 year old son and shot water out of his water bottle and all over the little one. Without a moments pause, I asked my older son why he did it. But I didn’t just ask in a mild, polite, I-actually-care-what-you-have-to-say kind of way. No, I asked like it was a rhetorical question and it didn’t matter what he was going to say. So when he didn’t have an explanation, I yelled at him. Then I sprayed water on his shirt and said “how do YOU like that?”. #crazyawfulparenting. It wasn’t in his face and it wasn’t hot liquid but that is absolutely no excuse. But that is what I did and I am not proud of it, in fact I am pretty embarrassed and ashamed. Immediately WE were fighting instead of him and his brother whom he had actually wronged. When he stormed off upstairs my little one said–and no, I could not have even made this up if I tried–he said: “mom, Ethan bullied me, but you bullied him more!”. He was excited and was telling me in a congratulatory “we won” kinda way.
In Dr. Shefali Tsabary’s books on Conscious Parenting, she talks about how parents use their power over kids and how we should really be looking at letting our kids be our partners or even guide us. This teaching needs to be learned, embodied, and constantly practiced by parents, especially in the tough moments because parenting is hereditary. Without awareness–real, raw, and honest–in the toughest parenting moments, one will tend to do exactly what they swore they would never do. Parenting is hereditary because it is learned, passed on, and subjective to the environment we have been exposed. It is not genetic because it does not come from our actual DNA. This is an important distinction because it gives parents the awareness that parenting is a direct product of how you were parented unless you are consciously rebelling against that and learning new strategies to use AND putting those strategies into use. Parents do have the power to change themselves every single day and many parents would agree they want to be different than their parents. (I have wonderful parents in so many ways, but they are not without their misgivings and how I was treating my son was an unconscious and automatic response that goes back to how I was raised. But is that forgivable?)
I want to be better for my kids. I took a deep breath and softened my heart and harnessed the conscious parenting teachings of Dr. Shefali and went up to his room. At this point he was hiding underneath the covers of his bed. He was rejecting my admonishment to get dressed and I couldn’t blame him. It was me who had taken a typical 5 year old behavior and turned it into a huge blow up. I had made him feel bad about himself and horrible about me and even worse about our relationship. I felt really bad; I could have easily deflected this situation away from my ego and on to his poor behavior. But truly and most vulnerably, I had to admit to myself, and to him, that he didn’t deserve to be afraid and feel bad about himself or to hate his mother. He deserved to be listened to, taught, and guided with heart.
As I sat down on his bed and apologized (harnessing all my Yom Kippur –the Jewish day of Forgiveness–energy from the day before) he rejected me. I tried again and again. I admitted that I treated this situation very poorly and that I should have stopped, taken a deep breath, and asked for help. I should have done exactly what I want him to do when he gets angry. It wasn’t a time for silliness–this interaction was gravely important to him and to me– I gave him my authentic heart and a sincerely apology. Eventually, instead of insisting we hug it out (I didn’t want to use my power to force him to move on–what good would that do?) I asked him if he wanted me to leave.
I took a deep breath and was ready to do whatever he needed. It wasn’t about him spraying water, it wasn’t about him not getting dressed, it wasn’t about him yelling or trying to hit me. It was about my wrongdoings and how I got caught up in the moment–flight or fight–and I fought. Eventually the tension in the room settled and he realized I was truly apologetic and yearning to be better and he said I could stay.
He bounced up like kids do (isn’t their resilience something to be we should envy?), got out of bed, and asked me if he could show me something. Despite the fact that he was bordering on being late for school, I knew we needed to repair the relationship. He went to grab a ziploc bag–I thought it was full of pins and he was going to prick me with one. I would have wanted to do that if the situation were reversed. But he actually grabbed his bags of rocks. A collection he built this summer that we both enjoy looking at and talking about. We talked about the pretty ones and the broken ones in a matter of fact way. He then got dressed, went downstairs, and started writing “I love you Mom” on paper.
We repaired. It is possible to change and while this example illuminates my wits end, everyone has their own version of what that looks like. The problem lies in being stationary with that behavior and not willing to make yourself vulnerable to self-
reflection. It’s hard to do but fear should not prevent growth because our kids matter. A lot. And we have a lot to learn from our kids. Let’s listen to them and transform ourselves so that we can model the type of humanity we want them to give and receive. They deserve our best.
Let’s listen to them and transform ourselves so that we can model the type of humanity we want them to give and receive.
(c) 2016, Nurture: Family Education and Guidance