Wednesday, November 14, 2012

10 Parenting Principles I Wish I'd Known: Episode Nine

10 Parenting Principles I Wish I'd Known: Episode Nine

As a parent, we are supposed to teach our children right from wrong, instill good morals, teach them kindness and compassion, and the list goes on and on.

But we often get so caught up on the daily grind of what we need to teach them NOT to do that we forget what we ARE teaching them to do.

For example, repeatedly explaining to Sassy that she is being disrespectful and not effectively communicating when she rolls her eyes or sighs heavily. That is VEEERRRRYYYYY frustrating. I spend so much time dealing with Sassy's "tween" behaviors right now that I forget things that she IS doing right. And, as children often do, it only takes a moment to put it all back in perspective, slow down, and admire what your children are growing up to be.

9) You Will Teach Your Kids Well

I should probably add a disclaimer to that. I mean, not all parents teach their children "well." But even those that model undesirable behaviors constantly can be perceived by their children to be modeling behaviors "I don't want to have when I grow up." Trust me on this one, I was one of those kids.

But, for all your intentions, your faults, your feelings of shortcomings or failures, the fact remains:

Even when you do not realize it, you are modeling behavior and actions for your children. 

Again, this could be positive or negative.
We are all human, we are not perfect.

I am working on trying to be a more peaceful parent and incorporate many of the ideas of attachment/gentle/natural/peaceful parenting into my parenting style. As I do this, I have realized that my reactions to parenting struggles is changing, but my kids' reactions are also changing, which in turn changes the entire way we address parenting issues.

For example, Diva has always been....well, a Diva. She is overly emotional and prone to fits of rage, depths of despair,  bouts of uncontrollable giddiness, etc. Some people wear their heart on their sleeves. Diva wears her heart like Harry Potter's Invisibility Cloak: it covers every ounce of her being and each person that sees it is caught up in the outer appearance instead of the person/emotional issue underneath. When Harry wears the Invisibility Cloak, everyone else just sees right through it and fails to notice what is really going on. Olivia is much the same, except her severe emotional reaction keeps anyone from being able to see what is really the root cause of the reaction.

Yep, I totally included HP in my metaphor. Gold star for me today.

But, what I have come to realize is that by working with her to come to the root of the issues instead of trying to control her reaction, the overpowering reaction dissolves and we can quickly resolve the underlying issue. Using "feeling" words really helps. Getting her to say "I'm just so frustrated by..." is much more productive than "WAAAAHHHH, WHHHHHHYYYY DOOOOOEEEESSSS IT HAVE TO BEEEEEEEEEE LIKE THISSSSSSSS?!?!?!?!" as she throws herself on her bed.

My point is this though: Sometimes I have emotional reactions due to frustration, stress, etc. I am trying very had to react to my children based on the individual instance and not let my own emotions and issues lead the way. Again, peaceful parenting work in progress here. I am not perfect at this. But we are a much happier family when I say, "We can't do ______ right now because of ______, but we will figure out a time that we can do _______, ok?" You know, instead of, "MOMMY SAID NO QUIT ASKING!!!!"

There are many days when I wonder if I'm doing things right. If I am positively influencing their character development, how they process events, etc. There have even been some particularly frustrating days when I am convinced that not only am I not doing it right, but I'm convinced I must be doing it WRONG.

This is not the case. And it took a simple situation to make me realize this. Let me tell you a story:

Sassy's Generous Nature Exposed

Sassy is 9 now. She is right at that age where many kids go from a child who cannot recognize and process the needs of others to a tween/teen that can recognize the needs of others but chooses to ignore them. Not always, but we all know that even the best kids will struggle with prioritizing their wants vs the needs of others. Totally normal.

There will be times that Sassy will do terribly sweet things for others. Going on an outing with a relative and insisting that she must buy her sister a treat/gift. Giving neck massages. Navigating the On Demand options to find an episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse for Monkey. All of these are things that she does for others without expecting anything in return, but they are mostly selfless things she does for siblings and not the norm of her thinking of others before herself. So it came as a BIG surprise when the tables turned a few weeks ago.

It was our elementary school's week for the Book Fair, which is also when Parent-Teacher conferences are held. All the students make wish lists, take them home, then come to school on conference day and hope their parents buy something off the list since they are already at the school.

On conference day, there is no school. The teachers do their stuff in the morning, then have conferences all afternoon and evening. The library is open all day though for the Book Fair. The girls were staying with my MIL that day while I worked and they begged her to take them to the book fair. While on the way there, Sassy said, "Grandma, I need to get the things off my list, but I also need to buy something for Samuel (name changed)."

Grandma asked who Samuel was and Sassy stated he was a boy in her class. Grandma asked why she needed to buy him something and Sassy's response was, "Samuel really wants some books, but his mom doesn't have any money to buy him books."

Yep, my usually self-centered tween had a friend at school that she felt was in need and she wanted to help. Grandma cried at how sweet the gesture was. So did I.

Now, I should add here that I do not know this kid or his family. I have no idea if they cannot afford books, if the little boy just told Sassy his mom wouldn't give him money for the Book Fair and Sassy assumed that meant they couldn't afford books, etc. I'm not going to pretend to know their situation.

But, what I will say is this:
Sassy felt that this boy was unable to afford the books that he wanted, so she took her upon herself to find a way to provide those books to him. THAT is all that matters.

So Sassy picked out 1 book for Samuel that was on his wishlist because some of the books were already sold out. And she picked up a scented highlighter that they had also both liked. I made sure that the book and highlighter went back in her backpack and she took them to school the next Monday to give to Samuel.

Now, at first I had thought about sending a note to the teacher or to this boy's mother to explain. But then I remembered when I was in elementary school and my family couldn't buy things like books at the Book Fair. It was hard enough to see all my friends getting new things and asking me what I was getting. When some kind soul did something charitable like this, I was left with mixed feelings: being overjoyed that I had the things I was being given, but also feeling ashamed that I was at the mercy of others for charity and they KNEW it.

Add this to the parent's perspective and I decided that it would be best for Sassy to just give the boy the book and highlighter without a note or explanation. If it turns out that his family truly couldn't afford to buy the Book Fair items, a note from me would do nothing than be an acknowledgement from a stranger saying "Your son told my daughter you couldn't afford this, so we bought them for you." Then they might feel like they need to send a thank you, return the books to us, etc.

On the flip side, if it turns out that the boy only told Sassy that his mom wasn't giving him money for Book Fair items and she assumed that they couldn't afford it, a note could make them think that their son was telling lies and make them return the books, get him in trouble, pay us for them, etc.

So, I decided that we would not send a note. We did tell Sassy what a great deed she was doing, how proud we were that she was doing something so selfless and kind, etc.

I told her to make sure she told Samuel that she knew how much he wanted the book and highlighter so she decided to buy them for him as a gift. She came home that night and said that he hugged her and said thank you.

And that was that.
Funny how simple gestures of kindness can be so simple among children.

I try to be kind and compassionate. So even when I am convinced that I am failing and struggling to not yell or be frustrated, I can come back to this moment and know that my children are learning by what I DO, not just what I say.

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