Since the beginning of this year, Husband has been going to the mainland most weeks for 3 days at a time to work on a project there. Essentially I’ve been single parenting half the time. While we all miss him when he’s away, it has actually been a positive experience with respect to my parenting. Since there is not always a “backup parent” waiting in the wings to take over when I feel myself unable to handle a situation, I’ve had to really work on those areas that lead to conflict between me and the kids. I’m happy to say that things have been going really well for us.
I’ve written in the past about dealing with conflict in a gentle and respectful way, and I have been making an even greater effort to remain calm, support my children with love rather than judgement, and to recognize the early signs within myself that I’m heading down a path I’ll later regret. Conflict has been reduced to a minimum and, when it does arise, we’re dealing with it much more effectively.
It seems I’ve gone through cycles over the years of being really “in the groove” with gentle parenting and then falling off the wagon for a while. Inevitably my relationship with the children suffers and the conflicts escalate, prompting me to find my way back to being a gentle parent, to marvel (once again) at how much better things are when I do. Each time I stay in the groove a little longer, and these last few months make me feel like I’m closer than ever to finally throwing off the baggage of my mainstream parenting upbringing and culture.
Despite these successes, however, there were other areas of parenting that presented more of a challenge. These weren’t conflicts that happen in the moment, but issues we’ve been dealing with for a long time. Faced with the knowledge that I’d be parenting alone for 3 days a week, I knew I had to really work on those issues that are a major source of stress for me. I have, and the results have been really wonderful. A key part of this success has come from discovering the power of Acceptance.
Too often I’ve spent my energies focussing on how to get things to not be the way they are (it’s teaching the proverbial pig to sing: it doesn’t work and annoys the pig). Instead, I’m now focussing my energies on accepting my kids for who they are and where they are in their development, and then working with that. The rest of this post will describe some of our recurring issues, and how I’ve used the power of Acceptance to deal with them.
My kids are extremely limited in what they will eat. This created stress not just because I worried about them getting a balanced diet, but because it meant I was having to make 2 or 3 different dinners each night. There was nothing much the kids could do about the situation, so discussing it with them, however gently and respectfully, didn’t get me very far. I actually managed to get a handle on this issue even before Husband started working away from home so frequently (see this post), but I wanted to mention it here because my solution was all about Acceptance. I hadn’t yet learned to extend that to other issues we were having at the time, but in retrospect it was a good first step.
Living in a very small home with two young children can be messy. Having come to a place of Acceptance with respect to cleanup duties not too long ago I have been able to fully appreciate how well this is working now that I’m pretty much the only one around to do any cleaning. I’m happy to say that things continue to go well. I have extended this attitude towards other duties that I’m finding myself solely responsible for around the house these days. Accepting that this is part of my job description, and reminding myself how blessed and happy I feel to be able to do this job, has gone a long way to making me a much more cheerful housekeeper.
My son is a very physical child. When he’s angry or frustrated (or just getting too caught up in the energy of a physical game) he hits, throws things, pushes, or kicks other children (or me).
I could probably write a book about how this particular aspect of Son’s behaviour has challenged me, stressed me, and reduced me to tears on many, many occasions. Certainly I’ve written numerous posts about this issue. Looking back over the last four years (it started when he was about 2.5) I can see that I’ve spent inordinate amounts of time and energy trying to figure out what is “wrong” with him and how to stop it. I suppose it made sense at the time to worry that there might be some underlying problem, but with hindsight and far more experience I can now see that this is just part of who he is. He is physically expressive in every aspect of his life and he is impulsive. Importantly, over the years as he has matured and grown things have gotten much better. However, there are still certain conditions or situations that are challenging for him. Acceptance has meant recognizing that it is not his job to be infallible, rather is is my job to ensure that he isn’t put in those situations and set up to fail. And that will be my job until he outgrows the need. Period.
I really only accepted this in the last few weeks after an incident where I really lost it. The kids wanted to go to a playground and I was exhausted after a long day, and hungry too. I reluctantly agreed to take them, but I did not want to have to shadow Son all over the place. I told them that I was going to sit on the picnic bench and eat my snack, and that if there was even one incident of hitting, pushing, or whatever we would be leaving without discussion. Son eagerly nodded his head up and down, swore to me he would “be good”, and we all got out of the car. I hadn’t been sitting for five minutes when Daughter comes running over to me and says that Son has thrown coarse sand at some kids. A minute later the mother comes over and gives me heck. I’m almost in tears and angry as hell. I was not only embarrassed and a nervous wreck (I am extremely non-confrontational in public) but I was feeling really sorry for myself. Why was I the only mother in the world who couldn’t sit down for five minutes at a playground without worrying about my 6 year old behaving in a socially unacceptable way? I dragged him to the car, all the while he was crying his eyes out because he did not want to leave (I have rarely ever resorted to such a punitive measure). As we drove away I proceeded to vent all my anger and frustration on him in a long rant. Thankfully, I did eventually turn the situation around, but not before I’d said things I still very much regret.
It was after a few days when I was processing what had happened that it finally hit me: what business did I have bringing him to a playground at the end of a long day when he’d already been socializing (successfully, I might add) for hours with a group of kids? He was plum out of self-control, he was tired, and to top it all off I decided that I “deserved” to sit and eat a snack rather than support him the way he needs me to do. I was not accepting him, his needs, or my job as his mother. I failed him in every way because I wanted so much to believe that he wasn’t who he was, and didn’t need me the way he needs me.
When I finally absorbed this lesson of Acceptance a huge amount of stress was removed too. Now when the kids want to go to a playground I remind myself that it will mean running around with him and sticking close by. Strangely enough, now that I’ve accepted that this is part of my job – a job I love more than anything else – it no longer seems like so much to do for him. And should I not feel up to it we can do something else.
Most importantly, I have ceased pounding the message into my son’s head about how wrong it is to hurt people. The truth is, it’s already in his head. He could hardly have gone through these past four years of experience without getting a clear message that his actions are unacceptable, treated gravely by all, and lead to unpleasant consequences all around. This was brought about most emphatically to me during a recent incident where we decided to play with a couple of friends after a long day of socializing that had already taxed both my kids. It was a poor judgement call on my part, fuelled by my selfish desire to have a bit more time with an old friend I hadn’t seen in ages and wouldn’t again for some time. Daughter got into an argument with the younger child and Son rushed to her defence by pushing the child over. The mother was kind and understanding and I quickly restrained myself from lecturing Son. Instead, I held him until he calmed down and then simply asked him to tell the child how he felt about what had just happened. He replied quietly, and obviously uncomfortably, “the way I always feel: really bad inside”. He’s never put it that way before (he’s not a talker) and my heart broke for him. This is not a child who needs to be reprimanded and made to feel even worse than he already does. This is a child who needs support, and I’m the one who is supposed to do that by making decisions that don’t set him up to fail.
My kids tend towards being introverts. I’ve known for some time that both my kids find social situations challenging at times, and that they do much better in small gatherings than large ones. But still there are a few gatherings that I really want to attend, such as the large homeschooler picnics that take place in the warmer months. I enjoy meeting other, like-minded mums, and seeing so many unschooling families in one place. I love being part of a larger community of people “just like us”. Because of that I sometimes convince myself that it will be a fun time for us all. But it often isn’t.
The first big picnic of the year was last week, held by a neighbouring homelearning community where we’d know few of the families there. We were going with friends, and I convinced my kids it would be a great day of fun. I accepted that I would have to stick close to Son, and tried to prepare myself for not being able to sit down and chat much with the other mums. But still my kids struggled. Daughter couldn’t find anybody to follow her lead, and she refused to join in with games that were already in play and for which, as a relative stranger, she had little input or power to direct. She responded to this by “playing Dragon”, which meant growling fiercely at any kid who went by and generally alienating herself. Her mood deteriorated as the day progressed. Son was eager to join in with a group of kids playing tag, but twice he pushed hard instead of tagging. At one point a boy wrestled another boy i(to whom he was obviously close if not related) in a friendly way, and Son enthusiastically joined in and tackled the boy – too hard, especially for one who was unknown to them.
I was getting exhausted as he was literally running around everywhere and what I needed was for him to sit down so I could at least eat something. He soon became bored and started complaining loudly when the Maypole dancers started, much to my embarrassment. Thankfully our friends wanted to leave early and so we did. As I reflected over the day’s events that evening I realized that I was simply not accepting that my kids don’t do well in such situations and rarely enjoy them. We all come home tired and grumpy, and I rarely get out of it what I think I will. The next two days were spent at home in peace and contentment and I finally Accepted that my kids really don’t enjoy being out with big groups, that they much prefer to be at home or do things alone (just the family), or get together with a single family whose children are well suited to their temperaments. I believe they are actually introverts – they never ask to go play with big groups of kids, they want no part of community events and festivals, and an announcement that we are staying home today is always met with cheers. I’ve got to stop thinking that I need to drag them out to community events, and be more mindful of their needs and coping abilities rather than focussing on my own wants and “hoping for the best”.
I hope these stories have provided some inspiration. Truly, when we Accept our kids for who they are, and where they are in their development (since many of these issues get outgrown eventually), when we stop focussing on what they should or should not be doing, when we stop trying to change them…it really frees us from a whole lot of stress, and feeling like we have no control over these things. Then we can devote our energy to managing the situation, which puts all the power in our own hands so we cannot blame anybody else except ourselves when situations predictably deteriorate. Despite how it sounds, this is liberating. Because if we have no-one to blame but ourselves, it means we have the power to turn things around and make them better.