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Parenting is a good teacher.

My children are 4 and 2. This is an older picture but represents the fact that they fight. A lot. Our house can go from bliss to inferno and back to bliss all within the same second – yes, second. Well, ok, maybe a couple seconds. It happens rapidly, is all I’m saying.

Here is the scene:

I am snuggled down with my feet up at the kitchen table ready to read my devotion and drink my coffee. I have entrusted my children to the delightful care of a doctor for 30 minutes, Dr. Seuss.

Grace has a beloved chair she always sits in to watch ‘Cat in the Hat’, a chair she dearly loves. Today, she got out of said chair to retrieve something, and like a flash of lightning, Elijah was in her chair. She screamed, he screamed back – she started heading toward him, while looking back at me and screaming, “Elijah took my chair!!!!!” Meanwhile Elijah, while screaming “NOOOO,” was getting into a sturdy tackle position so as not to be knocked over and his hands were up ready to grab a nice handful of hair from his elevated position in the chair. The whole situation was going south and it was heading there fast.

PAUSE scene:

If you could just hit pause in real life, you could step back and assess the situation. You could think back on parenting books you have read, that really do work when you ever remember the techniques laid out in them. You could take a deep zen like breath and meditate for a moment, so that when you responded to the plaintive wails of injustice, you did so in way that neutralized the situation. You could formulate a calm and loving intervention that both rectified the situation and left both children feeling understood and loved.

PLAY scene:

Instead I did this at the top of my voice “ELIJAH GET OUT OF THAT CHAIR, GRACE STOP, DO NOT HIT HIM, ELIJAH GET DOWN, GRACE STOP, DOWN, STOP, NOOOOOOO, DOWN, STOP.”

Shockingly nothing changed – the scene continued to progress despite my much louder voice and obvious parental authority.

Then I had a flash from the Angel of Parenting Mercy given to mom’s on occasion. In a much quieter tone I said “Grace, hon, stop and tell him what you want. GRACE, ask him for what you want. It will work, try it!”

And she did. She stopped the forward advancement. She dropped her volume level and she said, “Elijah, I want to sit in that chair.”

Now – I was so proud of her self control. She and I shared zero confidence that this was going to really resolve anything. But I do know that Elijah is a fairly accommodating lad when he wants to be – so it couldn’t hurt to ask. I was buying time.

Lo and behold, Elijah said, “Ok.” He got down and got in the chair he always sits in and they both went back to watching TV.

I fainted.

END scene.

Who knew? Sometimes all that is needed to diffuse a situation is for one person to stand down and be rational. That made me wonder – how often are our reactions not really our own but simply mirroring someone else’s reactions? When we are in the heat of the moment it can be hard to stand down. It can feel impossible and weak to stop and help change the course of the conversation. Newton’s Law states – for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction – but we don’t have to adhere to that in our relationships. We can step up and calm down. We can change the conversation. My four year old proved it.

Maybe it is easier for Grace and Elijah because they don’t have a lot of baggage behind their arguments. Rarely are they actually fighting about a deeper problem just disguised as the chair. As crazy as it may seem, they really are fighting over the chair. And as irrational as that may be, it is much better than what we do as adults – too often our disagreements have nothing to do with the thing we are disagreeing about. It seems there is almost always a deeper issue that just manifests itself in a fight over the chair.

So my take-away, after coming to, was to work harder at encouraging that habit in my kids, first of all. But secondly was to try and remember that lesson for myself. The next time I am angry or frustrated with a situation in my personal life or at work I am going to figure out what I really think should happen and ask for it. Who knows, they might just say, “Ok.” I just hope, if they do, I don’t faint.

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  • This has me howling!!! I can’t tell you how many “conversations” like that has happened in this house. Then this year (THIS YEAR!!!!) Gremlin’s teacher taught him a new important word: Yield. His teacher teaches the students to yield places in line, arguments, ideas, conversations, etc. I couldn’t believe the simplicity! (I secretly wanted to punch him and hug him at the same time!) I hope the kiddo’s “stand down” process continues to work so you don’t end up in the padded cell next to me. 😉

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