I find it hard not to get all wound up in the bounty of emotions that seem ever present at this time of year. I love where I am while wishing with every fiber in me that I was somewhere else. I adore the people who surround me and ache for those I can no longer wrap my arms around. I”m certain this will be the best year yet while scheming on ways to teleport back to that one in 2006, where it most definitely was the best of them all. I look forward to sleeping a few extra hours on the the big morning while secretly wishing an over exuberant younger brother will burst into my room jump on my bed at the butt crack of down and shout “wake up wake up it’s Christmas!” I celebrate that I will pile teenagers into the car and spend the day chasing waves while pining for a time when little boys put Santa hats on and wrapped and unwrapped their own toys for days in advance prepping for the big reveal. On yes, these shorter days beg for the kind of reflections that stir up the old to mingle with the new begging me to drop into the messiness of it all in order to capture this fleeting moment before it too becomes a mix of distant memories.
I can’t help but wonder sometimes about this world we are tossed into that makes us believe as parents all that we are is wrapped up in who our children become.
Setting up all sorts of adversarial barriers right from the get go. A crying baby in a public space subjects a new mother to dirty looks and shushes as though she has already failed the world by making it louder. When the only darn mechanism that child has for communicating is crying.
Then onward to toddlerhood where that same parent is given all sorts of side eye for a curious child climbing on this, asking about that and trying out their independence. Clearly this parent is failing as she has yet to drive all that creative curiosity on out of the child who is meant to fit quietly into adult spaces. When by design this child has nothing but exuberance and energy to fuel their unending desire to learn about this still rather new to them world through all five plus of their senses.
Then when launched into childhood the parent better have that child ahead of the game no one really know the rules or what winning entails. Reading early, polite behaving, sitting still for all the hours except those hours spent prepping to be an elite athlete. When by design children were built for wide open spaces of time to explore through play this big world that is built for such a short time on fairytales and imgingary friends. The parent already shamed into believing they have failed for not head starting their child into a future no one can even see yet.
And then there are the teenagers who by some false analogy have become the enemy of each and every adult in the world. Deserving of eye rolls and “you pour thing” with the mere mention of having one in the house. Parents brain washed into believing each of their children turns into demon on the doorstep of adulthood. Coerced to believe they best have a set of harsh rules, strict standards and FBI level servialliance lest they loose their child to the evils of experimentations that ensure a future of poor decisions and failure. When these precious human beings, at this ripe time are by design launching farther out into the world, experimenting with all sorts of this and that’s. They are meant to push back in order to find their own edges to stand firmly with in as a well adjusted adult.
All of this with a misplaced promise of the a prize at the end of a high functioning adult to wear as some badge of honor on a coat most people can’t even see. But at what cost I? Lost childhoods, angry words, misplaced expectations and forever gone opportunities for loving moments. I’ll take my chances of ending up with that misplaced, poor decision making failure for all the right now moments covered in messy mistakes, late night cuddles, sideways conversation and loved built memories. Because the truth is, not all children get to be adults.
I’ve been in a couple of situations lately that have left me with some food for thought. I often walk around in the world with a pretty solid confidence in the choices we have made in regards to the boys education. When people ask me what grade they are in or where they go to school I asnwer with “oh they don’t go to school.” Which 99 percent of the time is followed up with “Oh you homeschool.” I smile and nod and leave it at that most of the time because explaining the nuance of what we are up to is more than most casual interactions call for. In my mind these random people walk away still with an image of my boys in their mind. Naive of me. Yes quite possible. I’ve lived in a rather sheltered bubble for a good portion of my life. Recently though I’ve had some deeper conversations where people have shared with me more about what hearing those words does in their mind. And it’s left me questioning and exploring the labels I so easily attach to other people and what misintrepetation about them I may be carrying about in the world.
In the first instance, I was in an environment that was created for conversation of the honest, open and potoentially vulnerable sort. One woman revealed she was under the impression that everyone who homeschooled was doing so under religious influence. Another admitting to believing those who are homeschooled lack the skills required to interact with their peer group and the world at large. In the other instance a woman approached me with curiosity. She wanted more information on homeschooling in the teen years and I launched into a ten minute explanation of what it is we do to support learning day in and day out in our home. At the end she said “ever since I met your boys and they seemed so well adjusted and happy I’ve been curious about how you did that while homeschooling.” I know she was curious and her intent was well meaning but it still made me wonder what she thought about my children before meeting them. I do wish I’d been quick enough to ask that question.
With this new information pulling at the edges of my mind I am going out into the world with a more cautious approach to how I take a label and apply it to any one person. Wanting to take a step further to ask the follow up question of “and what does that mean to you?” so that I might not walk away thinking I know something about an individual based on a social construct built outside of their individuality.
Welcome you fabulous human being tasked with raising up another human being. Is your heart about ready to burst with all that love? Or is it the fear that’s winning out today? Well this here is a little pep talk for you.
I know the world out there can set you up to believe someone else knows what’s best for your child. From diapers, to feeding, through nap schedules, school choices all the the way to the teen year transformations. I am here to remind you or perhaps even tell you for the first time, that you are the only expert their is on your child. You know their favorite sleep postitions, snacks and what outfit helps them shine brightest. You know what brings that special twinkle to their eyes and what will help mop up the tears. You know best.
So in today’s very first pep talk I am handing back to you all the parenting awesome that lives inside your heart space. Asking you to lean into your own wisdom to find the best way to show up for your unique child, especially when the world tries to hush that part of you. Go ahead love a little harder, laugh a little longer, trust a whole lot deeper your inner parenting rock star.
The youngest of the two threw the door open and met me arms wide open in the driveway. He held me tight and the whole entire five days of my absence spilled out his mouth. He found me on the couch and wrapped himself around me. He took me for a walk to keep the chatter of his mind spinning out into our shared experience. He explained how when I’m around he’s less bored and better fed.
The oldest was too fatigued to move from the couch and had me bend to him to receive a well held hug. He noticed it felt like I had never actually left. He yawned, stretched and returned to his room. He asked me to cook him a pizza. He took the remote from my hand and put on hockey. Then asked “hey mom did you know,” more than once so he could catch me up on all the stats I missed while I was away.
Love is indeed a language we all speak in our own tones. It’s the paying of attention that allows for proper interpretation. I am well loved by both these human beings.
He sits across the table from me poking at his brother’s side. He’s six feet tall, with facial hair and deep tones in his voice. Yet, there in that breath I see the toddler, teasing his brother into frustration.
He brushes his brother’s hand away with a smile and a chuckle. He isn’t as easily irritated by his antics as he might have been even a year ago. He knows his tricks so well.
The moment is over quickly. Moving on to the shopping list. With gratitude for the sort of noticing of how time both passes and pauses outside of my control. But the noticing is mine to command.
For as long as I have known this boy, he has stood at the oceans edge and taunted it to come get him. With a hint of glee in his voice he has called her out over and over again. The ocean has answered with more than her share of soaked pant legs. This has never stopped him from returning again to the shores to call those waves out to come and get him. To try their best to wrap around his ankles, pull up to his knees and fill his soul. He has posed as a ninja pulling his power from the ocean itself. It’s not within his ability to stand at the ocean’s edge and not see the temptress before him. He disappears in those moments. To a place I can’t necessarily see. It belongs to him and to the ocean. As time marches forward and much about him changes, I am filled to see these old ways emerging. And also to notice, quite possibly for the first time, he walked away with dry pant legs. I am not sure what this means for the future. But I know he noticed to. In his swagger of confidence as he strolled back to the car announcing he would not need to ride home in his underwear this time.
I’ve never really understood a world that treats children with less respect and dignity then their adult counterparts. It’s never quite made sense in my brain. And for the most part I am grateful for this as it has allowed me access in to the magical world of children over and over again.
I want to pull this back to my most favorite bumper sticker that I purchased from Kelly Lovejoy. It read “world peace begins at home be nicer to your kids.” Ironically it was stolen off my car and I have to believe it was because someone needed it so badly they took it as a reminder to make the world a better place. There is so much truth in that one sentence. Children who are loved up fully don’t go out in to the world looking to hurt other people. Children who are treated with respect, don’t go about disrespecting others. This idea that a child needs to be trained up right is lost on me. The idea that raising a well adjusted, thoughtful human being can only be done through restrictions, deprivation and punishment, is illogical.
I am going to use some examples here to hammer my point home. If my adult friend turns to me in tears, with heart break all over her face, because something that to her is terrible has just happened, I hug her and I listen with my full heart. Because that is what I would want for myself in the very same moment. This is the principle I also apply to my child. I don’t ask my friend to make sure her reaction happens at an appropriate moment or that she make sure it is an issue I agree holds the merit required for such an out burst. And I most certainly don’t ask her to go stand in the corner for two minutes until she can calm down. Why then would I expect this of a child who has less experience in the world? Knowing my child is newer to the idea of working through big feelings it is logical that I would apply an extra dose of compassion and patience, to support them in being able to apply the very same thing to themselves and others moving forward. Compassion, empathy, respect are things one can only fully understand through witnessing and experiencing them. They are not something that can be taught through lectures and punishment.
Another big idea that this world of adults often works to put upon children is the idea of holding their needs. That some how there is a great value in being able to hold ones needs for long periods of time. I think another term for this is delay of gratification. The idea is that making a child wait to express or have their needs met will set them up well for the real world, where this is what happens. My gut response to this overall idea is, why would one choose this as a way to prepare the child for their future? Hey guess what life is gonna suck when you grow up cause you are always going to have to wait to be gratified. Dismal! Who wants to excitedly grow up in to that world? And it is in direct contradiction to what many children will witness. I am going to use my loving husband as an example in this situation. I remember one time when he was frustrated that one of our boys desperately needed a new toy. In a way that he just could not imagine it was possible to wait for the time we imposed on him (it is worth mentioning that what he wanted would not break the bank at all). I said to my husband “but when you want something you just go out and buy it,” (sometimes even when it breaks the bank), “why should he have to wait?” Bless my husband that he is the man he is, cause he took a moment and realized, just how right I was. It just doesn’t make sense to me to expect children, who again are much newer at being in the world, to do things we don’t expect of ourselves. If I am driving on a long road trip and I really really really have to pee, I pull over at the next rest stop. So why would I say to my child “you’re gonna have to hold it it’s not time to stop yet.” Children who continually have support in meeting their needs, know they can meet their own needs and with in that comes a patience and understanding that can never be born out of deprivation.
There is also this way, where some folks raising a child think that you can raise a good listener by making a child be quiet and listen to you. I am going to invite my imaginary friend back in to the conversation. When I am out in the world as a grown up looking for new connections and I bump in to someone who wants to talk at me all day long, we won’t be staying friends. This I am sure of. In fact, I am more likely to befriend the person who is willing to toss a conversation respectfully back and forth with me in to my circle of friends. So in my brain if I want to raise up a human being who is good a listening to others I need to be the one to sit down and shut my mouth. To listen, with my full attention to what my child has to say, so they feel heard. The gift of listening, is something I can freely give to my children so they have the reserves to give it to others.
And for my last example I am going talk about ditching any conditions on the one thing we ALL have tons of extra to go around, LOVE. Love is free. It is in fact one of the truly free things in this world we live in. It never needs to be earned. Nope it is always right there for the giving. So it should make sense that we give it in spades to our children. No matter how messy, snotty, loud, dirty they may be. Or how many times they interrupt, erupt, melt down or cry. In fact I might go as far as to say, the dirtier, louder, messier the more love they need. People who are all filled up on love, know they have extra to give away. They go out in to the world whole, with their needs met, looking to connect with others, in healthy ways. This is the foundation of the statement “world peace begins at home be nicer to your kids.” If we are raising children from a place of respect and unconditional love we are sending whole, complete adults out in to the world. Children who are shown respect from the beginning of their lives know they are worthy of respect and seek it out in others. Children who are given buckets full of compassion and empathy have it to give to those who need it the most. Children who know how to meet their own needs will do so over and over again, in the time line that resonates with them and without infringing on others to do so. Children who are listened to, will know how to listen, with their full attention. And children who are raised on unconditional love, will make our world a more peaceful place. I promise.
We all know what a time out is. It’s recommended all over the place. Isolate a child when they have done something wrong. Make them feel bad in hopes that they never do that again. Train that bad behavior clear out of them.
What if, in the goal to stay connected and LOVE your children just that little bit more we turn that around and do a TIME IN. Children who are making big loud noises, whether literally or figuratively through their behaviors actually need more love. They are asking for our attention. And I know there are a whole host of people and theories in the world who think we should ignore this so it goes away. But if someone needs more love and you don’t give them the love they need all you are doing is creating distance. Which leads to an even emptier love tank,, building up steam of the next cry for attention. If your gas tank is empty and you decide to ignore that red glaring light on the dash and just keep driving, things aren’t about to get better for you. Think of a child’s love tank in the same way. The behavior in front of us is like that blinking light on the dash, a reminder to fill something up not to keep draining it.
Creating space for a Time In flips the whole thing around. We can hold a hand, create a space or simply sit in witness of what is unfolding. Put on our detective hat and consider what might be the best possible way to add more love and connection to the child in distress in front of us. How can we see the child outside of the behavior and look for clues to what the under lying need might be? It is true that sometimes the need will never expose itself. The behavior with pass with out any insight or handy tools on how to avoid that from happening again. But if each time we choose time in with a child instead of time out, we are filling up that bank, and ensuring we stay connected in our relationship.
The how of all of this is going to depend on the individual child. I have a child who needs me to make some sort of physical contact to bring him back to where he could see the world around him. I have another who needs me physically near by but not at all touching him. Both of which I only learned from trial and terrible error that involved the whole apologizing piece that I have shared before. Sometimes all I can do was sit outside a locked bedroom door and say “I’m here if you need me” and hold the space. Other times, I can hold a hand, sit silently side by side, or hold a hand and walk in the opposite direction. I have been known to apply humor liberally in an attempt to shift an energy. Each time though I was tuning into my child, turning off the noise around us and finding a way to bring in love and connection to help us both in managing the overwhelm that had tossed things off corse. I was noticing my child having trouble coping with the world and instead of withdrawing myself or my love, giving it. Handing over an abundance of love to my child no matter what their behavior looked like cause when the love tank gets filled up we can find our way back to calm and connection.
Next time the storm starts a brewing and those messages of withdrawing affection surge and go to your room dances on the tip of your tongue, maybe, just maybe, take an extra long deep breath. Ask is there a way I can turn this into a time in? I suspect it will feel awkward from time to time, as changing any behavior can, I also suspect you will see a connection, a strong fuller love tank bubbling up to help handle the next tricky behavior that comes your way.
I just found this little nugget tucked away in some of my writing.
The world around us does not regularly offer support to meeting our children’s needs on a regular and immediate basis. Honestly, it might stretch in the opposite direction, to some how convince us that interacting with our child over and over again in a way that meets there needs is some how spoiling them. But for something to spoil, to turn truly rotten, it needs to be neglected. Just think of that piece of fruit rolled under the backseat of the car, unattended to for days on end and you’ll understand what I am getting at. Things that are showered with love and affection do not become spoiled they grow, in both strength and understanding of love and compassion. Which is why your relationship with your child matters most. It matters more than math, unpaid bills, dinner and that text that just came in.
So today, I hope you can find a way, to build up that love bank by taking an extra breath to meet your child eye to eye, heart to heart to take on whatever the world has placed in front of you.