My son is three-and-a-half. My daughter is two-and-a-quarter. I'm working hard to develop my patience, compassion and supportive coaching capacities, and they are my immersion program.
The other day, I noticed that they behave to me in ways not unlike a dog that's sometimes kicked by the owner it adores. I sense occasional resentment, quickly overcome by joy in the present happy mood, but with subtle anxious watching. If my mood changes unexpectedly, like if play gets too rough and I'm hurt, their response is a wail of heartbreak-mingled fear, becoming anguished cries and heaving sobs. They aren’t just crying to get on my nerves or be difficult, much as those things may result. They are heartbroken. For them, this moment of anger calls into subconscious question every belief they have in their own lovability. Every time I lose it and turn into Monster Mom, even if it only lasts 10 seconds, it breeds doubt while also instilling traits. I am the paragon of human behaviour for them. I show them what to do with these feelings, and they log it, learn it, and it becomes them. Over time it’s the family dynamic.
So if I know all that, why do I ever lose it? Why do I end up yelling out or whining at them when they do what can only be expected? Maybe because I feel impatient and bored with the same lessons over and over. By the 80th time we play out essentially the same scenario in a week, I want them to be on my agenda. I’m expecting them to learn my steps and needs, and they appear to be steadfastly focused on anything but. It's tedious, and the tediousness grates against my agenda, causing anxiety to cohabit with existing frustration. That's my side of it. What's theirs?
It’s important for them that I am happy. And, it’s imperative for them that they fulfill their immediate perceived need. They are programmed to learn; it’s a physical, psychological and emotional compulsion to do what the brain has settled on, try it in a very specific way, and try it themselves. This focus is no more aware of the “five minute warning” or the importance of getting to music on time than is my growling stomach when I’m hungry. He’s not wilfully ignoring me, he’s focusing on something he finds more fascinating than my agenda. That’s the word for it – they are fascinated with what’s in their now, to the exclusion of much else.
While my irritation is rising, he’s also becoming irritated by the mosquito-like distraction from his current sole purpose in life. He’s intent on his brain’s immediate food, whether or not I see it that way, and he isn’t in the headspace to listen to alternatives. He is working to stay focused on whatever it is, and I’m getting in the way. His first instinct is to swat at me, either in a whiny or angry tone, or sometimes with hands or feet. When I try to understand what he’s feeling, I remember the way my brain and body focus on going back to sleep when I can’t bring myself to get out of bed, despite escalating reasons to do so. Everything is irritating in that moment.
Breaking away from compulsion gets easier over time – the compulsion fades, and our ability to break improves. But still, if I’m in the middle of writing something and one of them is nagging, Mommy, Mooooommmmyyy, MOMMY!, I’m quite likely to turn on them and fiercely say “I’m BUSY, please WAIT,” scaring the hell out of them. So what do I expect from someone who has 1/10th of my experience, very little perspective, no real buy-in into the agenda, and a compulsion likely stronger than anything I’ve experienced in a long time? I expect more than I expect of myself, that’s what. Where is my compassion? How do I call it up every moment of every day so that I’m never an abuser, not even a tiny bit, not even hardly ever. Just never.