Saturday, March 27, 2010

Instant Presence (another Bad Mom post)

A few weeks ago I gave my kids a tool. Sometimes I've thought of it as a weapon.  It's changed our relationship.

I work hard at parenting, especially since it draws on two of my glaring natural deficiencies - patience and calm.  I'm often a great parent, sometimes exceptionally incredible, and occasionally, I'm Monster Mom.


She yells. Yes, I do. Sometimes I yell. Sometimes I growl GRRRR and sometimes I roar AAAAARRRGGGH!

Even the most deviant, defiant of children may find themselves terrified, in over their heads, past a line they didn't understand but soon will.

I can hang my head in shame. I can apologize. But I can never take back the video of my face, distorted and angry and flying at them, that they will carry in a special place in their subconscious to remind them that there is something about them that is unlovable.

The last time it happened, a few weeks ago, I talked with each one later that night.  It went essentially the same with each.

Mommy was pretty mad, huh?
A little scary?
Maybe a little?
I'm sorry.
I love you, even when I'm mad.
Sometimes when I'm mad, I forget to be loving.
I'm sorry.
Next time, if mommy yells or you feel afraid, could you help me?
Next time if mommy yells, you could say "Mommy, you love me!!" (I exaggerated and stretched this out so it was a bit pathetic and funny)
Can you say that back? I'm monster mom and I'm yelling at you "stop doing that!" What can you say?
... Mommy, you LOOOOVVVE me!!

We practiced a few more times. I wondered what would happen. Here's what happened.

The very next day, I was getting upset with the pace. I'd been sharp, increasingly impatient, and finally, exasperated.  I repeated an order for the tenth time with full vehemence, and Blaise's little face crumpled into tears. He hiccuped a few times, stuttering over the words, and out burst an accusation and question, "Mommy, you LOVE me!"

Instant presence. I was not angry, upset, anxious about anything except what he needed in that moment. "Of course I love you!" I rushed to him, hugged him close. Sabine watched from her chair a few feet away. 

Later that same day, I snapped at Sabine. "Mommy, you LOVE me!" she cried, giving voice to all humanity's primal need. My heart opened.

Okay, so you get all that, but you're thinking - that's going to get old really fast. Maybe you aren't. But that's what I was thinking. After a day or two of "mommy, you LOVE me" thrown out for everything from a "no" to candy to an admonishment for impoliteness, I started to wonder.

But here's the thing. Every time they said it, the truth is that I've been starting to get impatient, upset, irritated. Every time. I may have been technically correct and they may have been misbehaving, but my tone and my approach were not as respectful as they could have been. And taking 4 seconds before continuing the learning moment to smile, look the child in the eyes and say "yes, I DO love you," has helped me get the outcome and message across every time.

So it does kind of get on my nerves, because I have to face myself every time. It's been such good practice.

Two more things.

1) I worried this is putting my responsibilities for my behaviour on my kids. Maybe a little, but my observation is that it actually empowers them, gives them permission to call me on my bad behaviour in a safe way. I must never, never betray it.

2) This morning, Blaise and I had a huge blow out. Or, he blew, I mostly held it together, with cracks and chinks where the worst showed through. We worked it out. We moved on. And then...

Tonight, after I told him a story and I lay down for the "big hug," he kissed the top of my head, put his hand on my head and said, "Mom, I love you. I love you even when I'm mad. Mom, when I'm yelling at you, you could say, "Blaise, you LOVE me."

And I said, that's such a great idea. Thank you. Thank you.

Thank you.