Every single day I fail at respectful parenting.
In some way, be it big or small… I am always making mistakes and having to check myself.
Many people view respectful parenting or parenting without punishment, as a cop out. Passive. The easy option.
Oh lord! It is far from easy! And certainly not passive!
It takes a LOT of patience, practice, time and energy.
Which is why I drop the ball, often.
With each mistake, I learn something new. I forgive myself and rectify the issue. Do I need to apologise to my child? Do I need to take a deep breath and back down from something? Do I need to get out of the way and let them continue whatever they are doing?
Well, today I did something I had no idea I was doing until it was too late. I was so caught up in what I wanted to do that I completely missed the fact that my child had changed his mind about joining me (and that’s totally ok) and I got frustrated and upset him.
I wasn’t frustrated with him, I was frustrated with the situation.
But he didn’t see it that way. From his point of view, he saw that his mum was cross with him.
You see, my husband works a LOT. When he is here, I grab these little windows of opportunity to get some filming done. So he agreed to take the other two kids out to the park while Travis and I made another recipe video for our YouTube channel. He was excited! They all went off to get ready to go out in the winter chill while I got the kitchen set up and the ingredients out.
Now… one thing about Travis, he has a very short attention span! He is super forgetful and I always forget that he forgets stuff.
I have no idea where he gets it from…
What was I saying?
Oh yeah! He went off with the others and, when he came back, he was dressed in his coat and gloves and trainers.
My brain went immediately into reactive mode. My brow furrowed, I threw my hands into the air and I said ‘Travis… what are you doing? You are staying here with me to do the recipe video!’
His face dropped. I saw that he was disappointed at the prospect of not being able to go to the park, but in that moment all I could think was – ‘I’m not going to get the opportunity to do this again for ages! I can see he is going to kick up a fuss about this now and want to go out and, because I know he should have the freedom to choose what he wants to do with his time, I know I need to let him. I’m so frustrated that my plans have been ruined!’
He let out a sad ‘Oh, I forgot.’
‘Ugh, it’s fine.’ I said ‘Just go, i’ll do something else.’
I turned and walked back into the kitchen.
‘Well…’ I thought to myself as I switched my laptop on. ‘At least I will have some time to do some writing without being interrupted. That was a great bit of respectful parenting too. He has every right to do what he wants to do, I bet he is really pleased that I didn’t force him to stay. I’m proud of that.’
It was that point that he gingerly came into the kitchen and I turned to see him looking less than pleased.
In fact, he looked pretty upset.
‘What’s wrong Travs? I said you can go!’
My sweet little boy burst into tears and I rushed over to hug him.
‘I’m sorry mummy, you’re cross with me.’ He sobbed.
I realised that, even though I had said he didn’t have to stay and that I could get on with something else… My emotions had told him a completely different story.
My emotions had said that he had made me cross. That I was upset with him. That he had done something wrong.
I hugged him so tight! I told him that I understood I had made him upset and I realise that it was because I seemed like I was cross with him. I let him know that he was absolutely entitled to make his own decisions on what he does with his time and I would never make him do anything when he would much rather be doing something else.
I said that I was not upset and that I was happy that I was able to use my time for something else instead because I had other work I needed to get done anyway.
He was still upset.
Suddenly I realised, that I was looking at him with a concerned expression, which could easily be misconstrued as a negative emotion in a 6 year old’s eyes. So I immediately swapped it for a smile and said ‘Honestly, I’m absolutely fine!’
He smiled back and said ‘Ok.’
We hugged some more until he was ready to get going, and went to watch TV until Dad was ready to leave.
All was well.
Being mindful of our own emotions is one of the hardest things to do.
Our brains have two sections, reflective and reactive. The amygdala is our brain’s emotional hub. ( Check me out getting all fancy with words!)
When something happens, it is in the amygdala that the brain reacts in one of four ways – fight, flight, flee or focus.
Trying to remain in the ‘focus’ part of our brain is something that takes a hell of a lot of effort.
However, with practice, it can become easier and easier.
It is especially important to work on this when around children as they will ultimately learn this skill from you and you will be less likely to send the wrong messages to your child causing them to feel badly about themselves.
Next time, I will pause. Waiting for just enough time to remind myself where I want my brain to be.
My brain will slowly become used to getting it’s response from more of a focused area, and each time it will be easier and easier to be able to regulate my emotions and be mindful of my reactions.
“Today I will choose love. If I mistakenly choose distraction, perfection, criticism or negativity over love, I will choose love next.
I will choose love until it becomes my default choice… my gut instinct… my natural reaction. I will choose love until it becomes who I am.”
Rachel Macy Stafford