The Tool Box
Earlier this week, in response to Heck, many of you asked me what I was doing to move through the discomfort I was experiencing in myself and in my parenting.
These are some of the tools that are helping me progress - in life and in parenting - in a sustainable, positive way.
1). Reach out. Use social media in a powerful way. Reach out to people who pique your interest. Tell them why you want to be friends. Put yourself out there. Let them see you. Build a community of people like this, and then utilize said community. Call them and hang out. Feel awkward as you get to know each other. Parent alongside them as your kids fight over toys. You'll be amazed by how quickly you'll start to love some of these people, what a dramatic thing it is to have new, like-minded folks in your life. Ask them to watch your kids. Offer to watch their kids. Reach out because parenting (and being human) in solitary confinement is unsustainable and, ultimately, unhealthy for everyone.
2). Seek out holistic practitioners. For us, it's craniosacral therapy. I've watched my daughter unravel on the table in this miraculous, visible way. I go solo, I bring the kids - I tell anyone who will listen that I'd give Megan my last dollar for the work she does. I went recently, alone, and the work changed my physical body in a way that felt and looked - in my posture and breathing - profound. If there's a craniosacral therapist in your area, call. Go. And if that's not your thing, find out what is. Seek out a holistic practitioner who will help balance things on a deep physical level.
3). Locate the right books. I've always prided myself on not being a 'book parent' - people have been parenting for eons, I don't need eight million and one "experts" telling me how to raise my kids. Well, yeah, but a few experts who come highly recommended by people I trust are okay. And so here's the list of books that have saved me when I was close to (or already most of the way over) the edge:
1). Raising Your Spirited Child - When Isla was 15 months, this book changed the way I thought about our experience as parents. She was intense in every way from the moment she was born (I didn't push once during labor - she shot out, all at once, rocket-like), and things appeared more challenging for us than for many other parents of similarly aged children. This book gave me the framework to understand her big emotions, to label them lovingly, and to embrace the big-ness. We now have a confident, loving, kind, respectful, and fun five year old. Yes to this book.
2). The Happiest Toddler On The Block - I just got my hands on this one. This was the book that Megan told me I needed the other day when I was in the middle of my Heck meltdown over the behavior of our almost-three year old. I'm learning that I simply can't talk to a toddler as if they're a mini-adult or even a big-ish kid. They need simple language, especially when they're upset. I stink at simple language, and I talk/explain/rationalize way too much. This book's going to change that. Thank goodness.
3). The Tao of Parenting - This is a simple, lovely, nice-to-hold tome of Zen-like wisdom for parents. I carried it around in my purse for awhile, pulling it out at the coffee shop for a quick, gentle reminder of the kind of parenting I want to embrace. And of course, the ideas in here are ready to be taken into the other relationships in our lives; respect, trust, and love are where it's at.
4). "On Soft Discipline" - This was a recent game-changer. I loved Elena's honesty, as well as her desire to take positive control of her parenting. I really, really love this piece.
5). "If Gentle Discipline Isn't Working, This Might Be The Reason" - I found this piece the same day I found "On Soft Discipline", and despite the slightly discordant titles, they really do fit together beautifully. "I can't allow you to..." is powerful, friends.
Now, I'm not a fool - I don't read these books. Rather, I flip through them to the thing I need rightthen, implement it, and call it a day. I do this over and over again until things feel good, for me and the kids. Having the right books there when you need them will save you like it has me. Really.
4). Apologize and speak honestly. I apologize to my children all the time. I tell them I'm still learning, I let them catch me making mistakes, and I work hard to let them be right when they are, in fact, right. This whole mama thing isn't a power play. They deserve the same respect as other people, and so when I screw up, I apologize. I also talk to them, in age appropriate ways, about what's really going on in our family. "I've been crying a lot because I'm feeling lots of feelings and my body told me to cry." They get it. They aren't scared when they see me cry - it's okay for them to cry, so it's okay for me, too. I'm certain that they would be scared if it was all a big mystery, all secrets and hiding.
5). Ask for what you need. Ask people to watch your kids for you. Go on dates with your person. Ask, ask, ask. I used to feel bad asking friends to watch my kids, and then one day realized that they're adults - if they want to say no, they can. My asking is a no-pressure thing, and their answer isn't personal. I offer to watch my friend's kids, and I mean it when I offer. It's up to them if they want to say yes or no. No one knows what you need unless you tell them. This goes for partners, too - if you need them to take the kids so you can have an afternoon alone, tell them that. And then be willing to reciprocate. Clarity in our needs and expectations makes everything a whole lot cleaner.
6). Allow the feelings. I've had to think about how and why I choose to distract, numb, or hide myself - with sarcasm, drinking, smoking, name-your-vice. Glossing over my feelings, even the subconscious ones, feels easier in the moment, but it doesn't allow me to move and grow into who I'm meant to be. I want to process my life. I want to see why I'm really yelling at my kid - not because he's being a jerk (I mean, he's a kid, how jerky can he really be) but because his behavior triggers something really old and scared in me. I want to see that thing, I want to feel it, and I want to deal with it. It doesn't serve me. Soothing my old aches with a drink does nothing to help me move into the next thing. Instead, it keeps me stuck. Numb and stuck. F numb and stuck.
7). Tell the truth. Life is hard sometimes. It's hard for everyone. Pretending that it's not serves no one. It makes you feel like you have an image of perfection to maintain, and makes other people feel like they're failing because they're not as perfect. Really, we're all so, so, so similar. Talk about your fears, your bad parenting and your awesome parenting. Talk about how hard marriage is, how lonely and boring parenting can sometimes be, and simultaneously how insanely it makes you love. Tell the truth. It's damn scary at first, and yes, it makes you vulnerable. But I just can't see another way to connect - to really connect - with the people around me. If I don't let them see me, well, then, they can't see me. I want to be seen. I'll bet you do, too.
Okay, friends. Those are the tools that have gotten me through these last days of Heck.
And I love you.