Thursday, October 29, 2009

Children need models far more than they need critics.

I think that, with rare exception, most parents truly love their children, deeply. Some show it or act on it better than others, but most people are doing the best they can as parents and, on the whole, do a pretty decent job. Some even do a fabulous job. The simple truth is that we sometimes fail even those we care deeply about. Every single one of us makes mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes hurt or frustrate or anger our kids. Its part of being a parent and being human at the same time. My parents were pretty great in most ways, and I've tried hard to remember that and be grateful for it and let any mistakes go, in hopes that my children will do as much for me. I've been accused on many occasions of thinking my mother is perfect. Well, I really don't, but all I pass along to anyone else are the good things that she is and has done as a person and as a parent because I know she tried really hard--that she still does--and all in all, she does a great job.

Keilana is in many ways my greatest joy as a parent. She is unquestionably my biggest challenge. Her ability to push my buttons is unique among my children. She had managed by 9 months old to make me more crazy at times than Dylan ever has, still, at nearly 4 years old. I have never had any feelings of impatience or frustration in dealing with Kylie yet, ever. I can easily count up the number of times I have lost my patience or even gotten close to it with Dylan. Not because his behavior is any better than Keilana's at all (in fact, in many ways its worse!), but because the particular nature of her personality and her challenges are the things I happen to struggle to be patient with because of my personality.

But nothing--and I mean nothing--puts me in my place so quickly or so effectively as when Keilana turns and says (or yells) to me, "Mom, stop yelling at me!" It doesn't matter what kind of brat she's been (and let me tell you, that girl can both whine and scream like you wouldn't believe), that's it. Then I try hard not to undermine myself further. I give her a hug, tell her I'm sorry, that I shouldn't have yelled and then politely and calmly send her to her room until she's ready to calm down and apologize to Mommy for what she did and change her behavior. And when I take that approach, she always does. Within a minute or two, she comes downstairs and looks up at me with big, sad, pathetic eyes and says, "I'm sorry I yelled at you, Mommy. I'll be better." And she is.

Lately its been the "nice talking Mom" or "mean talking mom". I have nearly conquered the yelling altogether (and I say nearly--I may never conquer it entirely), but I do still have a tendency to rebuke her with a sharp tone. You know the voice, its the "mom voice" every one of you has used when you're about on your last nerve with one of yours. When I do it, she says, "Mommy (and that word is usually almost yelled)! I want you to talk nice to me." I immediately change my tone and say, "I'm sorry. I do want to talk nice to you. I don't like sounding mean. Do you know why I was frustrated and angry with you?" Sometimes she knows immediately and sometimes she has to think about it for a few minutes, but I rarely tell her--I let her get there on her own. If I do that, then she apologizes and tries hard to change her behavior, pointing out to me the rest of the day how she's doing it right, and I always thank her for it. In turn, the way that she talks to Dylan and deals with him improves, as well.

When I respond the other way, and just get angry and send her to room or lose my patience and yell at her, it solves the problem momentarily, but very, very temporarily. The behavior gets worse day by day until I realize the pattern that we're in and stop it--take a moment to explain that I know I haven't been patient and I need to try harder, and then ask what she needs to work on. If I take that approach, she can always figure it out if I give her a few minutes to think about it. And then she feels like we're working together (something Keilana not just appreciates, but needs), and she's happy to try to fix her bad behavior. She just needs someone to show her a better way to deal with the problem. I have discovered as she's gotten older that Keilana is a unique combination of both extremely, intensely emotional and supremely reasonable. When I yell or even use a sharp tone, she just gets hurt and frustrated because she's already upset about something and now I'm mad at her for being upset. Don't get me wrong, she always knows who's in charge, ultimately, but when I approach her with honesty about where I can do better, she's much more obedient because she trusts me more and feels validated.

My mom, who teaches a very wide-range of kids in middle school Special Ed, jokes about her professional mantra: "I'm the adult here". Keilana has always had a hard time controlling her emotions--even the tiniest of frustrations can set her off. And sometimes I have to very consciously take a deep breath and say, "I'm the parent here". How do I expect her to learn to stop yelling and screaming and throwing a fit about every problem if when she does it, I respond by yelling and getting angry? My mom's children almost never yelled at her. I remember a few very isolated incidents, but in general it just didn't happen. It did not escape my attention, though, that my mother almost never yelled at her children. Yelling, no matter how authoritatively, doesn't work--not in the long term. The few times I did see one of my siblings yell at her, she remained remarkably calm and collected. That's an even more impressive feat when considering that the yelling was the least emotionally taxing thing about the situation when it did happen, but it was the icing on the cake that could've finally pushed a lot of parents over the limit. I have always shown great respect for my mother, because she has always shown great respect, patience and forgiveness for me. In those respects, she modeled to me the type of parent that I ought to be.

When Keilana was about two, I sent my mom an email stating that as a present to both her and myself, I was shipping Keilana to her house. I listed the litany of offenses she had committed that week (raw egg breaking and black widow catching were near the top). My mom responded with a great, big, virtual chuckle and said that she thought I must've been paying for Doug's sins because I was such an easy, obedient child. Perhaps I was blessed with this effervescent delight (and really, she is that more often than anything else) because as a child I had a mother who modeled the right way to handle it. If only I'd remember that more often.

1 comment:

Becky said...

well, i was look at it this way, having a rambunctious kid and having a few friends who have freakishly stubborn kids or kids that are prone towards trouble...crazy, crazy trouble. and these are perfect moms and they bang their heads against walls trying to figure out what they did here's my take -

these kids have characteristics that will serve them well as adults - tenacity, passion, focus, etc...but make it difficult at times to parent these mini-moguls/leaders/prophets at times. but heavenly father put them into the homes where there was enough intuitive skill/spirituality/patience amongst the parent group to shape and mold them.

one of my friends has a little red-haired demon girl who can get into just as much trouble at eight as she did at two - and does frequently. and i look at my friend and i see one of the best moms i know and i can see that heavenly father knew what he was doing...that this women would be able to work with this girl and help reign in her crazy passion/curiousity/adventuresomeness until she was old enough to reign it in herself.

you're amazing, your little girl is amazing and being able to watch you work through your struggles has been so good for me...i always learn from your introspection and walk away promising myself to be better at all of this. thanks. bb