A couple of parents on my Facebook page got into a discussion about whether parenting toddlers is the toughest stage and whether it does, in fact "get easier." (I think it certainly does.)
As a parenting educator, I thought a lot about the transition from toddler to young child and what I found the most challenging. I know parents of teens are losing sleep, having fights, and feel stressed, too, but I think the physical marathon of raising toddlers can be more taxing on the body.
I used the word "marathon," so I thought of how it would make life easier if we could train for this marathon—not 26 miles, but the distance measure between a child's first and third... third-and-a-half... no, fourth birthday. (Let's remember all the wonderful aspects to raising young children while we're laughing about the tough stuff.) Oh, and please don't show this to any expecting parents!
I thought of all the wild and crazy things parents of young children do that I certainly had no clue about. If we were actually going to train to be a parent of a toddler, the training program might look something like this:
Toddler Marathon Training Regime
1. Set your alarm to go off during the night
a. at three hour intervals three times a week
b. once in the night, twice a week, and
c. at random times and frequencies the other three nights.
After the alarm goes off, get up and walk down the hall three times. After the third time, get into bed for two minutes, then get up again to do three more hall laps.
Once a week, try to find clean sheets in the dark during one of your hall laps, just for practice.
2. Oh, and set it to go off at 5am—that is your new wake up time. Find an alarm sound that is the highest, shriekiest sound; pick that one.
3. Each time you are about to sit on the sofa, jump up and run to touch the wall beside an electrical outlet. Do three repetitions. After the three reps, sit on the sofa and read aloud the same children's book four times in a row.
4. Each time you realize you are hungry, set your timer for thirty minutes, and eat after the timer goes off.
5. Eat peanut butter sandwiches (if you do not have allergies) twice a day for two weeks, and spaghetti for supper three nights in a row.
6. Drink two glasses of water per day.
7. Do not go to the bathroom in the morning, and hold it until you are on your way to work.
8. Walk around for at least two hours each day hunched over with your hands near the ground.
9. Ask a farmer if you can chase one of her chickens and do that once a day.
10. Do all house chores and meal prep in less than ten minute intervals.
11. Actually, just clean your house once a month.
12. If you have a pet cat or dog, try to wriggle that animal into and out of a snowsuit at least three times a day. If you don't have an animal, you can fill a water balloon and try to get that into a jacket without bursting the balloon.
13. Select a training playlist that includes these phrases recorded at a loud volume, "ME DO IT!" "I HATE YOU!" "YOU'RE THE WORST MOMMY EVER!" and "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" Put that on repeat.
14. Work on your vocal training by putting your playlist at maximum volume then having a dinner conversation with your partner.
15. To prepare for random flying projectiles, have your partner or friend suddenly fling full glasses of water (we'll spare you the spilled milk), plates full of food, and crackers at you.
16. At least five times a day, bang yourself with a hard object into your knee, stomach and skull. After the five hits, do another two directly into your forehead.
17. Carry two duffel bags, a cup full of water, one 20 pound sack of potatoes, an umbrella, and your purse all AT ONE TIME twice around the block.
18. Collect a bin full of small objects and throw those around the living room each night. Pick them all up just before going to bed.
Did I miss anything?
After reading Rachel Stafford's moving post, "The Bully Too Close To Home," I thought a lot about the choices available moment to moment that make such a difference in our lives and the lives of our children.
Stafford realized she wanted to stop being hard on her children and decided to put that wish into action. Many parents have asked me how to be gentler with kids, which can certainly be hard to do.
The most important thing to remember is that we have a choice. We can actively choose to be friendly instead of harsh. The trick is to have a strategy in place — I call this an Angry Plan which helps when you don't feel friendly. In an angry plan, you list the steps to follow each time anger brews. When a plan is in place that is repeated often, eventually the plan will automatically be followed without much thought to it. This is not a quick fix but can help immensely with continued practice. You can use the steps I have listed below to create your individual plan. This is what mine looks like.
One of my mentors the other day asked, "What radio station are you emitting over the air waves? Stop-Annoying-Me? I-don't-have-time-for-this? Life-sucks? or J O Y?" People can feel what we are giving off. It seems to me that children can really pick up the vibes their parents give off. When we are aware of the station our head and body are on, and have a plan to alter that, connections improve all around.
Here are my suggestions minimizing harshness in a method I call "Thought Awareness & Correction."
See your negative thoughts.
The first step is to notice when your thinking turns sour and your radio is on the Negative Nelly station. Initially, don't try to change your thoughts, just notice them. You can use the 3-A's rule: notice when you are aggravated, agitated or annoyed. Observe when you think it is everyone else's fault or that your world would be so much better if this happened or that person did it right. Awareness can actually make the thought less powerful.
Don't try to suppress a thought at this point we need the chance to process it a bit, before we can make it stop; otherwise the effort may backfire and the thought becomes more powerful.
Hit the pause button.
Before your negative thought turns into a negative action, hit "Pause" or "Stop" as Stafford does. We need to stop ourselves so we can move from our more primitive part of the mind (that I call the "freak out" part) which might tell us to panic, snap or lose it, to the rational part ("check in").
Think of a way to pause that will work for you. I say, "Freeze Sister!" which works (most of the time) for me. I sometimes hold my hand up and say, "Stop" out loud to myself. Think of what might work for you — try a few different pause buttons until you discover one that is effective.
Release the pause button slowly.
Honestly, the best way to do this is to breathe. Fill your lungs entirely with air from the bottom to the top then empty them completely out. Do this at least three times. After your last deep breath, go into slow motion. Don't speak until you feel fairly certain you are doing no harm, at which point you are shifting nicely into the "check in" part.
Create an alternate thought to the negative one.
When you feel calmness coming in from the breath, try a thought correction. That means to create a thought you'd like to have instead of the negative one. What do you want to believe right now? Even if you don't believe it, identify it. For example, Instead of "I don't have time for this!" try changing to, "Okay, time is tight. But I think my doctor won't cancel my appointment if we're ten minutes late."
Act on the new thought.
If you believe the new thought, act on it. If you don't believe it, ask yourself how someone who believes it might act. In the example above, a person who accepts she and her child are just going to be late might loosen her jaw, lower her shoulders, and speak more calmly. Perhaps instead of stuffing the child into the car seat, she can remember some clever tricks to firmly, but not harshly, invite cooperation from her child.
Regularly adjust your tuning to an empathetic station.
The last step from moving from harshness to kindness is to continually be aware of improving empathy. This means really attuning to what you and your child are feeling. If your child is having a complete and utter melt-down or has made a mistake, remind yourself what it feels like to be overwhelmed and to wish things would go your way. Those things that you want when you are experiencing big feelings are likely what others want, too — space, help, understanding, or a hug.
Changing the dial to friendly requires making an active choice to do so. Even if you are weighed down with intense feelings and telling yourself that your child is such a jerk, you can choose to not react from this state. You can choose to change your dial to the more empathetic, "My child is angry — I wonder why."
This will not eliminate your blow-ups right away but with continued awareness and practice, things will improve. Becoming more empathetic and being able to see your child's inner loveliness even when you're angry and stressed is like learning a new language. It takes trial and error and lots of practice.
If you make a concerted effort to snap less and empathize more but feel unsuccessful in doing that, I highly recommend finding a psychotherapist or counsellor to give you a hand. Asking for help isn't a sign of weakness; it is a sign of courage.
If you are looking for some resources to explain more, I suggest two books: PEACEFUL PARENT, HAPPY KIDS by Laura Markham, PhD and THE WHOLE-BRAIN CHILD by Seigel & Bryson. Also, I do regularly post free parenting resources and suggestions on my Facebook page.
Photo -- iStockphoto.com
I just looked at my husband and said, “I think my Christmas Spirit is back.” Having grown up with beautifully memorable Christmases, this was a happy revelation for me. The Spirit left the year my Mom passed away and has been slowly making its return.
The holiday season used to begin in October when the choirs I was involved in would begin rehearsing Christmas songs for the concert in December. By the time Christmas actually arrived, my house, heart, and voice were full of the goodness of the season.
This Is The True Spirit Of Christmas
Growing up, my Mother was Christmas. Single handedly, she created a happy, loving season for all of us. She started baking in November, hand wrote cards with care, and spent months making crafts. My Mother was the one inviting people over for big feasts and hosting Christmas carol sing-alongs—actually, at least two of them: a travelling one and one around the piano in our living room. Living in -40 degree weather, the travelling one was no easy feat! We could hear our feet loudly crunching on the snow while our liquid, cold breath grabbed our eyelashes, freezing them shut.
My Mom and I were both singers so most of the days Christmas Carols would be playing in the background as we went about our business, harmonizing from wherever we were in the house. When the Hallelujah Chorus came on (we'd performed this together on-stage) we would find each other, stand arm in arm and pretend there was an audience in front of us. I can hear her voice when I close my eyes.
Even while my Mom was in leukemia treatment for eight years (three years longer than the doctors expected), she pushed her low energy level to create the most special Christmases she could.
On one beautiful spring day, my Mother went to be with the angels. And for me, so did Christmas. The first year, we went through the motions with a tree, dinner, and some gifts in my house, but the bubble that had me on the verge of tears at any moment was too strong to avoid. I didn’t dare sing a Carol, never-mind retrieve the Caroling piano book my Mom gave me. I turned the radio off and stayed away from the malls. Barely making it through that Christmas, I wasn’t sure I could sing again.
Things I Wish I Had Known When My Mother Died
The next Christmas came along with the birth of my first child. My intention was to create a special Christmas mostly for him, but realizing he wouldn’t remember it, I bailed again, taking that one off. I tried singing Carols but each time I started, the lump in my throat would give way before any sounds could.
As the next two years progressed, and my second son arrived, I could feel baby-step improvements in my Christmas Spirit. One year I opened up the Caroling book and actually got through a piece, but should have stopped there. Silent Night completely wrecked me, my Mother’s harmonies filling my ears with joy, but my heart with grief.
The year after that when my sons were one- and three-years-old, I made myself go to hear Handel’s Messiah, wads of Kleenex in hand for the Hallelujah Chorus. I’d had enough, I wanted to push through the sadness and enjoy this season again. Tears streaming, sniffing uncontrollably, I got through the Chorus, silently reminding myself that I wouldn’t die from sadness.
That seemed to be the breaking point. Although I still took the tree and decorations down first thing on Boxing Day, I definitely cried much less that year. I cried even less the following year, and well, except for this moment while writing today, have barely shed a tear this season. I feel excited to sing, put up a tree that will make it until New Year’s Day and to spend time with family and friends.
I’m not going to try re-creating my Mother’s Christmases. I’d rather write than craft, use lights than decorations, and go to the bakery than bake. I’m not sure I could wrangle up a crew of Carolers—although I may actually try this year. I realize that I need to make the Christmas I want for my little family and let go of the ones I grew up with.
I have learned that it’s okay for Christmas to be painful, to skip it, and to give myself slack for hating it. Eventually, the pain and anger did move, but only after I felt it in every one of my bones first. So maybe time does heal, and maybe love will find its way back no matter how hard we try to block it.
Are you experiencing grief and loss this Christmas? I'd like to hear what is helping you get through the season. Please leave a comment below or over on my Facebook page.