It’s not you (or them). It’s me.
Timing is everything. I had this post written a few days ago and was really just mulling over whether it was done. Tonight, a friend and I had a conversation that touched on so many of these things. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who doesn’t have it all figured out.
Here’s a principal I’ve always pretty carefully observed when it comes to my marriage: don’t complain about your spouse to others. There are no “take-backs” after you’ve told someone else that your spouse has wronged you in some way, whether it’s minor or not. Those of us with marriages that are still kicking after a period of time manage to forgive each other those wrongs (real or imagined) and move on. But, our family and friends? Since they aren’t living in the relationship, it’s not so easy for them to forgive and forget. They tend to hold onto those wrongs for us. They do it with the best of intentions, but from the moment you air your complaint to someone else, they will forever after see your spouse in the light of that comment. So, I try to carefully consider my words when I’m talking about my husband with others and to shine a light on him that I’m sure we both can live with for many, many years to come. And, I hope that he chooses to do the same for me. So, here’s what I’ve noticed: I’m not so great about doing that for my children. It’s just too easy, when I’m with another group of moms to slip into complaining about my kids. That’s not to say that as mothers we shouldn’t be able to come together and help each other when we’re really struggling with some aspect of our children’s behavior. We most certainly should be able to support one another that way. But, and I’m just speaking for myself here, I’ve noticed that the more exasperated and exhausted I act to my friends about my children, the more exasperated and exhausted I become. I think it’s because when I complain about my children . . . when I act like I want to throw my hands up and cry “Uncle” . . . my friends support me. They are empathetic. They are sympathetic. They make me feel like we’ve all been there. Hey, maybe we’re all there NOW. No one ever tells me to “man-up” and get back in there. No one ever says “Hey, have you considered that the problem is you and not the kids?” My friends are WAY too nice to do that. And sadly, there’s a significant portion of the time when the problem is . . . me. I’m not always patient enough. Perhaps because I don’t usually get enough sleep, which has little to do with my children and lots to do with my inability to say “NO” to other people asking me to do things or because I waste too much time on FB because I just want to “check in” with the world instead of going to bed at a an appropriate hour. My expectations are not always realistic. Yes, it would be WONDERFUL if my four, soon to be five year-old, would execute my “go get dressed and do your morning chores” orders “quickly, cheerfully, and completely.” But, he is still quite little and it’s probably realistic on his part to have the expectation of SOME sort of help and encouragement in that process. I push us too hard. It really is not my children’s fault that I think we can fit more things into the day than we really can. That in my efforts to try to do things as efficiently as possible, that I will try and schedule 14 errands at one time just because they’re all in the same general area of town. And, it’s not their fault that I’m no longer fascinated my every rolie polie that we find because I’ve seen a billion of them in my much longer lifetime. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I look from my children’s perspective . . . and I’m not sure it’s a really flattering personification. I spend a LOT of time barking out orders. A LOT of time telling them why I can’t stop what I’m doing to spend time doing something they’ve asked me to do, and a LOT of time being frustrated when things have not gone according to plan (which is a LOT of the time). I must really look like a barking, frantic, distracted, frustrated mess them to them . . . and that is so very NOT the image that I want them to have of me when they look back at their childhoods. So, here are a couple of things I’m specifically work on:
- I’m going to carve out a little time for each of my children during the day, during which we’re going to do what THEY want to do for a few minutes instead of what I think we should be doing. This is something I read about a year or so ago when I did the free trial of the course that Amy McCready offers at Positive Parenting Soultions. I’m not affiliated with Ms. McCready in any way, and I never made it beyond the free trial, but I did find much of the information offered in the trial to be very interesting, and this tip in particular, to be very helpful. For a short period of time last year, I did this with the kids, and I think it paid off exponentially. Life got busy and I stopped doing it. It’s time to start doing it again.
- I’m trying to say many more positive things about my kids to others than negative ones. And, when people say nice things about my children to me, I’m accepting those compliments or confirming them instead of deflecting them by rolling my eyes or telling them about my child’s latest failing. Somewhere over this last year (I think it was in the book Scream Free Parenting by Hal Runkel, but I haven’t had a chance to go back and check), I read or heard that what you say ABOUT your children is even more important that what you say TO them. That really resonated with me, and I’ve been working toward making sure that when I speak to others about these two precious kiddos entrusted to my care that I am talking up their good traits, rather than running down a list of the areas that need some work. It has really helped me to focus on all of the things that are wonderful about my children, and made it easier for me to deal with some of the behavioral things that we’re still working on.
- I’m working to be more realistic about my time. My husband will probably laugh his head off when he reads this one, but really, I am. I’m trying to build in lots of cushion so there’s not a crisis when things fall apart. And when things do fall apart, I’m just trying to roll with it instead of making everyone miserable about the fact that we’re late getting somewhere. I want my children to see us adapt and bounce back when things don’t work out as planned, not get totally stressed out and act like it’s the end of the world.
This parenting thing is TOUGH. I’m hoping I have it all figured out by the time I’m a grandparent. There’s an affiliate link or two somewhere up in that post.