Family Vacation Part Two - Rock Throwing

I love to visit with my family...  We live in Washington State and most of my relatives live in Southern California, so the visits are not very often.  Everyone is always thrilled to see the kids, generously lavishing them with gifts, treats and attention.  I love catching up with the lives of my parents and siblings, sitting at the dinner table long after we have finished eating to talk, just like when I lived at home, all those years ago...

Enter reality.

Aside from my brother, none of my relatives have had small children living with them for years.  They have lovely homes to sit and visit in, but not very kid-firendly.  What does this do for my parenting, you ask?  Ugh.  I am already super hyper sensitive to the way the kids act when we are with my family - I want them to be charming and engaging, while using great manners and getting along.  I quickly push aside everything I know about child development and behavior and move right into my own insecurities as a mom.  This can really challenge my parenting practice...

But sometimes I can stay above the flood of self-consciousness and handle a situation in a way that not only allows for my kids to learn a lesson, but also makes me proud.  Sunday night was one of those occasions.

My mom was kind enough to host not only my family, but also my brother's family and my husbands cousin's family for dinner.  six kids under 9 in all.  It was controlled chaos and a lot of fun.  The kids all got along really well and the adults were appropriately attentive to the kids needs, as well as taking time  for grown up conversation...  It was really fun and easy.

Things were winding down, and some of the family had left.  Rowan came in to inform me that the boys (my son and my brother's boy, both six) were throwing rocks into other people's yards and that one of the neighbors had asked them to stop but they ignored her.

Hello emotional takeover.

The first thing I remember feeling was embarrassed.  Oh god, was this Ian's idea?  Will the neighbors hate my mom now?  Will my mom hate me?  Will Ian grow up to be a hoodlum???  The embarrassment was followed by anger.  "Is this true?"  I asked, knowing that it was...I could tell by the look on Ian's face that it was...  I probably also got in an "Are you kidding me?" before I calmed down enough to consider how to best handle the situation...

Ian withdrawals from lectures.  Shaming, blaming, it doesn't help him do better - in fact, it really only leads him further away from the lesson I'm hoping he learns.  So I started to be curious...

"Tell me about what was going on out there..."

He told me that they were throwing rocks into other neighbors yards and that one of the neighbors asked them to stop and they didn't.

"How do you think that made the lady feel?"

He thought she probably felt sad and mad.

"What could the rocks have done to other people's spaces?"

He said they could have broken something.  "I'm really sorry I did that, mom," he said.

"Hmmm...  Well, what could you do to let the lady know that and help her to feel better?"

This was a tough one.  Ian did not want to got knocking on a strange lady's door to apologize.  I could see that he was feeling remorseful and I really wanted him to sit with this feeling.  I wasn't the one making him feel bad, his actions were.  It would have been easy to march him up to the neighbors to give her a canned "I'm sorry" but then his emotions would have been focused on me and what I was "making" him do, there is no lesson in that....

"I could make her a card," Ian suggested.

So for the next 45 minutes, Ian and my brother's boy worked on cards for my mom's neighbor.  They wrote words and drew pictures that captured the scene of the crime.  They were calm and really focused on fixing their mistake.  They didn't need us to scold or yell at them, or tell them what they did was wrong...  They just needed space and time to recognize that for themselves and make amends for it.

About half way through the coloring there was a knock at the door.  The neighbor had come over to make sure the adults knew what was going on.  She was really nice, "I have three boys" she said, as she walked into the house.  I thought Ian was going to fall apart when he realized she had come over - but what a great opportunity for him to see the natural consequences of his actions....  His rocks had entered her reality, now she was entering his...  We let her know we would be stopping by to drop off cards in a little while.

When the boys were finished with their cards, we ventured up to the neighbors.  Ian found a big flower petal on the ground and wanted to put it into his card for the lady.  Initially he just wanted to leave the cards on the front doorstep.  But then, he was worried the lady maybe wouldn't see the cards...  So he bravely rang the doorbell and waited for her to answer.

When she answered the door, the boys both smiled and held out their cards.  She accepted them graciously.  Everybody was feeling pretty good.

When I had time to reflect on this experience I noticed so many things.  First, was how emotional I felt when Rowan first came in to tell me what the boys were doing.  So often we parent from a place of emotion.  When we do this, the situation becomes more about us and less about our kids and the lessons then need to learn.  We are emotional beings, so this can be tough to counter-act.  Then I thought about the processing that went on while the boys were making the cards.  They focused for about 45 minutes on the mistake they made.  There was no lecture from us, they did most of the talking while making their cards.  They processed what they did and made it right.  I want Ian to make decisions based on if it is the right thing to do, not whether or not he will get into "trouble."  I think this experience will lead him to that.

In conclusion, I have to say, had one of those rocks flown through a window this would have been a very different blog post, and it would have been challenging to keep my emotions in check...  Fortunately, this was like a child falling off the swing and not breaking his arm.  This was one of those gifts that allows for a lesson without too much pain involved.

I am sure there will be many more lessons ahead...