So, I have a story to tell… I have been telling small bits on pieces of it on my Facebook page, and now I am going to tell the full story, to share the lessons my son has been teaching me over the past two weeks…
Let’s go back to summer – we had a really great summer. We were busy with camps and sunny days in the neighborhood… It was super fun for us all. We lost a lot of our structure from the school year, and it was ok, because everyone was really enjoying each other, and it felt as though there was still order within the freedom of those sunny days. I was feeling like we were in the sweet spot, and time when the kids were proving to me that the work I do, what I teach, truly helps them to be their best.
Finally, back-to-school time rolled around. Honestly, I was ready for the school year to begin. I love schedules and structures and routines. I wrote a blog post about heading back to school, and how to support your children. I knew just how to transition my kids into the school year. I had a clear vision of what it would look like and really had no doubts that my kids would fall in line…
This is where the lessons begins. I have written before about how my daughter is my teacher. I have shared that my relationship with her teaches me so much about myself, and tests me to be my best. Well, this story is about my other teacher, my son. My nearly eight year old, second grade son, who melts my heart.
Here is how it went down. I knew it would be important for the kids to have a set routine when they got home from school. I figured the one from last year was fine, and added on for Ian to read 15 minutes/day to me, and decided that lunch making should be on there too so we didn't have to hassle with it after dinner.
I asked Ian which day he would like to work on his new “2nd grade” after school routine. He picked Monday, and when it arrived, I asked him to list off what he needed to do after school. He told me, I wrote it down, adding the two "new" items to the list, and then gave it to him to copy in his own handwriting…. Hmmm. So if it is in his handwriting, does that translate to buy in??? Time would tell.
My idea of an after school routine is that my kids know what needs to be done and they just cruise through the list and move on. Easy-peasy. Not only that, my thought is that they want to just cruise right though their tasks…
Well, it turns out, my son is not a nearly forty year old mother. He is an almost eight year old boy, who just got off the bus after spending 7 hours away from home, following directions and doing the right thing all day --- what he wants to do when he gets home is eat and come down off the school day ride.
This is what I recognize now. However, what has been happening over the last week is that I have gone from a really connected, slow paced mom, to a crazy control freak! I even wrote a blog post about realizing that we were going through a really big transitional time, I was blinded to what I was inviting from my own child., and still putting most of the blame on him. Lame.
This has been such a lovely learning experience for me (ok, maybe not lovely). I have been wearing the shoes of so many parents that I know and work with, using the PD tools and feeling as though they just don’t work for this kid.
The routine chart "we" created is a mess. This is not something we have made together, even if it is in his handwriting and he "agreed" to it. Ian wanders around the house, taking for-EV-er to do the simplest task, not making any sort of movement towards acknowledging that I have spoken to him, sending me into a crazy spin cycle in my head.
He thinks he doesn’t have to do anything and I won’t do anything about it!
He doesn’t care at all about what others do for him!
He thinks he can just act however he wants…
He is hitting the preadolescent boy stage – he hates me!!!
Seriously, it’s been ugly. I have fallen right into the trap that fear can put us in, as he pushed against this new reality, full of structure and routines, I pushed back, overwhelmed and grasping for “control” of the situation (which sounds a lot like empty threats and ill thought out consequences).
I convinced myself I was still using Positive Discipline. I thought I was engaging him with curiosity questions, hoping to invite cooperation and contribution. Only, when I asked him, “What do we do with our dishes after we eat?” I was also scrunching up my forehead and using an incredulous tone that made the question really sound like, “Are you an idiot????”
And, I mean, how inviting is that?
Then Friday, after all week of this crazy circus, the whole family is drawing at the counter together. My son gets frustrated about how his drawing looks and he falls apart. Big time. He loses it and my husband tries to give him suggestions on how to fix his drawing or start again. I begin to add my thoughts and suggestions. His meltdown takes on new energy…
“YOU ARE ALWAYS TELLING ME WHAT TO DO!!!”
Ugh. Superhighway to the soul. Dagger to my heart.
“You are always telling me what to do.”
He’s right. Summer ended, school started and I went into full dictator mode. Have I mentioned my controlling tendencies? Well, I tend to get into mischief and lose faith that anyone could possibly do what needs to be done without me telling them when and how to do it. Clearly, I am working on this. AND, it sneaks up on me.
“You are always telling me what to do.”
This was so humbling to hear. To know that my little boy had had enough, and was able to let me know exactly how I was hurting him made me, all at once, feel both proud and ashamed.
It was time to check myself.
Once he calmed down, I got really close to him and gathered his little, big boy body in my arms and let him know how much I loved him. How sorry I was for how I had been treating him. I let him know that I would be different.
The next day I worked really hard to check in with him, asking his opinions on things, not assuming that I knew best but being truly curious about what he thought. I have been catching myself when I want to make assumptions or suggestions, and instead waiting to allow him space and time to ask for help. I worked on connecting with him,
It’s a tricky little dance… My head starts to make up stories about how, if I am not continuously reminding (read: nagging) him about what he needs to do, he just won’t do it. Getting into that habit of believing that if I let go, he will just not taking any responsibility for anything.
I have stopped having faith in my son, and he is living up to my expectations.
Hmm, isn’t that interesting? What happened to encouragement? What happened to connection? What happened to getting into my child’s world?
Tonight, again, I became triggered by my son’s apparent lack of desire to contribute and I called him into the living room to talk. I let him know how I was feeling, frustrated and angry because it seemed like he just thought he could do whatever he wanted. I told him how I didn’t really know if he was really thinking that, and wanted to know, what was he thinking?
I opened the door.
My son shared a lot with me tonight. At times, it was tough to keep him engaged, it was uncomfortable and he would rather wiggle out of this talk. But he told me that when school started, it felt like everything was different and it was hard for him to adjust to it. I shared that I felt like he was different. He told me that I seemed to act really different.
I told him that I wanted to be better. I told him I wanted to be helpful, and also that I trusted that he could be helpful as well. We talked about how we both have some responsibilities to take care of, and if one of us isn’t doing what we said we would do, it would be hard for both of us.
Ian decided that he wanted to move, “read to mom for 15 minutes” from the after school routine, to before I read to both kids at night. We picked a time, 7:30, for when he would be ready to read to me. He also wanted me to help him make his lunch. This is an overwhelming task to him. I told him I would be happy to help him, that I would give him 5 minutes. I also told him that there may be times when I get busy, and that I knew he could do it without me if he needed to.
It’s messy. And I am hopeful. Hopeful that by recommitting to the principles of Positive Discipline, not just the tools, I will again create space for my kids to be cooperative, contributing members of the family.
I am also grateful. I am grateful to my son for teaching me how easy it is to get off track, to go into automatic pilot without realizing it. I am grateful that my son knows enough about how he wants to be treated to demand it – even though it took a meltdown to get him there.
And finally, I am deeply honored to mother these children of mine. This is no easy task, it is one that takes great self-awareness, thought and forgiveness. I am honored that I have a hand in creating opportunities for my children to develop ideas about who they are, how they fit into our family, and what they expect from their world. It is a gift, difficult and full of learning, but a gift no less.
Thank you for reading :).