day 721 | January 31, 2015 | Litmus Test

Get unstuck, Ask the right questions. 
Break down intimidating problems into bite-sized puzzles.
One thing at a time.
Learning as play. 
Encourage her to drive herself.

This happened quite a while back -- and I continue to struggle with keeping to the spirit of my parenting aspirations. Every time I struggle with patience and empathy, I think back to this, and feel the anger sucked away. Hope this helps other parents who have made the commitment not to yell at and hit their children as well...

Jarred by the sound of my own voice. I caught myself screaming at Roo. I've never hit her before, but this once, I had a flashpoint when I was about to do it.
She asked for help in her homework. She generally works on it alone, and I just go in for the final 2-5 stragglers which she can't figure out independently. I have constantly encouraged her to ask questions when she doesn't understand anything -- whether in studies or in life. A policy of unusual openness. Overall, she's been ridiculously amazing. 
There were 2 problem-solving questions in front of us, which Roo could not verbalise on her own. A regular exercise for us to break down the problem is to read and understand components of the instructions, and to break it down into steps/parts if too complex. One thing at a time. The key is NOT to be overwhelmed. Bite-sized approach has worked for me in school as well as life -- and I still find this ability to break things down into simple steps key to survival. 
But Roo was just quiet and unresponsive to my prompts. I felt like I was talking to a wall. Tired and irritable, I interpreted her lack of response as a lack of respect. I felt that she was deliberately wasting my time. I accused her of not focusing nearly enough, and told her in a rough tone to wake up. In my head, the F-word rang like a mantra, and fed the growing frustration. 
How dare she not respond to me? I'm asking her simple "yes or no" questions!
Banging the table, to jolt her awake. Tempted to slap sense into her. Screaming at her to wake up and focus and pay attention. She was looking at me with tears in her eyes, and I didn't see or hear any answer forthcoming from her. 
And that's when the flashpoint came. Blazing red anger. Bright red. I was about to do something I had promised never to do.

A long time ago, before I even became a mom, I made the decision -- to be nice to my kids, to teach them that there's no excuse to be rude to people, and show them how one can deliberately choose the kinder way, regardless of circumstance. 

Part of this commitment means I've promised never to hit them. This also means no emotionally abusive language, or screaming. Never say never, they say. But this is my personal litmus test. And while there may be days I trip and fall and fail, I hope to constantly be picking myself up.

There are a few things that have helped keep me very close to this commitment so far:

1. Get my own needs met. The times I've considered hurting anyone physically or emotionally, it's usually because I have an unmet need. Hungry, tired, stressed, frustrated by something else, or just generally insecure. My kids are not my punching bags; and I wouldn't want them to think that it's acceptable to use people as their punching bags either. Just as I am teaching them how to manage their emotions, I need to work on improving how I manage my own too.

2. Focus on the relationship. I want to be a loving, patient, and wise mother. When my kids think of kindness and integrity, I would hope to be in their thoughts as a positive role model -- and I can only achieve that by walking the talk. Many-a-time, I've caught myself thinking, "Hey, most moms would have hit them for that" or "I've been hit for much less than that." Pride kicks in. Then, I have to consciously step back and be deliberate. I try to visualize the outcome I want, and allow that to anchor my approach. Long-term thoughts of "What kind of kids would I like to raise?" "What sort of relationship do I want to build?" And immediate concerns like "Will this approach allow me to connect better with them?" "What does my child need right now to want to listen and understand what I have to say?" "What important lesson am I teaching, in action and in words, and am I being consistent?"

3. Respect and Listen. As soon as the little ones start expressing preferences and stances, especially ones that are so diametrically opposed to mine, I am reminded that they are their own person. They may be little, but their preferences and opinions count as much as mine. We can shape their thoughts, and that is a huge responsibility, but there is no forcing it. Most of the time, it's an emotional conversation. Putting myself into their little shoes, and understanding what they must be feeling or thinking at that point. What is driving the insecurity, helplessness, or defensiveness that is manifesting through bad behaviour? Like myself, they need to be heard, and are likely struggling to process their emotions in a healthy way. So we dig and talk through how they really feel, and practice empathy through storytelling and a dose of humor. For the most part, that makes them more open to listening, and what would have been a screamfest becomes a hugfest.  

Sent Roo off to her room, telling her that we would work on her assignment at a later time, when I was much calmer. She walked away sobbing, big fat tears rolling down her cheeks. The girl needed help to understand things, and is likely tired from a full day's activity, and overwhelmed with school work, and I just went ballistic on her. 
Inordinately fortunate that Roo generally has the demeanor of a saint. She easily forgives and seeks to understand, apologizes even as I'm apologizing for my rough approach. Once I was calm, we worked together for several hours and she picked up pace quickly once we got over a few knots I assumed she already understood.  
Constantly battling with a guilty conscience despite apologies, but we do our best and grow everyday. I love her persevering spirit -- and how good she is makes me even more keenly aware of how bad I can be. If I am not mindful about slipping, I wonder how many times she would be willing to forgive.

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