Copyright 2015 Courtney Vallejo. All rights reserved.
Have you ever heard the phrase “almost doesn’t count?” It was a song, a few years back, but it’s always been an idea in the back of my head, when I’m failing at any given task – almost doesn’t count. I’m critical of myself and most especially of the way I mother my children. Throughout the day, I find myself thinking, “Well, that was one more reason they’ll end up in therapy, when they grow up.” In any given event, in any given day, whether it’s how patient I am with my child who won’t get dressed, or how lovingly I respond to my child who is struggling with their school work. If how I saw that event playing out, doesn’t actually happen, I find my backup plan is to lose it. My default is to get strict and play the “I’m the mom, do what I say,” card. Does anyone else notice that that specific response doesn’t usually gain the admiration or cooperation of our children?
I swear I heard that more than once growing up, and I looking back, I thought I must have responded with obedience, but maybe I’ve sugar coated my memories, and I wasn’t so quick to jump to attention. In speaking to a counselor recently, it became clear to me, that no one responds well to being (essentially) bullied or power-housed. If someone tries to get an attitude with me or use their “status” to get me to give in, I don’t feel honored or valued. I certainly do not feel like putting on a happy face and going along with them, so why do I assume that’s what my children are going to do?
What I find myself realizing recently, especially since my children have became elementary school age, is that they are really are, (just like everyone has always told me) actual people who just happen to be shorter than me. They are capable of all the same feelings and emotions that I am, and of course this means that just like me, they probably do not want to feel like they’re being forced into anything. Now, please don’t get me wrong, I believe parents are in charge of their children and are supposed to lead them. I tell my kids that they have to eat their vegetables, and go to bed at a certain time, and get dressed in the morning so that they’re not late to school. The difference this counselor was showing me, was that I need to have less of an emotional attachment to their response. It’s my understanding that he suggested I spend less time saying no or telling them what to do, but instead spend time telling them what I’m going to do. “If you don’t get dressed in the next 5 minutes, then I’ll have to take away your toy car for the rest of the day.” Now this part comes more natural to me, I have a reward/consequence based personality, but what he said next I found a little trickier. He told me that I had to always remain empathetic. “I really hope you’ll get dressed because I really don’t want to take your toy away. I know how much you love that car and I know you’ll really want to play with it when you get home from school, so I’m hoping you’ll make the choice to get dressed.” The more I’ve tried this, the more I’ve realized that the empathetic statements, that I’m saying really are what I was thinking, that I know they love their toy and that I’m dreading taking it away, but that I need them to complete a certain task and it has come to an incentive/consequence moment.
In all honesty, I don’t want to come home from school and be reminded about the morning’s behavior by the missing toy. My hope is that these consequences will show my children that they have free will, that they make their own choices, but if they make poor choices, there are consequences for those actions. Trust me, I know this is nothing new, and I’ve been taking away toys and giving other consequences for years, but there is something different about saying – “if you do this, then I’ll have to do that,” instead of “if you do this then you’ll lose that.” Interestingly enough, it gives them the power in the situation to make their own choices and to choose if they want me to give them a consequence.
So what does this have to do with almost, counting? Well, I’ve been trying to respond differently to my children. I’ve been trying to be more patient and empathetic in times of conflict. Am I perfect every time? NO! Do I fail every time? No, thanks be to God. Am I almost able to do it the right way? Yes. Sometimes, I am almost able to get through a day without being forceful. For me, almost DOES count. Almost is trying, and almost is almost getting it.
The giraffe, featured in this article’s picture, lives at the zoo. On a recent trip with my kids, I stood alongside a few other adults, as we watched the giraffe repeatedly try to reach the leaf. The leaf was on a tree which was outside of the giraffe’s fenced area. The giraffe did everything possible to stretch its neck over the fence to reach the tree. Every so often it would pull its head back and rest, I also think its neck was being poked by the top of the fence, and after resting, it would reach back over the fence and try again.
Now another thing the counselor told me was that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. The giraffe never could reach that leaf, as long as I stood there, but its tongue got closer and closer and I hoped that maybe the wind would pick up and blow the leaf closer just as the giraffe’s tongue was reaching for it. My hope, however, in the end, is that I don’t end up like the giraffe, just continuing with the same technique, waiting to catch a break. If I need to work on my patience (and trust me, I pray I don’t end up in situations that require me to) then I need to find other ways to address the situation that is causing me to be impatient. I need to seek more guidance, ask other moms for their advice and learn different ways to parent, because let’s be honest no one in my house likes to start their day with an argument, least of all, me.
So who do you turn to for parenting ideas and strategies? Have your received advice or strategies that worked well in your house? What really motivates your kids to follow directions?