Sunday, July 24, 2016

Being raised by my spirited kids

The past few months have been a challenge in our house--painfully challenging. "A" was turning 6-years-old and "E" had recently turned 3-years-old. Within a matter of weeks it felt like I was living in a war zone--constant fighting, arguing, name calling, and just BAD behavior. I felt like such a failure. I internalized so much guilt from my kids' behavior and the worse it got the more I felt myself shutting down. I would just go lie in bed and stare at the ceiling to blank out my mind and to shake the feeling that my kids had emotionally punched me in the gut. I felt like that bruised apple. I felt like I had PTSD from the tantrums and thanked Mondays for saving me and giving me a chance to escape to work. I talked with my husband and sobbed "No one told me it would be THIS hard." He shook his head and said, "Yeah, who is going to tell you that?" But it's true. Parenting is sooo hard and anyone who says it's a total breeze is lying to you. However, if you'll stick with me, I think you'll see that it's worth it.

I tried so many things to avoid the tantrums and, since I'm a researcher by training, I decided to do a new experiment. One day I picked my daughter up from daycare and instead of asking the classic "How was your day?" question that would potentially derail her into snippy back-talk, I decided I would just keep silent and try not to provoke her. I said hi (did the usual smile and hug), we gathered her backpack, walked to the car, and I just kept quiet. Within 10 seconds of turning out of the parking lot, it started. I continued to keep quiet, calm, and did not respond. She was angry and crying by the time we got home--without a word from me. So this created quite a conundrum because I realized that I had NOTHING to do with her behavior--this was all her doing it to herself. Light bulb moment. For months I'd been feeling like I was the source of all things horrible in our house--that somehow this was all MY fault. Of course, it was hard not to feel like certain things were my fault because it seemed like any little thing could set the kids off and then they would be screaming things like "You made me do this!" or "I hate you!" It was horrible. But this drive home was a turning point when it finally made me pause and go, no, this isn't my fault. I'm doing my job as a parent, and I'm doing OK at it.

I had conversations with both kids about how their behavior was making me feel and why their decisions were THEIR decisions. If they ripped up a picture they drew to spite me, it was only hurting them. It wasn't my fault that they made those decisions--I was no longer going to be their emotional scapegoat. I told them that I make mistakes too--lots of mistakes-- but the best thing you can do is to just apologize and own-up to your mistake, learn from it, and try to not make that mistake again. However, actions do have consequences and even though it's really tough dealing with consequences, they are needed. The last thing I want is for my kids to grow up with parents who think their kids should be excused from consequences--no.

We have been working at it, read as two steps forward and one step back, but we're getting there. I've been working with the kids to identify their emotions--this is something I learned about after reading a book called Emotional Intelligence 2.0. I've found that it's so easy to misinterpret emotions--for example responding with anger when you might actually be afraid. Taking time to talk through emotions and identify the emotion is really helping. For example, my son spilled his Icee at a restaurant today and he started having a tantrum after they brought him another one and began cleaning up the mess--he was actually sad/sorry and was starting to respond with anger/aloofness. He genuinely felt bad that he'd spilled the drink and was punishing himself by putting himself on the floor in the corner or pushing the new drink away.

I also started reading Raising your Spirited Child, something that taught me within the first 10 pages that my kids can be more challenging than other kids, but they can also be really awesome and are growing into pretty decent humans. This past weekend we had a small BBQ at our house and afterwards I told the kids how proud I was of their GOOD behavior at the party! Yay, good behavior!! Even though it has been so challenging at this stage and ages, I know that it's worth it to "just keep swimming" and cherish the good times with my kids. It's already gone by way too fast, but over the past few weeks I'm finally starting to just breathe more and realize that, no, we aren't a perfect family, but we are doing just fine. Kids will be kids and raising them to be decent humans will involve conflict.

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