Lately I've been feeling that my relationships with the kids have gotten somehow adversarial. In a million little ways, they evade, ignore, resist me, even when I'm trying to do something innocuous. Thus is the way of the world, right? But it seemed to be reaching toxic levels.
One of many perks from our Thanksgiving weekend filled with aunts, uncles, and cousins was that it helped bump us all out of our funks. Also, Mark and I attended some fortuitously timed parenting classes. We always loved the training courses we took for foster care licensing, and still occasionally crash them by virtue of our status as foster-adopt parents. Classes for parents of traumatized children are always about taking it to a higher level, to responding to terrible behavior in therapeutic ways. This one was about viewing all parent-child interactions in terms of a "circle of security" wherein a child moves away from parents for a time to explore the world then returns to receive nurturing.
My a-ha moment during the course of the two four-hour sessions (I know!) was about my own fear. I think that when my children misbehave, a part of me clenches up in panic. They can't do that! I must fix that! I cannot abide my children to behave that way! And in context of that fear and panic, my response to them becomes a little too severe, a little too coercive, a little too overwrought. And in that context, of course the kids push back.
It reminded me once of when I unloaded to my mother-in-law all my frustrations about a particularly demoralizing parenting problem and she said, "Trust the process." Meaning, stay the course, keep doing all the good parenting you know how, and trust the kids to respond and learn in time. Kids are meant to misbehave. They lie, they make messes, they sneak out of bed, they hide dirty socks under the rug, pinch their sister, and on and on. Of course, recognizing the inevitability of misbehavior doesn't mean to accept it or give up on correcting it. But for me it means to tamp down the panic, deliver discipline gently, and trust my children to internalize it.
Here's an example: The other day Logan and a buddy went to hang out at the park after school. Many hours later, well past dark and dinnertime, no sign of Logan. Dinner had to be postponed while I went out looking. The friend's mom sat on our couch waiting. It was definitely an infraction and an inconvenience But also a garden-variety, age-appropriate one. I drove around the park and finally found the boys. I was tired, hungry, irritated, and a little sheepish in front of the other mom. But in light of my new vow, I was able to tamp down the strident lecture. In fact, I skipped the traditional "Your behavior was wrong. So wrong!" segment entirely. After dinner, I said something along the lines of, "You know, Logan, in our family everyone comes home for dinner unless there's a pressing commitment otherwise. It's important family time" and left it at that. Which left me feeling less embattled, even though Logan still found reason to be offended and argue--probably because he already knew he was in the wrong--making it all the better that I didn't rub his nose in it.