I’ve been trying to put some better parenting practices into place lately, to be more present to my kids and to be less, um, yelly.
Not that I ever yell. I’m really very mild mannered.
But on the off chance that things do get heated, I tend to blow up quickly and then cool down almost as fast, leaving me to question my secondary temperament (melancholic, allegedly) and wonder if motherhood hasn’t lit a bit of a sanguine fire in my belly.
Then again, that could just be the sleep deprivation talking.
I’ve been quietly observing parenting qualities I’d like to emulate (or avoid) in my friends the past few months (sorry guys!) and I’ve come up with a working mental list of areas I’d like to improve upon, along with corresponding examples of said virtue or knack as demonstrated by my (unwitting) observation subjects.
For example, I have a friend who is newly pregnant with her 6th child, and who is always joyful. Even in hard moments, she exudes joy. I suspect a large piece of this is genetic and emotional composition, and the rest is virtue and careful years of practice. But I like to think that a sliver of it could be just plain choosing to be happy, no matter the circumstances.
And that piece of the joy puzzle is eminently attainable, even for a critical realist like yours truly. So sometimes, when I find myself unreasonably upset with something that is really just a normal kid thing: mud, fights, Costco defiance, etc., I am trying to pull back a little and think about her, about her maintained composure and peace, even in the midst of chaos, and I’m trying to exercise those flabby little smile muscles of my own and laugh it off.
It works about 8% of the time.
But! It’s 8% better results than I was getting before.
Another friend is incredibly patient and incredibly respectful of her children, roughly the same ages as mine. They interrupt her with a baby need or a toddler yowl of protest and she calmly (and usually immediately) engages them. Now, a piece of this puzzle is her natural tendency towards people and their needs. She is fundamentally oriented towards the person. Everywhere she looks she sees relationships and individuals, where I see behavioral patterns and ideas and sweeping cultural movements.
(You should have a drink with us some time, it’s pretty entertaining.)
But, the thing is, she’s present to her own children in a powerful way because she is so fundamentally other-oriented. And I’m not. But I can watch her practice her other-focusedness on them, and I can look into my own motherly navel and examine whether my children might benefit from mommy spending less time analyzing them and more time acknowledging them.
It’s nice to be collecting little pieces of encouragement and best practices from all my unwitting peer teachers, but it’s also tempting to burn out on the all the bigger and better Methods and Improvements I want to implement right away, and end up in an exhausted couch heap with 50 minutes still to burn till bedtime.
This afternoon I was resolved to practice some good old fashioned togetherness with them in the backyard. We’d been in the car too long this morning and I – and they – were frazzled by carpool dynamics and hanger and that weird reunion angst after a day spent apart. So we got home, I made them a snack plate (read: held out a torn open bag of salt and vinegar potato chips and a bowl of almonds and shrink wrapped string cheese) and let them race out into the yard to devolve almost instantaneously into verbal and literally fisticuffs.
When the dust settled and the carbohydrates were being processed, the man cubs pounded downstairs to the basement to play “Star Wars Cantina” (very exclusive and involving shards of fence slats and yelling), leaving me and Evie upstairs and Luke napping in his room.
“Play with me, mommy!”
Wearily setting my library book aside and lowering myself to the floor, I asked her what she wanted to play, bracing myself for a laundry list of toddler book re-reads.
She looked at me thoughtfully and then dropped onto her hands and knees with a grin.
“I’m a lion mommy. Rawr.”
I shook my wind-destroyed hair out of it’s bobby pinned prison and growled back at her, surprising us both with my playfulness.
“I’m a lion too.”
Then I rushed her on all fours, causing her to devolve into giggles and mock terror. She ran screaming to the back door and roared at me from behind the glass a few times, then came back into the room and looked at me seriously.
“What do you want to do now, Evie?”
She tossed her hair over her shoulder and announced she was going downstairs to join her brothers, and, turning at the top of the stairs, she tossed a final command my way:
“Be a good lion, mommy. Just be a good lion.”
And then she disappeared, happy to have been seen and heard, and happy to leave me to my own devices for as long as it took to tap out this little narrative.
So the moral of this story is…well, I don’t actually have one. Just that parenting is a work in progress, and that even infinitesimally small attempts at doing better can make things…better.