Over the last year or so I’ve been trying to nurture conversations with the kids about my parenting styles. I know I’ve heard people discuss this in a negative manner before – how we shouldn’t let our kids dictate how we parent – but my innate instincts tell me otherwise. It’s similar to something Nikki’s teacher asked her class this year: What can I do to help you succeed? We all know how we thrive and sometimes, as a parent, it’s okay to take that feedback and add it to our parenting arsenal. I think it’s especially important because all three of my kids are so very different and the same parenting doesn’t work for all of them, so I just feel compelled to discuss things with them if I feel we’re hitting roadblocks.
It started with Wes who has – what I’ve always called in myself – Shame Spirals. I think I first heard the term from Brené Brown but I’m not positive. It’s that sudden pit you feel yourself falling into when you feel ashamed or embarrassed by something you’ve experienced or done. Everyone has different manifestations of their shame spiral, I tend to go straight for food. Wes? Goes to anger. Sometimes at himself, sometimes at others.
He talked to me one day that he wishes I would give him a chance to do the right thing in certain situations. Like, if he says something ugly and I want him to apologize…he would rather be given the chance to just do it without me saying, “Wesley! That was ugly, apologize!” Or in a more mundane way, he would rather me not remind him to brush his teeth…he wants to do it without the reminder. Things like that…he just found that my nagging, so to speak, made him feel really bad and then he would get the surge of shame which would trigger anger and the spiral would start.
So I’ve started trying to adapt the ways I handle these situations with that conversation in mind. I’ve told him it’s my job as a Mom to tell him what to do sometimes, so he just has to accept it, but I’ll try to come up with other ways or to delay my response to give him time to do the right thing.
I’ve had similar conversations with Nikki. She can tell I parent Wes differently than I parent her and so we’ve discussed the reasons why and I’ve try to incorporated some of the same responses with her that she sees me do with him.
And they have both asked me to stop rolling my eyes so much. And man, until they pointed it out I did not realize how often I do it. AND IT IS A VERY HARD HABIT TO BREAK. Wes also asked that I stop doing the dramatic turn and sigh when I want him to apologize for something because he knows what I’m trying to do and it feels manipulative AND HE IS RIGHT. I AM VERY MUCH TRYING TO MAKE HIM FEEL BAD. I just don’t necessarily realize it.
I’m just very glad that both of my kids are old enough now that we can have these conversations. I’m not sure everyone in our family agrees or supports these type of accommodations on my part, but I really like the idea that if I’m asking them to learn new/better behaviors in certain situations, it’s only fair that I try to improve my own under their guidance too. I like the message that none of us are perfect. I’m constantly telling the kids about how hard it was for me to break the yelling habit, but that I did it almost completely. I yell very rarely now. VERY rarely. And even then it’s mainly a “raise my voice” thing as opposed to the red-faced screaming of yesteryear. I think it’s important as I try to teach them to cope with their own wide range of emotions, that they know I’m working on my own as well.
It’s not perfect. There are times I have to ignore their requests. Sometimes an eyeroll is an appropriate response to the melodrama of tweendom. Sometimes my heart is broken and I can not resist the turn-and-sigh move. But if they see me working on myself, then they seem more comfortable working on the challenges I give them.
None of us are perfect. But we can make each other better if we work as a team.