Thursday, May 3, 2012

Kindness begins at home

LittleMissWatermelon I give her the look and she freezes. With just enough edge in my voice, I can almost feel her pulse quicken. Sharpened to a point, it can almost cut.

That tone. That look. The lingua franca of parents demanding obedience.

Then there’s the yelling and threatening of course.

Don’t do this, don’t do that. If you do this, I will...

No Pain No Gain

This is the sixth day of my ailment - my throat continues to feel like an army of Orcs forging minions and weapons with lava. I’ve become dependent on painkillers to numb the throbbing ache of the inflammation, and it all sounds terrible, until I realized that this has also curbed my yelling.

I don’t have a choice. It hurts to talk, let alone yell. But it’s a good thing.

Actually, it’s a wonderful thing. I’ve been meaning to work on that for a long time now - speak, not yell - and haven’t quite mastered that yet. Now that I’m physically incapable of raising my voice, I’m learning the joy of taking a deep breath before conveying my point in a calm, steady tone.

While it’s not more effective, it certainly is as effective, and it makes me feel a lot better about myself when I don’t have to yell at my kids. How many times have we envisioned ourselves to not be that parent only to fall short all too quickly when our kids push our buttons? And boy are they good at that.

This whole speaking-not-yelling thing is an especially important exercise now because Little Miss will forego summer school and stay home with me and the baby instead this year. I look forward to being home with my girls, but she is, at this point, also the definition of Terrible Three. Oh yes. Three. I was lucky with her at two as she was rather manageable. Turns out, she was saving it for three.

The issue isn’t that she’s frustrated with her inability to articulate her feelings. She can do that just fine. But some feelings are larger than her own diminutive stature. And it consumes her. Sometimes even me.

Her responses begin with an adamant “no!” even before I finish a sentence. So determined she is to lead her own path that her sole purpose these days is to stand on the opposite side of where I am. Mostly to her own detriment.

Me: I feel like waffles. Would you like some?
Little Miss: No! I don’t like waffles!

(But she does.)

When she realizes her error, she recants with an impish grin, but that’s just before she moves on to butt heads with me on the accompanying beverage. It’s exhausting.

My biggest downfall as a parent is my lack of patience. And the one thing I need the most to survive this summer would be patience.

I don’t think she’s trying to piss me off on purpose. She’s three. She’s wondering, testing, pushing, and it’s all within the course of her development, but of course she’s not aware of her limits yet. Or mine, for that matter. And therein lies the challenge.

Second Nature

I understand that every parent goes through this, but what makes this especially hard for me is that I was raised in a culture where parents are always right and responses to kids’ misbehavior usually mean raised voice or hands. I find myself constantly trying to fight my ingrained nature to react the way I was trained. And let me tell you this: It. Is. Hard.

As a kid I was told to obey my parents, my elders and my teachers because they’re older and they’re always right. That reasoning has never really worked for me, and when I found myself saying, “because I said so” the other day to Little Miss, I knew I had to do something. Apparently my own upbringing had a stronger hold on me than I’d imagined.

I grew up watching TV parents speaking kindly to their children and ending confrontations with words and hugs - something that never happened to me. As a child, I yearned for the family relationships portrayed on TV, and while I now know that the Seavers and the Huxtables are not exactly reality, I don’t think it’s unreal to expect respect and kindness. Even from our parents.

But having been raised in a culture that perpetuates the my-way-or-the-highway authoritarian parenting, kindness and tenderness towards our kids are learned skills for me. My parenting toolkit contains sterner stuff, like loud voices and grippy hands, threats and eye-rolls.

And I’m not proud of it.

100 Ways to be Kind to Your Child

When I stumbled upon this list through Pinterest, 100 Ways to be kind to your child, it’s like a light went off in my head. To pick a random few for flavor:

#9 – Tell your child I enjoyed playing with you today

#33 – Pretend you’re explorers in the backyard

#57 – Listen a second longer than you think you have patience for

#78 – Take time to do a task at your child’s pace

#89 – Sit on the floor with them to play

#98 – Give a bath when the day feels long

I know I can do these...More importantly, I want to do these. They sound so simple, yet because of my own history, they’re not quite second nature to me.

And I want them to be.

I immediately printed the list and now it stays close to me as a reminder of all the little things I can do to improve the way I parent and hopefully nurture my relationship with my daughters.

Not only am I trying for a gentler approach in discipline, I’m also trying to be a better parent, hoping it would help me navigate the rough waters of Terrible Three. Using the list as my guide, maybe there will be a Fabulous Four in our future?

I love that we already do some of what’s on the list, but I have ways to go to internalize this. For our summer to be the best one yet, I will have to work on kindness.

Because kindness begins at home. And if I want my daughters to be kind, it has to begin with me.



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What is your biggest challenge as a parent? What did you remember about your upbringing that you’d like to change for your kids?