February 17th, 2008
Oh, I talk a good game. In conversations with friends, teachers, and family, I focus on the wholesome, positive things I do as a mom, but the truth is, I can do better.
This isn’t a putdown. It’s the truth.
I know I’m not doing my best. As my daughter told me the other day, “Whenever I ask you something, it’s “in a minute, in a minute, in a minute!” (sung to the tune of “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!”). And she’s right: often I’m so focused on what I’m doing that I don’t want to interrupt it, even for a kid who has to go to the bathroom. I’m embarrassed to admit it: but I put myself first a lot. If I’m too tired, the kids don’t go to the park that day. If I want a glass of wine and some adult conversation at a party, I’ll semi-ignore my children and leave them on a couch to watch The Incredibles for an incredibly long time.
I’m not going to get this time back. So, I thought I’d really brainstorm how I can be a better mom, getting more quality time with my kids in the process. (Without completely giving up the occasional glass of wine and conversations with complete sentences.)
So here’s my list. It’s OK: ignore it. I’ve proved I’m no expert. Or that I’m a drunk.
1) Focus, Focus, Focus: My kids don’t have my full attention. For one, I’m on the computer way too much (like now, for instance). It’s painful to admit, but I constantly put my kids’ needs off with the aforementioned resounding chorus of “in a minute.” I’m making more of an effort to put down the mouse, but I have a LONG way to go in this department. As a kid, I remember often trying to get my dad’s attention anywhere there were other people, and being (in my child’s view) constantly ignored. My dad was very social, and loved to entertain, joke and chat. This provided me with some wonderful role modeling, but it also sent me the message that whatever conversation he was in at the moment, was more important than me.
I see myself doing the same thing with my kids. My daughters have taken to crawling on my lap when I’m online, in a futile attempt to connect with me when I’ve distanced myself on the computer.
I’m trying now to focus on them — with my eyes and full attention — when they ask me a question, need something or just want to play.
2) Slow Down: We’re always rushing somewhere. Constantly in a hurry and on the verge of being late. As a result, I’m usually frantically pulling the kids’ coats on, tying their shoes and admonishing them to “get a move on.” Kids can pick up on moods quickly; they also absorb them. So, if I’m crabby and anxious trying to get out the door, they’ll mirror that with their own grumpiness. I said to someone the other day, “You’ll often find me yelling at my kids to stop yelling.” The irony is not lost on me.
Better planning is the key for me. If I budget my time (maybe for instance, by getting off the computer five minutes earlier than I do), I can optimize the getting ready period and avoid the rush. And if I do find myself rushing, I can watch my tone and not whip the kids into a frenzy to match my own. Kids do as they’re shown. I want to show them a better way of coping with stress of any kind, including that brought on by running late. Or better yet, show them the benefits of organization and planning, resulting in not being late in the first place.
3) Validate Their Feelings: Oh how many times my daughter’s lost it and I immediately stick her in a time out. The other day, we were at the park and completely out of character, she yelled several times at a playmate. Then, she threw sand in her friend’s eyes. I scooped her up pronto and took her home, kicking and screaming.
I believe in boundaries and consequences, but I also think that there’s something “beneath the underneath” that causes children to act out. Perhaps if I asked her why she were so crabby or probed her feelings a bit more, she’d feel relief at expressing them to a mom who cared, and the temper tantrum would cease.
Maybe not. I don’t know. But I’m working on spending a little time encouraging her to tell me how she feels and why. Rather than telling her first to “not do something” or “stop being grumpy,” I want to show her that I care about her feelings and that she has a right to them. Then, I want to share ways to positively express them. Because a feeling may not be right or wrong, but what you do with that feeling is another matter.
And now, you know what? I’m going to finish this later. I’ve got two little girls in the living room waiting for me to practice being a better mother right now.
p.s. Next two items on the list to flesh out when the kids are napping:
4) Think Before I Speak
5) Love Their Daddy