While talking with some dear friends the other day, we discovered that as parents of small children we’d all been seeing similar ads on social media. Ads for “No Yelling Parenting” or “Let the Kids Win Parenting Method” or “Positive Parenting Solutions.” Clearly, Facebook advertisers can hear us yelling at our children. I’d love to say I’m not yelling, but let’s be honest: for the love of all things holy, just wash your hands after you go potty!
The constant ads have me remembering a day I spent at the aquarium 2 years ago. On that day, while my then 2-year-old daughter played and my then infant son slept in the stroller, I witnessed a struggling parent. In the walkway behind us, another child was having an absolute meltdown. I remember not because it’s out of the ordinary, but because of the mother’s reaction. She was enacting one of those no-yelling parenting methods. As her child screamed and kicked, she calmly breathed in and out: “Let’s breathe. We are having some big feelings right now. Would you like to tell me about those big feelings?” Her son wasn’t having it. He screamed and threw himself on the floor and blocked the walkway. The mom kept it together – bless her sweet soul. I remember standing there, admiring her. I would’ve cracked much sooner.
Actually, I did crack much sooner … about 20 minutes later when my child threw a big tantrum fit in the middle of a different walkway. She kicked the stroller, threw herself on the ground, and wailed. I acted on instinct. “No way. We don’t act like this,” I said, picking her up and strapping her wiggling body into the stroller. I pushed the scroller – one child screaming and one child sleeping – down the hallway, down the elevator, and out the door. We were a sight for sore eyes.
I think about these dual moments a lot. Two kids tantruming. Two mothers choosing different responses. All passersby by judging both. Neither solution calming the child. Both kids stopped when they needed to stop, because sometimes you just gotta get out those big feelings, and no amount of breathing or talking about it or being whisked away will help. Granted, the other mom remained MUCH calmer than me (she’s amazing), but I got a result sooner. I don’t know how the other mom finally achieved some calm, but ours stopped when the chilly outside air hit that tear-streaked face.
When I was pregnant with my oldest, I remember getting so much advice from moms and grandmoms and passersby. I was gifted a lot of books about various parenting methods. One mom says: use this method it’s the ONLY thing that works. Then another book from another mom: use this method, it’s the ONLY thing that works. The books were all different. The methods different. The advice contradictory. As a new mom, I read most of it, tried a lot of it, rejected much of it, and developed my own parenting method: Survive.
Okay, not just survive, of course. It also includes love, and hugs, and books, and sleep, and food, and kindness, and church, and sticking to a schedule, and being flexible, and then more love, and hugs, and more survival. As a human being caring for other human beings, I try to figure out what works for this kid and these parents. The end.
Of course, that doesn’t always work (because that’s how human beings work). With my oldest, I kept trying to figure out “the right” thing to do. Sleeping training? Food training? Potty training? Googling things like: why will my 2-year-old only sleep on the floor? Dr. Google didn’t know. And neither did my trusted online mom group. And neither did our pediatrician, who said: “She’s sleeping right? Go with it.” Eventually, one night she just got back in bed… (Humans are strange creatures).
In all of it, I researched and tried all the methods. However, the best method was always to abandon what everyone else said and to trust myself. To know that I could do this. To know that my husband and I could do this. To trust that we were and always will be the best parents for these two small human beings. To know beyond all knowing that even if we mess up, these cute little children will always know we love them more than the world.
In 1 Corinthians 12:4, the Apostle Paul says: “there are a variety of gifts, but it is the same spirit who gives them.” In parenting, there are a variety of methods, but it is the same love that drives them. I have 2 children who could not be more different from one another. They required different approaches, different ways of speaking, different ways of understanding. I serve a congregation of 200 people. Each person is different, and as such hears and understands in unique ways. That’s why we have a God so big and expansive as to understand each of us uniquely different human creatures – even when we don’t really understand ourselves.
The truth is that we all have big feelings – children, adults, animals. We all feel our feels. If we only talk to children about their feelings but don’t show them ours, then what are we really doing anyway? We are all here to live this life and figure it out together.
Last week, the kids and I had one of “those” days. A full morning of not listening. Rough housing. Sibling fights. Spitting. Hitting. Big messes. It culminated when they both took off the coats and shoes it had taken me 20 minutes to put on. As they ran about me in a circle, screaming, I burst. My mouth said what my heart was feeling: “Well I must not be a very good mother if this is how my children act. What kind of mother am I if you treat each other this way?”
They both stopped and looked up at me, silent. My daughter had tears in her eyes when she said, “Don’t say that. You’re the best mommy ever. We’re sorry.” My son hugged me, saying “Mama stressed. Mama okay.” Then they both hugged me really tight. I hadn’t intended to completely lose it, but when I did, the entire day shifted.
Maybe what we need is to be more honest with ourselves and our kids. I am angry. I am sad. I am frustrated. I am sorry. I can let them into what’s going on with me … and maybe they’ll let me into what’s going on with them.
That’s my new method: full on honesty. Because frankly, I don’t have much else left in my reservoir.
S0, kudos to the moms trying to breathe through it. Kudos to the moms who high-tail it out of there. Kudos to the moms screaming behind closed doors. Kudos to the moms letting it all out in front of their kids. You are doing great.
And please, please, I beg of you: for the love of all things holy: just wash your hands!