The parent I always imagined I’d be?

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Cathy Thorne – Mindful Parenting cartoon guru

Natural consequences, great in theory… a wee bit harder in practice! Maybe mindfulness can help?

Here’s my story…

8:20 a.m. a couple of weeks after coming home from Cuba. It’s time to go. Actually, that was 20 minutes ago! Already late… Another sleep-interrupted night… A dreaded work meeting in a few hours… Snapped at partner… again…Dinner not planned… again…Caffeine not kicking in… Existential crisis, again… You get the picture. And now, this.

Our youngest is refusing to wear snow pants. Nooooooooooo!

“We didn’t have to wear them in Cuba,” our 2 ½ year-old rightly explains.

“Yes, honey. I know. Cuba is is hot, and we’re not in Cuba anymore. Just like yesterday. Remember?”

“I don’t want to wear them.”

“I know sweetheart, it’s hard to be back in the cold.” (My face is getting flushed, and my voice getting louder)

“My brother’s not wearing them.”

“I know sweetie. He’s older.” (my inside voice screaming: “Life’s not fair! Might as well get used to it now! And besides, I ‘let go’ of that battle with him years ago, though for some reason, I am just not able to let go of it right now)

8:37: still not out the door… Then I lose it…

“SIT DOWN AND GET YOUR SNOW PANTS ON!”

(Not exactly the parent I imagined I’d be!)

What am I supposed to do???

Oh yeah. Natural consequences. A parenting value of mine in theory, but not always in practice! Then my rational brain comes back online. She won’t freeze. It’s not that far of a walk. We can pack them. Maybe she can get cold and learn for next time.

So, why didn’t I think of that? Oh, right. I couldn’t think in that moment!

I’ve read and heard lots about the benefits of natural consequences as a way to encourage our children to learn, and to avoid power struggles. Krissy Pozatek, wrote a lovely book called Brave Parenting, in which she talks about how we, as parents, can either metaphorically ‘lay down leather’ on the rocky path of our children’s lives to provent them from experiencing the hard parts of the journey; or we can foster the development of internal resources and emotional resiliency (building moccasins – so-to-speak) – to help us navigate our life trail, rockiness and all.

Similarly, in No Drama Discipline, Drs. Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson laud the beauty of natural consequences, where lessons are taught without us having to do much. I think it is actually more about what we need NOT to do in those challenging moments. When we do too much to ‘teach that lesson’, or we overreact, our kids may not even remember why we had a difficulty in the first place. They are just connecting with how our emotional reaction in the moment.

Sounds simple, perhaps, but it’s not easy. In this morning moment above, my buttons were pushed – my need to be in control of the situation (The illusion of being in control – whether we have kids or not – is a topic for another post!)). Our buttons can also get pushed when we are under intense stress, so that we do not have access to the ‘thinking’ part of our brain.

In that moment, I responded like I were under threat, and headed into fight flight freeze. Yes, threat. From my 2 ½ year-old. At that point, my brain couldn’t tell the difference between a toddler and a tiger and I was no longer thinking rationally, rather I was fighting and freezing: a power struggle with the two and half-year-old. Never good odds for success!

How do we reconcile being the parents we want to be, when our buttons are pushed and we can’t think clearly – and we need to get out the door !?!. How can we employ the wisdom from parenting books when we can’t access the thinking part of our brain?

Here’s where mindfulness has helped me. A few things I have learned along the way (and remind myself of on a regular basis):

  1. By regularly practicing mindfulness in some form, we strengthen our brain’s ability to remain calm in stressful situations. This in turn reduces our likelihood of going to fight, flight or freeze mode and can help us recover quicker when we do go there.
  2. With practice, we can learn to just STOP, and reset our nervous system; with some deep breaths, observing and naming our experiences before proceeding.
  3. We can offer ourselves compassion; recognizing that all parents have challenging parenting moments, all parents have their buttons pushed – and we can offer ourselves a comforting touch and some kind words (like we would say to a friend who came to us with a similar challenge)
  4. And if we cannot act as we would have liked, we can at least be aware of our behavior – and make a repair with our child and relax into what Jon Kabat-Zinn calls, “The Full catastrophe of parenting.”
  5. We can remember, that even when we practice regularly, we are human, and we will slip up. Good thing we’ve got many years to keep practicing!

Summer hats and sun screen… bring ‘em on!
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