Tuesday, 7 February 2017

How I Changed My Child's Behavior in 3 Simple Steps

Grumbling Grace, Parenting, Motherhood
Accurate via Hedger Humor

My kids have been absolutely insane lately. 

I know they look like cherubs with their big blue eyes and rosy cheeks, but their behavior has been decidedly terrifying non-angelic. For about a month, my three-year-old has been whining and bursting into tears and rage at all moments of the day, but especially when excited, sick, tired, awake, hungry and after meals. My one-and-a-half-year-old baby is determined to get through life without utilizing any of her painfully learned words and has been biting, screaming, pinching, hitting and generally losing her mind when we misunderstand her highly specific and random demands gentle requests.

Parenting, Motherhood, Grumbling Grace
She's living my life via Hedger Humor

Several times this week, I've ended up physically placing them in their respective rooms while I take deep breaths and attempt to remind myself that I'm the mom --- from the safety of the locked bathroom. They've both been sick which doesn't help. We've had some fun changes in our routine which doesn't help. Oh yeah, and it turns out they're toddlers. So there's that.

Honestly, I've been feeling a little defeated. When I scroll my Facebook feed, I see challenging articles on improving my marriage, creating educational activities for my darling progeny, flaunting a beach body and repurposing all the furniture I own. I'm set to return to work in the fall and I'm already wondering how I will manage everything when it feels so overwhelming just getting through to suppertime. The voices might be encouraging, cajoling or critiquing but they are drowning me in this season of life. It doesn't help that when I get impatient and short with my kids, I check out by scrolling on my phone. 

parenting, motherhood, encouragement

A few mornings ago, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, phone in hand, frustration through the roof. It floored me. 

The behaviors I am seeing in my kids begin with me. 

It's so simple, it's so true, but it's so painful to realize. Of course my toddlers are still going to be toddlers tomorrow and may whine and scream when I make decisions on their behalf on snack time or TV time... but they also pick up on my heart values, my attitudes and my actions.

Parenting, Grumbling Grace, Motherhood
There's the rub via Fowl Language Comics

I stared at my unflattering reflection, devoid of Instagram filters or witty caption and decided it was my 'before' snapshot. Often, I concentrate on the physical gains or losses I experience but this 'before' photo was all overwhelmed, critical, short-tempered ME and it was time for a different sort of diet and exercise regime: the really hard internal one with no shortcuts.

Instead of staying overwhelmed, discouraged or just all around ready to throw in the towel as a mom, I came up with three little changes that help me get everyone back on track in our house.

Grumbling Grace, Motherhood, Parenting

1. Turn it off. 

This article Can I Have My Attention? by Emily Fisk resonated with me so deeply I wish I had written it. She nailed down the elusive angst and guilt I experience in my own misuse of social media and, at the core of it, in my misuse of my attention. 

When I'm working, I don't have any problem limiting my online scrolling and setting boundaries on my time but for some reason I struggle with this daily being at home with my kids (arguably the most important job I'll ever have). Our days aren't riveting. They are filled with small routines and repetitive conversations and this learning age is not my gift. 

Nailed it. Via Fowl Language Comics

I don't love every moment. I lose sight of the powerful impact this time with my girls is creating and as the joy seeps away, monotony, impatience and boredom seep in. 

As simple as it sounds, setting down my phone and checking in on social media or over text once or twice a day at specifically designated times has the largest impact on my entire day. Like any ingrained habit, it's SO hard at first but as the static of status updates fades away, I can be more present and content in my life right in front of me. It brings my anxiety level down fourteen notches. 

Similarly, instead of zoning out in front of a show in the evening, mindlessly eating, I might recognize I'm exhausted and just go to bed. If I feel restless, I might finally pick up the book that's been traveling around my house unopened... or maybe, just maybe, I might sit down and speak to my husband. 

Limiting my kids' screen time in the winter is kind of terrifying, especially at 4pm on a Friday but it has been freeing. When I relax and decide this is the norm, they follow suit and as they slowly begin to play and explore together, I feel like we might be turning a corner in the early motherhood game. And if not, vive Netflix.

2. Be quiet.

Even without the murmur of social media and screens, I generate a lot of noise. It's not in my nature to shut up but it makes everything better. At this stage of non-sleep, I have been attempting to get up 15 minutes before my kids. Maybe someday it'll be a whole hour or two, but right now, that brief lucid silence with God before the decibel of the day rises is not just "self-care," it's self preservation.

Developing and sticking to a quiet-time after lunch has been a game changer for us too. I wanted to be the mom who could gallivant wherever and whenever with her kids and maybe those days will come but for now, a solid nap for my 18-month-old and an hour of quiet-time in her room for my preschooler reset all good things for all three of us. 
THIS via Fowl Language Comics

Instead of collapsing in front of the TV or scrolling on my phone or even frantically cleaning the house or prepping dinner during this reprieve, I've been taking deliberate time to be quiet. The rest will happen (or not happen) regardless, but if I'm on edge or at the end of my rope, nothing's going to go smoothly, even with all the clothes hung up in the right closet and prime rib for dinner.

Whether I read, nap, exercise, have a shower or drink a cup of coffee while it's hot, I try to remember to be quiet during quiet time. I know that this isn't even a possibility for many moms working inside or outside the home, but for me at home, I find this pause carrying over into the rest of my day. When I am frustrated and want to elaborate in detail to my kids, I stop. I say nothing. I regroup. It turns out that "be quiet" might be the best advice my parents and teachers have ever given me (a lot. They said this a lot).

3. Zoom out. 

Last year at this time, I didn't see the light at the end of the tunnel. Between a baby who defied all sleep training and postpartum anxiety, I gave in to the idea that everything was just going to be terrible from now on. 

Mama, if you're reading this and nodding, IT GETS BETTER! I promise. In fact, it gets wonderful.  

Future mama, if you're horrified, just write that down under the list of things you won't do or experience as a parent. It's really fun to check items off that list one by one later, I promise.  

But now? Now, I've seen the other side. One of my kids is potty-trained. Both of them sleep through the night. That far-off well-rested and perfectly coiffed mama juggling work, school-aged kids and the rest of life? I simultaneously desire her life and don't buy it. I'm coming to see that the hard things of life and parenting just change as kids grow, but I also know that RIGHT NOW is a profoundly intense and equally short season with my girls. They won't ever need me this much in this way again. I am so so fortunate to even have the CHOICE to be home with them right now. These small tasks with great love are setting the groundwork for their future relationships, development and confidence. 

Preach - via Fowl Language Comics 

However our time pans out in the future, I will never be right here with these exact little people again and while I can't promise to be receptive to the next "Enjoy every moment" speech from a well-intentioned senior in the grocery store during an epic tantrum, keeping the big picture in view keeps me grounded today. 

It keeps me grounded when I wonder about my career and if I'll be able to balance life, feel productive in my profession and regain ground in a field I've been away from. 

It keeps me grounded when I'm lonely and see the adventures friends who've chosen a different path than parenting are embarking on. 

It keeps me grounded when I celebrate the determination and commitment other mothers demonstrate as they excel in their gifts while the little minds around them absorb the message that their dreams are possible. 

It keeps me grounded when I reevaluate where I find my identity and purpose in this journey of a lifetime that lasts much longer and goes much deeper than the Hollywood tale that ends with a smiling family and a mortgage.

Turn it off. 
Be quiet. 
Zoom out.

And that, my friends, is how I changed my kids' behavior with three small steps. Don't get me wrong -- they are a free-spirited pair and I take no ownership of the antics they dream up but the hard truth is that the most consistent gauge of how my kids are doing is how I am doing. It's not perfect and I'll likely toss everything that's working today in favor of ice cream and tears in approximately two weeks, but it's funny... my kids have been a lot more manageable lately.

Image via WeAre Teachers on Facebook

What are your tips for finding joy and success in the particular stage of motherhood you're in today? 

I'd LOVE all the wisdom you're willing to share!

Parenting, Motherhood, Grumbling Grace

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