For the reasons why I decided to put myself through a happiness boot camp, see here.
I can pinpoint exactly the moment where I realized I needed to reset my attitude about being at home with E.
It happened a couple of weeks ago, before we went away to see the grandparents.
Before I tell you what happened, you should know that Puppy is E’s most beloved companion, a stuffed dog who is his best friend (when I tell him I love him, he always replies, “I love you too, Mummy. I love you as much as I love Puppy.”). Blackie is a dog puppet. E. ignored Blackie entirely until Puppy entered his life this past summer, and now every week sees a new game involving the two of them. E. decided last fall that Puppy was Blackie’s Mummy.
E. comes downstairs after quiet time and announces to me, “Puppy lost her temper!”
“Oh!” I said. “Why did she lose her temper?”
“She was getting so frustrated because Blackie wouldn’t put her socks on to go to No Frills.”
“And then what happened?” I asked, trying to keep my voice bright.
“Then she apologized to Blackie for getting frustrated and losing her temper and gave her a big hug and a cuddle.”
Right there, even though Puppy knew the error of her ways and had apologized for her outburst and modeled how to cope with anger, I knew things had to change.
Because Puppy was me.
And I was “losing my temper” or “getting frustrated” too often and too easily.
Although I eventually decided to focus on five different spheres for my happiness boot camp of the next five months, it was the PARENTHOOD sphere where I knew I needed the most change.
It took me almost no time at all to come up with my three resolutions:
- Model emotions
- Say yes more often
- Have an adventure every week
One of the things that I dislike the most about how I parent E. is how easily I get frustrated/irritated when he starts yelling or getting hugely upset (especially when it is over something that seems highly inconsequential to me). The moment I get frustrated, I feel my jaw clench, and my willingness to compromise or to not sweat the small stuff evaporates. Although I almost never yell, I do raise my voice. The minute I do, the situation escalates.
E. is very sensitive. Yelling doesn’t work. I know this, and I almost never yell at him in anger. But he is just as easily upset by a loud, stern voice, and I am guilty (very guilty) of resorting to using it, especially once my buttons have been pushed and I feel like I’m locked in a battle of wills that I must win.
I could have also called this resolution, “Remember you’re the adult”, because it amounts to the same thing. If I want E. to be able to cope with disappointment and frustration and anger in a measured fashion, I have to show him that I can do this myself.
I don’t want to erase his emotions or deny them. I want him to recognize them as valid feelings. But I also want him to have coping strategies to be able to calm down, to deflate situations, to keep him from losing control over what really is a minor setback.
I would never respond to E. hitting me by hitting him, no matter how angry I was. Verbal expressions of anger are no different.
The worst time for this to happen is first thing in the morning. If we’re both hangry, it is easy for the day to go off the rails, with E. shrieking at the top of the stairs that he won’t come down unless I come back up the stairs and hold his hand, and me (for no good reason except I’m pissed off) refusing to do this because I’m downstairs already and I need to make his breakfast so he’ll stop yelling. Luckily Q. usually hasn’t yet left for work at this point, and he’s become very very quick to defuse the situation when he senses a hangry incident.
I’m not trying to erase my feelings either. I am allowed to get angry and frustrated at E. (who can be genuinely infuriating at times).
But I want to make sure that I’m not losing my temper over the little things. And in the grand scheme of things, most things ARE little things.
Say yes more often
I am not great at saying yes to things, especially things that will be messy or dirty or will use up a ton of art supplies.
I am not sure why I react like this (at least to the last point, I understand why I’m not good with mess or dirt). What do I think I’m saving the supplies for? They’re supposed to be for E. to use, so if he has a project in mind that will use them, what is the problem?
I am good with dirt and mess outside the house, but less so inside. That’s what I’m trying to work on. I cringe whenever I watch videos of me baking with E. I am a terrible micro-manager. Who cares if some of the flour comes out of the bowl?
My mother is happy to let E. make as much mess as he wants. She was great with mess when we were kids too. I’m trying to be more like her.
My first two resolutions point directly to one of the things I like least about myself: I want to get my own way too often.
I need to make more room for E’s ideas and schemes and plans and projects.
Have an adventure every week
E. and I need to get out and do more things. Especially now that spring is on its way (surely it has to be?), we need to take advantage of the days where he doesn’t have nursery school to go out and explore our city. E. loves (LOVES) riding on public transit, so the journey is often more fun than the destination.
We don’t have to go far, and we don’t have to do anything fancy, but I want to make sure we broaden our horizons a little bit each week.
We’ll have more fun that way. Our worst days this winter were ones where the weather kept us stuck in the house.
I don’t expect to be perfect with these resolutions. But I’m hoping keeping them at the forefront of my conscious mind will (eventually) help make it easier to react the way I’d like to react. Every good day is progress. And every bad day has a day coming after it that is a chance for a fresh start.