November 4, 2009

Mirror, mirror on the wall

A few weeks ago, I admitted we were addressing a new dynamic in our family circle – in the form of our daughter’s fervent determination to assert her opinion. My husband and I reviewed her schedule and some changes that resulted from the addition of a new baby to our family almost a year ago. Realizing our three year old was getting shorted on sleep and attention, we’ve done our best to maintain a regular routine and pay her more attention.

But, the more I listen to the exchange between us – she and I - the more I realize it is I who need to change. More often than not, when she gets feisty with me, I get irritated with her, rather than teaching her a better way to approach the situation. Predictably, she reacts by escalating the emotion (and volume) of our encounter. And, believe me, she escalates like a true diva! When it happens in a public setting, I feel pressure to deal more harshly with her, as though some unseen eye is judging my value as a mom based on how hardcore a tantrum my daughter can throw and how serious a disciplinarian I am.

Why do I respond this way? Why feel pressured by an invisible critic to parent in a way I abhor? I love my daughter and deeply believe in gentle parenting. I want to treat her the same way I would like to be treated. I want to take the time to listen, respond and teach by example and in love. Instead, I hear my voice saying harshly, “Enough! No more whining!” “Pick these toys up, NOW!” or “HURRY UP! We are going to be late!” Ugh. Not the image of Zen motherhood I imagined before reality actually descended upon me!

In reality, the times I’m most irritated with her have little to do what she’s actually doing. Usually it’s a secondary reaction to a decision I’ve made. If I’m running late, a slight delay on her part cinches the deal. If my house is messy (because I neglected to get up earlier than the girls and deal with it), her toys on the floor make me crazy. If I choose to stay up past my bedtime to get some time alone and wake exhausted, her being tired and whiny sends me right over the edge.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not sitting here beating myself up. Well, maybe a little. But mostly, I’m just realizing that motherhood, like other great challenges in life, has a way of illuminating the areas in us that most need attention. I am definitely not the one with all the answers. But, for this moment, I’m going to be humble, acknowledge my shortcomings - and forgive and love myself in spite of them. And the next time my daughter throws her whiny voice my way, instead of getting irritated, I’m going to stop what I’m doing, lean down, give her a big hug and figure out how we can fix – whatever it is - together.

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