Strap a baby to your chest, call for a toddler running nearby and listen for the comments to roll out. “You’re a brave woman” or “Lady, you have your hands full.” That’s true whether I’m boarding a non-stop flight to Los Angeles or simply shopping at Sam’s Club. Meltdowns and blowouts may lurk on every aisle and at every gate but I refuse to let worry keep me from venturing out. Yes, my hands are full and I’m usually still fumbling for a good parenting book to help me navigate life with two kids.
I’m obsessed with parenting books actually. I never knew parenting would become such an emotional and spiritual adventure. (I’m reading several titles right now including a gift I received in the mail TODAY from a dear friend). All the books I’ve read encourage parents to acknowledge their children’s feelings. (Hard to do when you can’t even acknowledge your own or at least not the negative ones.) If you ask my husband what I do when I’m mad…He’ll tell you I say nothing or blame him for everything. Owning my negative feelings and expressing them isn’t easy for me.
I don’t want to blame my parents. As the poet Maya Angelou said “when you know better, you do better” We can read thousands of books and articles on our phones. Our parents and grandparents didn’t have access to all the information now available. It was normal for mothers of that generation to dress kindergartners in three-piece-suits, throw shoes as a form of discipline and let their husbands smoke around the kids. My grandparents loved their children but did they acknowledge their feelings? Doubtful. I must have inherited the resistance to my children’s emotions. I’ve actually told Brandon “don’t get mad.” As if anyone can control their feelings especially a child. Of course, we can control our reactions. We can control our thoughts and mindset but our feelings grow wild. Life Coach Brooke Castillo talks about how to feel our feelings. Listen Here She says most people resist, react, or distract themselves from how they’re feeling. (Hello Chocolate.) She says it’s critical we FEEL them instead. Novel idea, right? (Thank you Happiness Mama Heather Ash for encouraging me to listen.)
This revelation couldn’t have come at a better time. I returned home from a month-long trip to California confused and defeated. I expected Brandon to enjoy every minute. His two-year-old rigidity tested my resolve. He wanted to go home. He wanted his dad. He didn’t want to talk to his great-grandmother. He didn’t want to share with his cousins. He wanted his bed. He acted out in every way possible, making it impossible for me to keep plans with old friends and to enjoy the time fully. I pushed back. “I don’t care how you feel. That’s rude.” “Be nice.” “The ocean is wonderful.” “Don’t be scared.” I scolded when I should have comforted. I lectured when I should have listened. Best Seller How to Talk So Kids will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish says kids’ feelings need to be acknowledged and respected. I did everything but listen. I can feel the shift and I’m only on Chapter three.
Last night Brandon wanted his nighttime smoothie right out of the bottle (his dad poured it into a cup). My tired and cranky toddler cried and cried. “You wanted to put a straw in the bottle” I acknowledged. He wailed “yes.” I told him he must be disappointed and tired. I rubbed his back and listened. I shook my head when my husband offered to get another smoothie. Faber and Mazlish say it’s not about allowing bad behavior or about fixing a problem. By letting my son FEEL and resisting my own urge to distract, react or resist we could move on to the business of bedtime more peacefully. The authors say once children process their emotions they can often start finding their own solutions.
It makes sense. Given room to breathe, dense feelings like anger, disappointment and sadness lessen or evaporate making room for lighter emotions to fill the space. (And we all know what happens to feelings left to fester…) How to Talk So Kids will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk is full of universal parenting struggles, cartoon depictions of what to say versus what not to say and actionable advice. Worth a read for sure. Faber and Mazlish also wrote Siblings Without Rivalry. A great book for parents trying to minimize conflicts between kids. (I finished in days I was so excited about it.)
Speaking of which, Brandon literally just launched a lotion bottle at Addison’s head. I guess it serves me right for trying to squeeze in a little writing during the day. I didn’t react (I wanted to). I comforted my baby. I put Brandon in his room “that’s unacceptable.” I’m currently cooling off so I can go back in and try to acknowledge his feelings. Jealousy is a lousy feeling after all. My own feelings of inadequacy need breathing room. Faber and Mazlish recommend telling kids to draw a picture of what they’re feeling. Maybe, I will join in.
I certainly can’t outrun life with a toddler AND a preschooler. I won’t be able to strap Addy to my chest much longer. She turns one in August. I’m sure I’ll hear lots of comments with two little ones heading off in different directions. Let’s pray I don’t become the mom with a child in the gorilla enclosure. I’ll admit there’s a Jerry Seinfeld/Larry David type in my head who thinks a parent taking the time to acknowledge a child’s feelings is indulgent. If I’m going to raise thoughtful caring kids I guess I better start indulging and modeling good listening. I may be parenting a little differently than generations past (people frown on throwing shoes nowadays). I simply want my kids to deal with their feelings in healthy ways. So, I’m going to commit to FEELING my own feelings. I am also going to acknowledge my children’s feelings even if I can’t allow a certain behavior. And in keeping with my newfound intention of expressing myself: I want to acknowledge how exhausting it is to acknowledge a child’s feelings. (I can’t keep up.) So yea, Guy on the plane! I am a brave lady who’s doing her very best.