A New Way of Parenting: Allowing Emotion

This type of scene is a common one with my 3-year-old. She wants something sweet and can’t have it. She melts down, and I heat up. I reiterate all the reasons why she should already know she can’t have candy right now. “Why are you crying?” “You  have to fill up your puff ball jar [good behavior jar] before you get a treat,” “You haven’t finished your lunch yet, anyway. Go eat that food instead.”

Then I get tired of the crying, especially because she gets more dramatic in response to what I’ve said. So then I say, “If you can’t stop crying, you’ll have to go to your bed. That’s 1; that’s 2; okay, that’s 3..time for bed.”

And so the story continues with my main goal being for her to quit crying. The result? She stuffs away her emotions to put on a fake happy face, and she’s likely feeling resentment and anger towards me all the while. Even though in my head, I thought, “Wow, I avoided anger, didn’t yell, and kept my voice even. She stopped crying. Annoying moment over. Phew”

Yet, there was no teaching or learning in those moments. There was nothing done that would help things go differently the next time.

I’ve been learning a new way of parenting that I love. My friend Kassandra told me to run to my child when I actually want to run away. That visual has stuck in my head. She also told me to get on my child’s level and to empathize rather than chastise. I’ve had to turn against my instincts here because my child is often pushing my buttons, and all I want to do is chastise.

I also found a parenting author named Dr. Laura Markham. I’ve listened to a few interviews with her and love her ideas. I signed up for her email list, and I want to read her books. She teaches about allowing a child to feel their emotions and not be shamed for them, and I realized that’s what I need even as an adult when I’m feeling negative emotions. So why would I expect my tiny child to be able to move on without that kind of support?

I especially loved Dr. Markham’s interview about sibling rivalry. She talked about how when we get involved in a sibling fight in the wrong way, we actually increase sibling rivalry. This is because we make one child feel like they’ve won and the other feel like they’ve lost.

Even if I can clearly see my son was at fault when he stole his sister’s markers, I didn’t see yesterday when my son was unjustly clobbered by my daughter. So I never truly know the complete story, and I am better off when I assume each child has a perfectly good reason for the way they are feeling.

I wish I could transcribe Dr. Markham’s whole interview here. Her specific actionable ideas and phrases to use in the middle of a sibling fight are so helpful. But the key takeaway is that my job as parent is to empathize with each upset child. I am learning to say, “Wow, I can see how that would be hard,” “You must be really upset to act like that,” “You are feeling really frustrated right now because…” “It’s hard to be the big brother…”

These simple, loving phrases that seemed so unnatural for me to say at first are making a big difference, and I think they are making me a better person overall. When anyone around me is having a tough emotion, I can meet it with understanding rather than trying to get rid of it. I can hold space for their big emotions and sit peacefully in understanding. When any of us are given the permission to lean into our emotions and really feel them… when we are given the security of someone’s love while having a tough time, then those emotions pass and we can move on.

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Yesterday, I stripped my baby’s dirty clothes off in the kitchen after a messy meal. She started crying because she didn’t like the tight shirt passing over her head. My 3-year-old was there and started dancing and singing to cheer up her sister. The magic entered the room when my 3-year-old stopped trying to make the baby happy and instead put her hand on the baby’s back and said, “I know it’s hard; it’s okay.”

Time stood still for me, and I was so happy to think I taught her that. It is a skill I am still working on myself, and yet there was my daughter figuring it out. I am so excited about this new skill because, truly, if my kids and I learn that emotions should not be shamed, then we will all be much better equipped to learn from the trying experiences of life.

My Motherhood Master Plan

My friend quit working full-time to become a full-time mom to her three kids. She said she was going into it with a CEO mindset. If she were CEO of her home and family, how would she run things?

I loved borrowing her way of thinking about motherhood because it made me think about goal-setting, vision, mission statements, and purpose. It was also a little funny to me thinking how underpaid Home & Family CEO’s are.

But lately I have been thinking about how much real value I am putting into the world just by putting in TIME here at home, creating the life I/we want for our family. I find myself wanting to educate my children about all sorts of things. And as I envision a Motherhood Master Plan for what I want my kids to know, it looks something like this…

I want my kids to know all about God. Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. Jesus Christ. The Holy Ghost. Of course. Yes. Everything I know, I want them to know. I want them to know it is their journey, an exciting journey that only they can take the steps for. I want us to have daily religious discussions and daily prayer.

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I want my kids to know about health. Even though I’m not the optimal daily example, I give them the “chore” of “Sunshine and Exercise.” They have to get outside and move their bodies before they can have screen time or play with friends.

I want my kids to know about food. I often think about past cultures all being centered around gathering and cooking food. And then here I am in the 21st century, getting around that by zapping some frozen food in the microwave or grabbing some fast food. The more I learn about and prepare nourishing, whole plant foods, the more connected I feel to eating this way. I honestly can’t imagine going back. It feels right in so many ways. Thankfully I have access to modern conveniences like frozen and instant plant foods, but I want to learn and also teach my kids how to cook these foods from scratch.

I want my kids to know about healthy relationships. I want them to know about sex. I want them to know about their own sexuality. I want them to be able to have healthy discussions about these things without wanting to hide. This requires me to open my mouth. It requires me to study and learn and get myself to healthy mindsets. These are the foundations of life! I am thankful to have the time to talk about these things with my kids in casual settings.

I want my kids to know how to work through conflict. Lately I’m realizing just how much I have to learn in this area. But it’s great, I get to learn with my kids because too often I act just like a kid when I am in conflict with someone. I often read parenting articles, books, and listen to podcasts. My biggest lesson learned lately? In a conflict, everybody’s number one need is empathy. I’m working on giving it.

…which leads right into my next point. I want my kids to know that love is the most important. So often, I have to remind myself to set achievement aside as the lesser goal. Who cares what you can do if you have no love in your heart? Who cares about all your talents if you make no sacrifices on behalf of others? Who cares if you’re right if they don’t even know that you love them?

And yes, I still want my kids to know about achievement. I want them to feel the satisfaction, the joy, of accomplishing big things. I want them to feel that joy within themselves so they don’t feel a huge need to seek for praise from others. I want them to learn to persevere and work hard.

I want my kids to know about failure. Here is another area I am learning alongside my kids. I tell them often, “It’s okay to fail,” which is perhaps just as much a reminder for myself as anyone else. Sometimes we go around the dinner table and talk about a way we failed that week. If we’re not failing, we’re not trying. What is failure anyway? It is just missed expectations. Pshhh, that’s all? It doesn’t seem so bad on paper. I want them and me to able to admit failure, to be able to say sorry, to think about how to be better, and then to pick themselves back up and happily carry on. SO important.

I want my kids to know mom is just there. One day they will see the enormity of that gift. I try to find ways to fill my own cup with things that delight me, so I am here emotionally for my kids. I try to take care of my physical body so I have the endurance to work hard all day. I make time to seek God daily so I have a testimony to share with my kids. If I practice all these areas of self-care, then I really can BE THERE for my kids in every way.

As mother, I want to be more than a taxi driver, more than a microwaver or drive-thru fast food lady. I want to be more than an accidental teacher. I want my actions as mother to be purposeful. I see the life I want and the things I want to teach my kids, and I am trying to take action to get there. In big and small ways, I am working on changing what I do so my actions align with those priorities. It is hard work and demands the best of me.

I see myself as the creator of our family life. Maybe my job title could be CFL? It is a fun job and an important job. I love the creation part of this job, and I look to those higher-level creative planning duties when the daily monotony gets old. I love being Mother.

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The Cheerful Nun

“In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” –John 16:33

Lately I’ve been working on being more cheerful. To be honest, I’m not sure I’m getting much better so far, but it has been good to be aware of it. I’ve had this story on my mind that I heard once. This is the essence of it:

Two nuns live together in a convent. One is young and always cheerful and pleasant, with a sweet voice and a smile on her face. When things go wrong or get difficult, she seems unphased by them and maybe even a bit oblivious. Let’s call this nun Cara.

The other nun, Ann, is a bit older and has a harder time acting happy, especially when there is so much surrounding her to be distressed and sad about. She remarks to another nun how it is almost unfair that Cara is so naive to the world around her, how unfair it is that she was born with such a happy inward disposition.

Then the story moves along to reading in Cara’s journal. Cara makes note of Ann’s beliefs about herself, and Cara writes that it is in fact not easy at all for her to be cheerful all the time. She consciously chooses happiness and puts on a smile because it is her way of serving those around her. It is her way she chooses to serve God also, by choosing to have a thankful, cheerful heart. Cara states that she is in fact not oblivious to the discouraging events around her, but she chooses to have joy despite them.

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This story impacted me a lot. I thought about the people I see as naturally cheery and considered that it is a choice they make to be that way.  I also reflected on my native disposition. I tend to hold back outward emotion as a way of guarding myself. I also have a fear of being seen as naive, and I need to let go of that fear. But how much more could I be of service to others around me if I were willing to be cheerful, speak positive words, laugh heartily, and smile easily?

So, I have been trying to “be of good cheer,” as Christ says, despite tribulation. It is can be really hard! Especially when I want to go into victim mode and think everyone else is making it harder. It is hard to be cheerful when I think my kids are being difficult, my husband isn’t meeting my expectations, or I am expecting too much of myself.

My husband is a basketball coach and has been out of town a lot and gone at practice every day after normal work hours. He does this every year, but life seems particularly busy this year with four little kids and just having moved to a new house. This last weekend I had a particularly hard time when I felt everything converging-messy house, need to feed kids, unpacking to do, and ornery kids.

There was a moment I was feeling really hurt by my son’s words and the way he was choosing to act. And then I remembered my goal and decided to choose cheerfulness and not play the victim. I decided I knew I was doing my best to be a good mom, and I didn’t need to take responsibility for the way my son was choosing to act. I chose to smile and thank my kids for any good thing they were doing and to empathize with my son that life was hard for him in that moment.

It was so hard for me, but it also felt really good to be in control of myself instead of wallowing in the victim position. It felt good to have empathy and say, “Sorry that things are hard,” instead of dishing out punishments, threats, or guilt. It felt good to decide that I was fine instead of letting my son’s words affect my feelings of worth.

I have been telling myself some affirmations I have been hearing about on the Bold New Mom podcast:

-I have the perfect amount of time to do what is really important to me.

-Everything that happens is exactly what is supposed to happen.

-I get to choose my thinking and the way I respond to what happens around me.

-It’s not about me.

All of these thoughts help me to be more cheerful in difficult moments.

Answered Prayers

Beckett was fighting with the idea of going to church all morning. We had just gone to the Cedar City temple open house last night as a family and told him to wear church clothes, so he wasn’t excited to wear them again today.

Beck has fought going to church on and off for a long time now, and we’ve struggled with knowing how to motivate him. I don’t want to force him, but I also definitely want him to go. This scripture was on my mind a lot this morning as I struggled with knowing how to parent Beck:

“No power or influence can or ought to be maintained…only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned” –Doctrine and Covenants 121:41

My natural parenting response is to want to force or bully my kids into doing what I want when the crying starts, their attitude turns on, or time is short. But today, I tried extra hard to speak lovingly and with understanding. I agreed with him that it is hard to wear church clothes two days in a row, and church doesn’t always seem fun or exciting. But I made a polite request of him to come, and I explained why I thought he should go.

I also prayed to Heavenly Father that Beckett would have more of a desire to go and have more good experiences at church that would help him enjoy it. I asked my sister-in-law for advice, and she recommended having Beck write a note to his teacher. That was a great idea since this is our last Sunday in our current ward. He was excited to give the card, but not enough to get dressed and go.

I didn’t want to resort to bribing, but I figure it never hurts to sweeten the good experience. I said anyone coming in the car would get some granola bars on the way to church. That pushed Beck over the edge of indecision; and he finally, begrudgingly got ready for church. We got to church late, and things went fine after that.

As we arrived home afterward and were walking to the front door, Beck said, “Mom, guess what? I felt the Spirit today. First time!” And he had a big smile on his face.

Talk about music to my ears! I asked him to tell me more about it, and he said he felt a really good, happy feeling all over his body as soon as our car entered the church parking lot that morning . And he said the good feeling stayed for all of church. I asked him if he was expecting that good feeling to come, and he said emphatically, “No, not at all!” I was so excited; yes, he was exactly right! He really did feel the Spirit. What a blessing.

I told Beck how I had actually prayed this morning that he would have good experiences at church and more of a desire to go. I asked him if he thought my prayer was answered. He said yes.

Then I said, do you think any other prayers were answered? Do you remember you have been praying for months to know if you should get baptized? Do you think this was your answer? He said, “Yeah, I think so!” And he told me he wanted to be baptized.

Then I talked to him about how prayers are a form of work, and how he has also been doing work by reading The Book of Mormon to find out if he should be baptized. We talked about how the Lord answers our earnest prayers, especially when we put in the work to know for ourselves, even if it might take a while. Over the last few months, I regularly asked Beck if he’d received answers to his prayers about baptism yet; and he’d shake his head and say with slight exasperation, “No, not a bit!”

For the last few months, I have also been praying for the Lord to answer Beckett’s baptism prayers. It is funny how no matter how many times I have had prayers answered in the past, it still takes faith each time to trust that the Lord will hear and answer. And it is hard to wait on the Lord, especially as I watched my son working for so long to get answers.

I was reminded today of these lyrics from a Hilary Weeks song, “Do what you can, give everything that you have, and then give God the rest.” I felt satisfied that we had done our best to teach Beckett what the Spirit feels like and had taught him about baptism, prayer, and The Book of Mormon. Then we gave the rest to God and trusted Him to lead our son.

Today, I am so grateful for answered prayers for my boy and for me too.