“All works of love are works of peace.” Mother Teresa
Two weeks into the school year, our adjustment has been pretty smooth, save for a few afternoon meltdowns and the obligatory back to school germs. Nevertheless, there’s a natural groove, the kids have been quite happy and we’re feeling abundantly blessed!
But in the realm of spiritual warfare, this particular afternoon was a big fat Mom fail.
After school today, we baked blueberry muffins and I sat down to play legos with our toddler (2) while the older two worked on homework. Our eldest (8) asked to play a computer game, and so I looked over his homework and reminded him he had to practice his piano. He did that so nicely, and I allowed him a half an hour on the computer before getting outside for some “fresh air time” with his brothers while I prepared dinner. This was my little formula which had worked so well last year.
Since the re-entry into the home seemed so successful and everyone was so pleasant, I dared to push my luck and asked our middle son (5), who had stayed home with sniffles today, to practice the piano as well. Not much of a fan of practicing, he still beside me, dutifully flipped open his book and started to position his fingers on the keys. And then proceeded to collapse in a total body pout and let his elbows fall on the keys in frustration. “I already played this!” I sighed quietly, and said “we have to practice in between lessons if we want to get better…don’t you want to get better?” “I don’t know,” he said, with more than a hint of exasperation. “How about I say the notes and you play with your fingers?” “No.” “How about you say the notes, and I play with my fingers?” “No.” Frustrated pause of silence on both ends. “Honey. Do you want to play the piano?” “I can’t!” Any sensible parent would have backed off, but I found myself a little lost in uncharted territory and gave the “you can’t say you can’t until you try” speech, whose sister speech is the “you can’t say you don’t like that food until you taste it.” Which actually works, most of the time.
Yet this time he looked at me like I was speaking Greek. “Oh no,” says my inner monologue. “I think I started reasoning with him about goals and ambitions as if he were 25 years old again. Switch gears to kindergarten,” I say to myself, as he crosses his eyes at me and swings his legs on the piano bench. ”Milo, you just need to practice. It’s easy, we’ll be done 1.2.3 quick and you can go out to play.” “I don’t want to do it!” Yet he remained on the bench, like Bartleby the Scrivener, protesting with his words and not with his body. “Okay, I’m going to call your piano teacher and tell her that you just don’t want to play then, is that what you want?” (grasping at straws much?) “I – don’t- know!” Another elongated pause in which I decide I have no idea what to do next. I dismissed him to his room, muttering some things to myself but starting to feel the anger build.
A few minutes later, he emerged from his room and I asked if he was ready to practice again, thinking a little break was all he needed. Nope. Back at square one with the “no’s” and “I can’ts,” even though he sat back on the bench after I made a candy appeal to him. Why couldn’t I just let this go? What was making me afraid? The afternoon had gone so nicely up until this moment, and now everything was unraveling, especially my temper. “Go back to your room!” Oy. Nice one. He starts to howl in his room, and then his older brother asks him what’s wrong and he won’t respond, so older brother starts shouting “then stop crying if you’re not going to tell me what’s wrong!” and then I’m yelling at big brother for being insensitive, and then the toddler starts crying because everyone is shouting.
And I realize at this chaotic moment that I have just totally lost an invisible battle which faces me each and every day.
My “Mom Fail” was that I just couldn’t let go of my expectations, simple as though they were, I was given many opportunities to change the course of the day and I chose to dig my heels in. It is difficult to find that balance as parents between pushing too much and not enough, and each child has their own personality and their own unique needs within a family. Being able to switch gears is essential in parenthood, I am learning.
My husband heard the shout fest and decided it would be good to take the eldest and youngest out for burgers, so I could spend some time with middle son. I apologized for being frustrated, and I reminded him how there were times I realllllly did not want to practice the piano. I also reminded him that our piano was a gift from his grandparents, and how when he plays it, he’s saying “I love you” to his grandfather in heaven. His eyes lit up, and I realized I may just have struck the chord I needed to connect with him.
Our family is emotional, and our boys can get loud! Anger can catch like wildfire, especially when kids are tired, hungry and mentally exhausted. For myself I’ve realized my role as a mother is to strive to be like water and model peace to our children. Here are some things I’ve learned – all from painfully true experiences – which have helped us in creating and maintaining a peaceful family atmosphere.
*Say an afternoon prayer on your way to picking your kids up from school, or as you wait for them to come home. Even a simple “Lord give me patience” can go a long way
* Allow time for your children to decompress, even if it means it has to happen in the car on the way to after school activities. At home, remind siblings to give each other a little space before jumping into the fray of family togetherness.
* Depending upon your child’s personality and after school commitments, you may like to encourage kids to knock homework/chores out first thing (after a good snack), unless they perform better in the early evening. Tackle a different assignment each afternoon to make the amount less overwhelming. Have kids work in a communal space where you can be available to help, but not hover.
* Try to create some time in the day for your children to feel the luxury of being a kid, and having down time to play.
* Don’t take it personally and fear the worst when your child can’t remember what happened at school or doesn’t narrate the whole day for you. Instead try to tell them a few things that you enjoyed about your day, or even things that frustrated you or made you sad.
* Don’t freak out if your child has an epic meltdown when you do something as simple as saying no to another granola bar (or fill in the blank). Don’t react in anger, allow them the freedom to spout off a little steam. Feelings are fine to share, kids need to be heard and understood. Just calmly remind your child about your expectations.
*Don’t scream like a banshee when your child refuses to read a book because “it’s boring” or do their math work because “it’s too hard.” Hey, maybe they’re right! Step away from a frustrating homework situation and encourage your child to do the same. Come back later and try again. And don’t be afraid to put some fun in the mix. I’ve been known to use hats, puppets and ridiculous accents to help people loosen up. With any luck, our children will grow up to be as crazy as I am!
*Everyone needs a breath of fresh air! A little media time is fine, but everyone needs vitamin D and fresh air, even Mom. Grab a book or work on balancing your checkbook outside while the kids play. They go out much quicker if Mom does.
* Find things to praise your children about, catch the moment quickly and let those rays of love shine upon them. Think of specific compliments and remind them how special they are and how proud you are of them.
* Don’t nag a young child to practice an instrument. This may be obvious for some, but as for me, it’s going to be engraved and hung up in my living room.
And because no one ever tells parents this….I will take the liberty myself. It’ll all come together in the end somehow, don’t you worry. Keep on keepin’ on, you’re doing a great job!
Great article on anger management for parents.
Please share in the comments what you have learned about bringing peace to your home life!