I started writing this a few months ago, shortly before we moved from one apartment to another within the same city but between vastly different neighborhoods. But I’ve come back to it now because I feel like I’ve worked through some of what I couldn’t quite articulate the first time around. This is the second time we’ve moved during V’s short life. For a person who has a hard time with transitions, I’m not doing this girl any favors.
Or am I?
As a child, I lived in 4 different homes in 3 different cities. I attended 5 different schools between PreK and 12th grade. Then, at age 17 I went to college. I moved every year from 1999-2005 including overseas and back, 2 different states and many, many different apartments. Once I moved to Chicago, I slowed down a bit. Chicago is the first city that has actually felt like home and the longest I’ve lived anywhere: 10 years and counting.
When I began writing this, I was surrounded by boxes and the heat of having gotten upset at V for taking hours to get dressed to go to the park. Hours. To do something she wanted to do in the first place! As I sat there though, in our former apartment, the place that held me through one of the roughest emotional stints in my 34 years of existence, I realized the anger and frustration was not because of her persistence and determination. It was because surrounded by my life in boxes and garbage bags to donate, I lacked the stability around me to be her stability to have just enough focus to get dressed and ready to leave the house. What does that even mean? Why didn’t I just take her to the park in her pajamas? Who cares, it was not even a block away.
At age 3.5, kids who are allowed to feel and express their emotions in a safe space are capable of experiencing a whole host of emotions that some of us (read: me) couldn’t even name until adulthood. Many 3 and 4 year olds that I’ve encountered during my time as a parent have the emotional intelligence that far surpasses my own at that age. When I think back to how I behaved in similar situations, I get frustrated about the fact that my kid does not behave in the same way. That has to stop. I talked about expectations in my last post and here I am again, as parents of kids that we are intentionally raising differently than how we were raised, we are putting ourselves in a very awkward situation.
As parents, we have a choice to make each and every time our children interact with us:
default or intentional response.
My default for how to respond to negative emotions is to quell, avoid, swallow and wallow, which wasn’t healthy for me as a child and isn’t healthy for me as an adult. Throughout my life, I developed some solid coping mechanisms for how to function in the world with all of these unprocessed emotions and experiences being dragged along behind me wherever I went, but really all it ultimately does is set the stage for an explosive outlet later on. So, my default to a negative interaction with my kids is to try to get the negative to stop as soon as possible: do as I say! “Why?” Because I said so!
Can you relate?
But when I have the space, energy, and patience to have an intentional response to a negative interaction with my kid – or even with my partner – my desired result of stopping the negative interaction and turning it into a neutral or positive interaction is reached far more quickly than if I just try to squash the emotion. Why is that so difficult? I don’t have an answer for that right now, but I do have an answer for my very first question: are we doing kids any favors by putting them in situations that are uncomfortable or difficult for them? Absolutely. That’s the easy part. The hard part is making sure we are present with them to help guide them through it all; which means we have to be their emotional base, which means we have to have our shit together. The oxygen mask analogy strikes again: it’s true, we have to take care of ourselves before we can effectively take care of ANYONE else.
Problem solving and critical thinking are two abilities that are essential to navigating life, interacting with people you know, people you don’t know, clients, family, neighbors, etc. Giving kids the space to have the emotions that accompany problem solving and critical thinking and actually name them, deal with them, process them, in ways that aren’t pretty or tidy – that include tantrums, crying, even some yelling and growling if you’re my kid – is doing them a huge favor. So, that means that we really need to make sure we, as caregivers, as role models, as emotional bases for our littles, are taken good care of FIRST.