Has it ever struck you as odd that we have to take driving lessons, pass a test, and get a license to be able to legally drive, but ALL we have to do to become a parent, to become the caregiver/ teacher/ provider for a living creature (human, no less) is to HAVE SEX? That’s it! No license, no studying, no classes, no pre-requisite age or abilities (like “mentally competent” or “good vision”)? And though I once drove the wrong-way on a downtown Dallas one-way street with my driving instructor at age 15, I would still argue that it’s MUCH easier and less complicated than parenting, even if you drive a stick-shift. And with my controlling nature and short temper, I might have never been given a parenting “license”…though my 20/20 vision (along with eyes in the back of my head) would surely help my chances!
I speak a lot about being “intentional” in our parenting: Considering, reflecting, thinking about our actions and interactions with our children – being purposeful with a “vision” and end in mind. One of the ways to do this is through our discipline, our “teaching” in all of those difficult, “teachable” moments. If you’ve read the “Love and Logic” books, you understand the concept of learning lessons through natural consequences instead of rewards and punishment. My parenting and teaching guru, Becky Bailey, whom I heard speak years ago at a Kindermusik teachers’ conference, speaks of “conscious discipline”, and backs up this idea with simple brain development. In this letter from her, she suggests 2 guiding principles as key as we consider every person’s journey to “be all that they can be”:
1. Unconditional love, and
2. Natural consequences.
When it comes to discipline, she has taught me to steer away from power struggles, and to reflect on “What do I want to teach in this moment?” instead of “How can I win this battle?“. In other words, when it comes to conflict with children or anyone in your life, do you want to win or do you want to connect? I’m working on breathing, re-connecting to the higher centers of my own brain, so that I can offer empathy and helpful lessons to my children that will serve them for life. She offers the helpful analogy of our brains as a car. We, as parents, are supposed to stay in the front seat of the car, the higher center of the brain where we can act out of internal control and reason, always remaining “in control”. (The kids aren’t even developed enough to sit in the driver’s seat until well beyond age 16!) They are usually in the “backseat” part of the brain (and sometimes we join them) – often whining and blaming, judging and criticizing, looking out for themselves and not ahead at the road. And then there’s the “trunk” – the kicking, screaming, tantrum-throwing part of the brain that all little ones revert back to on occasion (and dare I say, mommies, too? See my post, http://www.mommymanders.com/2011/06/04/attack-of-the-mommy-monster/.) We go there when we are experiencing the “fight or flight” survival-mode, when we are lacking the sense of love and security that connects us back to our brain’s higher centers. Obviously, this is just not a good place to do any of the “driving” from… As a mommy, it seems almost impossible to always operate from the driver’s seat (the highest centers of the brain), but when we do, we find that unconditional love, acceptance of the misbehavior, and reasoned “helpful” reactions are possible. Drive Safely! You’re carrying (and teaching) precious cargo!
5 Tips for getting back into the driver’s seat:
1. Breathe deeply – take 3 deep breaths, take your own “time out” if needed, and tell yourself and your brain, “I’m safe. I’m breathing. I can handle this.” (This will help to pull you out of the trunk.)
2. Remember, “The moment is as it is.” There is power in acceptance, no use trying to change it because you think things should be going differently. (There is no point in blaming or criticizing in this moment – that keeps you in the backseat.) And don’t worry about what other people are thinking. (That will keep you in the backseat, too.) Just state what is happening. “You seem very angry! You hit me because I am taking you to bed, and you don’t want to go to bed!”
3. Think of the BIG picture. Literally take a “snapshot” of the misbehavior or frustrating situation, mentally put it into your life’s “photo album”, and see that it is just a fleeting moment. That another “party pic” or silly “candid” shot is on the very next page. (Or maybe it’s a “snapshot” of you on the couch with a glass of wine in front of the TV – picture that, and know that “This, too shall pass!”)
4. Focus on what you want to happen. Literally picture it, describe it. Begin acting it out. (Now you’re in the front seat.) “I’m going to put you in bed with your baby doll and tuck you in. You’re going to be okay. I’ll check on you in a few minutes when you calm down.”
5. If all else fails, channel your frustration into opera! This is the alternative way I’ve come up with to yelling. If I still feel the need to release that intense energy, I sing something silly in my big operatic voice, “You don’t want to go to bed, but the moon is up, you sleepy-head!” It’s only happened a couple of times, and the kids have immediately stopped their fussing in total shock! (The last time I used that voice was for my senior recital over 10 years ago in college.)