I Would Think About It Differently If I Were Parenting Again

My children are grown and creating their own lives now.  How ridiculous that it is only now that I know how I should have parented them.  I can tell you! Do you want to know?

Each time I see my adult sons, speak to them, or spend time with them, I am amazed even more by the men that they are.  In fact, sometimes I wonder why I worried at all about them.  Clearly they are going to walk this earth in ways that I could never have imagined for them.

All those years of trying to be sure I would teach them everything they needed to know before they were grown.  Aren’t Mommies funny?  What in the world was I thinking?  I barely know what I am doing half the time, let alone have all of the knowledge needed to share.

Come to think of it, why did I think I needed to teach them all they needed to know?  Here I am, 50 years old, and still learning daily.  I hope they get to spend their whole lives learning.  If I were doing it all again, I would worry less, relax more, yell less, laugh more, direct less, listen more, clean less…oh, that isn’t true.  I have never cleaned enough. But you get the idea.

I guess the truth is that I am glad I can’t go back and do it all again.  Although I would wholly enjoy it, and not a day goes by that I don’t miss having kids in the house.  But, I so completely love the men that my children are, and I am glad for the life they had and the life they have.  I wouldn’t want to alter that.  BUT, if I could do it again, the only thing I would do is strive to teach them how to get their needs met and to do so with compassion for others.  I give that bit of wisdom over and over, but rarely describe the thought in detail.

Does it sound a little bit like I would spoil them rotten and give them everything they expressed as a want?  I don’t mean that at all.  Needs are different.  We all need to connect, have some security, be heard, be known, be loved.  Those are pretty basic needs.  We all tend to get lost in figuring out what our own needs are each day, but as adults, we spend most of our time getting needs met.  Sometimes we fail, sometimes we don’t recognize what our needs are and go a completely different route than might be helpful.  What if we knew how to get our needs met?  What if that is what we spent childhood learning?

To me, it starts in infancy.  Tiny little babies put in isolation.  Isn’t it interesting?  We spend a good chunk of young adulthood just finding someone to sleep with.  Then, we have babies and make them sleep alone.  Those little babies cry for us for food or comfort, but we “train” them to be alone.  Kinda sad.  Sometimes necessary, because grown ups need sleep to function and be good parents, but it is an ironic thing if you ask me.  Let’s just skip the sleeping thing, shall we?

So, as adults, we go to work to earn money to buy things we need. Or want.  While at work, we figure out how to get along and get things done and get other people to do things we need.  We try to be recognized.  We come home and spend time being connected and trying to grow a secure home and family.  We try to be recognized. We sometimes fight over who is going to do the laundry or dishes, or maybe we get a little bit snarky when our spouse goes out for a drink.   We are just trying to get needs met, although…do we really pay attention to what the need is?  Do we need to have some control?  Do we need to feel safe and valued?  Do we need to relax away from chores?  What is it we need?  And why would fighting get that need met?

BUT, if I could do it again, the only thing I would do is strive to teach them how to get their needs met and to do so with compassion for others.

What about toddlers?  What do they need?  A lot of the things we consider misbehavior might be labeled a little differently if we think about it.  They are messy and destructive little buggers, aren’t they?  Is that really bad?  It isn’t purposeful.  They are truly geared to please the people around them, and get so upset when others get upset.  You can easily see it in their meltdowns, can’t you?  Maybe some of their natural way of being in the world isn’t so much misbehavior as it is just a little bit annoying to adult sensibilities.  Maybe they just need help learning how to get what they need.

Have you ever faced this scenario? It is 5:15 and you are rushing in to the daycare center to hurry, hurry and pick up your 3 year old.  He is in the middle of playing with the Paw Patrol action figures and you pick his wailing body up off the floor and sign him out then hurry hurry to the car and fasten him into the car seat.  Then your phone rings and it is your partner saying he has to work late and can’t make dinner.  So, you hurry hurry to the store to grab a rotisserie chicken and some mac-n-cheese, with your child begging for a cookie.  You get said cookie at the deli/bakery, grab a chicken, then remember there is no milk at home.  Your own Mom calls and you answer, talking to her as you hurry hurry to the milk aisle, grab the milk and all of a sudden your child is crying for another cookie.  No.  Crying isn’t the right description.  Your child is screaming, red-faced, snot bubble blowing tear flowing howling…

What does your little child need?  Another cookie?  Probably not.  Probably your child either needs to slow down, or have a minute to talk to you and reconnect after a stressful day, or maybe just needs to be in his home.  How can you help your tiny little child get what he needs?  After all, you need the same thing, don’t you, and you can’t quite make it happen for yourself at this exact moment.  What you think you need is a glass of wine…  A cookie or a glass of wine won’t solve the problem for either one of you.  And, a cookie now doesn’t actually help your child learn about getting his own needs met.

The truth is that I don’t know exactly how you go about teaching your child how to get his needs met in the situation above.  But maybe you do.  Maybe you can lead by example.  First off, just stop in the midst of the wailing snot bubble crying right in the middle of the store, pick that child up, and both of you get yourselves a hug.  You both could probably use it.  That bit of connection after a hard day may be exactly what is needed.  Hug, AND say the words outloud.  “I missed you today and I am glad you are with me now.”

…with compassion for others.

The other big part is how we go about getting what we want or need without infringing on other people.  Or, at least, keeping the needs of other people in mind.  When your kids are little, it really is kind of difficult for them to maintain the house the way you might want it to be.  It doesn’t fit with their developmental needs, their awareness, or their physical capabilities very well.  They may endlessly drop things – out of the car window, from their high chair, or from the bathtub.  That is just the deal.  They are learning about fine motor control and object permanence and gravity.  They need that.  But as they get bigger, the whole mess thing can be reduced.  They can learn about YOUR needs and desires.  They really can.  You don’t even have to time out them, or punish them.  Really, they want to please you and just need to know how.  There are other opportunities, too.  Use your words describing your needs and how you feel.  Even if they are too little to do anything about it.  Just say it.  “I am overwhelmed by this mess and I feel undervalued when I have to pick it all up.”  Just hearing it, when honestly described, helps them learn about needs and compassion.  Say the joyful things, too. “I am having so much fun watching your energetic learning.”

As an example, a few days ago, I was working in the yard with my back to an almost 3 year old, and he hit me with a stick right in the back.  WOW! That was a surprise.  I turned around and yelled at him.  No, I didn’t really.  What good would that do? I turned around and said, “Oh my gosh, you hurt me and hurt my feelings and made me so sad.  We are friends and love each other.  Why did you hit me?”  His response?  “I want to sword fight.”  Well, of course we can sword fight.  And we can do it in ways that don’t hurt each other.  All he had to do was ask.  He wasn’t trying to hurt me, he was trying to engage me.  He needed connection.  And, he needed to learn a better way to get that need met.  I could have put him in time out, and he might have learned what not to do.  At least in that exact situation, temporarily.  The thing is, when he grows up and his wife is busy and not paying attention to him, he needs to have skills to ask for what he needs.

A little time went by, and I went back to finishing my project.  He needed to know how to get my attention.  I asked him to wait just a minute, gave him suggestions about what he could do while waiting, sang a song with him, and then we did what he wanted.  He learned a tiny bit about waiting, about meeting his own needs, and about trusting me.  Perhaps those are skills he will use one day.

We tend to teach our children about sharing.  It seems like a “nice” thing, right?  But, is it really useful for life?  It is certainly nice to share some things, but grown ups don’t actually share their own things.  We do let guests use our wine glasses, but we don’t generally share our boat.  We do let them ride on our boat, but they have to follow our rules, the ones made by the captain.  When our kids have playdates, it is kind of like they are the captain of their boat.  Of course, guests are treated politely!  We don’t grab things away from one another, we ask nicely.  We have toys (or fishing poles, or wakeboards) that we gladly share, but some things are our special things and we have to practice saying so in nice ways.

Share: to have an object grabbed away and given to someone else when I am in the middle of using it –  Any 2 year old learning definitions

When we think about how to teach about compassion, we have to remember about perspective.  It doesn’t do a bit of good to try to teach a child about compassion from the perspective of an adult.  We have to help them get (or keep) what they want or need, with compassion for others.  We have to show them when others are in pain, or sad, or mad and then we need to try to help them connect to that feeling without causing them to actually feel that feeling.  If they feel the painful, sad, or mad feeling of themselves, they may focus on their own feeling instead of the feeling of another person.  We want to show them without punishing them.  If we punish them, they will focus on themselves instead of someone else, and that isn’t “compassion for others”.

A constant balancing act, with close observation, and our own growing understanding of ourselves and the needs of others.  Totally do-able.  Not really.  However, ya don’t want to not try just because it is hard.  The effort is worthwhile.

For every rule we make, we need to ask ourselves if it is for our convenience or is it something truly needed.  For every rule we make, we need to ask ourselves if there is a way to give some of the control to the children.  For every rule we make, we have to ask ourselves if it is developmentally appropriate.  For every rule we make, we need to ask ourselves if the rule is in place because it is needed or because we think it will teach our child some other lesson.

For every rule we make, we have to ask ourselves if the rule helps to build relationships or if it builds walls.

If I was doing it again…

I would still mess up a lot.
But, I would be trying hard a little differently.
I would work on teaching them how to get their needs met, with compassion for others.
Isn’t that what we all try to do, all day, everyday?