For those playing along at home, I had a crappy parenting moment the other week.
I was being the kind of parent I don’t want to be, domineering, demanding, disconnected and downright difficult.
I could keep going like I am and butting heads with the little people I love and the obligatory brick wall. Or, focus on finding another way that works for everyone. I don’t want to fight. We’re all in this for the long haul and fighting sounds like hard work.
So is there another way? There must be. Is it going to be easy? Not always. Is it better than feeling like we’re constantly in conflict? Heck, yes, please.
When we are in a loving, connected, calm, respectful space everything flows.
Conversations flow, games flow, Lego and trains happily litter the floor, laughs are authentic, food tastes good, cuddles abound and decisions are easy.
The level of co-operation parents get from their children is usually equal to the level of connection children feel with their parents.” -Pam Leo
So what were the 3 things I did next to make parenting great again in our house?
We hugged. Simple as that.
We are a huggie family anyway but, right now, my hugs are with intention. Not just a grab and go hug but, an “I’m wrapping you up and you ‘aint going anywhere’ type of hug. The more people in the hug the better. Kisses are peppered in at rapid fire and kind words are shared.
I recalled the science around hugging and just how important it is to human bonding. Hugging (for 6-seconds or more) releases oxytocin, the feel-good hormone, and reduces the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. We need that sh*t flowing on high pressure.
We all hugged. DHB and I hugged. We made sure the boys saw that we love each other as much as we love them. I know that one day in the future hugging mum might be a bit urgh, but right now, they need hugs and cuddles- more often and even a little fiercer than normal. The attachment and the connection found in a hug open the channels for communication that I had inadvertently restricted.
We turned off the television. Yes, we banned the box. The fifth person in our home was unplugged. We need to reconnect with each other and the background distraction is not welcome at the moment. I don’t consider us a big television watching household but, ‘television-zombie-quiet-time’ is no more. We realised that the television was our daily background noise from 4pm PlaySchool until 7.30pm Shaun the Sheep. Time to reclaim not only the afternoon but dinner time as well.
Evening 1 it was like having an addict in the house madly trying to make the television work. DSX was checking the batteries in the remote control, making sure the plug was in, tracing the antenna lead back to the wall and even testing the powerpoint with the vacuum cleaner (I have to give DSX points for his ingenuity). There was a constant echo, “I want 22”, “Where’s 22?”, the voice would increase in volume, the tenor of whine came to a crescendo, complete with stamping feet, tears and genuine distress at ‘missing my programs’.
It was a day of modelling how to deal with frustration. Lots of deep breaths, lots of getting down to DSX level and reassuring him that, yes, we could see he was upset and would like to watch Channel 22. But, as a family, let’s be upset together, then find an alternative.
Day 2 we had a movie for afternoon quiet time. A movie, not a movie marathon. It was another 40C day outside. There were only a handful of mentions of Channel 22 in the evening. The shower routine became a replacement point of dispute.
Day 3 The box sat silent and unnoticed.
Day 4 it was 40C by 11am. I relented for an hour, particularly when I knew we had a busy afternoon ahead of us that would be sans quiet time. “Have you changed your mind about the television, Mum?”, “Not really, but let’s see how we go.”. On Day 5 we were too busy to notice the absence of children’s programming.
We’re now further down the track and the television hasn’t returned as the background noise to days or evenings. Instead, we have reinstated the radio. Kinderling and ABC Radio (it is cricket season after all) have become our soundtrack for summer.
Our days have been given to not only our normal to-ings and fro-ings but also mind-numbing encounters with board games long forgotten, finding lost jigsaw puzzle pieces, card games that know no end, Lego building and rebuilding, Jenga towers toppling, re-reading favourite books again and again. Creative storytelling using Story Cubes, water play, the dreaded craft (damn you Mr Maker), and the vacuum cleaner (I’m going to exploit this particular ‘toy’ being popular). All activities that have always been in the arsenal but, television is easier.
We noticed around Day 4 a change in DSX demeanour. He had slowed down. His distraction or, captivation with the television had shifted. I wasn’t vying with a pink pig with poor table manners for DSX or DSS attention. DSX spontaneous acts of kindness and tolerance of DSS had increased when games and toys were disturbed. We’re working on ‘sharing’ with varying degrees of success. DSS is watching and learning. DSX is tinkering solo. I came out at one point to find DSX doing the dishes. “Just because I want to.” The impetus to engage in imaginative and independent play is increasing before our eyes. Now to maintain and harness this rediscovered joy in playing.
Not to be outdone, I made the conscious choice to put down my mobile phone.
I can’t expect DSX to do without his distraction of choice and give his attention to me if there is still a device between us. I had to be hard on myself to put the phone on flight mode and put it up. It was a challenge, just as it was for DSX and the television. That was a surprise to me. I thought I was immune to the pull of the quick fix of cyber-entertainment and obliviousness.
Consciously stopping my own distraction, if only for a few days, to engage and connect with the boys and give them my undivided attention has been worth the wake up of just how much the phone had crept into my field of being without me really knowing it. In an ever dominant culture of technology, I need to model healthy technological use before we introduce the boys to devices as tools for learning and communication rather than tools for distraction and disconnection.
I’ve also found that I’ve had a book, a magazine or notepad in my own hand more frequently. I didn’t think I was hugely dependent on my phone but, maybe I have been more than I realised.
Peace has not descended like a magical veil. DSS and DSX still scream at each other, they barney over whatever the other has while cars and trains still rumble and zoom across the floor or, little bodies race through the house on thundering paws. But with a hug and some quiet, our connection as a family is reinforced. With conscious effort, my tone to myself, to DHB and to the boys, is coming from a heart place, not a distracted place. It’s been harder work than I expected but, our home is a little calmer. I’m feeling more connected to my special little people.
It wasn’t just three things in the end.
If the prescription is as simple as a lot more hugs and a little less distraction for both big people and small, I’m well on the way to reconnecting with the parent within.