It’s an over-used adage: ‘Change is a good thing‘. It’s heard and read so often, sometimes, that you breeze by it without even registering it. The same thing can happen when you’ve been working towards a change for a long time; the results can fail to register as well. But occasionally something will happen so big and bold, it reminds you just how good change can be. And when you also realize that it’s your own blood and sweat and sacrifice that’s caused it, the reward is that much bigger…
A common change that we all try to make is to be ‘better parents than our own’, right? Well, the same is true for me, but in specific and measurable ways. I have, for the better part of twelve years now, been actively working on changing my own DNA when it comes to parenting. Reason being, I was raised by an impatient yeller (excessively so). Don’t get me wrong; this impatient yeller loved me (and still does) more than anyone else on the planet, and I have never doubted that for a second of my life. But yelling also came with the territory. We’re Irish: it’s in the blood – my Dad got angry and yelled; his Dad got angry and yelled; most of my Dad’s family gets angry and yells. We all do it. It doesn’t make it okay, but it’s how I learned to parent. And when I became a step-parent twelve years ago, it’s what I did, too; until I made the decision I was going to learn how NOT to.
Fast forward to now: my step-sons are grown and out of the house, and I have added an 8-year-old daughter to the mix. My ‘impatient yelling’ self is much more reigned in. She still pops out occasionally, but I am significantly more aware and in control of her; and most of the time, I can actively make a better choice regarding her reactions. Today, however, I was hit smack in the face with the distinction of choosing to make an effort to improve a behavior, and choosing to be present in the moment that you do it. It may seem like an odd insight; but I don’t think I have ever truly experienced the difference between the two – and I mean really FELT it – until today.
My daughter is amazing; healthy, brilliant, thriving. But she is also, at times, emotionally challenging, and has some things in that area we have to work on with her. This morning happened to be one of those times. I was clued-in when my husband, on his way out the door, popped into the bathroom with a desperate look on his face and said (after checking on our daughter’s ‘getting out of bed’ progress), “I’m sorry, she’s on the floor with her hands on her face saying she wants Momma…”. I took a few moments before I responded to her (I knew I would need them; I knew how this would go). And in those moments I was reminded of some advice I’ve been reading from an amazing blogger (Hands Free Mama) about being present – really living in the moment – and I made a choice. I decided then and there that, today, we would be late – late for school, late for work, late for everything – and that it would be okay. There was nothing monumental we would miss; nothing tragic would happen because of our lateness. And I decided to be okay with that, and let all the stress of rushing to get out the door go along with it. I stopped what I was doing to be there for my daughter because she needed me, and the moment needed me and, quite frankly, we weren’t getting out of that house if I didn’t. Once I was fully committed to my decision I took a couple of deep breaths, prepared myself for the long-haul, and headed upstairs.
As I entered her room I could hear her crying; she was already hiding in the closet. I walked over and knelt down in front of her and softly said, “You know what I noticed just now?” She shook her head. “I noticed that with all my rushing to get out of the house this morning, I haven’t taken the time to ask you if you need anything from me today, so I thought I would. So, is there anything you need, or that I can help you with this morning? I’m all yours.” At that she turned her big teary blue eyes to me and started lamenting about not being able to decide what to wear. From there, we moved into fears about going to school, then anxiety about cleaning her closet. None of it was really logical, but emotions rarely are. She then fixated on cleaning the closet floor, and I knew better than to try and avert her from it until she was done (she sometimes gets into modes like these when extremely overly-emotional or anxious). So I just settled in, calmly talked to her, and let her whirl until I found the opening to re-direct. I eventually got her focused on breakfast and getting dressed and moving a little farther forward, but not by pushing; more by letting her flow the way she needed to. We eventually wound back up in the bathroom (finally clothed and fed) with me finishing up my routine, and her brushing her teeth. She was keeping a close proximity to me even though she was done, and was sitting on the edge of the bathtub. I found myself, in that moment, making another choice. I turned to her and said, “Well, we’re almost ready to go, but you know there’s one other thing I have to do today first. I don’t know about you, but I could really use a big hug.” I then knelt down in front of her again (being on her level really helps out), which made her grin because at 8-years-old, she’s actually taller than I am when I’m kneeling. She just kind of gazed at me for a few minutes, gently playing with my hair, then she giggled, saying, “You have funny gray hairs on the top of your head, Momma”, with a big grin on her face. Then she leaned in for a big hug; long enough that I could still feel her with me even after she bounded out of the bathroom to go find her shoes.
Eventually we got out of the house (really late), got her to school (even later), and I got to work (later still). And I was right; nothing monumentally bad happened. In fact, probably the opposite. Because I took the time to get her in a better state of mind, she actually had the chance at a half-way decent day, vs. me forcing her out of the house in a panic-stricken state which would have ensured her day was a bust (and mine, as well). Lateness isn’t fatal. Stress and (seeming) failure and tears and grief are far greater foes. We would do well to remember that more often. As I drove to work I felt comfort in the knowledge that I had made good choices for the morning, lateness or not.
However, it wasn’t until the drive home that evening that the impact of my decisions really hit me. As I was on my way to pick my daughter up, I was wondering (for the millionth time) how her day had actually gone; what kind of mood she would be in when I got to her. I was replaying the morning’s happenings in my head. And it was then that I had a revelation; my memories of the events weren’t what I expected. Normally I would focus on my stress, her anxiety, the upset tears, my efforts to stay calm, etc. They would all be jumbled together in one big frustrating mess. But this time, the memories were clear and crisp, not to mention surprising. I remembered the feel of the carpet on my legs as I knelt down in front of her closet; the color of her blue eyes and messy blond hair as she looked up at me; the warmth of her hand as she took mine to go down the stairs; the sound of her voice giggling and feel of her hands on my ‘funny gray hair’ as I sat below her in the bathroom; the weight of her as she leaned into me for that huge, long hug. That’s what I remember about this morning. All those little moments, like snapshots in my head and heart. They are clear and sparkling in my mind because I was there; I was truly present for each of those moments today. And that’s when it hit me. I didn’t just choose not to be angry today; I CHOSE to be PRESENT.
I did this. I made this happen. No one but me. By consciously making a choice to be present, to give myself to the situation, to be different for my daughter and for myself, I created these moments today. I made this change. It’s several hours past when it first hit me and I’m still floored by the vastness of it. I’ve been working so hard at controlling the anger/yelling piece for so long, it astounds me that today I surpassed that in a way I didn’t even realize I was striving for. Just by choosing to BE IN THE MOMENT changed the whole game. Changed my whole memory of the event. It’s staggering, really, the impact of this specific change.
And it’s such, such a good thing.