A young girl and moving from powerless to empowered

We’ve all felt that debilitating, stomach-dropping sensation of being powerlessness. Of being at the mercy of others, or of a situation. Of wanting to ‘stop the ride to get off.’ Somehow along the way we’ve learned how to deal with it. Do you remember a specific moment when you determined a course of action? Was it breathing, retaliation, pinching yourself, crying, eating, inner monologue, or something else entirely? Do you try different things each time? Or do you have a tried and true way?

How about parenting through that? How have you parented when a kiddo has come to you? How did your parents handle it? Did you even talk to them about it?

My lil miss came home after school the other day, crying. After taking off her bike helmet, her hair plastered to her sweaty head and tears adding to the drippy mess, she wanted a hug. Her brothers were instantly attentive, but Miss didn’t want to talk yet. She needed a cuddle to help regulate and chill out.

We all hung out in the living room, her and I snuggling on the couch, and the brothers on their devices in the comfy chairs. After I asked if she was ready to chat, she told me the story of what happened after school.

Two boys in her grade had begun to target her and a friend on their bikes. They darted in front of their path, preventing them from biking home. Once cornered, the boys grabbed backpacks and twisted Miss and her friend off their bikes, hopped on and threatened to take their bikes home. She was worried about having her bike stolen, and couldn’t think fast enough in the moment to figure out what to do or who to find for help. A little more harassing and the boys let them have their bikes back, only to stop them again and bodily lift her up while she was sitting on the bike – she couldn’t touch the ground anymore and was afraid she’d fall to the pavement. Like cats with a mouse, they let her go and then stopped her again, pulling on the handlebars and the back tire. More of this and haranguing, and the boys eventually let them go. She was badly shaken and was sure they were going to chase her home and she wouldn’t be able to get away fast enough.

Ohmygawsh. How do I parent in this moment? What is my intent? What is my goal? How do I set aside my triggered responses and help her build resiliency?

My knee-jerk reaction was to say all the things that minimize or reduce her experience (in the misguided hope that she wouldn’t feel so bad) and excuse the boys’ behaviour:

  • “Those boys probably just like you and don’t know how to show it”
  • “Boys can do stupid things”
  • “What did you do just before that happened?”
  • “Boys will be boys”
  • “Why didn’t you go into the school?”
  • “You should have left straight-away”
  • “Are you sure it was a big deal?”

I know, I know! I feel awful that those were tumbling around my head. To create some space, I just held her while she cried and said that it was a scary experience and maybe she just needs to cry and feel it in her body right now. And in the meanwhile, I was trying to figure out what to say. I could feel the brother’s antenna’s directed at her and I. I knew I couldn’t excuse the boys behaviour – it felt there was a lot of weight in this interaction – for her future self, and for my boy’s future relationships with girls.

I labelled some of the feelings I was imagining she felt:
powerlessness
scared
frustrated
embarrassed.

And the reasons why she felt those emotions:
they were in her space
touching her and her things
she couldn’t move away
uncertain about who can help
and whether it would escalate further.

And I commented on how those were transgressions:
disrespect
they didn’t recognize her body language
they were only considering themselves.

She shared some of what she felt she did well, some of what she would do differently, and other choices that might have been available. We imagined options for tomorrow if the boys continued to harass, and who she can access for help. I outlined the process and the steps of escalation if her dealings with the boys wasn’t successful, and if the teachers at school couldn’t help. We joked about her brothers coming to the school to pick her up and throw their weight around. We all had a laugh and enjoyed dinner together.

There was a brief moment when she begun to show signs of perseverating, but I didn’t want her to feel victimized or anymore powerlessness. I asked if she needed to review her strategy, otherwise we’ll put it away for now.

She went back to school the next day, armed with a plan and (hopefully) a sense that we at home had her back. She was happy to report that the boys acted as if nothing happened, and she was prepared to let it go. We discussed whether she would feel comfortable approaching them and telling them she hadn’t enjoyed what they did. She made the choice to leave it, unless it came up naturally.

Whew.

That was a big parenting moment for me. Trying to find the balance between letting her know that we support her, and letting her know she can handle it.

How do you create space during big moments to let things unfold? This situation was easier because she so obviously needed the time – it’s harder when I miss the subtle cues. How do you create space during those subtle times?

xo
Mto3

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Gotta catch them all!

The moments.

The little moments when a kiddo leans against me. Or asks for 5 more minutes of snuggles. Or follows me around the house while I’m trying to get work done. Or lingers at the dinner table. Or holds the door open for me. Or doesn’t let go of a hug.

As an out-loud reminder to myself, and also to trio, I comment that I enjoy these times as they come up. It grounds me. It is a concrete acknowledgement that their time of being small(er) is temporary and they won’t always find as much comfort in my presence, and they won’t always be present around me. It keeps me in-the-moment and centered in gratitude.

The natural progression is that they will gradually not need me around them so much. In fact, part of my job as a mum is to help them figure out how to derive comfort from their own inner core. This reminder helps shift me away from feeling tired, or overwhelmed, or irritated (yes, when I have a huge pile of things to do, it can feel irritating when I need to make room for their needs too). Most of the time, the mindshift works and I drop instantly into the present. But other times I just don’t have enough resources inside me to make that space for them.

By saying it out loud to them, I think that conveys my love to them, and that they’re important.* I hope it also lets them know that it’s ok when they start to drift away from me and into their own lives, because I understand that there is a nucleus shift away from me as-the-center and into their own center.

When I take a step back from the day-to-day, I see the bigger picture of how our lives will diverge and I want them to have as many skills, tools, and a bucket as full as I can make it – and teach them how to fill their own bucket.

It’s as though we are all on a path and many times I’m the only one walking, and they are hanging off me and holding my hand. But as we walk, they begin to have a path of their own: a path that veers away from our family path and then rejoins, and then separates again. It’s the steps when we’re walking together that I treasure. Those are the moments I strive to see with a grateful heart. The times when we walk together will become less and less frequent, and I can celebrate that I’ve taught them as much as I can on how to walk with strength – alone and apart from me and the family path.

As a solo parent, it becomes evident that it will be just me on the path (eventually). I want to be able to celebrate that I’ve learned, and taught myself, as much as possible on how to walk alone. With strength and confidence. Just like them.

xo
Mto3

*I hope it doesn’t make them feel guilty that their needs are trumping whatever is happening in the moment. Or that it’s a chore for me to give them some time…

Back to a little-better-than normal

After our painstaking weekend ended in a pukey kid, today was brighter. Better than, I’d say. 

I’m not quick to apologize when I’m wrong (although I am totally trying), but I will talk about events and situations and get feedback and try to do things differently next time. 

At different times today, I touched in with the kids about the weekend and how I was feeling and how I feel different today. Is that the right approach? Is this the best choice? I don’t know. I felt it was: we all have different motivators that come into play when we react. I guess I wanted trio to know it can shape a behaviour, but doesn’t necessarily define our whole self.

Trio will make choices in their lives where, I’m sure, it will feel that will shape their sense of self. Maybe positively. Maybe negatively. In either way, their next choice needn’t be dependent on that perception of self. Talking about it lets them know that they can be aware of what’s going on inside them, make changes, and make choices next time.

Is it that I’m seeing things differently today? Noticing that my biggest boy is proactively helping and anticipating what might happen next? Acknowledging how helpful it is when lil miss asks what the evening plans are before rushing out to play? Appreciating that my younger boy tells me about upcoming homework needs or things he needs my help with? Whether they’re always like this, and I just missed it over the weekend; or that the weekend helped them make different choices today; or some other unknown variable… I’m grateful.  

Xo 

A little sick and tired…

In many ways I consider myself an ‘experienced’ mum – multiple kids, wrangling on my own, a mix of boys and girls, a chaotic combination of abilities and personalities… In other ways I know that I’m learning every single day – and some days the lesson is harsh.

Last night, Lil Miss didn’t want to eat dinner – her stomach was uncomfortable. She had been at a friends for the bulk of the day on Saturday, played hard outside all morning on Sunday, and trio and I went out in the afternoon. The boys were saying that my homemade ham-and-bean soup was good (better than my typical ham chowder), and the fresh buns I made were so good with the cheese and chive egg-wash. She turned up her nose and said she didn’t like it, and frequently wandered away from the table during dinner.

I’m not going to lie: the day had been rather frustrating. I was feeling short tempered and easily aggravated, and overwhelmed, and that everything is my fault – the messy yard, the cluttered garage, that we didn’t get to take pup to the park again, that I needed to go to the grocery store… *and* the to-do list was full of Spring Cleaning chores. Trio just wanted to play video games, watch The Flash and chat with their friends. But they’re all quick enough to complain that we “ran out” of Nutella. Or that they can’t unearth their skateboard from the garage pile. Or their sweatshirts don’t fit anymore. Or irritated because the van door isn’t opening. I’m the One who has to deal with it all.

Usually riding over these reactions is easy for me. I can understand and sympathize and rally the troops in a way that meets all our goals. This weekend I could not. I was sick and tired of being the One. She who will cook. Clean. Rally. Encourage. Mediate. Remind. Be patient. Coax. Shop. Remember *everything.*

I just didn’t have it in me this weekend.

So when Lil Miss refused my cheap-o Dinner-on-a-Dime, I had little wiggle room in me to cajole or insist or seek to understand. My heart was playing the tape that I’m not good enough to do it all. And is she objecting because our dinner wasn’t the usual roast & potatoes – it’s a close-to-the-poverty-line week for me, and my fear of making a bad career choice echoed in her refusal. I vaguely wondered how this might be better if I had a partner to help in these moments. My mind and heart was full of my own feelings and deficiencies and concerns and fears. I knew I was actively missing an opportunity to connect with her, but… well. I didn’t want to. I felt wrung out.
I managed not to yell (as I had already done that a few times in the last day or two), but just told her she could eat her dinner or leave the table for her room if she was that sick.

Ugh. I know.

She didn’t want to leave the table, she wanted to be around her family, and had no other ways to tell me that she was feeling ill. She reluctantly had a bite of delicious soup and promptly threw up all over the table – looking startled and unsure. My poor middle son nearly followed suit until I managed to encourage her to dash to the bathroom. I divided my time between cleaning up her mess, and comforting her in the bathroom. Pup certainly helped with cleaning the floor (ohmygawsh, it’s so gross when he does it, and yet so helpful too – totally mixed reaction from me!).

In the moments before she was sick, I could see she looked pale. I could see this was unusual behaviour from her. I knew there was another reaction I could choose, and yet I didn’t. She sweetly thanked me for taking care of her, and told me that I was right – that she was sick and should have been in her room.

She remained flat out on the couch, and after the 3rd time dashing up the hall, I gave her a pot to keep beside her. The boys and I tidied, and put out the garbage, and we all chilled on the couch watching The Flash until bedtime. My oldest and I enjoy Sunday Night tv together: typically The Walking Dead, but the season finale was last week. He really wanted to watch another program with me, and shoo his sister upstairs, but she was still so pukey, I couldn’t leave her be. He and I will watch it tonight.

I realized that I might have experience parenting small children, and I’m familiar with what that might feel like inside of me, as a mum and a person. I made space for their emotional development and needs in an easy way that didn’t trip many of my tapes or emotions. It’s harder, I’m finding, to parent teens and tweens – they look and sound like older people, and yet their emotions and insides are more similar to children. They are capable of judgement and derision and haughty stares in a way that is totally expected and normal for their development – and yet, creates strong reactions in me! I know they don’t have the life experience or the emotional maturity to understand how that might impact others. When I choose to connect and strive to understand and try to climb out of my own spiral, I find we navigate these challenges better together.

The tough lesson for me this weekend is to still trust my gut instinct – a blip is just that, and not a harbinger of a New World Order. Hm, and to trust that trio are still the same people as when they were smaller – loving, happy, zany, independent – but are also trying to figure out who else they can be.

We’re all trying to figure things out together.

 

xo

Mto3

March Break Mayhem and Completed Contracts

It’s been super busy here the last few months. Normally I work several work-from-home part time contracts where I have flexibility and autonomy, but I happily took a full-time contract for 3 months in a corporate setting (all day adult interaction! amazing!). And phewf. It was a difference!

About 8 years ago, when trio were very small, I assuaged my single-parent financial anxiety by going back to school and getting a full time position straight-away. This meant my wee-three were in daycare and after school programs, I was run ragged, and my house devolved into a border-line disaster. My anxieties around scarcity were reduced (during this time I packed my freezer and pantry and house-hold items that could rival Costco’s warehouse!) but our day-to-day was us just getting by.

When there was a management change at my not-for-profit and I was let go, I thought my world was ending. What began as a temporary fill has led to opportunities and growth that I don’t think I would have been able to explore had I remained in a full time position. And as I usually work from home, my recent absence after school (and before school) has really allowed trio to stretch their independence, and encouraged me to rest on family and friends more than I usually do.

march-break.png.png
Oldest & youngest

Being outside the house so much was great, and being back in the home has been amazing. It feels as though we’re getting to know each other … maybe what I feel is that we’ve all grown over the last few months and we’re wiggling ourselves into a new fit. My oldest is seeking out the basement office-space for his own. We’re talking about finishing the basement (uhm – something none of us have much experience!) and as I type, he and his brother are working at bringing down his side of their previously-shared bedroom; after they load the dishwasher. My wee girl and I sorted through her bedroom disaster and repurposed a shelving unit from our previous-office-space into her room. Whoa. Her space finally feels there is an organized way – books, toys, stuffies: they have a home now. And even though I still lose my cool on occasion (urgh, it really bothers me when they yell and fight and nitpick each other), most things we meet with humour and patience.

Finally my ex-husband-of-10-years is off our cable bill (they wouldn’t allow me to make ANY changes to our package without him…grr) and I made a decision to switch to a new provider. Look at me making household decisions by myself. But that means we’re without tv and internet for a solid week. Oops! It has led to a different March Break than trio were likely expecting. We’ve spent a lot of time at the library enjoying their wifi. A lot of time sorting and decluttering, and renting movies and tv series (Veronica Mars! woot woot!).

internetting.png
Li’l Miss enjoying wifi

Quiet tears and being present 

The last few days have been kinda hard for me. I’m feeling raw, slightly fragile, and yet frenetic at the same time.

There is something so soothing and warming when someone just meets you in your sadness and hangs out with you there. It’s a gift when someone can do that naturally.

Lil miss came in to my room after I excused myself from the after-dinner kitchen-tidy argument that had broke out among trio, and just crawled into bed beside me, being quiet while I leaked tears into her hair and snuffled against her forehead. Amazingly she didn’t seem uncomfortable – she just seemed to intuit that a cry was ok, and gently asked if I had anything on my mind that I wanted to talk about.

We chatted a bit (honestly, I was crying the whole time, even when I was smiling or chuckling about what she said) and her message was

3-be

Gradually the boys came up, and although they appeared more uncertain with my emotions, they laid on the bed and joined the chatter. We joked and laughed (through my tears, sheesh) about this old song* we used to listen to and still sing together sometimes. Because it *is* alright to cry.

I literally could have cried and laid there with them tucked in around me for the rest of the night. But. I hustled them out to choose a movie and lay out popcorn and chips, and I sat on the bathtub edge and continued to cry by myself for a little while longer.

While it may be true that I’m feeling less resilience for regular-level stress because my knee really hurts, and I’m not sleeping well, and Christmas is late in my house, and I haven’t baked *any* Christmas desserts this year…
…but I’m also keenly feeling the loss of Mike and I the last few days. Every once in a while my heart catches a glimpse of understanding and then recoils in horror at the feeling of letting go of the love.

Being vulnerable and sharing (thanks to Brene Brown and my book club):
My heart was secretly hoping that he and I would eventually be able to figure out how to be together. My mind and spirit acknowledge that he and I aren’t in alignment right now, and maybe never will be. But fuck – that’s hard and painful for my heart to fully grasp. So there are these very uncomfortable moments when that understanding pierces me and it hurts so much.

So I strive to take the advice from Lil Miss – I can be present with my sadness and feelings and tears. It’s mutable. I am, too. Everything is. And there’s beauty and magic in that.
It’s not a reach to be positive and know that I am ok and will bounce, and there are happy times ahead. In the moment of tears, it’s hard to deeply know and believe, though.
Be grateful. Be grateful. I hear this and feel not only grateful to Mike for all of the gifts and challenges from him, but also for the quiet acceptance from lil miss. And the support and love I feel from my friends. For opportunities. For my warm house and full freezer… I am profoundly grateful for them, and all of it.

Last year I posted my 30 days of gratitude and was full-up of holiday spirit – and this year I only just put up the tree yesterday. (It’s cool – I’m present, positive, and grateful)

I have 7 more days until Christmas and would like to post a truncated 30 Days of Gratitude … so, 7 days of Gratitude. Already I can feel my heart lifting.

xo Mto3

 

*”It’s alright to Cry” by Darius Rucker on the first “For the kids” cd… I cannot find a youtube copy. That CD is certainly worth the purchase, if you’re looking. 

…blossoming into adults

In an unexpected (and yet, strangely expected) way, my parenting approach is shifting as my children age. My *philosophy* remains the same: firmly rooted in attachment parenting with a dash of old school/non-helicoptering, but the way it shows up in 3 tween/teens can’t be the same as when they all occupied single-digit ages.

They all have expectations and responsibilities, however there are no chore charts or weekly have-to lists. I’m the team leader, but we all have opportunities to discuss and share what we would like to do on the daily and they know that I have final say. They also know that if I tell them that something needs to be done, then it outranks device-time or leisure activities.

My frequent ‘growing edge’ is to try and remember that, even with their larger bodies, they are still kids mentally and emotionally. I will forget that they might need softer speech or increased understanding/patience from me – because they look so darned capable and mature! And I think that really comes out when they have an emotional reaction that I wasn’t expecting. It’s almost as if I get frustrated when they are upset – I know that it’s not a big deal, so why don’t they? Because they’re still kiddos. Riiiight.

This happened during the dreaded after-school-hour when they want to decompress but I don’t want to spend the hour picking up three sets of shoes, socks, bags, lunch containers, homework, agendas, snack wrappers, plates, cups, and coats. So I insist they have to do *stuff* before they get free time. This always erupts into shouts of who ‘calls’ the xbox or laptop or tv. And one kid is inevitably disappointed and frustrated. It isn’t as though this is the ONLY time tonight that they’ll get their devices, so it makes no sense to me. I snapped at my poor 11yo and I finally asked him “What is WRONG??” and he said that he was fine until my voice started getting so angry sounding. Oh. Ohkay, yah. I get it.

It really helps me to be aware of what my underlying motivations are (I am not a Roomba, constantly collecting and seeking out things to pick up!) and what theirs might be (they want to unplug and chill out – much like me with my knitting) and then we find a balance.

Combined with my self-diagnosed ADHD, and 3 kids, and a shifting workload, I forget things ALL THE TIME. If I say it out loud, I assume it will be completed, and I get pissy when I see bags/shoes/wrappers/homework/underwear (huh?! Where did that come from??) in the front hall because I expect them to tidy it up upon entering. That adds to my frustration because now I either have to tell them again during their declared device-time, or I have to deal with it. Blegh.

The new balance I’m striving to find is that between letting them take responsibility for their own selves and giving them the latitude of caring for our common spaces – both of which have many opportunities for my frustration levels to rise!

I’m sure this will be an ongoing theme. What are your strategies?

xo Mto3