Crafting your sense of self

The myth covers only one perspective – maybe Narcissus wasn’t admiring himself in the pool: maybe he was trying to get a sense of himself in the eyes of Other People. Yes – he fell in love with himself – where else was he getting a reflection of self? Who else was offering him a deeper idea of who he is? How else is he going to figure out himself?

In that same way, kiddos receive feedback about who they are based on the reflection from adults in their lives. It’s part of raising kids – and many times it happens under the surface and we don’t even realize how we’re doing it. They pick up on the slight frown, or the sharp exhalation when they say something, or the brightness in our eyes when we see them in the morning, and the open smile. They get a sense of their value and importance in our lives and their own from what they see in us.

As they get older, these non-verbal cues are still important to the developing sense of their adult self. Important information is also gleaned through the words we use and the topics we discuss with them: whether we entrust them with more mature concepts and ‘heavier’ issues. We may feel that they’re not yet ready to tackle these higher level issues, but they do. It can be construed as criticisms and negativity when we don’t include them.

Sensitivity to those slights and criticisms increase, and they hear it louder and more boldly than we may intend. As their map of this adult world expands, they become aware of how their words and actions impact those around them in a more mature way – hence part of the typical self-centered-ness we often see in teens.

A benefit to having two adults in the house is that the adults can help each other see the positives in the kiddos, and gently point out if there have been too many critical comments (haha, or maybe not so gently). When it’s a single parent household with few external adult relationships, all the roles fall into the purview of the present parent.

When drama is unfurling its flag and my view of trio is hazy, it’s helpful for me to take a step back and create some space. It’s easy to lose sight of the bouncing ball that keeps me on track of being the Parent and Modelling. So – to create space between stimulus and reaction where I can check in with myself, breathe, and find out what’s really going on inside. I don’t want trio to create a vision of themselves that is skewed to my reactions and what’s going on inside of me: whatever triggers or thoughts or stresses that I’m working through doesn’t even involve them and I don’t want them to think it’s because of them. But since they have a tendency to think it’s all about them, it can be tough to adequately express that it’s my issue, not theirs (and then they have to realize that I have issues too! That’s a lot for kiddos to absorb).

A wonderful piece of advice was given to me when trio were small: they’re going to be screwed up. I’m going to screw them up. That’s part of being human. We are all imperfect and will all have areas for growth. And it’s wonderful and beautiful and very normal. Humans who know they are imperfect have great potential for growth. Maybe helping trio see that will help them be open to growth and development now and later in life.

xo
Mto3

 

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Embracing the chaos…

My house is perpetually messy. There are always too many pairs of shoes in the closet (or on the floor outside the closet). Coats are hung on the backs on chairs or the slung onto doors. My walls are filled with framed art from trio’s school years. There are photos tacked onto a big section of the wall of kids with marker on their faces, drips on their shirts, and smile-less mouths. The sink often has baking utensils ‘soaking’ until I get around to washing them.

But! We also have a calendar on the fridge with the week mapped out – lunches, after school activities, my work schedule, dinner responsibilities, and due dates. I will forget things if I don’t write them down. There’s another full month calendar tacked to the wall with a different set of information for the month – birthdays, sleepovers, who fed the dog that day, chore lists, and weekend plans. I have a personal agenda for my items that don’t involve trio. And finally, a white board for daily lists, notes, and reminders to communicate among all of us.

It is a tough thing, developmentally speaking, to hold onto two opposing sensations: it’s typically an either-or mindset. I am both organized and woefully chaotic at any given time. Many of us have experienced being happy and sad at the same time, or feeling anxious during peaceful moments. We seek to tip the scales into one ‘bucket’ to help us make better sense of our environment – and ourselves. How can I define myself if I’m two opposite things? What category can I fit into if I’m two (or more) of the options?

A recent learning for me has been to recognize those dichotomous feelings – just naming it helps bring it into the light – and letting them both be. Be true in that moment. Be true at the same time. Be not true at the same time.  There is a reluctance to allow space for contrast, as though one of them must be “bad” and therefore undesirable. But remove that label on these feelings and let them be just even for a moment to recognize them.

I walked doggo around the neighbourhood tonight. It was cool outside, and breezy and he was staying by my side so nicely. And I had an unexpected knot of anxiety suddenly roil in my belly. Huh?
I thought I felt relaxed.

This was a moment to practice that it’s fiiiiine to feel both anxious and calm, without judging or nitpicking the feelings. Just “yep, this is what I feel right now.” Just embracing it and then letting it go.

Eldest made a funny comment the other day and referenced Schrodinger’s cat – so many layers on why it was funny – but I really appreciated that he seems to ‘get’ that it’s possible to gently hold onto opposition.
Coming up our front porch after walking the dog and just before the front door opens, our house is both organized and chaotic at the same time, we just allow that truth to be, until we take a step in and see it for what it is:
A house full of family and all the contrast that means.

xo
Mto3

A riot of colour into adulthood

There comes a moment when parents notice the children they knew are turning into the adults they will become.

I’ve seen glimpses of that in my children, and once I noticed a threshold had been crossed, I began watching for other signposts that will let me peek into my children’s future selves.

It can be very obvious that kids grow up. Like when I was trying to scold my teenager who *literally* loomed over me – alas, frowning “up” doesn’t seem to be as impactful when I’m trying to compel him to remember to put his dishes in the dishwasher. Or when I get his old sweatshirts that no longer fit him. Or when they take the initiative to have a shower (without prompting!! Whaaaat!)

The stunning beauty is when they make connections in the world that you haven’t, about topics you don’t really know.
Or when they’re interested in books that you haven’t been able to get through (Catch-22. A doozy).
When they show startling empathy and understanding for a classmate, and explore their perceptions with you at the end of the day.
Those first few times they ride their bike to an out-of-neighbourhood friend’s house.
When they see a need in the house/community, and they figure out how to make it better.

Part of the balance that is required in parenting is recognizing where they’re at and where they seem to want to go, and somehow offering them a chance to see more and imagine greater possibilities. A subtle shift in a kaleidoscope creates a new pattern with the same set of colours and shapes – helping kiddos see that shifts are possible leads to growth and development. Even if they don’t do the shift you were expecting, your help in creating awareness allows space for (re)imagination and future change.

I’m raising trio in a way that lines up for me as a parent, but also in a direction where I hope they can land as adults. As a solo parent without a co-parent, I am missing the benefit of hearing another perspective and not having another person’s ideas directing trio’s adult selves. There is a risk. It is super valuable when I talk with friends and hear their approaches, and when they are comfortable enough to challenge/question/explore my values and ideas. They are helping me tilt the kaleidoscope so I can continue to tilt for trio.

In what ways have you seen glimpses of adult in the kids in your lives? If you’re a single parent, how do you find being the navigator in your child’s development?

xo
Mto3

Saying no and other issues…

Did you ever watch Who’s the Boss with Tony Danza and Judith Light? There are so many classic episodes, but the one that sprung to mind recently was the episode when Angela tried a ‘positive parenting’ approach and never said No (S7e7). Parents are always trying to figure out what will work with their kids, as well as what works for them.

Anyway, that’s sort of the approach that I took with trio. Instead of giving an outright no, I’d try to reframe their request with what they *could* do in my response to their question. I found, when they were small, that it helped to hear what was possible, rather than just shutting down their desire with a flat out No – unless it was unsafe or there was a bigger issue at play. But on the day-to-day, I didn’t want them to be brutally rebuffed at every question (because man, don’t they ask a lot in a day!) – I was worried about tantrums and rebelliousness (ergo it was easier for me too).

My teenager is now actually asking to be told no. When he asks for a Nutella sandwich after dinner and before bed, I tell him what he can have instead (cheese, banana, peanut butter, etc). And his retort is “A No would have sufficed…” But I KNOW that his next question will be an exasperated “Well! What *can* I have then??” Part of parenting is always being wrong (but geez, I totally thought the best part of parenting was always being right!! Sigh.)

Peeking under the surface of this exchange, I hear him asking for clearer boundaries. Since I’ve never had a teenager before, I’m open to learning alongside him and striving to figure out what this means for me as his parent. Maybe there is problem solving that I’m inadvertently denying him. By supplying the answer to his unasked question (What can I have then??) I have prevented him from taking the next step in his own path of discovery. And really, the food-snack issue is just an analogy for other ways in which I’m precluding his self-awareness. It’s about food just now, but soon he’ll need to uncover his own path about social relationships, time management, finances, and other adult-y things. He practices with these smaller issues so he can better navigate those more challenging pieces of life.

There will be times that he might need my support in decision making and those times would be appropriate for me to ask questions, rather than giving conversation-stopping-negatives or supply him with an unrequested answer. I’ll hold out for those moments and Just Say No when it makes sense.

As always, I’m so grateful that he’s my first. He’s been so great with articulating himself so I can hear and learn these sticky webs that we’re all trying to navigate.

xo
Mto3

Summer days!

Aah. Summer! ☉

School days, seemingly chaotic in the moment, are actually idyllic compared to the hot, non-routinized, always bumping into each other summer days. Whoever romanticized the summer hols mustn’t have had children! 

Sure there are isolated moments when kids aren’t fighting, and you have enough money to check off the bucket list of fun-time activities, and day camps are blissfully drama-free … but really? Those are the few moments that are social media snap worthy. 

My days revolve around a mix of device/tv time requests, shouting and frustrated kids, sunburns, too much indoor time, and a million freezies wrappers on every surface of the house. *not even exaggerating. 

Pinterest has some amazing “kids-get-device-time-if-all-these-things-are-done” lists that are so inspiring and so improbable that I just gloss over them when they creep across my feed. 

Until I decided to give it a try. I was tired of redirecting kids (ok, I was already tired of all the *imagined* redirecting) so I crafted up a list, and hung it by our whiteboard/listboard. 

There was a little bit of push back, I’m not gonna lie. My oldest also thought it was ridiculous for me to have a “notes and comments” section. 

It’s been a few days and it’s been so well received! Kids are avoiding devices first thing in the morning. They discuss which jobs will get done. We discuss how this helps the whole family. They play outside together. They share books. 

Let’s hope this continues! We may run out of jobs around the house hahaha!
Just kidding. We totally won’t.

Xo Mto3

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