Monday, July 14, 2014

I've been really irritated the last few days.  At first I thought it was just because I was adjusting to a new schedule.  But it has slowly emerged that in the last few months, I had the delightful situation of all 5 children being in phases that were independent and amiable.  So when, slowly, the situation began to change, I didn't realize it was happening.  I just knew that I've been feeling like I'm barely treading water, I've been irritable, I've had "too much to do" (but I'm not sure exactly what I've been doing), I've been raising my voice a lot, and I've been feeling generally stressed.

I think what is getting to me the most are the messes.  To take a moment to appreciate things, there was a solid few years where the mess was so outrageously unmanageable that I was cleaning up four times a day so that I could have a path to walk.  I hired two organizers, increased my housework skills, restricted food to the kitchen/dining room, and the littles grew bigger.  It got to the point where I can sometimes go a day or two without straightening and it's just messy and not havoc.  So to turn around and realize I am back to needing multiple straightenings a day again is something I didn't consciously realize and it was attacking my narcissism.

Aside from the messes themselves, Elazar (age 7) seems to be heading back into an Idea phase that is often accompanied by manic energy where he is curious but unintentionally destructive, and he is wild, especially when he is in a place or situation that expects restraint.  Aharon (age 3) has entered the Intense Tantrum phase, where numerous times a day, restrictions or refusals are met with flopping, screaming, crying, and often attempts to hit, bite, pinch etc.  (And he calls me "doody" but that's mostly amusing.)  If I were employed and my employer treated me this way, I'd quit.  Jack (age 4) is his usual self, but that usual self includes a fair amount of discipline these days.

Another thing that has been getting to me is the way that they make messes.  I walked in to the bathroom the other day, and they were making potions with cups of water.  That is normal drippy mess I am accustomed to.  As I walked in, Elazar took a syringe full of water and shot the ceiling.  His brothers cackled.

There have been a series of messes that have an edge of aggressive energy to them.  Although they have plenty of opportunity and their lives are set up to make lots of tactile mess outside (and even inside in a lot of ways), they enjoy destroying things and breaking things and messing up things that they know are part of the home.  When they eat wacky macs, invariably someone flings some with a spoon and then they are all doing it and giggling.  They are making messes and egging each other on and being mightily amused by them.  All this amusement gets me furious.  I found myself yelling to stop it, cut it out, etc.

During the most recent mess (I can't even remember what it was.  It wasn't wacky macs because I remembered to remind them, before handing them food, to remember not to throw the macaroni and I elicited agreement of this before they got their food) as I was yelling, a part of me was thinking that this is definitely not the best way to handle this.  Yelling is not that effective.  Why am I yelling?  What am I trying to achieve?  I realize that I was just being reactive instead of parenting based on my principles, and I hope this week, now that I realize what is going on with these gleeful messes, to devise a healthier and more effective parenting approach.  But unconsciously, what was I trying to achieve by yelling?

On a basic level, I wanted them to stop.  Also, I wanted to "teach" them that their behavior was socially inappropriate.  I wanted to show disapproval.  And I was angry so I guess I wanted to hurt them.  Why don't they know that what they are doing upsets me?  How will they learn to be civilized if I don't show very strong disapproval when they do this?  They "should" know better!

When I stopped to think about this, it seemed to me that there are better ways to teach them that their behavior is socially inappropriate.  Instead of raising my voice, I learned from supernanny, lowering the pitch of my voice immediately signals to the child that I am serious.  Making eye contact and firm but gentle physical contact is also very effective.  Telling the to stop firmly in a low pitched voice, quickly stopping them physically, and then supervising or helping cleanup or repair will stop the behavior, show the children I'm serious, teach them not to do it without making them feel worthless or shaming them, and demonstrate and aid constructive ways to repair the consequences.

So my reactive, instinctual way to "make them stop" is not the most effective and it can have serious negative long term consequences.

I think it also highlights an unconscious erroneous notion.  Although boys ages 7, 4, and a very abstract 3 know very well that certain behaviors such as throwing food inside the house and destroying things are socially inappropriate, destructive, and will upset me (I don't think they understand "morally wrong" yet), I get angry because I am not accepting the reality of young boys (perhaps all children).  It is normal behavior to get carried away by the enjoyment of destructive energy.

That doesn't mean that I have to tolerate it, and I think the method I outlined above will work just fine.  But the fury that overcame me was because I was feeling they "shouldn't" do this and they should "know better" and restrain themselves without my help.

In conclusion, when I'm feeling generally overwhelmed, I take a look at what the stress points are during my day.  I try to devise creative strategies to manage them.  I try to gain clarity about how I was reacting that wasn't working, and to gain some insight into what was underlying how I was reacting.  Realizing that I'm overwhelmed and going into "strategy" mode instead of "reaction" mode is half the battle.

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