Wednesday, May 11, 2016

First do no harm

I've noticed a bit of a shift in my parenting attitude.  When my oldest cried, I was always trying to do what I could to stop the crying.  Crying was bad (or at least, it felt "bad" to me, and I think we are biologically programmed to react that way and that contributes to the preservation of the species) and I just wanted to make it "better."

I'm sure a lot of experiences and influences contributed to me viewing crying as opportunities to help my children exercise certain muscles.  Muscles like "accepting that things don't go as I want" or "feeling the full depth of my pain" or "experiencing pain while someone who loves me conveys to me that it is okay."

- I remember being petrified when pregnant with my second child that I just don't know how to cope with all that crying and realizing I don't have to try to stop the baby from crying, I can just hold her as she cries and that's okay and it will pass, be it in hours or when she finally gets old enough to talk.

- I remember grieving my mid-trimester pregnancy losses and seeing how grief was waves and waves of anguish, and I had to be kind to myself and allow myself to ride the waves of grief as they came, like the different cries of the shofar.  And I noticed my toddler also wailed like that and needed the same thing from me.  That people aren't allowed to be sad and they need to be allowed to be sad.

- I remember seeing my children stomping in anger and demanding things and me thinking, "This child is a spoiled brat."  And realizing that this is actually an opportunity for them to not get what they want and internalize the experience of being told No with kindness and patience and firmness.

And now when my children cry and I am fortunate to not be overloaded emotionally, mentally, or physically (hahahaha no seriously) then I can actually view these situations as parenting opportunities.  Just like I view conflict with my pre-adolescents and teens as opportunities to model and to practice relationship skills when I'm not too furious.

So Jack (6) has a middah (character trait) that I've noticed for a while that concerns me.  It came to my attention a couple of years ago with him getting fixated on a package of lollipops that I finally agreed to buy him for Succos but I bought it 3 days before and for those 3 days, he couldn't tolerate not having them.  He was young and couldn't think that he would get it soon (though this is the same kid who saved up money for over a year to buy a DS when he was 3).  He just got very focused on the unfairness of it and ("unfair" being a code word for "not what I want") and kept proclaiming that if I won't give him that, then he deserves something else, and he suggested various things.  This went on for days.  The fixation disturbed me, the incredible length of time disturbed me, and the notion that it will only be okay if something he deems of equal value is given to him disturbed me.

My latest parenting approach to these kinds of things can be described as: Chill out, see how it goes, try not to make it worse.  (I have unfortunately discovered that so many of my reactions simply do make things worse, and "First do no harm" keeps my hands full.)

So today when Elazar asked to go with the neighbors to the candy store, and Jack remembered that Elazar had gotten to go last time the neighbors took someone (they have room for one person), and Jack fixated on this, I realized it was a great opportunity to ride the wave of the fixation, to feel the pain, to not change the situation.  I was there for him, I was compassionate, I was firm that he wasn't going.  He shortly moved on to his coping mechanism, which is to suggest other things that he felt would satisfy him and would be equivalent.  Fine, so he should be able to buy a game for his tablet.  I said no.  Fine, so he gets my computer.  I didn't answer him the first few times because that's absurd.  But when he persisted I said no.  Fine, so he hit and kicked me.  I asked him if he wanted to wrestle.  I can't remember exactly how the morning played out.  But a few times he came back, upset about it, and we went through his disappointment, him trying to change things, me staying firm.  He's older now than a few years ago and his rational faculty is more developed; he doesn't get as stuck in his upset-ness as he used to from 2-5.  And he's out playing now.

I'm grateful to homeschooling that my first grader has this time to go through this emotional experience.  I'm not rushed and we don't have to be anywhere or do anything else.  Ten years ago it was stressful for me to choose emotional development over academic education.  I often worry about academic achievement. (Probably unnecessarily.  See how I can't even commit and I say "probably"?)  But this morning it is clear.

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