Thich Nhat Hanh shares an anecdote about how it is easy to be mindful in the monastery, yet hard on the streets. This hit close to home because I have been reflecting on how challenging it is to be an emotionally responsive parent. For the past couple of months life at home has been messy to say the least. Outside of the safe and controlled confines of Alphabet Academy, I’ve been struggling. When I’m rushing to leave home and pressuring my daughter to hurry, I can tell our connection is faltering but don’t want to be late again. When M is angry and demanding, yet I am feeling spent, I feel awful when I cannot remain unruffled. I know without a doubt how to be an emotionally responsive teacher, yet how does it translate into my home?
Last weekend I was emotionally and physically exhausted. Although I have recently begun meditating again, I’m not taking care of myself as well as I want to be. My husband was working all weekend. We had just gotten a new computer and printer. I was trying to set them up and was baffled. M wanted to be involved. I wanted space. I tried to figure out a way for both of us to have what we needed, but soon we both grew demanding and impatient. I was frustrated that I couldn’t figure out how to use the Windows platform. M was frustrated because she wanted to type and it was taking so long. I think she was also confused and worried because I was having strong emotions.
At Alphabet I would acknowledge the emotions and turn to another adult for help. But on this Saturday morning it was just M and I and I just wanted to get it done. I tried to acknowledge our frustration and ask for space. M needed, wanted and deserved connection. The closer she tried to get to me, the more annoyed I became and the more she needed me. Finally I sighed, “I need a break. I have to go downstairs to do the laundry. Please stay up here and play.”
M whined, “But Mommy I want to come down and play Kaboomer.” I repeated with even more of an edge, “I need some space. I’m going down by myself.” She yelled and screamed. I walked downstairs with the laundry basket. She followed me yelling, “You are a bad Mommy!” In all of my imperfection I took her by the hand and stomped back upstairs.
In response to telling her to take a break she yelled and hit. I held her hands and said, “I’m not going to let you hit.” She smiled, laughed and attempted to kick me. I held her foot and said, “I’m not going to let you kick.” I was saying all of the right things, but not with the usual kindness, love and generosity. I was angry, tired and at a loss. Her aggression escalated. “We’re both having strong feelings. I’m going to go downstairs by myself to do the laundry. Please take a break in your bed.” I walked out of the room and went downstairs. Soon I heard little feet coming downstairs. My patience was gone.
I picked her up, carried her back upstairs and said strongly, “M, it’s time for you to take a nap. I’m tired and I’m wondering if you’re tired.” I took a deep breath and more gently said, “I love you very much, but I still need some space.” She cried, “I’m not tired Mommy. I’m not going to hit or kick any more. I’ll stay in bed.” I closed her door and cried while I listened to her crying. I took deep breaths and waited. I paused in a way I advise, encourage and usually do easily. I waited until we both stopped crying. Then I went into M’s room.
M was sitting on her bed. I asked her if she wanted a hug. She nodded. We gave each other a hug. Then she said, “Mommy. Can I type yet?” I said, “I’m not sure if the computer is ready.” Thankfully it was. M did some typing and all was well for a bit. But I was still tired and felt pretty awful in all of my imperfection. My husband came home a short time later. I told him that it had been a challenging morning and I needed a break. Grateful for the respite I fell into a deep sleep.
When I awoke M was asleep. A little while later she slowly walked out of her bedroom. I’m not sure what she was thinking, but she seemed to be testing the water. I gave her a big smile. She dove into my arms for a hug. A short time later I grumbled because things were falling out of the freezer. M said, “Mommy. I love you even when you’re frustrated!” What a relief that was to me!
Over the next couple of weeks M kept replaying the drama, by attempting to hit and kick. She relived it until both my husband and I responded in a calm manner. We used the same language that I used on that challenging Saturday, but now we were the gentle and loving leaders that she needed. In the meantime I’ve been trying to be loving to myself in dealing with my own imperfections, as well as less judgmental of my own strong emotions. It is undoubtedly more challenging to be emotionally responsive at home, yet when all is said and done it’s a pretty remarkable way to live and love!
Betsey Kellem Illustration