Sunday, January 13, 2013

Independent Little Humans

Benny is 4.5 now ... and he has fully learned how to challenge authority. Up until recently, he was relatively agreeable, and full-out tantrums were extremely rare.

Well, now, his mission in life is to challenge every directive given to him. Every thing I tell him to do is met with a firm, "No!" or even worse... the smiling, and blatantly ignoring my words.

As a mother, this is obviously very distressing and tiring. How many times must I repeat myself?! My kids should listen to me, damn it! What happened to my little sweet child? That child that has always been mild-mannered and a good listener?

I must be failing as a parent!

Of course, I realize that this is normal. I realize that most parents go through this. What I need to remember is that this is normal for a reason. My kids are learning to be independent little humans!

I should rejoice in their tantrums, because that means they are learning to  have a voice for themselves.

After all, isn't that our big picture goal as a parent? Don't we want our kids to grow up into adults that can make their own decisions? Be on their own?

Don't get me wrong... I know there is parenting work to be done here. How do I react to tantrums? Truthfully? Sometimes I react very poorly, and throw an adult tantrum. Sometimes I yell and lose my patience. No wonder my kids lose their patience! My behaviors are modeling for them. It is my parenting goal to model empathy and respect during these frustrating moments. We often say, "Use your words" to our children. Our goal (even if we fail often) is to help our kids explore their emotions in those emotional moments.

We need to allow our children to feel their emotions. My goal is to let my kids be upset, but guide them to express their emotions in a way that is healthy. Yelling at others, hitting, throwing toys... these things are often a way children express their feelings of being angry, sad, tired, etc. As a parent, I want to see my children saying their feelings, allowing them time to feel those feelings, without lashing out.

You'll notice I keep saying "my goal is..." Of course, these parenting approaches are easier said than done. But these things are what I hope to do as a parent. We all fall short sometimes. Each day is a new day!

I'll never forget a conversation I had with my father after I got engaged in college. We were sitting at my grandparents' table in their sitting room. We were talking about future plans, and he told me, thoughtfully, and full of love, "As much as I want you to live in {our city} to be close to us, I'm glad you won't be. I think it's really important for you and Keith to start your own life, apart from us."

Wow. Now that I am a parent myself, I realize the significance of that conversation. It was the ultimate parenting moment for him. He had reached the time when his daughter was grown, and he had to let go. He had to gently and lovingly push me out of the nest. My mother and father had prepared me for this my whole life, by fostering my independence each step of the way. And guess what? I was okay! Keith and I learned how to rely on each other, how to start our own life, and what it meant to be independent. I hope we are so lucky to be able to sit back, let go, and watch our boys fly out of the nest. Maybe they'll even soar.