Being a parent is crazy hard work. A lot of the time, I am planning ahead - dinner, dishes, laundry, sweep this and tidy that, take him there, her here, rush rush rush, collapse on the sofa, wake up with a jerk, collect people from school, start it all again tomorrow.
There are moments of clarity, when through my haze of here and now, I see my children for who they are and I understand the way they see the world. Not through my eyes, the eyes of an adult who has a myriad of responsibilities with a list so long it doesn't fit in her head before coming out the other side.
A few days ago, we came home from church and gave the children ice cream. My seven year old started sobbing because the type of ice cream she wanted was all gone. She had to make do with an ice cream sandwich, not a cone.
But she wasn't upset over the ice cream, not really. Earlier that day, she had been complimented by several adults about her behaviour. She is a rule-follower, a people pleaser. She smooths the rough patches of social interaction and wants life to be enjoyable for everyone around her, even at the cost of her own comfort. This is hard work. So when she and I were lavished with these compliments, I had a feeling that she was probably worn out from her efforts that afternoon.
She wasn't really able to cope with disappointment at that moment. The missing cone was just too much. But it was more than that - the ice cream cone represented not only what she couldn't have, but that someone else got to it first. Other people enjoyed the ice cream cones without her, they ate them before she could. It wasn't fair! Here she was, trying so hard to be "good", and what did she get for her efforts? A lousy ice cream sandwich!
I think we can all recognise this feeling. We still have a good life, there isn't any major disaster or tragedy to speak of, but the ice cream sandwich just isn't what we wanted. It isn't the same as a cone. It's okay to feel disappointment or even sorrow over what we're missing.
This little girl was in tears, and instead of me losing sight of what was important to her, and focusing on what was important to me (dinner prep, baby care, sitting down for once!) I looked into her eyes and talked her through it. I made time to connect with her and helped her name her feelings.
And wouldn't you know it - she calmed down and was her happy, bubbly self for the rest of the day.
I often have to remind myself that I have two choices when my children are upset. I can take the time to connect with them, to hear their words and work through their feelings, or I can railroad over them and demand silence or "good" behaviour. Either way takes time before the child calms down. But with the first choice, I will have strengthened our relationship and topped up their emotional bank account. The second choice depletes their stores and slightly fractures our relationship. It's just not worth it.
That's not to say that I am perfect at this parenting gig. In all honesty, the mere fact that this incident sticks out in my mind so much is probably proof that I don't use this method often enough. I have six children living in this house and my brain is fizzing while I rock in the corner on some days. But I think I get it right pretty frequently. We went to the park yesterday afternoon instead of staying at home, which meant no time for me to make dinner. We had fish and chips instead. Would it have been healthier for me to make a meal? Yes! But it was worth it to spend time with the children outdoors and just "be" together. I don't regret it for a moment.