Empowering Kids/Ourselves to Be Resilient
My kids teach me so much about parenting! Oh yes, I read all the parenting books and it is still so much harder than I ever dreamed. I think there are a few Mamas out there for whom everything flows smoothly and they always feel totally put together. I just haven’t met them. Most of us feel like we are flying by the seat of our pants, making it up as we go along. We are constantly adapting, shifting to the ever-changing developmental needs of our kids and… get this… the ever-changing developmental needs of ourselves! We grow in our experience. And the only way to learn how to Mama is through the path of not-knowing.
One of the most important things I have found is that when we model that we are capable, strong and resilient, our kids are too. That whole thing about, “Secure your own oxygen mask first before assisting your child” has a lot of merit. I spent many years believing that to be a “good” mom I had to give up myself. My sleep, my desires, my aspirations were all second to the (perceived) needs of my children. I wouldn’t go on dates with my spouse because my child would cry and I thought I was torturing her by leaving her in the care of another. Ha! I gave up years of sleep because I couldn’t stand the thought of my child crying alone in her bed. What I didn’t realize with #1 is that I was actually teaching her that she can’t cope without me. -That she needs an adult to rush in and rescue her from every discomfort. Big mistake! I thought I was doing everything right. I thought if I was always there for her, always responded to her every whimper, that I was making a secure confident kid. It totally backfired! Every time I rescued, it reinforced that she needed to be rescued. Every time I rushed in to soothe and let my emotions get all wrapped up in her emotions, I was modeling for her that I couldn’t handle it, therefore she couldn’t handle it. Her crying or discomfort was too much for me. So, she came to believe that her feelings were the most powerful thing in the world! Just look at how her feelings could completely wrap all the adults in the house around her little finger! All she had to do was show a strong amount of fear or displeasure and we would leap to her aid. Let me tell you, this did not serve her! Or us. And trying to course correct with a teenager, (teenagers being notorious for believing the world revolves around them anyway), Wow! I have my work cut out for me every day.
Granted, if you are a totally easy-going Mama who doesn’t get rattled by anything, you’re golden. But for those of us who find ourselves going into fight-or-flight every time our little one is distressed- this is for us. First, get ahold of yourself, Mama! Ask, “Is this crying actually life threatening?” Nope. If you and your partner are heading out for a dinner date and your little one is sobbing, check yourself. “Life threatening?” Nope. Okay. Then take a breath, feel your feet on the ground, muster a big smile and say, “You’ll be fine.” And guess what? They will. When we give kids the message with our words and our body language that we know they can handle whatever experience they are having, we have just empowered them. We have just communicated to them that they are capable, resilient and strong and that we know their inner resources will get them through. It’s incredible. When we model for them that they are absolutely fine, they actually are. Coping is an essential life skill. When we model it, they embody it.