by Mary Nelligan from A Teachable Mom
Like many parents I want my children to grow up feeling empowered in the world, trusting their value and celebrating the gifts they offer as their own unique selves. And I want to feel close to my kids, to be connected to them, to shower them with the incredible amount of love I have for them in my heart.
Yet, I often find myself parenting my daughters in ways that don’t lead to connection and relationship; interacting in ways that aren’t consistent with my desire for them to feel empowered and respected. I’m starting to see that I may have misinterpreted my role as a mother. I’ve chosen to be more director, teacher or task-master than facilitator, guide or collaborator. I’m coming to believe there’s a time in parenting to teach, a time to let go and a time to collaborate.
Teaching is my go-to parenting tool. And by teach I often mean control; I’m in charge. For example, I’ve taught my daughters, Ava (age 8) and Rhys (age 3) how to clean up their toys. I’ve explained how much better they’ll feel (read I’ll feel) when everything is in its place. I’ve shown them how to put things away as they’re finished using them to avoid a snowballed mess. I’ve watched them clean up their stuff, all the while offering “helpful” suggestions on the best ways to do it quickly and efficiently (who wouldn’t want that kind of individual, personalized coaching?!). I’ve cleaned up their toys for them (to avoid conflict) and with them: “Let’s see who can put the Barbie clothes away the fastest!” or “You pick up all the green blocks and I’ll pick up all the red ones!” Fun!?
Yes, the toys get cleaned up, usually amidst much whining and complaining (mine and theirs). My kids may be missing the “obeying” gene, but my teaching methods often create distance in our relationship and foster the dynamic that I’m all-knowing of what is best for them. And of course, on many things, I do know what is best for them: I know, for example, that it is best for them to stay out of my way when I’m on a tear about the house being a mess. Or that it is best for them to floss their teeth for the first time in months moments before we leave for the dentist (so I don’t get yelled at by their crabby, confrontational dentist). But I digress …
I’ve tried letting go around the clean-up issue. I’ve closed my daughters’ bedroom doors, stayed out of the playroom, labeled the mess a blessing of “life with kids” and relaxed my admittedly anal standards. Truly letting go is magical and elusive – I have had the experience of letting go on many parenting issues from what they eat to what they wear. But on the topic of cleaning up, usually I can only let go for so long before my primal need to ease my anxiety wins out, damn the consequences (I’ll focus on my daughters’ empowerment once the f***ing Polly Pockets are put away!). I can understand why some might label my attempts at letting go half-assed. Until authentic letting go kicks in, I’m focusing on my third option …
While I have a lot of practice cajoling, nagging, cheering and encouraging my daughters to clean up, until last weekend, I did not have much experience collaborating with them on this issue. Ava and I decided to try an experiment: we would collaborate to organize and clean-up her bedroom.
Was I willing to be with Ava and learn with her through a process of co-creating a bedroom we could both feel good about? Was I
willing to feel my feelings (mostly anxiety) as we negotiated new ideas and worked through conflicts? Was I willing to put the care and feeding of my relationship with my daughter before my need for a specific outcome (order and thus, control)? Honestly, not really. I just wanted her to clean up her room and be done with it. Because that strategy hadn’t worked out for us thus far, I was willing to try collaboration as an experiment. Miraculously, Ava was too.
We both had input on when we started our clean-up project and for how long we worked. Rather than my usual role as director or task-master, I asked her how she wanted her room to look. Her reply: pretty, sunshiny, like it’s mine. She actually said messy, but I still had veto power in this exercise (come on, I didn’t say this was a fairy tale!).
Once we’d discussed how she wanted to feel in her room (comfortable, relaxed and happy), I told her I wanted it to be pristine and picture-perfect to relieve my anxiety. Oh, wait. No, that’s what I wanted to tell her. Instead, I just listened. And breathed. She told me she loves beautiful things around her, wanted to feel comfortable and did not want her room “all neat and perfect.” Whose kid is this anyway?
I made sure I was breathing as we discussed the toys she wanted to keep out and those she was willing to put away in coordinated bins and drawers (a few even made their way to Rhys’ open arms – a miracle). Ava took great pride in cleaning up her room and asking for my help in getting her belongings organized. Her smile was wide and real. She beamed; I enjoyed her. I felt proud of both of us.
Ava’s bedroom is not the way I want it. She still has too many dolls, outfits, craft supplies and books strewn around her room for my taste. But somehow I can live with our new creation because in this interaction I know my relationship with my daughter was my first priority. I don’t know how long the grace I feel will last, but I plan to enjoy it for now. At least until it’s time for another experiment. Perhaps my husband’s closet will be next?
Thanks to Mary for this lovely post! Such inspiration! You can read more about Mary and follow her amazingly loving and witty blog at www.ateachablemom.com. Her posts make me laugh and cry all at the same time. A must read!!