I’m Starting with the Mom in the Mirror

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There’s a book called Mindset by Carol Dewck.  It’s becoming widely read by educators, and many parents. A friend of mine just wrote an awesome piece about it here.  The idea of cultivating a growth mindset has been popping up for me, beginning with a consultant at my boys’ school handing me the book three years ago. I put it off, being busy and all, and I think I actually over-borrowed her book by a year or something.  Oops!  So I finally read it, and the gist is that we can choose to have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.  You can change your way of thinking, and you can choose to try hard at things that aren’t easy.  Of course there is much more to it, and you should pick up that book.

This seemed like a really simple concept, and I pshawed the idea that needed to change my mindset.  Of course I had a growth mindset! My mind has had a lot of attention!  I spent my late teens and twenties working on myself, understanding how I worked, and I came pretty darn far with that, thankyouverymuch.  I needed those years for that.  My mindset was solid.  It was my kids who needed some help here, not me.

The last couple of years brought parent-teacher conferences where I heard that my boys were awesome, except they needed to learn to persevere when things didn’t come easily right away.  I would heavy sigh, internally blame it on Latefordinner, and say “I don’t know where they get that!” That’s not how I do things!  And I work on it with them.  I take them for very long hikes in the woods and make them figure out how to get back, dragging them for miles when they want to quit.  I make them do chores for screen time, teaching them new chores and following through with my rules.  I use the mantra my parents used: “You can do hard things!” I make them problem solve, forcing them to figure things out before I help them. But the desire to work hard still doesn’t seem to be ingrained in their psyche, in their mindset.

The other day Tuna got a new Transformer.  He was frustrated because it wasn’t easy, and Latefordinner wouldn’t help him.  He reminded him that he used to get frustrated when he was four (he’s almost 11 now), but now he had to big-kid-up and figure it out.  Tuna carried that thing around with him all day, working and working on it until he could transform that thing in 10 seconds.  And he did it!  He was so proud of himself.

Then he came to me and wanted ME to try it.

Asking me to do Transformers is like asking me to sew something–I might throw a tantrum and smash stuff.  I have avoided Transformers for seven years now, passing them off on Latefordinner, because I CAN’T DO THEM. I HATE doing them, and no one is going to make me!!

So I wouldn’t do it.  I actually snapped at him  and asked why he even wanted me to do it.  Did he think it was funny that I’m not mechanically inclined?  Did he want to watch me fail? No, I wouldn’t do it.  I don’t sew, and I don’t do Transformers.  I had the fixed mindset that I couldn’t do Transformers, and I refused to try something hard. I told Tuna I would not try.  Now, there are some things in life we just don’t have to do as adults–taxes, sewing, washing cars, dishes…oh wait, gotta do those. BUT, when my child came to me and wanted me to try his Transformer, it was an opportunity to teach him how to do hard things.  I stomped my foot and refused!

The whole thing didn’t sit right with me. I knew I was being hypocritical and childish. I almost blew my opportunity to model the growth mindset. …..until I realized what I was doing.  I took me a day, actually.  Once the lightbulb went off–I think it was Latefordinner’s account of telling Tuna to work hard that flipped the switch– I went to him and asked him to teach me, and to be patient with me. I explained that I really should work harder on the things that don’t come easily.

It turns out he is an excellent teacher!  And, I was a pretty good student.  Transformers are hard when you’re me.  I can do hard things.

How many other times had I unknowingly taught him not to try?  How to quit?  How to not even begin?? How many other opportunities have I blown?

mirror-on-face

The good news is that Tuna (10), Binker (6), and Squishy (3) are still young enough to catch on, and they’ll have minimal damage.  I am always brought back to the mirror in parenting.  I used to call Tuna my little mirror–he shows me the truth of who I am–he is a reflection of me.  Somewhere along the chaotic way I lost that, (I think because it’s a bit overwhelming to see three different perspectives of your own reflection, like a three-way mirror), and this has been a shining reminder to do some inward reflecting.  It’s the same concept as putting on your own oxygen mask first before helping others–how can I grow their mindsets if I’m in denial about my own?  I’ve spent too much time projecting, not realizing that I’ve been giving away my opportunities for growth. Mindsets, like reflections, are never solid. We are never ever done growing. Who was I to think I didn’t need to change?  I really hope to hear some hard work reports at conferences this year.

This parenting gig is hard! Good thing I can do hard things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Smug-Faced Bitchy McJudgerton

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You know what I don’t do?  Fold wash cloths.  Or underwear. I don’t care if my 3-year-old goes out to swing in his underwear. I don’t exercise every day.  I don’t feel guilty when I tell Latefordinner that I have to get out of the house ALONE.  I don’t make my boys keep their rooms clean. I don’t keep my room clean. I don’t keep a garden.  I don’t take for granted that Latefordinner supports my need to get out ALONE. I don’t stress if I eat ice cream. I don’t like negativity. I don’t want to keep writing about what I don’t do….

Except for this one thing I didn’t do yesterday–I didn’t do what I swore I’d never do (stay with me), and that’s NOT JUDGE ANOTHER MOM, EVER.

I ran into the drug store yesterday for some things, and was deciding on which gum to get, when I heard a mom two aisles behind me say, “No, we have that at home.  Put it back.”  I heard  a tiny person whining, and then, “I told you to put it back.  I’m going to count to three, and if you don’t put it back you’re getting a spanking.”

Then I heard “Three, two, one.”…….Smack!

And the baby boy cried and cried, and said “Ouchie!  Owww!  That hurts!”   And the mom walked by, baby on hip, sobbing two-year-old in tow.

And you guys, I did the thing.  I did that thing that is so devastating to mothers everywhere:  I looked her in the eye and shook my head at her. And she looked me in the eye and I could read her mind, “you bitch, you don’t know me.”  I could have just minded my business, but I broke my oath to never judge a mother, and I judged. Openly. I’ve been given that look before, but not for hitting my kid.  I get that look when my kid is acting up, and I am not dealing with it the way the glaring woman would. I get that look for what I don’t do.

So, here’s the thing: she spanked her baby boy in a public place.  He was sobbing, and my heart hurt for him.  Why, after all my years as a seasoned mother, and firm believer in non-judginess, did my heart not hurt for her?  Maybe she didn’t know any better.  Maybe she thinks she’s doing the right thing.  Maybe she just doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing and needs to get her damn head on straight before she messes her kid up…uh, I mean…ugh,there’s the judginess.  She didn’t beat him, she smacked his butt.  She didn’t yell at him, she counted to three.  She didn’t look angry…and that’s the thing…why would you be violent if you’re not angry?

First: I don’t believe in hitting children.  It is psychologically damaging; and does nothing to teach, nurture growth, or effectively discipline.

Second:  Even though I don’t believe in hitting children, I have lost my temper and smacked a butt a few times. It very rarely happens, I’m not proud of it, and I have apologized to my children each time.  I have explained that mommy can make mistakes too, etc. Of course we also talked about his behavior, but a child’s behavior is just his way of asking for help.  It’s HARD to remember that sometimes, seriously, like when they’re being complete jerks and you just want to SMACK them.  But you don’t (99.9% of the time). Because you don’t believe in hitting. Because you are the grown up.  Because you want to lead by example. Because hitting hurts.

Third: I have never hit my child because he wouldn’t put something back on a shelf by the count of three. In a public place.  Or in any place. That’s just ridiculous.  Yeah, I’m judging.

BUT, Shaking my head at her probably just made her angry, and hurt, and probably did more to isolate her more than maybe she already is.  Shaking my head disapprovingly probably did nothing to help her. Judging her, even if I do disagree with her actions, does nothing to help.  Maybe she felt sorry, and helpless, and hopeless.  Maybe she needed a hug (even though I just wanted to hug that baby boy). Maybe she is looking for another way. Maybe no one is supporting her.  I wasn’t sure where this would go when I started writing, but now I know: What I don’t do is feel good when I judge.  What I don’t do is help when I judge.  What I don’t do is really know anything when I think I do.  What I don’t do is withhold compassion where it seems to be undeserving.  

Because those who need compassion are the ones who act out.  Because a mother’s behavior may be her way of asking for help. Looking again at her non-angry face, I can now see that she was just as scared as her boy.  She really didn’t know what else to do.

I firmly reaffirm my resolve to support other moms, even if I don’t agree with their actions.  I hated what I saw.  It broke my heart. But, I don’t know her. Who knows her story?

So here’s what I DO do:

I do yell at my kids sometimes.

 I do sometimes yell into the backyard like a redneck so the neighborhood can hear me.

I do follow through with what I say, even if I regret having to do it.  

I do not like it when Binker sticks his tongue out at me and runs away. Wait, that’s a negative.

Ok, um, I do feel helpless as to what to do with him sometimes.  He’s like a honey badger. Seriously.

I do feel helpless when Tuna loses his temper at Binker and tackles him to the floor while screaming in his face about making annoying sounds.  Binker silently provokes, Tuna loses his temper. Tuna gets in trouble. Binker gets reprimanded……and on and on until I sometimes lose my temper and send them to their rooms with no solid discipline or clear idea of how to handle it from there.  

And every mother feels helpless sometimes.  And every mother needs help sometimes. And sometimes that help is silence.  A nod. A smile. A hug. A look of solidarity, even if you know what she should do when she doesn’t have a clue.

What I don’t do is agree with that mother’s choices.  

What I DO do is have compassion for her.  

Because we all make mistakes in the great oneness of motherhood,

and I hope to receive that compassion when I would otherwise be judged by Smug-Faced Bitchy McJudgerton (me yesterday).  

Yep.

Dominoes and Discipline

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old fashioned dominoes

Tuna is in his room with no computer.  Binker is in his room crying with no computer tomorrow.  Squishy is being watched for a head injury (so far so good) and watching Mater’s Tall Tales.

I’m sitting here wondering what the hell just happened.

Let’s see…

First, I kicked them off of their screens and fed them lunch, forewarning them that they would be going outside after lunch. Next, I forced them to go outside on this gorgeous summer day. The sun is shining, it’s not too hot, and there’s a slight breeze.  Perfect! Only Squishy went happily. Tuna tried to go back inside, Binker tried to go back inside, and Squishy…well, he just rode his tricycle. I had to sit in front of the door telling them to “play like regular kids”.  I told the tale of long ago when the cold winds blew and all the children in the land could not go outside; when those poor cold children looked out their windows longing for summer.  The little shits still wanted to go in.

I made suggestions: bounce on your bouncy ball, ride your stinking bikes, play basketball–I’ll play with you!, draw with your stupid chalk, blow some freaking bubbles, just PLAY OUTSIDE AND LIKE IT!

Did they do any of these things?  Of course not!  Tuna and Binker started balancing on the cement ledge that borders a small cliff hill into the neighbor’s side yard.  Then Binker (in an admittedly funny fashion) pointed up and said “Tuna, look up there!” and pushed him off the ledge.  Now, these boys hurl themselves off of this ledge on purpose all the time. Sometimes on bikes, sometimes on scooters, sometimes on foot, sometimes on sleds, but always fast and dangerously.  But Tuna was pissed that Binker pushed him.

Instead of just telling him he didn’t like it, he went after him violently and angrily.  It was like Binker shot Tuna with a water gun and Tuna came back with a freaking bazooka.  He was grabbing him, shoving him, trying to push him off the ledge.  And he did push him.  Neither boy was hurt, but Tuna was way out of line.  Then Binker punched him, and I don’t blame him.  I had to drag Tuna into the house and shove him in his room, and while I was doing that, I heard Squishy start to cry REALLY HARD outside.  Like that no-breathing crying where he cries a second and then doesn’t breathe for like ten minutes because he can’t even cry hard enough.

I raced outside and found Squishy on the ground at the bottom of the cliff ledge thing, and Binker looking very guilty. I really should just wear roller skates all the time.  That way I can get to each emergency faster, and possibly roll over some small toes on purpose. A spy camera and lie detector wouldn’t hurt either. Ooh! and collapsing stairs so I can just roll down and out the door!  So he told me he pushed him.  WTF?  Why?  So picking Squishy up I then dragged Binker to his room and sat down to check out the damage.  The baby landed on his head, and seemed dazed.  I had this terrible scenario flash through my head of resenting Binker for permanently damaging his brother etc, snapped out of it, and made Squishy do all the eye-following things you do for head injuries. He is fine.

So the domino effect is twofold in this scenario.  Even though Binker pushed first, Tuna really did start it by being the grumpy “I don’t want to be outside” example, and then they all fell down.  Poor little Squishy was the last one to fall in the succession.

The other domino effect happens in the discipline.  That first domino has to withstand the most force, and the fact is that Tuna is first and gets the hardest push.  “Why am in trouble, but Binker isn’t?”  “Because you’re the oldest and you know better.  Binker is still learning.  Down you go!” *flick* Of course Binker gets in trouble too, but he gets the 5-year-old version.

Is it fair that Tuna gets the hardest push?  He’s older, he knows better, but he is still learning too.  It’s just that fighting with a 5-year-old makes him act 5.  He has more responsibility because he can understand it, and all that developmental blabbity stuff.  (#becausedevelopmental).   And, Binker has dominoes falling on him on both sides.  He comes out punching and kicking in all directions.  So his lesson is not to take his stuff with Tuna out on Squishy.  Tuna’s lesson is to learn to be the bigger person.  Whew!  This growing up thing is HARD!

I think it is fair.  The birth order thing is tough, because so much is inevitable.  I can’t change their statuses, ever.  I think that right now it’s appropriate to give Tuna the hardest push, but once they’re grown, they’ll all be first in line.

But right now, they’re in their rooms crying and thinking about how unfair life is, with no idea what just happened except that they still want to push each other over the ledge.  Ya know, sometimes when they fight I tell them to fight.  They just stop and stare.

“Fight! Fight with each other.  Go on, fight!”

And then they laugh and play fight and it’s over.  Would that work with cliff-pushing? Hmmm, maybe I’ll try that tactic next time.  With helmets.