I've been mulling over a few things lately, like this, quoted by one of my favorite authors--Catherine Newman--in her column Bringing Up Ben and Birdy:
There are many ways to get children
to behave as you wish.
You can force, plead, and bribe.
You can manipulate, trick, and persuade.
You can use shame, guilt, and reason.
These will all rebound upon you.
You will be in constant conflict.
Attend instead to your own actions.
Develop contentment within yourself.
Find peace and love in all you do.
There is no need to control others.
If you are able to release even some small part
of your persistent need to control,
you will discover an amazing paradox.
The things you attempted to force
now begin to occur naturally.
People around you begin to change.
Your children find appropriate behavior
emerging from within themselves
and are delighted.
Laughter returns to all.
I've had this posted on my monitor for well over a year now. I think I first copied it because I thought it sounded wise and tao-ish, and I'm a meditating, yoga sort of girl. Of course, I had no idea how to really put it into practice, because I am also a control freak who is in a pretty much constant state of low-level anxiety (when I'm not in a high state of anxiety, frantically cleaning the house or freaking out at my husband and kids). So telling me that "there is no need to control others" is like telling the sun not to set.
But now I'm looking at this idea of letting go of control with different eyes, and here's why. Yesterday, some sort of weird experiment unfolded in my house, seemingly on its own, like a little gift from the universe, unsolicited. A bunch of stars aligned, somehow, and I had a totally peaceful day at home with both girls. Here is what I think happened:
1) The break from potty training allowed all of us to relax. I wasn't squealing in Addie's ear every two seconds about needing to pee or worrying about her peeing all over tarnation. Guess what happened? She went pee on the potty twice, on her own. I let go of a little control, and voila, Your children find appropriate behavior emerging from within themselves and are delighted. Weird.
2) Another of my favorite blogs, The Happiness Project, has this to say about being a more light-hearted parent: "Most messages to kids are negative: 'stop,' 'don’t,' 'no.' So I try to cast my answers as 'yes.' 'Yes, we’ll go as soon as you’ve finished eating,' not 'We’re not leaving until you’ve finished eating.' It’s not easy to remember to do this, but I’m trying."
I've definitely been noticing that as Addie is testing her boundaries, I've been saying "no" to her a lot, sometimes without knowing why. For example, she was sitting pretty close to the tv watching Dora the Explorer last week, and both Eric and I insisted she scoot back. Why? Because we had been told to do that as kids. But it's not like she was right on top of the thing. It's not like she was drooling on the screen. There was no good reason she had to be five feet away as opposed to four, that we could think of. Once we figured this out, we could both relax. So, yesterday, I tried to think through my responses carefully before just saying "no," and also tried to frame things in terms of "yes" when possible.
My fear, of course, is that I'll raise a spoiled brat who has never been told no. Having been raised in a house where discipline was, uh, highly valued, this is slightly scary to me. But I think the idea is to be a conduit of possibility for your children, not to constantly be closing off opportunities to them. And, again to my surprise, Addie really responded to this. She had way fewer tantrums, and some of her anxiety behaviors (like chewing on her wrists) seemed to disappear. I also felt like less of a jerk. Find peace and love in all you do.
3) This poem, "Things to Think," by Robert Bly has been posted to my mirror for many months now:
If the phone rings, think of it as carrying a message
Larger than anything you've ever heard,
Vaster than a hundred lines of Yeats.
Think that someone may bring a bear to your door,
Maybe wounded and deranged; or think that a moose
Has risen out of the lake, and he's carrying on his antlers
A child of your own whom you've never seen.
When someone knocks on the door,
Think that he's about
To give you something large: tell you you're forgiven,
Or that it's not necessary to work all the time,
Or that it's been decided that if you lie down no one will die.
Now, I'm not so sure I want a deranged bear on my doorstep, but I do love this poem because it suggests to me the beauty of possibility and forgiveness, the power of rest. If someone called me every day of my life and told me it wasn't necessary to work all the time, it wouldn't be enough. My feeling like I have to work all the time (and feeling guilty when I don't) has led to a lot of what one friend calls "time-binding," where I'm trying to work when I'm home with the kids, and missing the kids when I'm at work, and feeling inadequate at both tasks because I'm not fully present in either.
Somehow, yesterday, I was able to not time-bind. I was able to just be with Addie, sitting on the couch reading dozens of stories together, or feeding Nolie on the bed. Attend instead to your own actions. Be present.
Here's hoping the universe sends more useful experiments our way.