Not all parents, who wish the best for their children, manage to be the parents they want to be. Hindsight is often 20/20 and it can be hard to look at the consequences of our parenting and say… “I wish I had known”, or, “I wish I had done it differently.”
Yesterday, the Hare made a lovely trail of pine-needles from our front door to our backdoor…that is through two conservatories, the lounge, the dining room and the kitchen. It was about half a metre wide. That’s a lot of pine-needles. Now, most years I have found pine-needles in the house until about June, because of their amazing ability to get everywhere. So this year I’d cleverly (!) put the Christmas Tree in the front conservatory – away from carpet. So when I saw what he had done, I lost the plot, for about two seconds. Then realised that he was being a child in the moment and had no idea of my agenda. We started tidying together, but I had to get dinner on – it was already late, Craig was due home, the Owl needed an early night and the Butterfly was getting grumpy. So, while I worked with him as much as I could – largely he was left to tidy up himself. He didn’t like it. It became a power struggle. In the end, I really lost my temper and broke the broom.
(Now, its not a flash broom and it was getting pretty manky, but it was useful.)
I managed to reconnect with him after we’d had a bit of time apart and he certainly went to bed calm and to sleep quickly, which is always a good indicator that things are back on track. However, I can’t help wishing I’d handled it better. I know there are parents out there who can remain calm in the face of stress and frustration, embarrassment and defiance – and it’s not a farce. But there are a lot more of us who aren’t those people. Have we scarred our children for life? Are their personalities irrevocably set toward temper tantrums and aggression?
Well yes and no. Environment matters, but birth temperament certainly plays a role in our personality. Hares are naturally all about leadership and they are always going to be more likely to be involved in power struggles. Yes, what we do does affect our children – but not (usually) in one off occurrences. The impact of us on them is in the general tone of our parenting.
There are two keys to minimising the impact of our ‘stuff’ on our children’s lives. One is the reconnection phase: after it’s all over, are the children able to make calm eye-contact; are they calm in their demeanor; do they speak slowly; are they able to burn off their aggression physically, that sort of thing. The other is their ability to make sense of us. From about age two, all we have to do is have a couple of times a week, instead of a book story at night, tell them their day story… You got up, you really enjoyed your banana and toast for breakfast, we played hide and go seek and we laughed when I tried to hide in the washing basket… that sort of thing. Always including the emotional tags, but never including – this will help you make sense of your life! For an older child (say nine or 10 on), you can include things like: we followed bad advice; I have a short temper because… This gives children the sense of their life as a story, we don’t have to explain that’s what’s happening – it just happens. Eventually, with repetition of the process, they will put us into a context that makes sense for them.
Their sense of autobiography is really the key to our children transcending our parenting mistakes, and breaking patterns of behaviour that have come down through the generations. Tempers do fray; divorces do happen; our children might not have the same opportunities as other children – but we can help.
The children who grow up to be great adults despite their backgrounds (dreadful, average or fabulous) have had extra nurturing and calm than others in the same family or situation, and/or a great sense of autobiography. And if we want better for ourselves than our current situation: autobiographies are a great way to begin. (Including emotions and motivations of all involved. Yep, even if you believe emotions need to be controlled.)
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