Monthly Archives: February 2013

Mommy and Me Road Rage

How do I get there?  Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-US Government

How do I get there? Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-US Government

I was driving near an urban mall just a few days before Christmas. Traffic was crawling at about one block per half hour. My Pre-K son started making unhappy noises.  I don’t mean crying, I mean random noises, like “AAAAH” and “OOOOH” to relieve boredom or frustration.  I failed to identify the sentiment as bored or frustrated, though.  I interpreted it as uncooperative and annoying.

To escape traffic, I chose a longer route.  No escape.  Now I was on the longer route, traveling at one block per half hour.  My son kept making noise.  Annoyed, I kept asking him to be quiet.  Both of us kept raising our voices, trying to win.  Eventually, I was screaming myself hoarse, hoping that eventually, he would give up or get scared or gain a solemn respect for me.  But instead, he matched me decibel for decibel.  If decibels were drinks, we both would have been under the table.  Oh, and also, I had a pounding headache.

Over the years, we went through many variations on this theme.  Son pulls daughter’s hair while mom screams for him to stop.  Or, father drives, son kicks mom’s seat, mom grabs son’s foot, daughter is crying.

Car troubles are definitely worse when the child’s tantrum triggers a mom-tantrum.  For kids, a tantrum can be a last-ditch effort to control a situation when they don’t know what else to do.  This is the same for moms.  At least for me.  It’s when I’m at my wits’ end that I yell and threaten.  It’s when I feel stuck or overwhelmed and can’t think of anything else to do.

It took years for us to get to the point of consistently good drives (I’m a slow learner).  I used to look for the magic phrase to say, or the magic time-out technique.  Now, I’ve recognized that my demeanor is more important than my technique.  Of course, recognizing is only the first step.  Practicing takes longer.  Years later, my kids still make unhappy noises.  I still yell sometimes.  I even found an effective technique, but it only works when I am calm.  Actually, the technique helps me stay calm, because I have a plan.

The technique is this.  I won’t drive angry.  If I feel like I’m getting angry, I pull over.  Then, I sit quietly while the kids fuss or whatever.  Eventually, one will ask, “Can we go now?”  My answer is that we can go when they have been still and quiet for two minutes.  Early on, it could take up to an hour to achieve two minutes in a row of quiet.  My point is to let them learn to quiet themselves.  If son is hurting daughter, I will let daughter sit up front with me while we wait for calm in our parking space.  After the quiet time, we move on.  We talk about what caused the disagreement, and what each party could have done to de-escalate it.  Sometimes we talk as we drive on, or if it has been a particularly difficult time, we talk before we drive on.  The waits have gotten shorter and less frequent.

We even managed a drive from Ohio to Texas.  The kids started arguing before we got through Ohio.  I told them, “No arguing until we get to Arkansas.  Then, you are allowed to have a great big blowout.  But not before then.”  I guess this seemed weird enough to surprise them into behaving — all the way to Arkansas!  We were actually in Arkansas when they started arguing again.  “It’s ok to argue now,” I told them.  “You waited until Arkansas, and now you can have a big fight.”  They paused. “But do you want to fight?” I asked.  Amazingly, they stopped right then and there.  We made it all the way to Texas with no fighting.  Holy sigh of relief, Batman!

The big lesson for me is that when I am more calm, the kids are more calm.  When I am overwhelmed, they are overwhelmed.  The better I learn to handle my own tantrums, the better the kids handle theirs.  Drive on, mom!

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Nice Things About Motherhood

I Love You, Mom

I’m going to take a break from analyzing and agonizing and appreciate how things are now.  This is in memory of Jane, who liked to say, “What a wonderful now.”

Ten nice things about my motherhood experience:

1.  My children are exuberant, interesting, and compassionate.

2. I’ve gotten a much better understanding of my parents and in-laws, now that I am a parent myself.

3. I’ve had to learn to be less serious and play more.

4. The kids talked me into getting a cat, and I really like our cat.

5. I can see tangible results from all the soul-searching and personal change I went through.

6. I think my children generally trust me and can talk to me about sensitive subjects.

7. I got to find out what a wonderful father my husband is.

8. I’m learning a lot of things I hadn’t learned before, like patience and relationship-building and raising tadpoles.

9. I love sitting on the couch, snuggling with the kids.

10. Things finally are more how I hoped they would be, and less how I feared they would be.

These are just the first ten that popped into my head, and not a complete list.  What is nice about motherhood for you?

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Haiku: What’s on YOUR Car’s Back Seat?

Pennies, bottle caps

Scissors, acorns, stuck candy

On my car’s back seat

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The Difficult Child

An example of an ankle sock

My son threw his sock across the room.  He had gotten it on as far as his toes this time.  “Hurry, we need to leave in five minutes,” I urged.  I tried helping him, and got the sock halfway on before he yanked it off and threw it again.  “It won’t go on,” he yelled.  I grouched back, “Well, it would go on if you wouldn’t keep yanking it off!  Come on, we should be out the door by now!”

It seems like a huge chunk of time in his early childhood was spent putting on socks and shoes.  The sock wouldn’t go on right.  And once it was on, it rubbed him the wrong way.  And we were late.  And he thwarted my attempts to help him.  And he wouldn’t wear the shoes “just this once until we get a pair that doesn’t hurt your toe.”  And let’s not even talk about underwear, shirt tags or loud noises.

Was it my imagination, or was I having a harder time of it than other moms seemed to be?  And was my son having a harder time of it than other kids?

It turns out, some kids are just more, well, difficult.  There, I said it.  He is spirited, he is intense, he is strong-willed, he is difficult.  He is much more difficult for me to deal with than my other child.  He is having a more difficult time than my other child.  Some people don’t like to hear me say a child is difficult.  But, it is the truth.

I don’t mean to say “difficult” as a value judgement.  Chess is more difficult than Candyland.  That is a good thing.  Wine is more difficult to make than grape juice.  It is well worth the extra effort.

The traits that make my son difficult will also be strengths as he refines them.  His gifts are worth an extra effort.   He is determined, he is high-energy, and he is sensitive.  I can’t be complacent with him.  I am a better person because of him.  When I handle things wrong, he doesn’t adapt; he freaks out until I pull myself together.  I can’t bark and expect him submit.  I have to dig deep down inside and make peace with myself, improve my interpersonal skills, and reduce my anger.

But what makes a child difficult?  I think the answer is two-fold.  I think I contributed to my son’s difficulties by being short-tempered and by failing to understand his moods and emotions.  But, I was relieved to find that there is an additional answer.  Some kids are born with a temperament that can be more difficult for parents to handle.

In her wonderful book, “Raising Your Spirited Child,” Mary Sheedy Kurcinka lists 5 characteristics of the “spirited” child: Intensity, Persistence, Sensitivity, Perceptiveness (aware of all sensory stimuli), and Adaptability.  Like about 10% of the population, my son has all of these.  He also has three of the four “bonus” qualities: Energy, First Reaction (negative initial reaction to something new), and Mood. (The fourth “bonus” quality was Regularity, and mercifully, he did keep to a regular eating/sleeping/waking schedule.)  I am not exaggerating when I call this the single most awesome book for understanding and helping a child who is frustrated and frustrating.  It helped me recognize the need to put myself in his uncomfortable shoes and see things from his perspective.
Raising Your Spirited Child Rev Ed: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic

I have to confess, though, that I felt validated when I read about psychologist Stella Chess.  She conducted a study of over 130 children in the 1950’s, and her research was a cornerstone of “Raising Your Spirited Child.”   However, she used the term, “Difficult babies” rather than “spirited.”  I guess hearing her use the word “difficult”made me feel less alone in my struggles.  My son wasn’t just spirited — that makes me think of a cheerleader.  We were seriously having real difficulty.

But, whatever you call it, “Raising Your Spirited Child” is an excellent resource for addressing each of the characteristics that presents a challenge.  Ms. Kurcinka encourages to the reader/parent and is respectful toward the child.  I tried to check out this book from my local library, and 11 people had it on hold before me.  That’s how good this book is.  And that’s how not alone you are, if this is what you’re looking for.  While you are waiting for the other 11 people to read it before you (or for it to come in from Amazon), I’ll tell you the most important thing I learned from the book:  Appreciate the challenges your child is facing.  Believe him when he says he can’t go on with that seam rubbing his toe.  Help him work through it, rather than fighting him.

In my case, I had the added challenge of being something of a “difficult baby” myself.  I am intense (quick-tempered), persistent (stubborn), and perceptive (distractible).  As I now read “Raising Your Spirited Child” for a second time, I try to apply the parenting techniques to understanding my own self.  I can’t teach my kids to manage their frustration if I haven’t figured out how to handle my own frustration.  And perhaps even more importantly, I can better appreciate their gifts when I begin to appreciate my own.

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