What do you see?

When I’m ambiguous, my kids don’t follow me. When I am more mindful, heartful, purposeful, they follow with little effort. This is useful feedback.

I posted this on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn this morning when I saw this in my family again. I began to feel frustrated, unsettled, longing for cooperation and forward movement when my kids were engaged in watching television and playing games. Then, noticing what I was seeing in front of my eyes, a soft reminder came to me. What if my children are doing exactly what they should be doing? What if they have very good reasons for doing that? Now, how do I respond to that?

Sure, they were having fun. So much fun in the moment, in fact, that it shadowed everything else. Even the afternoon bike ride and swimming wouldn’t deter them from the fun they were having in that moment. Wow! I can enjoy that! What focus! What purpose! What fun! I have moments like that. I had moments like that when I was a kid.

While the kids were doing their thing, my mind was wondering. I was between tasks, not sure what to do. When I walked into the living room to remind the kids about our plans for the day, they remained focused on what was interesting to them. In short, I was ambiguous, unsure. Part of me was enjoying letting my mind wander dreamily.

Alas, what about me and what became important to me as I received their feedback? How do I move into that fun space and direct with care and loving kindness?

The image that came to mind was “merging into highway traffic”. Our family just returned from a long road trip this week. I guess I’m still seeing roads in my mind. However, the metaphor fits here too.

When I want to flow with the traffic and direct my car to get to where I want to go, I look ahead. I gauge speed, flow, and find a space to fit in. Then, I’m free to direct my vehicle anyway I want so long as I play it safe for me and the others who share the road. Otherwise, I’d crash and die, as my four year old would bluntly say.

It’s the same with my kids. When I want to merge with the flow of their energy and life in the moment, I look ahead. What do I see? Do I see them ignoring me, not listening, being inconsiderate, or lazy? Do I see them focused, playful, and smiling? I also look at my own motivations. What’s my speed and direction? I don’t want to lose sight of where I want to go in the midst of all that energy.

What I see will help me to step in, connect, and direct with care and loving kindness. So, I may try something like this…

“Hey, looks like you’re having loads of fun here?” (pause to gauge speed, flow, and get more feedback) “What’cha playing?” (pause) I notice something here that I can enjoy as well. I love watching my kids having fun. I love hearing them laugh AND I want to help us move forward in our day. “I see you’re having fun and I see that we have an hour before we leave for swimming. How about wrapping that game up and helping pack our bags?” (pause for more feedback)

Who knows what my kids will say to that. Perhaps, they’ll be agreeable. Then it’ll be easy. I’ll sigh in relief. However, they may balk and protest, “Oh, Mom! Just one more game! I don’t want to go swimming. I hate my teacher!” and on and on…

What do I see now? What would it be like to keep holding onto what’s important to me while being present, listening to what’s important to my child before me? The playfulness just switched to annoyance, but it is the same as before even when it feels different. What would it be like to experience mixed feelings: the pull to do whatever my child says to avoid an argument, the pull to take charge and make a unilateral decision and risk not being liked for the moment, and the pull to hold us both with care? What’s the experience of being changed by being pulled in different directions and staying firm to what I value most? Perhaps I’ll watch and respond to how my needs change in the moment as I consistently respond to the dynamic life in and around me.

When I’m okay with not knowing exactly what’s going to happen, I’m confidently uncertain. Even reminding myself, “I don’t know, but I’m sure I’ll figure this out”, is not what I mean by ambiguity. My security and self-acceptance invites security and is attractive to those who are most vulnerable and in need of guidance and direction. In short, my kids follow me when I’m feeling secure and confident. That’s being in right relationship with each other and it feels good.

What do you do in these situations? What concerns you? What do you notice? Please share your stories. Let’s have a conversation and learn from each other.

*****

Written by Wendy McDonnell, Family Matters Radio Host and Family Coaching. Wendy McDonnell is a recovering perfectionist, a happily married homeschooling mother of four children, and the host of Family Matters Radio. She helps conscientious parents discover what it means to relax into parenting, to discover their gifts, and to create family relationships they enjoy without all the pressure of making it “perfect”.

About Wendy McDonnell

2 Responses to “What do you see?”

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  1. Iris says:

    “What would it be like to experience mixed feelings: the pull to do whatever my child says to avoid an argument, the pull to take charge and make a unilateral decision and risk not being liked for the moment, and the pull to hold us both with care? What’s the experience of being changed by being pulled in different directions and staying firm to what I value most? Perhaps I’ll watch and respond to how my needs change in the moment as I consistently respond to the dynamic life in and around me.”
    This strikes me to the core… it is THE concept I always ponder about parenting… For example, with my daughter most of the time I don’t really care if she stays up a bit past “bedtime” as long as she is happy and agreeable. But on those nights that she is cranky and resistant I find myself getting grumpy in turn – I don’t enjoy being sassed by a half pint! – and make a point of enforcing “bedtime” not because that is the issue but because we both need to cool off so lets just finish the day before we completely lose it and try again tomorrow. I have been accused of being an ‘inconsistent’ parent for this approach… but like you say my needs change as much as hers and so I respond to the dynamic life around me :)
    Thank you Wendy!! <3

    • Cool. I’m glad you caught that bit about consistency. I don’t blame people for suggesting it although it hurts to be accused of not being consistent. The idea of being consistent in parenting is quite insidious.
      Apparently, consistency was borrowed from the behavioural model of training. When we reward or punish mundane behviours at certain intervals for animals such as pigeons and rats, we get fairly consistent results. Unfortunately this model doesn’t work well for complex, long-term relationships and behaviours as in human relationships (and incidently, when training dogs). Responding to the attachment needs are far more important and create the security that we long for. Those needs include closeness, sameness, belonging, love, to matter, and to be known and seen (ie., loving kindness and acceptance). Consistently responding to those needs for ourselves and our children is vital for our wellbeing. We can best do that when we’re well-rested, well-fed, and are active during the day. Many of us spend most of our time with our families when we’re most tired and hungry.
      I would like to add…
      When we’re totally exhausted and at the edge of our capacity to stretch ourselves any more at the end of the day, we can bridge from that moment to the “next time we’ll connect”.
      For example, I might say something like, “Honey, tomorrow, we’ll be more rested and can have more fun. Right now, I’m so grumpy and tired. I need rest right away before I get more grumpy. Let’s hurry to bed.” My rest isn’t negotiable no matter how much my little ones want to protest. I don’t mention out loud that my child’s “sassiness” is triggering me. I take care of that myself by getting the rest and empathy I need. From time to time, I also want to let my kids know that I care for them as I care for myself and that I remember that even when I’m grumpy. To be sure, this isn’t easy at the best of times. However, it’s something we all grapple with at the end of our long and busy days.

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