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”.