Sunday, March 20, 2016

Let it go (long and probably interesting to no one, but a reminder to myself)

Earlier this month, after seeking the advice of my sister C (parenting extrodinare) I made the life-changing decision to make like Elsa and let it go.

In a nutshell, for the past probably 5 years I have monitored and corrected almost every thing that M has ever done.  Too loud?  I'm on it.  Too talkative?  I'm on it.  Spinning while walking?  On it.  Annoying his brother, on it. (L was getting his share, too.  But as the baby, I didn't start on him until a little later and he's naturally less boisterous than M and a little quicker with social cues, so he wasn't getting as much. Still, not easy for either of them.)

My heart was maybe in the right place- I saw behavior I didn't want to develop into a habit, so I felt my job as a parent was to step in and: advise, remind, scold, punish... Whatever it took.  I'm the one who signed up to be a parent.  I have to be responsible for them, even the un-fun parts like shaping character.

The thing is, I slowly realized, that it wasn't moral issues I was getting after them for.  I wasn't having to get on them about hurting people or their feelings, teasing, lying, cheating, stealing, sneaking, backtalk, or anything sinful or evil.

I was constantly on them, all day, every day, about my preferences.  How prideful of me!  Being "too talkative" or "too loud" is an opinion.  At least half the human population is louder and more talkative than I am and I accept that as normal.  But when it came to my kids, I was using my preferences as a moral standard.

The goofball stuff, like bouncing or twirling instead of walking, is just a part of being an active kid.  I can teach them the right behaviors for the right places and not to bother people in public, but that means being ok with "unnecessary" movement and noise at home.  (Note to self: We don't always have to be in the same room.  Nothing wrong with sending them upstairs or outside to play.)

I'm reminded of the bible verse in Ephesians: "Parents, do not exasperate your children to resentment..."  By making personal preferences into moral issues (ie I told you to stop bouncing and you haven't, so you've disobeyed) I must have been exasperating them.  Of course I don't want my children to resent me for putting unrealistic expectations on them and micromanaging their every interaction.  (Even the Bible got it 2000 years ago?  Where have I been!)

I'm honestly not sure about the pestering and bickering with eachother.  But I do know that if constant intervening, reminders, scoldings, punishments, and berating worked, they would have stopped by now. Also, I know that if I'm honest with myself, my siblings and I fought and squabbled a lot when we were young.  And we all love eachother and turned out ok.

I think being all over them about everything was at least a little bit selfishness and laziness on my part, too. I could justify, "Well, it's not MY fault. I'VE told them and taught them a thousand times.  They just won't listen!"  instead of adjusting my ways to reach them or accepting the fact that they aren't me.  There was obviously a large portion of pride involved, as well.  How dare MY child do xyz and make ME look like a bad parent.

The worst was that when they did make a true mistake or bad choice, our corrections were getting lost in the white noise of all the rest of my nagging.

So.  I've let it go.  If it's not a moral issue, no comment. The change in my personal stress level has been radical.  I'm happier. They're happier.

And what I've seen in the past few weeks is that they already knew.  They already know.  They don't make mistakes or bad choices or annoy people because I failed to tell them one last time.  They make mistakes because they are human and fallen, like me. So, I will never scold them into perfect people, because there aren't any!  And since they are still learning social graces, they need to have legit interactions with people without me hovering so they can learn what people like, don't like, and do in all different kinds of social settings.

One pleasant and unexpected side effect of Operation: Elsa is that, by giving them space, I've allowed them to reflect on their own actions instead of doing it for them all the time.  When I don't rush in to scold, I find that they have time to consider other people's feelings and will often apologize themselves.  Isn't that what I wanted all along?

Yesterday we went to a wedding and had a perfect day.  The boys were wonderfully calm and quiet during the ceremony and charming and fun at the reception.

They sat with family friends for a long time between the ceremony and reception, playing Scopa. So long, actually, that Whim and I took a walk to 7-11 without worrying about them, and when we got back, they were still playing.

(I'm sure most moms of 7-year-olds have been this free for ages, but in the past I have never wanted to leave them with anyone, because what if they were naughty? If we ever did, I was anxious the whole time and would hurry back to avoid inconveniencing anyone for too long. Even hearing that they were fine never eased my mind for the next time.)

During the reception I even got to be another pair of hands for Whim's sister, who has a baby and a toddler.  Those days are so relentless, and I'm happy to be in a place where I can trust my own kids enough to let them be and help a loved one with hers, instead.

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