When I am really doing good,when life has a rhythm and I am not feeling overwhelmed and undermanned, we have a pretty stellar bed time routine. It starts with a clean up time, followed by a bath or shower, jammies on and everyone collects on the couch with bowls of popcorn and we read a story together. Up stairs we go, teeth are brushed and into bed. But that isn't all. The last part is my favorite. We lay together in bed and say the best thing and worst things about our day, we name the things we are thankful for and then I tell each child a moment in the day that I was proud of them.
I would love to say that last part was one of those conscious choices I made to be a good parent, but I would be full of crap. It all started one night that followed a day where I felt like all I did was harp on my kids. I felt like a terrible mom. They felt picked on and sad. I didn't want to end the day that way so I told them things that had made me proud.
The shift in the room was amazing.
Sullen, grumpy children lit up from the inside, there faces flushed and they smiled. I kissed them goodnight and left the room. I felt worse. It was so rare that I compliment my girls, authentically noticing some thing kind or brave or giving that they did, that it felt like a "special thing" to them. Parenting FAIL.
I read an article written by two marriage counselors whose marriage hit a rocky place (irony?!) they realized that they spent many interactions being critical of each other. They decided to do a test. The committed to not be critical for one month. They catch? The other person got to be the judge of weather or not you were criticizing. If they made it the entire day BOTH not being critical, they put a smiley face on the calendar. It revolutionized their marriage. At first, once they chose to be aware, they felt like they had nothing to say to each other. Then they got better at phrasing requests without critique and negativity. Soon it became second nature. It made them stop and think before they spoke.
This shouldn't be a revolutionary concept but somehow it is. The bible talks about this, speaking truth in LOVE, but for some reason we seem to gloss over the fact that love includes respect and kindness. We also seem to believe that children don't get to be treated as well as adults because they are littler and "not in charge".
Even neuroscience knows better. A child's brain that feels safe and secure is better able to connect and process information. A child who feels like their parent is not operating from a place of joy ("I happy to be me, here, with you") starts to put up walls, their brain chemistry changes as their brain floods with costisol (the stress hormone) and they go into a fight or flight state of mind. A brain in this state is intent on self protection, not learning or correctly processing information. When we are overly critical of our kids, we actually KEEP THEM from improving!
My children are not perfect and neither am I. They will need course correction on occasion. Not being critical has nothing to do with false praise or not disciplining. It is a state of being that is concisely kind, that speaks truth surrounded with love and grace and acceptance of the person while guiding the behavior.
My natural bent is to be sharp tongued. I wait for the day when I feel like I have really got this parenting thing nailed. It hasn't come yet. I am renewing my commitment to parent from a place of joy, I will work to be affirming, kind and compassionate. And on the days I royally screw up, I will ask for forgiveness and remember that tomorrow is another day.
My same friend posted this quote, which I love: