Lately, I’ve been in conflict with my older daughter quite a lot. That’s a lofty way of saying I’ve been picking fights with an almost three-year-old – as ridiculous as a lot of the stuff we’ve actually been clashing over.
Three things are going on here. One is that Talitha is going through enormous leaps in how she reasons things, views herself and understands the world. I can scarcely get my head around the emotional and neurological changes taking place before my eyes.
She’s in this amazing space between baby and older child. She is exploring more, experimenting more, pushing boundaries and asserting her own will.
She is also trying to adjust to having a baby sister. Though completely in love with Ophelia, always gentle with her and, even now, pretty excited about her, it must be a bit scary and confusing no longer being the baby – and suddenly having to share her mother.
On my side of things, I’m adjusting to looking after her while also meeting the all-encompassing needs of a newborn. I end up saying “no” more often than I know is healthy.
“No” becomes a reflex, a punctuation mark in the pattern of negativity between us. Since she’s growing up, she doesn’t just go with it.
It turns out I’m not raising a robot. She’s a flesh and blood human being who demands that we relate. More relating happens behind “No, Mummy!” than “Yes, Mistress.”
As I’ve learned when she was a new baby, so I’m learning again: the answer is usually to slow down. I really do believe that this is the key to being able to say “no” less and “yes” more.
I forget sometimes because I’m tired or overwhelmed or just feeling a bit lazy. So I’m reminding myself of what it means to slow down your parenting.
Be careful what you commit to
Rushing to get out of the door, overtired toddler at the end of an overpacked day, feeling like she is a distraction from things that need to get done – all of these are signs for me that I am overcommitting.
That I need to slow down our days and say “no” to other things so I can say “yes” to her (and myself!) more.
In my situation as a (very part time) work at home mother, I have a lot of freedom to do that. But I still get sidetracked by what we “should” be doing according to our timetable rather than what I can stop and see my children need – which incidentally often goes hand in hand with what I need.
This one is really challenging for me. Slowing down my parenting requires that I do the grown-up thing of being a little more organised than I’m naturally inclined to be.
It might mean packing the bag the night before so I’m not rushing about like a mad thing in the morning. It might be getting us all dressed as soon as we wake up so there’s lots of time to spare. It might mean leaving a longer time to walk somewhere, toddler pace.
I’ve been struck recently by how much I hate being rushed to leave the house (though I’ll admit I do need gentle encouragement) and yet I can be quick to hurry Talitha up.
Take time to calm down and respond
It’s all very well and good knowing what I should have done in advance but in the midst of a tantrum, what now? Ninety-nine per cent of the time, the best move is to slow down.
Sometimes this means holding her until she’s calm. She can’t hear anything while she’s crying. Sometimes it means holding my tongue until I can think clearly about what I want to do. This is hard for me because I am reactionary by nature.
I do think it’s important to express my feelings and to be honest with her but a lot of damage can be done in the heat of the moment.
When faced with challenging behaviour or simply unexpected behaviour, slowing down may just mean taking a moment to ask myself whether I really need to say “no” to this. More often than not, when I do this I realise there’s a lot that I can say “yes” to.
A lot of her choices may seem strange to my grown-up mind but they’re not necessarily wrong as a result.
If it does need to be a “no”, there’s usually a more creative way to say it. Talitha’s shoes often make their way to the rack by starting to talk: “Oh no! We need to go home. Help us, help us!” Or getting down to her level, explaining the situation, listening to her side and trying to arrive at a solution together.
“No” is sometimes necessary but it does more harm than good when it becomes a verbal tick, which it does when I don’t take my time.
Reflect on what you’re doing
Being too busy and keeping life hectic can mean that I make no time to figure things out. So I’ll put the girls to bed and think “Ugh. I hate what I did today. Today was so stressful.”
Yet I don’t always stop to think about how it could have been different. And so follows another day with much repetition.
I will get things wrong and there will be things beyond my control. This is not a quest for perfection but an opportunity to keep learning.
Take care of yourself
Whenever life feels frantic, it’s usually a time when I’m not getting any time alone to recharge so I have the resources to meet the needs of the people I love.
I used to think that I needed a lot of alone time to refresh and to connect with God. I’m learning now that I can find what I need even in small increments of time, that what I do with the time I have matters more than how much of it there is.
I’m also accepting that taking care of myself includes forgiving myself when it all goes wrong and when I don’t act as I want to.
I may have double the mother guilt now that I have two children but they also give me twice the reasons to let it go.
What about you? Have you been finding ways to slow it down recently?