I’ve been reading Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Cohn in all my little available moments lately.
My head is a-swarm with thoughts, but one that really stuck out to me from his book was just a short paragraph where he talked about “being the parent,” as in not responding to your two year old’s behavior with two year old behavior. Remembering that we are the adults, and acting our age.
Of course this doesn’t mean not getting down on the floor and playing walruses. This means that when my Almost Three gnashes her teeth and screams at the top of her lungs for me to “Go away!!!” I have to do my best to resist the childish urge to say “Fine, have it your way. Goodbye. Nyah.” I have to be the grown up and quiet my heart and see that although she is screaming at me to go away, she is also clinging hard to my leg, and obviously needs me there. I have to look past the shrieking banshee to whatever fear and confusion is twisting her up. I have to swallow my hurt and my pride, and all my lifetime’s accumulation of my own fear baggage and be Big.
Ooof. Am I really up for this job? Being a mama is so much like birth. Just a drawn out, 18+ year birth. I don’t think I can do it. I had no idea it would be this hard. I had no idea anything could possibly be half this hard. I remember a line from the book Birthing From Within, something like, ‘It hurts like hell, it’s hard as hell, and you can do it.’ I always really liked that as a mantra. I like how it’s an ‘and,’ not a ‘but.’
No less useful for mama-ing, don’t need to change a single word. “It hurts like hell, it’s hard as hell, and I can do it.”
I’ve been really fixating on the idea that first we have to grow ourselves up. A friend has assured me that’s all we can do. Grow yourself up, kiddos will follow. Sounds sound.
Another thing Cohn has briefly touched on, which I think deserves much more attention is the fact that what you say matters, what you do matters even more, but what you truly feel trumps everything. Kids are intuitive little buggers. No lie is gonna get past their razor sharp sensors.
So, not only do you have to speak and demonstrate your unconditional love, compassion and affection for them, but you have to feel it. First.
You can’t make this shit up. You can’t say, “I love you and I know you’re having a hard time right now.” while secretely thinking, ‘You little toad, get off of my foot and stop that shrieking. What the hell’s the matter with you?”
Of course, you can’t just change how you feel, right? You can’t just say, ‘whoops, don’t feel that way, insert this more appropriate feeling.’ But here’s the thing I am reminding myself of, multiple times a day. We are all, not one thing or another, not the Bitch Mom or the Wholesome Mama, but everything all wound up together in a hopeless tangle of mama-ness. You don’t have to lie. You don’t have to obliviate anything.
Just turn towards your sweetness.
I am making a real effort in my days of late to Be The Parent, to take many, many breaths, to look past my own fear and hurt, to be Big and turn toward my sweetness.