A loud noise reverberated from the next room over.
You’re a parent, so you know. You know the fears that run through your mind when there’s a BANG somewhere, and your child is also… somewhere.
Of course I was in the shower. Heaven forbid I make it peacefully through a whole shower.
I listened for crying. No. Probably no one was injured.
I stepped out of the shower and dried off, just in time.
Just in time to see my naked 5 year old run into the bathroom.
Covered head to toe in orange paint.
And the carpet was also bright orange, leading from the bathroom back to his play area. I plopped my son into the bathtub and then turned the corner to see where the bang had come from.
I never found out what actually caused the bang.
The floor was a giant puddle of orange paint. The table was also covered in orange. A nearby room divider, orange. Chairs, orange.
How did I react to all of this? Was I angry? Sad? Disappointed? Overwhelmed?
It can seem like our jobs as parents is to find out what our kids want and declare whether or not they get to have it.
YES or NO, we decree.
This is a great and heady power.
We default to no.
Then one NO accidentally slips into no no no no no no no no no….
To know this, all you have to do is listen.
One day I paid close attention, and this is what I heard myself saying to my toddler:
And that was just 20 minutes in the kitchen during breakfast! Imagine how the rest of the day sounded!
The life of a child is overrun with barriers and boundaries every step of the way. The no’s are...
That’s my name for today. My son Dylan is 6 years old, and he’s pissed at me, and he’s decided to call me Life Ruiner.
He’s not just saying, “You’re a life ruiner.”
He is literally addressing me as if my name were Life Ruiner.
“I’m going downstairs to watch TV, Life Ruiner.” “Will you make me some lunch, Life Ruiner?”
You’re probably thinking it’s funny. Okay, it’s definitely a little bit funny.
But we’ve been struggling the last few days, and he’s been expressing a lot of anger, and he’s been saying he doesn’t love me and that he doesn’t want to be around me. And so my feelings are hurt. Like, not just “tell him my feelings are hurt so he will understand the effect of his words.” My heart is legitimately heavy, and I feel like shit about the whole thing.
When Dylan does something I don’t like, I have a fork in the road ahead of me. I...
My son and I recently visited a Waffle House where it’s a lot of fun to watch your food being made right in front of you.
We decided to try some of the food at home.
Dylan shouted out his order, and I tried to make hash browns, cheesy eggs, and deep fried French fries (not an actual Waffle House food!) as good as you’d get at any greasy diner.
I’d even holler out “Order Up!” when the food was ready.
But I’m not a short order cook.
Dylan can’t drive, which puts me in the driver’s seat for helping get his out-of-the-house needs met. I take him to the grocery store, to recreational activities, to his friends’ houses, and to Walmart on allowance day.
But I’m not a chauffeur.
I do a lot of cleaning on Dylan’s behalf. I wash his dishes. I do his laundry. The older he gets the more he picks up after himself. But I still pick up after him quite a bit.
But I’m not a maid.
Usually when you hear a parent lament that they...
That’s right, I absolutely NEVER punish my child. If I’m being completely honest I did punish him once, I guess just to give it a try. It felt so completely wrong that I’ve never even been tempted again, and that was 3 years ago.
Pissed off parents have no shortage of punishments to choose from. There’s spanking, of course, or the ever-popular time out. There’s grounding your kids, taking away things that they like (that’s the one I tried), or forcing them to do something unpleasant.
If you’re looking around for justification for punishing your child, you’ll find that, too.
But there’s another radical option. It involves having a connected, cooperative relationship with your child instead. I know. Far out, huh?
To have the kind of relationship where you come together in joy, you have to give up punishments. You just do. Punishment has no place in a family.
Let’s talk through the reasons I don’t punish my child and why...
Learning to parent with connection is the most important thing you can do as a parent. In some ways it’s the magic spell that - POOF - makes everything better. But…. (you knew there was a but coming, right?) connection is so different from how we may be used to relating that it can be hard to pull off at first.
I’ve broken it down for you to make it easier for you to know where to start.
Connection comes in three layers. These are three different ways to think about connection. When you stack them together over time, they make the magic happen.
Let’s start with the BIG one - your core connection.
Parenting with connection starts with a strong foundation. This is the basic sense of positivity running through your relationship.
I call it your Core Connection. It’s the strongest feelings you share with your child. The mutual emotional space you share together. The constant sense you have about each other no matter what is going on.
I don’t let teachers coerce my child.
He was not forced to read at the developmentally inappropriate kindergarten age. He is not forced to suffer through the equivalence of a full time job just to be educated according to politicians’ guidelines.
I don’t let other people coerce my child.
I tell him that his body belongs to him and that he sets the rules. I give him the language to respond to people who are trying to get him to do things he doesn’t want to do.
I don’t coerce my child.
We work together on bedtimes and the contents of meals and what kind of clothes he will wear. For things he “has” to do, like those related to health and safety, I have a vast commitment to cooperation, and we figure out something that works for both of us.
And there’s one other person who is not allowed to coerce my child.
It’s the future, hypothetical version of him.
This is a tricky concept, but stick with me a minute.
You’re out in public with your child. (Horror movie music begins.)
A restaurant. The park. The grocery store. (Dun-dun-dun.)
Your child does things that kids do. Some of them are loud or messy or angry or tearful or violent or rude. (Gasp!)
Your mind fills with the imagined expectations from other people. You think they think you should be stricter with your child. Keep them under more control. Stop spoiling them.
You may be right about what those people think.
Everyone has an opinion on how to parent. If you agree with me, then your ideas of what makes a supported, nurtured childhood are very different from the mainstream.
You cannot please those people.
There is no heroic parental magic trick that will sail you through this moment to receive the unadulterated praise of your audience.
You are going to fail at parenting.
At the moment you feel the piercing gaze of the disapproving judges, you have already failed.
Accepting this, embracing this, becoming at one with and at...
I was walking up the stairs behind my son one day and he was going SO SLOWLY!
I wanted to tell him to hurry up!
Or maybe I would try to push past him and go on ahead.
I have no idea what I was in such a hurry to get to, but I felt something a little bit like rage building up inside me. Not my best day, I guess!
On a whim, I started counting the seconds in my head. It’s an old coping mechanism for any time I have to wait.
I got to 7 before we got to the top of the stairs. Well, awesome! That didn’t take that long after all.
A few days later, I was helping him out of the car. He wanted to pause to put his shoes on, even though we were going straight into the house. Couldn’t he just grab them and go on in? There was that feeling again. I started counting.
I got to 8.
There are other times in our lives where the waiting is much longer. Baths sometimes seem to take forever! I have to use that time to do something else.
But what I’m talking about here are...
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