As we approach the half-way point of summer vacation, we're all burned out. Too much parent-child and sibling-sibling together time, too little creative flow, and it's not helped along by 106 degree days and an air conditioning system that can't support the size of our home (thanks, previous owners!). Mama is cranky, the kids are bickering and whining, and everybody is just DONE.
Today while my husband takes the kids to the blessedly-indoor, totally-kid-friendly rec center pool, I'm restoring my mojo so that I can go into the next week with a renewed sense of energy and patience. A little laundry and housecleaning (organized home = clutter-free mind, ahhh), a little back-to-basics for my parenting ideals, and a little time without kids clinging to me and begging for treats.
I almost hate to admit it, but I have still never managed to read Alfie Kohn's Unconditional Parenting cover-to-cover. It seems like the best books are the ones that I can never find time to read when I really need them. While searching for something else, I stumbled upon the image on the left, which led me to a 2009 New York Times article, "When a Parent’s ‘I Love You’ Means ‘Do as I Say'" (a sentiment with which I am altogether too familiar). Tha author? None other than Mr. Kohn. Good reminder of my core values. I would recommend it both to parents who already believe that "unconditional parenting" is something to strive for, as well as those who currently favor time-outs and other mainstream parenting methods based in punishments and rewards. Once again, UP is at the top of my neverending to-read list.
One thing I'm hoping to glean from reading the book is an idea of what the hell to do when I really, really want or need obedience. I tend to stress family collaboration and gentle guidance over a "do what I say, when I say it" approach, and I'm completely on board with the long-term benefits of this, both in terms of raising indepedent, moral, responsible adults and also ixn terms of establishing and preserving a health relationship between parents and children. The thing is, sometimes I need (want?) people to just DO WHAT I SAY. Sometimes my patience runs out for explaining something for the millionth time, or waiting forever for a seat belt to be buckled. Sometimes I need a kid to just plain STOP PESTERING HIS BROTHERS. NOW. Setting limits is important, yes. Setting realistic limits - those that are age-appropriate and not excessively controlling - is key. And we have those limits. But how do you enforce those limits without shaming, blaming, nagging, yelling, punishing, or rewarding? How do you avoid getting angry and mean with a kid who is pushing your buttons in hundred-plus-degree heat for the eight thousandth time this week? Can you have your disciplinary cake and eat it, too?
A new resource to me (new, as in, just found it today) is Aha! Parenting, created by Dr. Laura Markham (no, not that other awful Dr. Laura). I'm hoping it can be a practical, dip-into-as-needed companion to an underlying foundation of compassionate parenting. Her two-point philosophy meshes well with mine:
1. Children who feel connected WANT to cooperate. They need guidance -- limits with empathy when necessary -- but never punishment. When they can't connect and cooperate, it's because they need our help with their emotions.
2. Job One for parents is managing our own emotions, so we can help our children manage theirs.
YES YES YES, although I might put #2 first, it's that important. Handling your own emotional shit - both the in-the-moment stuff and the old-baggage stuff - is quite possibly the most important part of being a parent. Or of just being an adult. THE MOST IMPORTANT. Everything else - literally, everything - flows from that.
Ok, so back to my current too-hot, too-bored, too-grumpy family: I was surprised to see that Dr. Laura, in an article about the importance of boredom for children, suggests that when a kid whines about being bored, you give them your undivided attention and some connection for five minutes. What? I'm fully on board with not overscheduling kids, as suggested previously in the article. We keep extracurriculars to a minimum and typicaly don't do "summer camp" types of programs. But I was under the impression that telling a kid to go make their own fun, and not giving them a ton of attention, was constructive when a kid is bored. What Markham is suggesting is not that we solve their boredom issue, but just that we check in with them, refill their emotional tank. And that is exactly what I have not been doing enough lately. It's hard to connect with kids when you are also too-hot, too-bored, and too-grumpy, but that's exactly when it's time to go back to Job #1, get over your hot/bored/grumpy shit, and tune in. If they want more, it's probably because they need more. If they're filled up, they'll be able to entertain themselves.
Except for boredom issue #2: screen time. Yeah, in theory, we limit it. And in practice, it's hard to stick with that during a hot hot HOT summer. It's easy to say yes to one more video or computer game. And that's when Markham blew my mind for a second time. I know about neurotransmitters. I know that we can get addicted to things like carbohydrates, which give our brains these little boosts of dopamine that makes us feel oh so good and make us crave more. I didn't know that "electronics (Ipads, phones, computers, video games) are designed to produce little “dopamine” rewards in our brains as we interact with them. This “screen time” can be so enjoyable that other experiences pale in comparison." There's my Aha! moment. You really can be addicted to video games, even when they're played in moderation. And kids who regularly use electronics are more likely to feel bored than children who don't. Wowza. We need to do something to break that addiction.
All right, but what about the things that drive us to say OK to screen time, to begin with? Long days spent inside due to heat advisories, kids who are inactive, bored, and bickering, touched-out parents. How do you keep everybody's tank full and your own needs covered when you have SO MUCH time together, without resorting to the screen? Those screens are a tempting solution when everybody needs some down time and won't stop picking at each other, or when a tired parent wants to be left alone for a while.
I think perhaps I'm focusing too much on the what-do-we-do-once-we're-stuck and not enough on preventing getting stuck to begin with, maybe? From an Aha! article: "if he seems hellbent on trouble, he's asking for your help." Yeah. I know this. It should probably be my mantra for a while. It's not about obedience. It's about feeling connected enough to each other, whole enough, so that we feel good cooperating with each other and finding interesting things to do.
What are your summertime mantras? What keeps everybody's tank full so that you don't run into the touched-out, worn-out, too-bored crankies? What helps everybody to co-exist peacefully?