I have a low tolerance level for many things in life, and apparently am not shy about expressing this. In share houses over the years, before I married, there were many running jokes about my scathing statements of disbelief at the actions of others (normally my friends or flatmates), and while I still maintain that many of my comments were warranted (particularly about the infamous exploding dish of sausages incident) most of the time it just served to remind me that I can have a short fuse and a cutting tongue (and, of course, to try and temper it). For a long time this amused me (I was young and arrogant). Then I became a parent, and it worried me. I have clear memories of sitting with a neighbour (who seemed to have her life together) and confessing that I felt that all I did was yell at my children. She sensibly questioned whether that was in fact true, and helped me to see that I wasn’t operating in a state of constant anger, but I certainly worried about it all the time.
Fast forward 7 years or so, and I have realised that I have changed. On Monday, whilst my son was having a meltdown, I ended up with an injury to my hand that required a trip to the emergency department. (Nothing broken, just sprained.) In conversation with an acquaintance she asked how I managed to keep my cool, and not punish my son for his actions, and I realised that at no point during this incident had I yelled at him. This old dog (purely in the sense of abusing the clichéd phrase) has learnt new tricks.
Raising my children has helped me to mature and grow in many ways, but I think the most valuable lessons have come from facing the challenges that raising my boy brings. He has helped me to learn some important lessons, and change my behaviour. At the moment I am most conscious of three gifts he has given me:
1. Controlling my temper and emotions.
When dealing with a child having a meltdown, punishment is not the answer. Angry words used to a child who is already in sufficient pain to be raging against the world will cause more damage than they solve. Reacting in anger is just throwing fuel on an already well burning fire. Providing reassurance, security and support, and looking for the source of their pain has better short and long term effects, and leaves you feeling better about yourself (win, win!) None of this is rocket science, but so many of our reactions as humans, formed through our own life experiences, are habitual, so changing those habits is tricky. Having a child who doesn’t respond to your habitual responses either makes or breaks you I think! In my case I had to learn new responses.
2. Knowing what my priorities are.
If you have your priorities clear, decision making becomes easy. (Yes, I know that is obvious but it has taken me a long time to get that sorted in my own head.) Today a former colleague (and still friend) asked if I wanted a job with a great organisation doing work I would enjoy. After two seconds of thinking ‘that would be great’ I calmly explained that I can’t do that, as my boy needs me, my girls need me, and I can’t ask my parents to take on the level of responsibility that being a full time carer to my boy requires. And it was okay to say that. I didn’t have to fake being calm about that decision. (Ginormous step forward! No furiously planning which strategies could be put in place to make it all happen, whilst juggling 5000 balls in the air. Just acceptance that this is not the right time.)
This last discovery will shock my old friends. It appears that I have learnt to be patient. Well, more of the time than I used to. This week I can’t sew, can’t paint, can’t crochet, and can’t attend to a whole list of things I want to be doing because of my injured hand. Instead of fretting, feeling frustrated, or whinging about it, I have accepted that my plans have to be on hold for a while. This is a big change for me! I have chosen to see it as time to do other things, and for the most part that is working out.
Raising a child who sees the world in a different way, and who wears his emotions outside his skin so he feels raw and bruised much of the time is hard, and it wears me down. But honestly, it has been the making of me. A number of people have told me that he is lucky to have me as his mum, but they have it wrong. I am lucky to have him as my son. He has made me a better person, and definitely a better parent.
As a final note, and in keeping with the theme of teaching old dogs new tricks, we are currently minding a friend’s Labrador for a month, and Dottie, our insane and aging terrier, who was so traumatized by our last attempt to bring a new dog into the home, is coping! I have long thought that giving my boy his own dog to care for and play with would be great therapy – and so far that is proving true. I see another dog on our horizon!
I hope that you are well, and finding good in the rough patches of life.