Respond to the situation.
How do you respond to your child? How response-able are you? How good are you at responding to situations?
Not as good as you’d like to be, I’m sure. I know I’m not as good at responding to situations as I’d like to be.
And there’s a simple reason for this. Instead of responding, I start reacting. Instead of treating each situation as an individual incident, I treat it as an episode in an ongoing series.
Human beings are made this way. That’s how we learn things, how we distinguish patterns, how we form habits.
But if I want to enjoy a fulfilling relationship with my child, it would be worth it for me not to be a slave to my brain. I am more than my brain and habits, just as you are more than your brain and habits.
If I, as an adult, cannot respond instead of reacting, I have no right to expect my child to respond. I should be happy when she reacts – after all, that’s what I’m doing! So we both just keep reacting – to history, ancient history and patterns, till we are totally out of sync with the present, with reality. And we’ve thoroughly ruined our relationship.
Why? Because I’m not ‘grown up’ enough, adult enough, to respond instead of reacting!
I see my child come home with her lunch not eaten, and instead of enquiring why, I burst out: “Again! You haven’t had your lunch again! You should starve for a few days. Then you’ll know…”
If she’s in a good mood, she shuffles her feet and waits till the storm passes. “A few boys from my class broke some school property, so the entire class was hauled up during break. We were being scolded so we didn’t get a chance to eat. And I didn’t eat in the bus coming back because I’d rather eat fresh hot food at home than the food that’s been lying in my lunch bag all day.”
Sheepish silence from me. What can I say? I should have asked calmly why she hadn’t eaten. Then I’d have known the reason, and I could have responded (with a resounding: “Great! 🙂 I too, would much rather that you had hot fresh food at home than the food that’s been lying in your lunch bag all day!”) instead of reacting as I did.
“I’m sorry,” I mumble, “I didn’t know…”
If she’s in a bad mood, she stomps off, and then we’re both mad at each other. I feel I am the injured party, and she feels she has the right to be in a foul mood (“I’m starving because I couldn’t eat, and now my mom’s freaking out without knowing what she’s talking about!”).
What we agree upon is: “She just doesn’t understand…” 🙂
Forget about whether or not I’m setting a good example for my daughter. Every time I react rather than respond, I create a barrier between us.
Every time you react instead of respond to your child, you create a barrier between yourself and your child.
Your child feels:
1. Untrustworthy (“You don’t trust me enough to handle the situation well…”)
2. Misunderstood (“There’s a good reason this happened, if only you’ll give me a chance to explain…”)
3. Hurt (“Why is your first reaction the most unflattering one, as if I can’t be expected to do anything right?”)
4. Irritated (“Can’t I even make a mistake?”)
5. Judged (“One right or wrong response is not the final word on the kind of person I am…”)
6. Stifled (“Why am I always expected to come up with the right answer? It’s not the end of the world if I’m not ‘perfect’…”)
7. Burdened (“You expect too much from me all the time…”)
8. Distanced (“You’re not on my side; you don’t cut me any slack. If you say I’m a child, then you must make allowances for the fact that I don’t know as much as you do, so I won’t respond the same way you would have under the same circumstances.”)
9. Invalidated – (“You don’t care about me as a person – my interests, my feelings, what I want. All you want is a carbon copy of yourself, or a ‘perfect’ child so you can look like the best parent in the world.”)
It’s hard to respond. We’re all in a hurry. We simply don’t have the time and mindspace to consider each incident in detail. Also, we’ve learnt to make assumptions about things and people. And we act (react, actually) based on those assumptions. And we end up pushing our children away from us.
It’s time to pause, take a deep breath, give your child the benefit of the doubt, and ask gently, “Why did you…?”
This leaves room for your child to answer your question, for conversation, for explanations (from your child! 🙂 ). And you continue to be connected, and to communicate with your child.
Over the past few days, I’ve shared with you what I believe are the 5 cornerstones of parenting today:
1. Ask – ask questions.
2. Be – be who you are.
3. Do – do things with your child.
4. Explain – explain what is going on.
5. Respond – respond to the situation.
I’m sure applying these basics will put the excitement and connection back in your relationship with your child. I’d love to hear the ideas you came up with and how they helped you get out of a rut you might have been stuck in. Do share! 🙂