Being a parent is hard work.
Besides the physical exhaustion that accompanies keeping them alive (the constant eating!) our hearts, souls and feelers can get a bit beat up, too.
I aspire to be a kind, compassionate mother who patiently listens to her children when they’re struggling. I want to listen with my ears and my heart because being a kid is hard work, too.
I want to help them know that whatever they’re feeling is alright with me, but bad feelings don’t give us a pass to treat other people or property poorly.
I want to gently remind, graciously nudge, and positively guide.
This is what I want.
And you know what?
Sometimes, it does happen.
About a week ago, it wasn’t happening in the least.
My older boys (ages 8 and 6) didn’t have school and so we were all home together (along with my 3-year-old daughter) for a “stay-at-home-day” which are supposed to be light-hearted, fun and one of cornerstones of the glorious memories of their youth.
It had devolved into a total shitshow by 10 am.
In less than 3 waking hours, my kids had managed to nitpick, whine, argue, all-out-fight, and disrespect each other to my total dismay.
My nerves were shot.
I had tried my patient methods.
When they failed, I turned to firmer language and even a grab of the shoulders.
When that failed, I resorted to going full-fledged psycho mom screaming in the garage so loud that I’m certain my neighbors could hear me.
I cried from sheer frustration.
Then I did something about it.
I went to my amazing group of women in the Groove Seekers Community on Facebook. I shot a quick video pleading with them for ideas and like the tribe they are, they delivered.
Not only did they affirm me for asking for help, they reassured me that I’m not batshit crazy. Many of them had nothing to offer for help but lots of heart emojis and rally cries of “I’ve SO been there”.
Kids push. Moms crumble. It happens.
Because they offered up such a beautiful list of ideas that once my head cooled and my heart softened I could actually consider implementing, I figured their brilliance isn’t something I should hoard.
So the next time you’re struggling with kids that won’t stop fighting and they can’t seem to conjure up a single word of decency towards one another, try one of the following ideas. (Or hell, try them all!)
Focus on the positives
This sounds like a bit of a platitude but the advice came in more specific forms
- In the past, I’ve had the boys write letters sharing at least 10 things they love about the other. You could have them draw it out, too.
- My friend Sandy shared this: “When my girls would get out of hand, I would forbid them from speaking to each other and to me. Complete silence – and if they did choose to speak, the only words they could speak had to be in the form of a compliment to the person they were speaking to. Nothing but compliments. Pretty quiet in the beginning, but once the ice broke… compliments would soon come… some good, others ridiculously silly – we would often end up laughing at things that were said and the mood would be taken from dark/angry to light/laughter… which is always the best medicine.”
- If that isn’t brilliant, I don’t know what is. I LOVED this idea.
- Deanne said: “My kids are older so what has helped change ways of thinking is focusing on the idea of ‘tell me something good’. I don’t let them put themselves or each other down and if they do, they have to do something good for the other. Just trying to focus on the good is helping.“
- Mindy offered: “The best thing I can tell you is to totally acknowledge what is going right in the situation. It may be hard but there is a little molecule of something there and use that molecule and verbally recognize both children for that small tidbit!”
- Molly added: “Also agree with finding a positive to praise the hell out of…even if it’s something minute.“
- So there it is. Lead with praise. I know this and yet, when everything seems to be going to total crap, it’s hard to do. Mindy followed her comment with “In this instance, maybe the fact that they are communicating with each other (and before you think I am crazy I know it’s not in the matter you would like) but after this incident you will now look for any time that they are communicating with you or each other in the way you expect and verbally recognize them for that! It’s also okay to acknowledge the fact that the way they are communicating is not okay but try to breathe and come from a place of support saying “What this is telling me is that you need space from each other. How would you two like to go about giving each other space?”
- If I felt able to do this, I’d totally do it. Mindy is a Nurtured Heart practitioner, which is a program another friend, Jessica, recommended based on her experience with it. Our school uses this program. Here’s a brief (super brief!) overview:
- The Nurtured Heart Approach utilizes 3 Stands™ which when committed to, become a powerful means of transforming children:
- Stand #1. Absolutely No! I refuse to give my time, energy, and relationships to them in animated ways. I will reserve my time and energy for searching for success.
- Stand #2. Absolutely Yes! I will relentlessly and strategically pull the child into new patterns of success. I will constantly recognize the success and achievement that children are displaying no matter how small and present them with clear undeniable evidence of their value and how great they are.
- Stand #3. Absolutely Clear! I will have clear and consistent consequences for children when a rule has been broken. “Here are the rules, and here’s what happens when you break a rule.”
- Doesn’t that sound empowering? I’ve always thought it sounded amazing. I just haven’t taken the time to do it. I’m changing that. Right now. Read on to learn more. You can get in on it, too!
- No. No one told me I could freely beat them. Sorry to disappoint you. (Read all of that in sarcasm font, if you can’t see it for what it is.)
- An amazing idea came from Kelly: “One of my best tricks was when the boys were fighting and I couldn’t take it anymore is we would make them do laps around the house outside. They NEVER actually finished all the laps but by halfway through they were either teaming up to see how they could trick us into not knowing they hadn’t finished the laps or they forgot what they were fighting about and moved on. It worked great because of the shock value of being booted outside to do laps in whatever you can grab for clothes in about 2 minutes. This didn’t work every time but was my go-to for years. Even when driving. I’d pull over and make them do laps around the car.”
- Kelly is my mom hero. She ended her post with this: “Day drinking sometimes helps too! (Kidding not kidding)“
- Nicole shared: “My husband has actually put the two that happened to be fighting in one of his shirts and made them sit there closely and work it out. It works and turns into a funny moment eventually.”
- Along the same vein, another idea was to make them work it out in a spot where they physically had to stand close face to face.
Take Things Away
- I loved this idea from Julie: “I used to “take away” their brother (or sister). You don’t get your brother back until you can be nice to him. But taking away their favorite toy, game, privilege, etc. worked the best for me. Car keys are like a genie in a bottle once they start driving.”
- Filing the car keys thing away for future reference.
- Another friend, Mallory, takes away her attention. She said: “I bought myself a pair of noise-canceling headphones. And seriously when I’m at that point where nothing works and they aren’t listening to a damn word I say, I put them on with some good jams and completely ignore them. Once they realize that I’m not listening to them or helping them with a damn thing they usually come around. Now they know when I bring the headphones out that I’m checked out and they better shape up.“
- Annie does something similar: “I usually put on a pair of bright earmuffs as a visual signal to my kids that I can’t take their screaming/whining.“
Create a Different Future
- Eventually, I sat them down and asked the boys the following questions:
- How do you want to show up in the world? (Also posted by my friend Tracy!)
- What kind of household do you want to have?
- How do you want to be treated at home?
- With their answers, we came up with a list of Undem Family Values. Now, when they’re being jerks (because we can all be jerks sometimes) I can point back to this list (that they helped create) and ask which value they’re breaking.
- Our list included: Respect (we show care and concern for people, feelings, and property) and Kindness (we speak with love and patience). Those two alone can address a lot of our ongoing issues.
- Beth asked me in the thread if I’d actually lost my mind and screamed at them. I had and I told her so. I told her that I don’t like who I am when I lose my mind. She replied with, “I feel it’s important that kids see us as moms with emotion. They need to know that we not only laugh, but we cry and get upset too. If they understand what makes us go nuts and that it’s sometimes them, then they know not to cross that line. My mom always had this look before she got super mad…I adopted that and my kids know “the look” and stop before I have to go over the line. Then they learn some boundaries as well. They have meltdowns…and we do too, we don’t need to hide them all the time.”
- I’ll add in here that I agree with her. I’m human. I mess up. And if I truly do mess up and say things I don’t mean or act in a way that’s not productive, I have a beautiful opportunity to demonstrate what humility and contrition look like by asking for their forgiveness.
Keep it in Perspective
It appears that one of the big ways to shift our thinking about these tough days is to give ourselves loads of grace. And take care of ourselves. And ask for help.
- As Kristi said, “Remember, it won’t always be this way. Prayer and family time will help them realize the importance.“
- Tiffany added, “Kids are inclined to be jerks. Just because they treat each other badly doesn’t mean they don’t love each other.”
- According to Erica, “Sometimes, it’s all about survival.“
- So maybe grabbing a glass of wine and turning your favorite Netflix series is the ticket.
And I’d add the fact that you care enough to read a post like this suggests you’re a damn good mom already. You care about them. If you didn’t, their bad behavior wouldn’t disappoint you like it does.
I hope you found these tidbits to be helpful. Let me tell you how uplifted and supported I felt by asking this group of powerhouses how to cope.
I felt shameful about my lack of control but I know that shame only remains shame when we keep it in the dark. When we openly talk about our struggles, the light comes crashing through and makes everything better. Provided, of course, you’re sharing with real, caring, loving and supportive people. My friend Patty used to say “Don’t throw your pearls to the swine.” That’s a paraphrase of a saying from Jesus himself. We probably ought to take heed.
Finally, I’d like to invite you to participate in the opportunity to learn the Nurtured Heart Approach my friend Mindy teaches. She’s graciously offered a virtual training series and you can find that information here.
I’m signing up. No more putting it off. There are too many opportunities being missed because I’m lacking this training.
I honestly believe having these skills will help me be the mom I outlined at the start of this post. The kind of mom I aspire to be.
Well, at least more of the time. I’m still human after all.