When my daughter asked another question, I felt like I might lose it. Instead, I stopped to look at her in the eyes and said, “You know what I just realized? I am feeling impatient at how long it’s taking us in the store. The reason is that I am so hungry. I can’t answer any more questions now, because I am hungry. How about we go eat lunch, and then I will feel better and can answer more questions?”
What was most interesting about this moment was how easily I could forgive my short-tempered behavior or my disengaged shopping. Yes, my behavior was less-than-wonderful, but I was hungry. As I reflected on the moment, it dawned on me: Do we expect more our children than we do of ourselves?
Consider these moments…
Do we expect our children to wake up, chipper, ready to greet the day with a bright and cheerful smile? I love the snooze button, and need a good 30 minutes out of bed with caffeine before I’m ready to talk.
Do we expect our children to adore playing side-by-side with their siblings or peers all day long, squabble free? I get tired of being with people, and need space for quiet.
Do we expect our children to share and act generously when they fear their toys might get taken away? We all worry when resources are scarce, and that worry often drives us to hold tighter to what we have.
Do we expect our children to go to sleep right when their heads hit the pillow? I take time to wind down with books, television, tea, or mindless games on my phone.
Do we expect our children to “use nice words” or “gentle hands” when they are angry, disappointed, hurt, or lonely? When I’m mad, I need to vent – and my venting is often accompanied by powerful words or actions!
Do we expect children to shove down their tears (It’s okay, don’t cry, you’re okay…) because the reasons they are crying seem – to us – ridiculous? I once cried and loudly pleaded with Costco membership-card-checker at the front door who would not let me in because I was 10 minutes early. (He let me in.)
Here’s the big deal: We give ourselves the space to be cranky, grumpy, sleepy, ornery, or irritable. We excuse our poor behavior and our short tempers as hunger or fatigue. We justify our over-reactions in because we can see our circumstances clearly. That’s because we know what it’s like to be in our skin! Our expectations are in line with our emotional reality.
And that’s the way it should be! I should be gentle with myself when I’m cranky because of hunger. I should designate a window for snoozing if that is what I need to wake up in the morning.
But let’s extend this gift of self-awareness and affirmation to our children! Let’s give our children the same gift that we give to ourselves. Let’s give them space to be human beings with a complex emotional landscape.
Let’s help them find the space to wake up slowly (and grumpily!).
Let’s help children find room to be alone or play with different combinations of children.
Let’s give them the opportunity to be tired of their peers without demanding that “everyone is friends here” all the time.
Let’s help them find ways to protect their toys or their work so they know their pursuits are valid.
Let’s give them tools to wind down and go to sleep at night, and as they grow, let’s increase their autonomy over the process.
Let’s give them socially safe ways to be furious, and let’s allow for powerful language and appropriate places to use it.
Let’s make room for our children to be their authentic selves, gentle enough to partner with them through their emotional lives.
More like this:
- Honoring the Emotional Child
- For the Love of a Tantrum (Darci Walker, Core Parenting)
- Don’t Fight the Feelings (Janet Lansbury, Elevating Childcare)