Hands-Free Mama is a blog by Rachel Macy Stafford about parenting with attention and grace. Every time I read it, I feel a bit inspired, and a bit inadequate. Her blog is often about slowing down to take life at a child’s pace. Watching the world through your children’s eyes. Realizing every child is also a person, albeit with less experience and coordination. When I remember that, it’s easier to understand why they get frustrated sometimes.
I, however, have no excuse.
Slowing down is hard for me. I like to call myself driven, focused, determined. When I decided to go to medical school, I was picking a career where these traits were advantageous. Unfortunately, I left that career two years ago to heal from chronic migraines. Personalities are hard to change, and the traits stuck with me.
Now, I call them impatience.
A few days ago, my son (names have been withheld to protect the innocent) was getting ready for school. Depending on his current rate of growth, eating breakfast can take three minutes or fifteen. If he’s not hungry, the bowl of oatmeal is suddenly the most entertaining thing in the world. Often we are serenaded by random, silly songs that come somewhere from the depths of his amazing brain. The word “banana” is a regular feature. It’s funny and endearing. It drives me crazy.
Now we’re running late, and it’s time to brush teeth. Whereupon, he stands at the sink for two minutes, singing to his toothbrush.
Now we’re really late. Putting shoes on becomes a monumental task, like packing for an Everest expedition. Can’t find shoes. Have to talk him through tying them—not because he doesn’t know how to do it, but because he’s frustrated now, too.
That morning, I decided not to have the battle about the jacket. If he wanted to freeze, fine.
He looked at me strangely when I said that. Thought about it for a few seconds. And put on his jacket.
So on the one hand, I finally got him out the door, and for the first time since the weather turned cold, he had on a jacket. I should have been happy with that. We were only a few minutes late, when all was said and done. On the other hand, I couldn’t let it go. The glass was half empty. We were a few minutes late, and I hate being late. Instead of looking at the minutes we all spent sleeping in on the first day back after a three day weekend, I focused on the dilly-dallying over breakfast and the teeth brushing.
If brushing teeth is what pushes you over the edge to being late, you weren’t all that on time to begin with.
I am embarrassed to say I spent most of the car ride letting out my frustration. Otherwise known as yelling at my kid. I thought my intentions were good: he just needed discipline. Structure. High standards. If we tell him to brush his teeth right away, he should just brush his teeth. But while I was laying down the law, what I was really thinking was, He’s too slow in the morning, so I’m a failure as a parent.
I was parenting through fear of inadequacy. Discipline devolves into yelling when I don’t know what to do.
Reading Hands-Free Mama reminds me, every child is somebody’s child. Well, my child is somebody’s child: Mine. I realized there might be a reason I didn’t know what to do: Maybe there wasn’t anything about my son that needed fixing.
He’s eight. He’s full of energy, and ideas, and crazy songs that sometimes just come out, even when he should be brushing his teeth. He is not like me. And really, why would I want him to be? Who wants to wake up and automatically approach the morning like a grind to get through as fast as possible?
This is the most beautiful thing about him. He still enjoys mornings. So much that he sings at the breakfast table. And I was trying to discipline it out of him.
For years, I woke up, showered, ate, brushed teeth, made my lunch, and was out the door in fifteen minutes. It’s ludicrous to get anyone to rush through the morning at my pace much less a readily-distracted and exuberant eight-year old.
The solution, we have all decided, is to get up a few minutes earlier. Make the lunches the night before. Sit down and eat as a family, which we are incredibly lucky to be able to do. My husband works from home, and for the moment, I’m home, too. These are precious years, and I’m rushing through them as if I’m still in a race to get a degree.
Now, when my son tells jokes at the table, we don’t tell him to eat faster. We laugh at them.
We have been following this plan for a week, and I’m happy to report that our mornings are going much better now. It took me a week to post this because it’s so hard to admit when I’m wrong. But part of growing is learning from our mistakes, even as a parent. Maybe especially as a parent.