We all bomb sometimes. In the last post I tried to give my brain some slack by not over thinking things but also being forgiving of my choices. Less than 24 hours after that, my little dude and I hit a wall and I was thrown eye-ball deep in the muck of parental self-criticism.
See, D and I fall into parent-child feedback loops very often. We push each others buttons and often reflect each others subpar behavior back at one another. Its hard to see it when you are in the midst of it. But every once in a while one of us does something to make that loop visible. And this week, D showed me the loop. It was hard. I knew I was behaving badly and it was effecting him is ways that are so challenging. I am still feeling sad, discourages and even ashamed at my own behavior.
So here is my first time sharing the bad along with the good. And its a rough one.
News flash: sometimes I yell. And lately, D has a favorite activity: irritating and interrupting his little sister who has the capacity to entertain herself, in the very best of ways. He just can’t seem to resist. She’ll be happily chattering away playing with her baby or “cooking” in the kitchen and within minutes D is all up in her jam. He’s in her physical space and mental space. And while that sounds all very normal, it triggers something pretty foundational for me. I was the youngest of four kids and as the youngest I was an easy target for teasing by my older siblings. It’s not uncommon, nor did it ruin me. But when I see D treat his sister that way, it’s like I am 4 years old again and my brother is squishing my stuffed bears head down into its body. I’m too little to know how to fix it, I assumed he’s wrecked it and he’s laughing his head off. Arg. It is infuriating.
So when D harasses his little sister, I respond with the emotion of my 4 year old self. I start the day by trying to gently redirect them. But after of a whole day of nothing but this battle, I am cooked. I finally break. I yell. Loudly. And send him to his room.
At the end of the day, while laying in bed chatting, he almost always expressed remorse for this behavior. I remind him to forgive himself and let him know that tomorrow is a new day and he can try harder then. I also express my remorse for yelling and tell him I’ll try harder tomorrow too. But lately, neither of us can keep our promises. He bugs, I yell, he bugs, I yell and around and around we go.
But then it peaked this week. We had just sat down for dinner and D was working on setting up a grocery store. It was a new and pretty cool activity. I gently asked him to come to the table when he was done. I wanted him to feel like he could finish up what he was doing. He got really angry immediately. J decided to insist he come to the table. He blatantly said, “I am not going to do what you tell me.” I felt pretty proud of him at that moment. He stood up to us. But J and I got our parental wires crossed and one of us, I am can’t remember who, told him to go to his room. He stomped up stairs.
When he returned a few minutes later he told us he was dumb. He was sad that he couldn’t learn how to listen and that, he felt, meant he was dumb. I was, am, so upset about this. There was nothing J and I could say in the following hours to convince him otherwise. Even at bedtime, where we discuss our day, he was still feeling really down on himself.
J and I talked it out that night. It felt like it was all my fault. I felt like my digression into yelling as a tactic for dealing with sibling squabbles had caught up with us in a way that really frightened me. It was time to stop with the yelling and try some new things. But what? I feel like I’ve already tried every trick in the book and nothing seemed to work.
In the days since then I’ve stopped yelling completely. I’ve tried to set expectations with both kids in the morning. I’ve been trying to listen to both of them. I’ve been posing questions back to them like, “How do you think your sister feels when you hit her?” So instead of telling them what to do, I am trying to support them to think about their actions.
I’ve also just been trying to really listen to D. Yesterday he was really upset about going to TS. I offered to stay with him for as long as I could– which was and hour and a half. When I needed to go, he was still upset. He didn’t want to stay. So I took him with me. He was great. We took the train downtown and he played nicely while I was in a lunch meeting. It felt great to let him make some choices for himself. I am not sure if any of this is making a difference, but he has definitely been having to try out some new “tactics” on me– seeking my old reaction, trying to suck me back into the loop. So far, I’ve been able to resist.