My Little Caboose and the Very Bad, No Good…Month :(
This adorable little person has been a royal pain in the ‘caboose’ for the last few weeks. She has whined, cried, ignored direct requests, climbed on me, hung on me, played with her food, snatched things from the baby, been in my face and space incessantly, and on and on. And the more difficult she got, the more I ‘powered up’ on her. Oh, I didn’t yell or punish. No, I pulled out all my gentle parenting techniques, spoke calmly and respectfully to her, offered diversions and alternatives, read her books and provided lots of reasonable and kind council. She occasionally responded with a half-hearted attempt at cooperation or humorously declined to cooperate, but more often than not just dug in her heels and determinedly upset the normally peaceful and happy timbre of our home.
And then it happened. A few nights ago, I stood in the shower listening to the goings-on outside the door (A mama’s ears are the proverbial ‘eyes in the back of her head’ you know!), and it hit me. Over and over, I heard my older children tell my little ‘caboose,’ “No,” as she made one unfortunate decision after another. Over and over, I heard her whine and argue and cry. Over and over, I heard the older ones correct her, not hatefully or harshly, but repeatedly, gently, and firmly. And, over and over, I realized I was hearing myself as my older children reflected what they were seeing and hearing from me…repeated, gentle, firm correction…but no listening…none. And my heart broke. I realized that I had been parenting from a position of disconnect from my precious little ‘caboose.’ Between jumping through all the hoops necessary to get a homeschooler into a pre-med university program to working with my publisher on the super slow and cumbersome process of getting my books onto store shelves in Barnes & Nobles and Family and Lifeway Christian Stores, to writing an upcoming book, my busy schedule had overtaken my parenting.
How many times had I told my little ‘caboose,’ “Just a minute,” when she needed me, and how often had that ‘minute’ stretched into an hour? How many times had my eyes strayed back to my computer screen in the middle of one of her stories about how terribly painful the invisible scratch on her pinky toe was or how pretty the light looked as it danced through the dust motes in front of the window? How often had she fallen asleep waiting, waiting, waiting for me to come and read her a bedtime story? (Oh, my mommy’s heart hurts.)
And so I took my own advice…advice I’ve given umpteen times to other mama’s who were experiencing a ‘parenting disconnect.’ I took my disgruntled, whiney, clingy, disruptive child who I felt like sending to her room just so I could get a break and to make her think about her actions and to get her behavior ‘back in line’…and I pulled her closer than close, under my mama’s wing. I took her everywhere with me. I let her sleep on a pallet next to my bed. We cooked dinner together and made a museum out of her paintings and folded towels together. And I listened and listened and listened…intentionally and thoughtfully and responsively. And my little ‘caboose’ and I reconnected. In just a matter of days, life in the Knost household returned to its normal cadence of what we affectionately call ‘joyful chaos.’ People see the difference and ask me, “What did you do?” And I simply respond, “I listened.”
~Here’s a little story to illustrate~
The little caboose chugged along, clickety-clack, clickety-clack, happy as could be as she followed her mama engine and brother and sister cars along the tracks. Up and down hills, around curves and through tunnels they went, all strung together with their secure couplings. And at the end of each day, they headed back to the station to get all fueled up and rested for the next glorious day. One day, the little caboose was startled when mama engine took off extra early without checking to make sure all the couplings were tightened. As they chugged forward, the little caboose could feel her coupling slipping a bit, and she ‘choo-chooed’ loudly to get mama engine’s attention. But mama engine was too busy to notice and kept picking up speed as they began their journey up and down the hills. Alarmed now, little caboose tried to pull backwards and slow the train down, but mama engine chugged on, ‘choo-chooing’ encouragingly. Little caboose felt her coupling getting looser and looser as mama engine sped toward the dangerous curves and tunnels ahead. In a panic, little caboose screeched ‘choo-choo’ over and over and tugged and pulled backward frantically. Mama engine just chugged on, this time ‘choo-chooing’ firmly and giving a gentle extra tug forward. Little caboose spent the rest of the day screeching ‘choo-choo’ and pulling and tugging backward until they finally arrived back at the station, everyone exhausted and cranky from the difficult day. Little caboose was so overwrought from the fear of being disconnected all day that she continued to screech ‘choo-choo’ and pull at her coupling even after they were stopped for the night. Mama engine chugged ominously in her direction, determined to restore order, but suddenly paused, hearing for the first time the fear and exhaustion in little caboose’s ‘choo-choos.’ She looked carefully and noticed the loose coupling. Pulling little caboose closer than close, mama engine tightened the coupling and ‘choo-chooed’ a soft, reassuring lullaby, and little caboose finally stopped her screeching and tugging and relaxed gratefully into her mama engine’s embrace.
If you have a parenting issue right now, any parenting issue at all for any age child, take a mental snapshot of what a typical day looks like at the moment. Then take one week, just a single week out of your life, and listen to your child. Listen intentionally. Listen consciously. Create opportunities for your child to talk. Open conversations to get them started, then stop talking and stop planning your response and stop mentally going over your to-do list and just listen. Take your child with you whenever you can, wherever you’re going. Involve them in your day. Invite them into your life. ENJOY them and get to know them, get to really KNOW the unique and remarkable person they are. They are a precious, priceless gift, and their childhood will be over before you know it. And, at the end of that week, take another mental snapshot of what a day with your child looks like. Then you can decide which path to take. Will you go backward or forward? Is connecting with your child worth your time and effort? What will you choose?
L.R.Knost is a best-selling parenting and children’s book author and founder and director of Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, an online resource for gentle parenting education, articles, and research. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood , Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages , and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline the first three books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, as well as her children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series available from Amazon and other major retailers.