[By L.R.Knost, author of Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages available on Amazon]
This evening as our family celebrated a birthday at a local ice cream shop, a scene unfolded in another booth that caught our attention. All of us quieted and watched, our hearts hurting for one little girl and touched by another as a clearly stressed-out parent lost her temper and her self-control.
It started as a little girl of about four or five tried to tell her mother what she wanted to order. Her mother didn’t understand what she wanted, and the little girl became increasingly agitated and began to whine in frustration as she continued to try and fail to express herself. Finally the mother, also frustrated, grabbed the small girl by the arm and yanked her out of line and stomped over to the booth next to ours. She leaned over the now-crying child and yanked her face close to hers and shouted, “I have no idea what you want! I can’t understand you! Why don’t you just say what you want? Calm down! NOW!”
My children looked at me, wide-eyed, knowing that I would gently intervene if things escalated as they’ve seen me do a number of times in the past. But something beautiful happened in that moment that none of us will ever forget. The little girl’s sister, no older than eight or nine herself, stepped between her mother and sister and softly said, “She wants vanilla, mom. That’s all. When she said, ‘Just the white,’ that’s what she meant. She just wants vanilla ice cream. That’s all. It’s okay, mom.”
The mother took a deep breath and blew the hair out of her face, then silently walked away to go order their ice cream. And as we watched, the older sister reached out, put her hands on either side of her little sister’s face, and leaned over to softly kiss her on the top of the head.
I get it, mamas. We’re human. We make mistakes. And I don’t know what was going on in that stressed-out mother’s life. But I do know this. There were two frustrated people in that situation, one an adult, one a small child. And it was the adult who lost it. It was the adult who stomped her feet and shouted and lashed out physically and verbally.
But it was a child who stepped in with a calm and understanding (and, unfortunately it appeared, practiced) response and brought peace back to the situation. It was a child who communicated, connected, and responded rather than reacting.
I hope and pray that the mother was just having a bad day, that the older sister, instead of having to step up and become a miniature adult in a household of immature adults as some children must do, was simply emulating what she’d seen her mother do on other occasions.
We’re all capable of doing what that child did, of practicing understanding, of speaking peace. If a child has the presence of mind to address heightened emotions with quiet resolve and calm communication, then as adults we have no excuse for not doing the same.
[From Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood by L.R.Knost available June 2013; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages now available on Amazon.]
Okay, let’s be honest. Parents are adults, and not every adult is comfortable sitting on the floor playing with stuffed animals for hours at a time. We don’t always eagerly jump in puddles or make mudpies. We often have heavy things weighing on us…health issues, financial strains, layoffs threatening, marital conflict…and playing is simply the very last thing on our minds.
But the reality that play is the language of childhood and that our children need us to connect with them on their terms is on our minds. The truth that childhood is such a brief season of life and if we blink too long we’ll miss this precious time with our children just adds to the weight we carry, making playing with them seem like just another burden, another demand on our already stretched-too-thin time, attention, and patience.
The thing is, though, that our children do need us to connect with them in play. It’s in the simplicity of play that children sort through the complexity of life and, like puzzle pieces, put it all together to make sense of the world. Play is how they process the overwhelming task of acclimating to a big, strange, sometimes scary world, and they need to feel securely connected to us and in close communication with us as they find their way. Play provides that connection and builds those oh-so-important channels of communication that are essential in a healthy parent/child relationship.
That, of course, leaves us in the dichotomous position of our needs versus our children’s needs which in and of itself is not conducive to a healthy relationship. So what’s a busy, overburdened, stressed parent to do?
Enter, the playful parent who weaves humor into the humdrum, tummy tickling into the routine, dancing into the dreary, and silly songs into the mundane. Here are ten ways to weave playful parenting into the ordinary moments of everyday life:
- When your baby is an infant, babywearing is the secret to playful connection and communication building. Wearing your baby close to your heart, singing and swaying and placing soft kisses on a tiny head while doing dishes and sweeping the floors and taking the dog for walks is a lovely, low-stress way to weave playfulness into your day.
- When your baby is a bit older, continue wearing him as long as you both are comfortable with it because riding high on your hip or back lets him see the world from your vantage point and offers everyday moments to play with bubbles in the sink as you wash dishes, to dance through the house as you put away laundry, and to giggle together as you grocery shop.
- Daily routines offer awesome opportunities to play as you ‘tickle’ your little one’s teeth instead of brush them, ‘capture’ wild shoes that try to escape when you’re leaving the house, and ‘wrestle’ with your little pajama monster before bed.
- Wrangling a reluctant child into the carseat is often a dreaded daily task. Try making a game out of it by tickling a little tummy while you buckle up straps or blowing some bubbles to distract your little one or making up a silly buckle-up song to ease the transition.
- While driving, turn off the radio and make up silly stories or songs or simply talk about where you’re going or what you see as you drive.
- Reading to your little one from birth onward is the single best way to raise a reader. Try making it more interactive by acting out the story or using different voices to read or letting your child guess what’s going to happen on each page before you read it.
- Getting out the door in the morning can be a challenge. Turn it into a real challenge by having hopping contests to the car. Let your little one win and give tickle-kisses as their prize!
- Bathtime is a great time for fun. Set sail to distant shores with your little pirate and search for hidden treasure or go on a safari and find jungle animals floating in piles of bubbles or go spelunking and make cave drawings on the sides of the tub with bath crayons.
- As your children get older their need for playful connection and communication is still strong. Play word games in the car. Turn math homework into playtime by using manipulatives to help them work things out. Cook together while singing pop tunes. Arm wrestle at the dinner table. Have a quick pillow fight in the morning to put everyone’s grumpies to sleep.
- Chores are a real chore. Try turning them into a game, instead! Get out a board game with dice and every time someone rolls they not only move their game piece, but pick up the same number of toys and put them away and then race back in time for their next turn.
The central idea here is to intentionally weave fun and play and connectedness and communication into your everyday moments to turn ordinary days into extraordinary memories that will last a lifetime!
I’ve been ‘single-parenting’ it for almost two months now as my amazing husband has been gone day and night, working his day job and then heading nearly an hour away to help his family renovate an old home. It’s for a single mom who needs a place to move with her son because she’s losing her home to foreclosure, so there’s a time pressure involved. My husband is a skilled builder, so the renovation has fallen mainly to him, and with the narrow time frame he has to work with, the pressure has been pretty intense.
Nearly every day after work he heads straight to the reno house and works late into the night, often just staying there and sleeping so he can get up and go straight to work again. Between all of his extra driving and the times the children and I have driven over just so we can see him for a few minutes and get a tour of the work he’s doing, our gas budget has nearly doubled. That’s just not sustainable for a one-income family, so we’ve had to stop going to see him.
What that’s meant for me is a hubby who’s absent most of the time (read: no breaks for mama!) and who, when he does come home, is stressed and tired and tapped-out. Now, by ‘breaks for mama’ I don’t mean time away from my children. I don’t want or need to leave my little ones. But normally along with all of the sacrifices, compromises, and hard work that goes into keeping a long-term marriage healthy, there is companionship, caring, support, and a sharing of responsibilities.
In our family, mama having a break means daddy is the one who listens, at least for a little while, to the endless stories about snails that our little mud-magnet is into sharing at the moment. It means daddy takes a turn at the helm in helping our SPD girl cope when she gets overwhelmed. It means daddy takes our currently teething, clingy, diaper-rashed, sad little milk monkey out in the evenings to sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star to the moon (she’s a bit confused, but it’s adorable) so mama can take a shower alone. And, of course, all of that’s in addition to him running to the store, helping out around the house, fixing what’s broken, grilling dinner occasionally, etc.
But for the last two months all of the myriad details that go into running our home…homeschooling, juggling teenagers’ schedules, shepherding a high-spirited kindergartener, keeping up with a toddler, handling the bills, doing the banking and shopping and cleaning, coping with a broken dryer, and on and on and on…have all fallen entirely to me. Add to that some pretty hefty life-stressors we’re dealing with at the moment outside of our marriage and home…
And I’m tired.
And my hubby is tired.
And we’ve unconsciously fallen into the ‘my needs vs. your needs’ vicious cycle. You know the one:
First volley: “This is what I did all day.” (Translation: I need you to acknowledge me.)
“Well, this is what I did all day.” (Translation: I need you to acknowledge me.)
Second volley: “These are the reasons I did what I did all day.”
(Translation: I need you to understand me.)
“Well, these are the reasons I did what I did all day.”
(Translation: I need you to understand me.)
Third volley: “This is why what I did was harder than what you did.”
(Translation: I really need you to hear me.)
“Well, this is why what I did was harder than what you did.”
(Translation: I really need you to hear me.)
Fourth volley: “You didn’t do this.” (Translation: I’ll make you hear me.)
“Well, you didn’t do this.” (Translation: I’ll make you hear me.)
Unmet needs result in an ever-escalating cycle of attempts to get those needs met. And, as long as those two little letters ‘vs’ stand between ‘my needs’ being met and ‘your needs’ being met, the cycle will continue. Someone has to break the cycle, and the solution is always the same: Sacrifice.
Someone has to step up and stand down. Someone has to let go of their own needs and focus on meeting the other’s needs, not in an attempt to manipulate that person to meet their own needs, but with an honest generosity of spirit, a choosing to lay down self, a living expression of love.
And ‘someone’ will. Our marriage wouldn’t have lasted for twenty-five years and counting, otherwise! But I wanted to share some of the dynamics of breaking the ‘need standoff’ in a relationship while they’re fresh in my mind.
There are endless contributing factors to who stands down and when, from the differences in love languages, to past hurts and experiences, to upbringing, to the circumstances of the conflict itself. And standing down can take many different forms. It may mean moving on without receiving the apology you believe you deserve. It may mean letting go of the need to explain your position. It may take the form of an apology from you or a verbal indication that you are choosing to let go of the conflict. Or it may take the form of a favorite meal, flowers, a back rub, a gift, or some other loving act.
Sometimes the one who chooses (note: an active choice, not a reactive/self-protective response as in an abusive/controlling relationship) to stand down in a relationship is the same person most, if not all, of the time. This is often the result of a peacemaking personality. If you feel you are ‘always’ the one to stand down, consider these two things:
1.) Are you really the one to always stand down or is that just a perception you need to work through?
2.) Do you have a peacemaking personality? In other words, do you tend to be the calming factor in most of your relationships?
If you do, in fact, have a peacemaking personality, be aware that it is a rare gift that comes with great responsibility. Someone once asked me why they always had to be the one to “put out the fires” in their relationship. Knowing this person to be a peacemaker in all of their relationships, I said, “Because God gave you the hose.”
While it can certainly be frustrating to be in that position, instead of letting it cause resentment to take hold, imagine how difficult life can be for those who don’t have that inner calm, and try to focus on the strengths they do have rather than fixating on the gifts they don’t have. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and focusing on people’s strengths (as well as being aware of our own weaknesses!) helps us to give them grace for their weaknesses.
*Take note, when it comes to parent/child relationships, the parent must always take the role of peacemaker, regardless of personality or gifts. Children not only don’t have an adult’s capacity for self-control, but they also don’t bear the responsibility for maintaining the relationship.
And so, in our home, with both parents tapped-out, tired, and out-of-sorts, we’ve found ourselves in that place of competing to get our needs met. Our children have, of course, joined in the ‘needs games,’ little reflectors that they are. It’s made for a less-than-joyful interval in what we typically refer to as the joyful chaos of our lives.
Then, last night as my miserably teething little milk monkey woke me up for the zillionth time with her crying and whimpering and tossing and turning and climbing from one side of me to the other and nursing and nursing and nursing and nursing until I thought I might explode, she suddenly stopped mid-climb, mid-cry, and pressed her ear against my heart. And then, with her tiny body draped across my belly and her head cradled between my breasts, she sighed and relaxed, a little Mona Lisa smile curving her sweet mouth as she finally succumbed to a peaceful sleep.
And in that moment, that tiny, mysterious, contented smile called me to surrender. To surrender to heart-meltingly sweet moments. To embrace again the extraordinary loveliness of ordinary life. To marvel at the littleness of the issues that set us apart and the bigness of the love that holds us together.
Love is a choice, not a feeling. Feelings shift, flowing now hot, now cold. They lead nowhere, and instead are misleading with their mercurial, capricious nature.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13
I choose love.
I’m running away from home today. Three years ago today I gave birth to my son, Sammy. It was an unexpected home birth. I was alone. And Sammy was stillborn. I can still remember the feeling of stunned disbelief as I realized he was coming NOW. I had no time to call anyone or prepare anything. He was just suddenly there, in my arms.
I had known that he couldn’t survive outside of my womb from the minute the words “incompatible with life” entered my world. But I had chosen to give him every moment of life within me that I could, to savor every kick and tumble, to share my life and body with him until it was time for him to leave me. The movements had stilled, though, some hours before he came into and out of the world, and I knew that he was gone. But this, this unexpected, solitary moment of birth and death, this silent entry into heaven, this I could not have anticipated.
I remember the soft warmth of his body as I held him, waiting for the afterbirth to deliver. I had no scissors to finalize the separation between my son and my body which had given birth and brought death all in the same moment.
I remember staring at his tiny profile and being scared to turn his face fully to mine, afraid of seeing my other children’s features reflected in his still, small face. I remember my husband finally coming and the look of shock and grief on his face as he realized what had happened. I remember the gush of blood, the tiny box, the rush to the hospital, the emergency surgery. I remember the surreal feeling of returning home, to the place of family, of ordinary days, of life and love, and feeling both wrapped in the warm comfort of familiarity and struck by the stark reality of loss.
And so on this day, as the memories crowd close, I will take my earthside children and run away. We will go somewhere that is not here and we will stand beside swaying reeds and feed toddling ducklings. We will ride our bikes under tall trees and marvel at the newly hatched turtles tumbling over each other on the banks of shining waters. We will stop at a little pizzeria and get a market street pepperoni pie and sit outdoors in the sunshine and eat and talk and laugh. We will celebrate each other and life and love, and then we’ll come home and it will be home again. And I’ll be okay…until next year.