A friend posted this quote recently and I made a half-kidding comment that it was a good #parentingtip. It echoes a true sentiment in raising the under 5 crowd, at least. The gist of it – that trying to alter permanent conditions (or people) only brings misery – keeps rolling around in my mind. It has been guiding my moment-to-moment parenting in a positive direction since, or at least pushing my mood up a notch.
Although not a new philosophy (in parenting or life), and certainly not my original idea, it came as a well-timed reminder. Addie is a homebody-to-the-bones by nature, but I cannot change that school starts at 8:30 am and does not take place at our house. What I can control, for my own happiness, is how I reconcile the two conflicting facts. She also cannot change (at least until more of her frontal lobe develops) that transitional times feel, to her, like an emotional assault, or that she has to cover her body with clothing anyway. All I can do is give her the tools to smooth it all out and wait until she grows up.
Owen, to his core, maintains high anxiety about talking to unfamiliar people. Neither of us can change that he is sometimes inclined to clam up, look away, and tremor when a waitress tells him “good morning, cutie!” But we are not interested in disrupting the social nature of pleasant greetings among humans. I am long past the times of stressing myself out in navigating his interactions, or attempting to cajole a reply from him. I refuse to thwart his genuine feelings by telling him not to be shy or that it is all okay – when it is so clearly NOT okay, to him.
Instead, I try to help him balance his need for space with the common courtesies required to participate in the world. I pat his back so he feels the safety of my presence; I gain his eye contact to keep him from checking out of the interaction; I ask him if he wants to say good morning back, or if he wants mommy to say it for him; I show warm smiles to both my bashful boy and the kind waitress.
As humans (I think) my kids have no control over fears and preferences that are parts of their temperaments, or of the natural occurrences in life that stir them up. I want them to learn that they can work with their own outlooks, attitudes, reactions, and behaviors instead.
Do not waste your lives in fruitless efforts to change others: an important lesson for my kids as well. Owen took your fairy tales book and pulled your hair? Addie stuck her finger in the frosting on your cupcake? That behavior was not okay but you still need to use your words, move away, ask for help, or let it go.Those are the reactions my kids can control, the responses for which I want them to strive, and the behavior that gets everyone back to copasetic with the least grief.
The most fulfilling shift is when I can reframe things that may not be permanent, but make me crazy in the moment. If I change my verbal reaction to their shitshow, and help them to look at themselves more positively, it is a win for us all. It sure feels better to hear: you are so creative and have the biggest ideas for art projects, BUT we will have to save that one for another time, than: I told you six times already I am NOT getting out glue and scissors and making a mess right now – stop pestering me! It feels better to say: it is so great that you love to drive your trucks around, and you are such a good boy to play quietly by yourself, BUT we have to say goodbye to them now and take a nap, than it does to get exasperated and toss him into his bed while he cries.
“The fountain of content must spring up in the mind, and he who hath so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own disposition will waste his life in fruitless efforts and multiply the grief which he proposes to remove.” – Samuel Johnson
I realize, with these wise words in mind all week, that it is foolish trying to control other humans in the first place (not to mention infuriating, exhausting, and utterly pointless). In no other circumstance would I attempt it. I cannot make the person in front of me in line move faster because I am running late, or expect my husband to change into a mind reader to better suit my needs, or require better grammar from strangers just to please my picky ears. All fruitless efforts, and who has the energy for those?
As for my mama mental fountain I am finding it unfair to rest my feelings of content or discontent on my kids. They are small, and their own people, and right now there is a disconnect between their true nature and the rules of the civilized world. My happiness is instantly thwarted when I get sucked into the why can’t my kids be different vortex. I can guide and assist them, and I can control my reactionl when they act like monsters, and that is it. Except when they have I love you more contests with me, or offer unsolicited acts of kindness to each other. I am more than willing to let those good vibes change my disposition.