When I was pregnant with my first child, someone once told me – motherhood is the hardest job, but also the best job in the world. At that point in time, I had no frame of reference to fully understand this insight. Thirteen years later, I get it now.
Having children creates some of the most beautiful moments you will ever experience. It can also be really hard. Every stage of parenting is precious for different reasons. Each stage of parenting also brings a new set of challenges. There is no advance preparation to learn how to manage these challenges. It’s all on-the-job training, the learn-as-you-go model. Every child is different, and every circumstance is unique. Even when you learn what works with one child, it may not work with the next one. It’s for this reason that anything I write about motherhood, I urge you to take what resonates with you and leave the rest. Motherhood is the ultimate lifelong learning experience.
It’s also a hurricane of emotions, a roller coaster with numerous highs and lows. There are moments when you feel your heart may explode with overflowing love. There are times when you are bursting at the seams with pride. During some seasons of life, motherhood can be so challenging it may bring you to tears or even cause you to completely break down. This message is for those moments.
Sometimes when you’re at your breaking point, you may want to scream, cry, or even run like the wind. You may have a fleeting moment when you contemplate booking a midnight train to Georgia. Let me offer a preferable approach – lean in.
When you want to break down, lean in. Exactly when you want to run away, lean in. Just when you want to yell, instead, lean in. It’s the ultimate form of unconditional love. It not only helps to manage the situation, but it also makes both you and your child feel better. This strategy may not always work, but I’ve found that it works well in a variety of circumstances and immediately changes the mood.
Leaning in involves trying to understand the reason behind your child’s behavior as opposed to reacting and responding to the behavior only. Of course, sometimes you have to instantly correct the behavior, particularly if your child is going to get hurt or is doing something that is terribly wrong. I’m not talking about those situations.
Leaning in is for the moments when you have time to pause and think about how you’re going to manage the behavior. Leaning in means you connect before you correct. You first try to connect with your child’s emotions before correcting their behavior. Children are much more likely to listen and correct their behavior when they feel heard, seen and loved.
Here are some situations every mother has encountered – your toddler is being defiant and you’ve repeated yourself 15 times. Your young child is not listening to a single thing you say. Your pre-teen is being sarcastic and mouthy or your teenager is being distant and cold. In these moments, lean in. I’ll admit, leaning in requires doing the opposite of what you actually feel like doing in those moments. I’m talking about the moments where you are truly inclined to lose your $!@?. Here are some options instead.
When your toddler is being defiant and you’ve repeated yourself 15 times, get down on your knees, look her in the eye and ask her if she needs a hug. When your young child is not listening to a single thing you say, walk to your child, bend down, look him in the eyes and say, “I’ve had a fun time playing with you. It’s now time to pick up your toys.” When your pre-teen is being sarcastic and mouthy, look her in the eyes and tell her that her tone and the way she is speaking to you feels disrespectful and hurtful. Ask her what’s wrong and how she’s truly feeling. Ask her how you can help her with these feelings. When your teenager is distant and cold, put your hands gently on his shoulders and ask him if he would like to go do something fun. Let him choose the activity. Ask if you can have a hug…and lean in.
I’ve found that in 90% of situations, this showing of love and affection almost immediately shifts the mood. Everyone softens, lightens up, and speaks more gently. The inclination to yell goes away and you immediately feel love instead of frustration toward your child. In turn, they feel loved and then return the sentiment. They are more inclined to listen to what you’re saying. You see each other more clearly and openly, as humans and individuals with thoughts, feelings and emotions that are underlying the surface-level behaviors.
They will likely forget what you said, they might forget what you did, but they will always remember how you made them feel. Lean in. They will remember feeling comforted and safe, even when they’re confused by the emotions they are feeling.
It may not always work, and it may not work for every child or in every situation, but it’s worth a try. It’s preferable to yelling and it’s most certainly a better choice than booking the midnight train to Georgia.
One very simple question – would you like a hug? Give it a try and see how the energy changes. Motherhood is the hardest job, but also the best job in the world. For every age and stage, there is a way to lean in.
To read more from this author, check out Let It Be or Every Shot You Don’t Take.
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