On appreciating our children

Ever been disappointed in your son and expressed that curtly to him without thought for even one of his good points? Ever gone days barking out commands to your daughter without thanking her for being in your life? Every wished to be a hermit in the hills, because life without kids would be so much easier?!

Guilty as charged!

As a mother, I’ve often had unrelenting EXPECTATIONS of my children which have gotten in the way of my enjoyment of the beautiful, individual souls that they are and the blessing they are in my life. In fact, my disappointment in their decisions/behavior has lead to downright depression at different times over the years of my mothering! In such moments, I’ve focused exclusively on the external things I value (clean home, productive use of time, meaningful dinner table conversation, fingers out of one’s nose, etc.) rather than these precious people in my life. Self-serving expectations of what family members “should be doing” has caused me to judge them harshly, preventing me from seeing that the differences in our personalities and priorities allow us to learn much from each other. Our differences are meaningful.

Naomi Aldort, a licensed therapist, has written a “Declaration of Complete Confidence in Children.” It states:
1. Adult-like behavior matures by the time we are adults.
2. No expectations means no disappointments for us, and no damaging pressures for our children.
3. Children respond best to modeling and leadership, not control.
4. Trust… and wait.
5. Choose between your momentary convenience and your long-term goal for your child’s sense of self.
6. Enjoy your child for who he is, not for who you would like him to be – he will never be this age again.
7. Distinguish between your emotional needs and what your child feels and needs. Act toward your child in harmony with her needs; take care of your emotional needs elsewhere.
8. Celebrate your child’s uniqueness as well as your own.

I’m intrigued by what she believes—that we should be attempting to get to know our children rather than mold them, that they did not come into our lives to serve us other than to take our breath away as we witness them grow and blossom into the uniquely-beautiful individuals that they are. She reminds us that they are like seeds which we cannot yet identify. All the potential for greatness is there, but it will only come to full fruition if nourished by love, kindness, compassion, and acceptance of who they inherently are. It takes time to encourage and witness the unfolding–the blossoming–of their souls, but well worth the effort! If we have eyes to see, if we’re interested observers, we can enjoy the process rather than being constantly disappointed in them. Quite profound.

Obviously, having a household means there’s work to be done. However, I’m beginning to grasp—slow-learner that I can be at times–that if I focus more on loving and appreciating my family members than on making unending demands of them, they will ultimately be interested in my happiness as well and be willing to step in when they see I genuinely need their help. Not that they will ever love doing chores. Not that they won’t sometimes stall for a while in the hopes that my need will change. But, hopefully, my appreciation of them will help them trust me—trust that my reasons for requesting their help are good (i.e. not just laziness on my part). The key is loving communication. If the first thing we say to family members when they wake up or walk through the door is, “I need you to . . .,” they will withdraw emotionally from us, assuming that all we value about them is their labor. If, instead, we can ask them about their plans for the day, be interested in their ideas and aware of their needs, and only LATER solicit their cooperation in meeting some of our needs, we will have a “home”–not just a “household.”

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The fear of making mistakes

I remember putting on paper a couple of years ago, in a writing exercise I had proposed for the children and myself, my greatest fears.  It was quite instructive—enlightening, clarifying to my conscious mind the fears that were working on me.  What I learned about myself that day was that I fear . . . making mistakes.

I don’t know how accurate the “Color Code” is–perhaps it’s more a measure of our preferences than our inherent personalities—but I took that personality test several years ago and was told (per the results) that I was almost equally red and blue: passionate/pro-active and associative/purposeful.   As I consider now the effect of these preferences on my mental and emotional health, I wonder if a lot of the depression I’ve felt over the years came as a result of believing:

1) that I could know the right/best things one should do, and

2) that I could actually do the right/best things that one should do, and

3) that I was accountable before God for my failure to do those things he expected me to do (or to master).

I tried to do everything right, but the very stress which such an effort produces made me ill-equipped for the difficult moments in life when things don’t go as planned or desired.  Despite my previous good intentions, my reaction during such difficulties was angry outbursts or neglectful inactivity.  After such “failures,” I allowed myself to be racked with guilt and self-loathing rather than relying on God’s understanding and compassion for imperfect me.  I could not get past my belief that my mistakes made me unworthy of God’s love, especially since I was definitely a repeat offender.

Ironically, fearing mistakes just primed me to make more.  Perhaps not major “sins,” but the mistakes that come of controlling others, overreacting, inflexibility, ingratitude, emotional isolation, and joyless deference to duty.

Fearing God’s displeasure over my mistakes did not make me a better person; it primed me for obsessiveness and depression.  Likewise detrimental was believing that my church alone knew God’s ultimate truth and will for mankind, which caused me to be judgmental and condescending toward those who failed to comply with our LDS standards/commandments.

My fear of mistake-making was paralyzing and problematic on many fronts.  I now believe that it was also unnecessary.

Mistakes are instructive!  God must know we are going to make mistakes and suffer some regret for our poor judgment—that is our lot in this package deal called mortal life.  But I believe he also gave us the capacity to learn from those mistakes, to change our minds, to try out new actions.  If he is an omniscient God, he knows perfectly well how and why it is that we make mistakes.

Trusting in God’s love and support allows us to pick ourselves up after failing to live up to our own expectations for ourselves.  Such trust keeps us from the debilitating choice of despairing.

I’m grateful that to some degree I have overcome my fear of making mistakes.  I trust in God’s mercy–and I’m learning to trust that life isn’t as high-risk as I once thought it was!  While acknowledging the seeming complexity of modern life, I choose to view it as a grand adventure–an unparalleled opportunity to examine and sample the possibilities.  Sorry Yoda, there is a “try”!

Life is so much more exciting and pleasant with the perspective that God has planned life to be a grand experiment, not a final exam. We’re here experimenting with life, doing what we can and learning as we go, God willing!  It’s all good.

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Changing my mood

Yesterday afternoon I started to feel irritated, for various reasons.  I began to micromanage my son as he did his assigned chore, demanding that he re-do it three times until I considered it “perfect.”  Already ornery, I walked upstairs and learned that my daughter had not begun her math assignment–which meant I soundly berated her for wasting her time.  Annoyed at the smaller children for having made a mess in the master bedroom, I refused to help when they asked for my assistance.  I could feel my anger growing and knew that this bad mood was threatening to suffocate the life out of my afternoon.

Thankfully, I did something about it!  Remembering the little I’ve read about cognitive behavioral processes, I decided to try to consciously alter my mood.  The strategy I chose for myself was: “Do something productive!” (Which perfectionist doesn’t love that?!).  I headed straight for my den, looking for a “project.”  I saw one waiting for me when I got there: a newspaper article I had been intending to scan and email to my family.  I set to work, accomplished my little feat, and was almost instantly in a better mood!  I apologized to my kids at dinner for having been such a jerk, and then gave them some personal time with me before bed.

Three cheers for mood management!

Thankfully, I get angry at my kids much less often than I used to.  I’ll post the story of  “why that is” soon.

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