The following is a guest post written by Kassandra Brown of Parentcoaching.org.
“You’re too clumsy to be my mom” shrieks my 5 year old after I knock her glass of Christmas punch off the counter.
I look at the spreading stain and bite my tongue on yet another reminder that putting glasses on the edge of the counter means they are more likely to get spilled. I am tired and distracted and just trying to get dinner going.
“Yes, I am clumsy sometimes. Let’s clean this up,” I say instead.
“But that’s the last of the juice and I really wanted it and it’s really special. If you love me you’ll get me more.”
She’s crying hard now.
When she says “If you love me, you’ll do …” it’s hard for me to remember the tools in my toolbox.
I know she wants love and connection, but those words trigger anger and defensiveness in me. I feel like yelling back. Instead I remind her cups shouldn’t be near the edge while hearing an edge of irritation creep into my voice.
Photo by Jacob Botter
At that moment my parent coach walks into the kitchen. He’s a good friend but still the timing seems serendipitous. His presence helps me find my tools and remember how important it is to stay connected without giving in or giving up.
I stop making dinner and walk over to my daughter. Sitting down near her, I invite her onto my lap. She seems to ignore my offer.
“I hear you’re really sad and angry. That juice was important to you.”
“Yeah, and you need to get me more!”
“Sometimes hard things happen. You want more juice and there isn’t any more. You’re upset.”
After a few more minutes of her expressing upset and me reflecting while guessing at her feelings, she climbs onto my lap and I can see how tired she is.
Photo by M F
At this point the exact words we said aren’t so important. The wonderful thing that allowed us both to settle down and connect was a change in my attitude. The shift to compassion allowed me to keep clear boundaries while being with her upset without taking on personal guilt or blame.
The Christmas season is a time when guilt, blame, and stress are sometimes even more abundant than holiday cheer and carols. Boundaries can be hard to keep.
Do you ever:
- Skip your own self care to make Christmas perfect for your children?
- Bend the rules for your kids to try to avoid a meltdown and give yourself a break?
- Buy them gifts you didn’t want to buy?
Do you ever feel like no matter what you do Christmas doesn’t turn out the way you hope and plan? Do you ever feel like you’re failing?
Holiday expectations from our children, our extended families, and ourselves can add up to a time of trying to please everyone and losing ourselves.
What can you do instead?
- Keep clear boundaries. Setting good boundaries is one of the most important things you can do to make the holidays easier. When you say no, mean it. When you say yes, mean it. When you have clear boundaries, kids feel safer and are better behaved – in the long run. In the short term you may have more tears, tantrums, and power struggles. You’ll need Step 2.
- Stay Connected. Listen. Empathize. Reflect what you see and how you think your child feels. It’s paramount to both validate their feeling and keep your boundaries. “Yes,” you say. “Sometimes life is hard. It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to yell at people at the dinner table.” To stay connected while keeping your boundaries, you’ll need Step 3.
- Get support. Parenting is hard. Changing the way you parent is harder. Talking with someone neutral and sympathetic can help a lot. Learning the skills of listening and responding with compassion, reflection, and honesty take time and effort. Receiving that kind of listening for yourself can make it easier to share that gift with your children. Visit here to get help keeping clear boundaries while staying connected to your kids.
- Look at your own training and background. What do the holidays mean to you? What are the traditions you grew up with? They are yours in some way. When you become conscious of these patterns and beliefs, you are more empowered to choose to change. You can have holidays more in alignment with your current values. Step 3 can help you do this. Self-care is paramount.
Try this: The next time your child begs for something and melts down, turn it into an opportunity to have a connected conversation about values, needs and feelings.
That conversation may happen after tears and anger, but I imagine you staying strong in your values and offering the compassionate listening that gets you through the meltdown with ease.
How do you keep healthy boundaries during the holiday season?