You’d imagine this gets easier as the kids get older. Patience is a virtue, you know? You’ve read about it, written about it and listened to podcasts about how it’s important to remain calm in the face of overwhelming odds. We all want to be that patient parent that our kids need us to be.
But here’s the truth.
Being patient takes effort. A HECK of a lot of effort, let me be clear. So don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself yelling at the kid today or frowning tomorrow as they throw a tantrum to level a skyscraper to the ground.
The good thing about learning to be patient is that, with time you find things getting simpler. Yes I know I wrote that post last month about going yell-free for 800 days. But what you may not know is the number of times I didn’t make it past one month or even one day. It was a constant, uphill battle and I found myself literally crying out of sheer frustration!
To address this in context, I am going to share an incident that happened just last week. I’d just put up a photograph on Instagram about this delicious smoothie that the husband had made and was savouring it with all my heart when it happened.
A loud crash and the sound of shattering glass echoed from the kitchen and my heart stopped for a few milliseconds. Setting down my drink, I rushed to the spot to find Gy staring at the floor, shaking, as the broken pieces of a glass lay strewn around her feet. Her eyes filled rapidly with tears as she caught my eye and started mumbling, ‘I am so sorry, Amma. I didn’t mean to do it. It just slipped from my hands.’
Now, before I go ahead, let me pause here and ask you to honestly examine this situation as a hypothetical one.
What is the first thing you would do in my place?
(A) Yell at the kid for breaking the glass
(B) Console her and tell her it doesn’t matter
There’s no judgment here and believe me, if you answer (A), I wouldn’t be surprised. Because, nine years ago, in a similar situation, that’s what I did. And would you believe the scenario back then? It was because she had done her business on the freshly mopped floor and I was furious. Me, angry at a two-year-old, for not using the potty! Oh believe me, I very easily qualify for the worst mom in the world award.
However, that was then and this is now. Last week, in that second, the first thing I did was to ask her if she was hurt. When she shook her head, I gently told her to pick her feet up and not step on any of the glass pieces. Once she left the kitchen, I sat her down, dried her tears and checked the soles of her feet for any stray shards of glass. Finally, I hugged her and said, ‘It’s only a broken glass. It’s not important. A glass can be replaced.’
While I swept up the glass pieces, I could hear her whimpering in the background. ‘But it’s been with you forever, Amma.’ I smiled, ‘Not forever. Only 16 years.’
’16 years?! Even more precious then! Why was I so careless?’
I stopped picking up the pieces and said, ’16 years is nothing. You are my everything. I couldn’t bear it if you were hurt. Trust me on this one.’
Finally, a smile broke through the tears and she came in for that soothing hug that washed all worries away.
As I reflected on this later that day it came to me that my response to the situation has come with practice. So, do you want to know what worked for me? A number of things, to be honest. And I’m going to tell you each of them today. These aren’t quick-fixes and I wouldn’t call them simple because then I’d be lying.
But I will tell you this: they work. And the key to making them work and stick? Do it regularly, much like any other habit-building exercise.
Making myself accountable
Like any challenge I set for myself, I had to hold myself accountable. I began that in 2013 with my yell-less challenge. Putting it on the blog made me feel like I was being watched and that I had to try and tame the beast, come what may.
Creating a support group
A year after I started the yell-free challenge, a group of like-minded moms got together and decided we would try the yelling less challenge together. We set up daily, weekly and monthly targets. We awarded each other with badges of support and refrained from judging one another. We were honest in our admissions of guilt when we yelled and empathetic when people shared the frustrations of being a mom. This kind of invaluable support is something that truly helped me forward on this path.
Sharing my story- the triumphs and the failures
I believe being honest on this parenting journey is very important. When I share my victories, people took hope that this was possible. When I shared my failures, people understood that it was okay to stumble and pick yourself up. With time, the failures began to reduce and the wins began to hold sway for much longer.
Learning from my mistakes
Everyone makes mistakes. Some of us yell, others threaten, many others tend to spank/hit their kids. And I can tell you that whatever you do, it is heartbreaking for the parent. Nobody wants to be the one who shouts at or hits their kids. I realised that the days I spent talking softly, Gy began to respond better. Yelling would terrify her and push her into a shell.
Taking a second to pause
Most of us react on instinct to volatile situations. Nowhere is this more evident than in the case of social media conversations which deteriorate into name-calling. As parents, we tend to do the same with our kids. Not doing homework? Yell at them to do it. Too much time on the X-box? Yell at them to turn it off.
But what if, we took that second to address it better? What if we decide to respond instead of react? That’s what I learnt to do, not just in the case of parenting, but with all my relationships- online and off it too.
Operate from a space of love
As adults we tend to slip into the role of the disciplinarian very easily. At least, I do. Then, watching how my mom handled my daughter made me understand that children respond to kindness instead of aggression. So I began to put myself in her shoes instead of expecting her to live up to my standards of what was right. I tried to help her navigate turbulent emotions. Now that she is an adolescent, it’s even more challenging and some days are very difficult, I will admit. But it’s helping.
Each time you get that urge to yell, ask yourself, ‘Is this worth it?’ I know it’s not the first thing that comes to mind in the heat of anger. Yet, you will notice how much better you feel when you sincerely ask yourself that question. To make it simpler, keep a specific situation as a reminder.
For me, it could be this broken glass. Each time I am tempted to raise my voice, I need a trigger phrase like ‘Broken glass’. The image will then come to mind. At that second, I will remind myself that it is, after all, just a glass. It’s not the end of the world.
And on a day, many years from now when Gy and I look back, this broken glass will remind us of the moment that I didn’t yell and chose to empathise, instead. With it, I pray that the way of the peaceful and patient parent is precisely the path we all choose to walk today.
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