As the Family Goes

JP II Quote

"As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." John Paul II

Friday, August 1, 2014

Two Minutes

Two minutes.  That's how long a temper tantrum that's lasting for what feels like an eternity actually takes.  It's also how long it takes to get a little perspective.  Two minutes isn't very long, but when a stubborn child is putting their feet down, and is in an "everything is making me cry because you didn't let me do what I want to do, and I just hit my toe, and I wish it was sunny today, and can I please have a snack - wait, that's what I was crying about in the first place - waaaaaaaaah!" let's just say it feels a whole lot longer. One of my children, if you haven't guessed, is in this phase.  They have been there before and seemed to come out of it.  "Great," thought I, "they're finally maturing a little bit."  Nope.  I'm going to guess this is fairly typical, which I hope will provide me some comfort but these days, it's just daunting.  I have a house full of babies already, and when my big kids start acting like babies I go from zero to sixty - quick.  Not good.

Having reached a boiling point a few weeks ago, where my temper escalated to the point no parent's ever should with any child, I knew something had to be done, and I knew it was me.  This child is, after all, a child, and still has a lot of growing to do myself.  I can probably expect much more of this before their growing is through, and I should not be so quick to turn the page when I, in fact, have so much growing to do.  The first thing was (and always is) an apology to the child for loosing it.  No matter how much they push me, they are children - I am a grown up.  It's not okay for me to lose my cool.

But when said child began again to push and push, I had to put myself back to that moment, and know that I can't keep letting myself get so angry.  It's hard!  I tried at first to put a bit of separation between myself and the child, because really when we get to that point there is no rationalization of anything (I think that's my biggest problem - I try to talk too much and "work things out", instead of walking away and coming back when we both have cooler heads). I explain to the child, "I can't listen to you cry that way.  Remember when I yelled at you and it made you cry?  I don't want to do that, but I can feel like I'm starting to lose my temper, so I'm going to put you in this place (bedroom, timeout, outside on the deck, whatever) until you feel like you're done crying.  You can cry for as long as you need and when you're done, we can talk."  This child HATES being left alone to cry, but gosh-darnit when I come back the crying seems to have passed.  Maybe it's just that they don't want me to leave again, but whatever the reason, I'm just happy when the fit is over.

But sometimes, it's not over.  Sometimes, like the other day, we find ourselves face-to-face with a child who is melting down, behaving well below their actual age, when there are a million other things going on and you just don't want to deal with this AGAIN.  "Put the monkey on their back," my husband told me after my last southward attempt at handling this child.  This child who, he reminds me, I push as much as they push me.  "But how?"  I lamented.  I really didn't know.

So there I was, a frustrated child and a frustrated Mama.  I just sat on the floor, my head in my hands, sinking further into despair as my child sank further into a tantrum.  I tried to wait it out, but it just kept feeding itself and the longer the child cried, the further away from actually settling down they seemed.  Desperate, I prayed for wisdom.  Please God, help me, I begged.  I did not want to lose my temper again.

I figured I was on the right track by waiting the tantrum out, but decided that since the child seemed to be dragging it on purposefully, it should come with consequences for not being willing to calm down.  I thought of the monkey on the back, and decided to exchange minute-for-minute tantrum time for bedtime.  I told the child I was going to set my stopwatch and stop it only when they stopped crying and did what I asked without whining.  Once the watch was stopped, whatever time was on the watch would be how many minutes early the child had to go to bed that evening.  The crying resumed and I pushed the button.  Aha! I thought.  Now we'll see where your pushing gets you.

It went on long enough that I thought maybe it wasn't working but finally, after what seemed like a long time, the child calmed down and did what I wanted.  I stopped the watch to see just how long I was sitting in agony, and the numbers slapped me in the face - 1 minute and 35 seconds.  That was it!!!  I was certain this had been going on for so much longer.  And realized that I needed that timer as much as the child did, because it shows me just how poor of a grip I have on reality.  When I get so deep in the middle of a struggle with a child, what seems like eternity really is only a few minutes.  And yet, so often my discipline matches what I thought the situation was, not what it actually was.  In the end, a minute and 35 seconds seemed so small an amount of time that I did not put them to bed that early.  And it helped me to gain a little perspective.  This really is the small stuff that people tell you not to sweat.  But in the heat of the moment, small stuff can seem so big!  If I can keep a realistic perspective on life, I will be a much better parent. Because when I feel like something so small is about to undo me, it's pretty hard to argue with 1:35.  That's not forever, that's not eternity - it's just a blip on the radar. But it's just enough time for me to pray, refocus, and not be so hard on my child.  Which in the end, makes a much more peaceful household.

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