Monday, September 16, 2013

Parenting In Community

Parenting is exhausting.

Even on happy, perfectly easy days (do those actually exist?), parenting requires a constant balance of patience, emotional investment, personal attention, and skilled multi-tasking. One family member's imbalance can throw off the rhythm of the entire group, and even expert calm-in-spite-of-chaos parents have to think quickly in order to recover. Parents need to be the most creative, resourceful problem-solvers on the block.

Last week, I wanted to take some pictures with my daughters and friends at the iconic Sculpture Garden. I don't think it's entirely unusual that my girls, who are usually quite lovely little people, suddenly turn into crabby monsters at the idea of a posed snapshot. That camera comes out and my almost-5-year-old only has 2 faces: wild tongue or pronounced pout. This is, of course, dependent on whether she is actually standing in the frame with the rest of us.

Kids are professionals at knowing the best place and time to push their parents' buttons, and being in public during a planned event is a premium choice. With other people around, the parent is hard-pressed to lose her cool and draw the critical stares of onlookers, but she is also unable to exercise any real consequences for misbehavior. Instead, the parent internally boils until safely in the privacy of the family car, when hell is unleashed and the rest of the day is successfully ruined.

But this day, I was able to be a smart  - dare I even say humorous - parent.

My teaching moment with the pout-face
I quietly took my older daughter aside and said, "Honey, I am very sad that you are choosing to misbehave and not cooperate for these pictures. I can't really think of a consequence for you right now, but you are really draining my energy. When we get home, you can work hard to help get my energy back, but don't worry about what that will be right now. You can do whatever you want the rest of our time here and when we get home, we'll figure out how you can get my energy back."

Then I moved on with my afternoon and the rest of our picture-taking. My friends and I laughed and sat amazed at a couple who refused to move off of a sculpture while we stared at them for a good 15 minutes (wasn't it obvious that we were trying to take pictures?!? what happened to social etiquette?). My daughter, on the other hand, could not move on. From that moment, through the entire car ride home, and our first minutes back in the house, she was worrying. Instead of misbehaving, she was fretting about how she was going to restore my energy.

One of my friends drove with us, and she participated in the fun.

5 year old: mom, I am really sorry that I was misbehaving. I just don't know how I'm going to get your energy back!

Me: would you like some ideas? you could clean your room -

daughter: oh nooooooooo!

Me: you could vacuum -

daughter: can I clean the bathroom?

Me: no, you did that yesterday.

My Friend: maybe you could scrub the floors.

daughter: oh, yes! I think I could scrub...maybe just the kitchen floor?

Me: well, my energy is really drained. I think if you want to make sure to get all my energy back, you might need to scrub all the floors. {my friend and I silently giggle}

and so it went...

The point of this story is not to show what a brilliant mom I was in that parenting moment. In fact, just the opposite. As I am learning to lean more into community, I am realizing that inviting others into my mess can be a blessing. Because my friends were with me that day, I was able to get outside of myself and realize that my day didn't have to be ruined just because my kid was being a brat. Rather than blow up at my daughter (the temptation was certainly there), I could take a breath, come up with a temporary solution, and continue to enjoy my visit with my friends. The car ride was just icing on the cake, as my friend got involved in the problem-solving of restoring my energy.

I could have chosen to have been embarrassed that my child was misbehaving during an outing with others. I could have spent my time apologizing to my friends and trying to cajole my daughter into smiling for pictures. I could have wasted my energy worrying about what my friends thought or feeling disappointed that the pictures weren't "perfect."

But the blessing of community, in that moment, allowed me to allow my daughter to just be a normal rebellious kid. And I got to be the calm, cool, and collected mom who had fun anyway (and got my kitchen floor scrubbed out of the deal). I'd like to hope that my friends got something out of that time, too.  
One of our (many) not-so-perfect pictures

No comments:

Post a Comment