After years of observing young children, teaching parents, and being somewhat conscious of my own learning process, I’ve become increasingly fascinated by the way we humans learn. I find it especially ironic that we can be presented with helpful ideas or information, even repeatedly, yet for whatever reason they don’t resonate enough with us to put them into practice. But then we come across that same content in slightly different wrapping, in a new circumstance or at a later time, and suddenly it hits us like a revelation.
Juliet is an engaging, loving mom I’ve conferenced with a few times. She allowed me to share this personal note describing a transformative moment she experienced regarding “gentle leadership” and her strong-willed daughter Cleo:
For the last 4 months or so I was feeling pretty exhausted and was struggling. Cleo is, as you know, an incredibly strong kid. So strong that I rarely see her on the losing end of a toy struggle, even with older kids. She is both physically and willfully strong. I admire this in her so much and feel very protective of it, because as a child I learned to put aside my strength in favor of making sure that everyone around me was comfortable and happy. It has taken me years to learn to stand my ground and not be so overly concerned about everyone else. Of course I get a daughter who makes me learn it even more deeply!
As Cleo has gotten older (two in July) her determination and willfulness have only increased, and although I thought I was being firm I really wasn’t. I never waffled on limits, but I did steel myself for her reaction in a way that wasn’t helpful. Sometimes when I had to physically carry her when she didn’t want to be carried she could make it so difficult that I had to use all of my strength and resources to do it in a way that was both effective and gentle. I noticed that I was feeling beaten down by her responses and sometimes resentfully thinking to myself, “Jeez, kid, can’t you be a little easier?!”
What I recognize now is that she was feeling all of this (my weakening resolve) and probably felt too powerful, concerned that mama wasn’t strong enough to handle her, and was likely getting the unsettling message that she was too much.
After reading your recent article on timers, I had an internal shift, and things changed completely. I recognized that I am strong enough to handle her reactions and don’t have to take them on… I can be a sounding board for her and gently and firmly follow through and guide her where she needs to go. With this change in perception, I no longer feel exhausted at the end of the day and feel the happiness as a mom I have largely known — save for the past few months.
The funny thing is that this is all internal. On the outside my actions look largely the same, but the internal shift has made it so much easier for Cleo to cooperate with me and for me to be really present for her. Cleo seems happier, too, with less need to test boundaries. In my own life, I know that around this age is when I suffered a lot of developmental trauma around losing agency and learning to fear my mom who couldn’t handle my power. So to be navigating this time with Cleo in a way that feels so authentically respectful to me and to her is the greatest gift I can imagine.
Parenting in such an awake way is all about losing the way and finding it again. Thank you for being a lamppost for me.
I know this was long, but I think I’m spelling it all out for you because I’m so deeply grateful. You are a teacher for me, and I value your work so much.
I offer a complete guide to respectful discipline in my new book:
(Photo by madgerly on Flickr)