Like I have shared in my last couple blogs, this is a tough series for me to write. Most of the time when I write about something, I am a couple steps ahead of the struggle. This one is different. We are in the trenches with our intense child. In fact, right before I started writing this blog, I had the opportunity to put the exact principles into practice that I am writing about today.
[If you are just joining me, I would encourage you to go back and start at the beginning of the series. I share about my struggle to embrace parenting, especially when it comes to parenting an intense child. Knowing the background story will give you context as we journey forward.]
As I continue to learn how to parent from a healthy place, I have found one incredibly simple, astonishingly difficult principle that can shift the atmosphere of our home and therefore the intensity of my child.
I need to be present.
Such a simple idea to talk about, but such a hard one to practice. I find it’s especially hard to do when you are raising an intense child. Because when I say I need to be present, I mean FULLY present. I need to physically set aside what I am working on, clear space in my brain, set my emotions aside, and fully engage. Body. Mind. Spirit.
Because they know. Our children are so much smarter than we give them credit for. They know when we are fully present or when we are giving a flippant response so we can move on to what’s next.
With Piper, parenting is a full contact sport. I can’t enter the ring with any distractions or I’ll be knocked out in the first round.
Let me explain with an example that recently happened. Hopefully the contrast in the story will help drive the point home.
Me being distracted. The kids came home from the neighbors. They had been playing all day and I wanted them to come home and take a break before their next adventure. I was in the middle of working on something. I could tell that she was on fire the minute she walked into the door. She came in yelling at her brother and stomping around as if she wanted my attention. So I asked, “Hey Piper, everything okay?” She proceeded to yell at me. She declared loudly that she didn’t need a break, everything was fine and that I needed to leave her alone. I immediately got frustrated. I had spent the whole week shuffling her and her brother around to playdates and she was on her way to a sleepover. I am so tired of how ungrateful my children are. I was in the middle of something and I’m tired of her yelling all the time. So I began with my empty threats “If you keep yelling, you aren’t going to your sleep over tonight. Go upstairs right now.” I continued to threaten as she stomped up the stairs and slammed the door. I would sigh in frustration and go back to what I was working on. The tone was set for the next couple hours. I was frustrated and she was on edge, ready to explode.
Me being present. The kids came home from the neighbors. They had been playing all day and I wanted them to come home and take a break before their next adventure. I was in the middle of working on something. I could tell that she was on fire the minute she walked into the door. She came in yelling at her brother and stomping around as if she wanted my attention. So I asked, “Hey Piper, everything okay?” She proceeded to yell at me. She declared loudly that she didn’t need a break, everything was fine and that I needed to leave her alone. I physically put away what I was working on went upstairs. I knocked on her door and asked if she needed to talk about something. She’s an extrovert and if she is anything like me-things don’t make sense until I talk about them. She said no, she didn’t want to talk and I went back downstairs. I waited. Within seconds, she called me back to her room. I put everything else aside physically & mentally and FULLY engaged. I laid on her bed and waited. She proceeded to tell me about something that happened at her friend’s house and why she was so upset. We talked about different ways she could respond. I laid there a little longer and then she gently told me I could go downstairs. We had a great rest of the day.
I’m not saying the way she spoke to me and Cole was okay, don’t hear that. What I want you to see is the difference it made when I chose to set aside what I was doing and fully engage in the present moment. When I’m distracted, I tend to throw out empty threats and respond in frustration. But when I pause, set things aside and make myself fully available-usually something shifts, both in me and in her.
Depending on your child, the season of life you are in, or your work demands-the idea of pausing and being fully present with your child may feel impossible. I am not always able to stop everything I’m doing to fully engage with my kids, I get it. But when I do, the outcomes usually outweigh the inconvenience. And to be honest, in the long run, I usually end up saving time. The more distracted I am, the longer the battle lingers on. I don’t get what I need to get done and my relationship with Piper suffers.
While being fully present isn’t always the most natural response, I’m learning what this can look like on a practical level and how it plays out on a daily basis.
I’m learning that I can’t expect to get important things done while I’m in charge of the kids. Yet I set myself up to fail on a nearly daily basis. I am a doer. I have a running to-do list. And I feel like I have to finish everything on my list. So when I am in the midst of accomplishing my to do list and Piper is demanding my attention-I get frustrated. I have set an expectation of what my day is going to look like and all that I am going to accomplish. I get angry at her when she interrupts my flow and my response to her need is not graceful. That is not fair to her.
I’m learning that I need to adjust my expectations.
For me it has to start in the morning. I start by going through my day. What do I need to accomplish? Where are my kids? What needs can I anticipate that my kids will have? Then I set realistic expectations for my day based on the realities of my day and all the moving parts.
And then I need to remember that my day will change.
So after you go through your day, Pray. Give it to the Lord. Give God your day and all the expectations that go with it. Lay them down and open yourself to what He has.
Hold your plans with open hands.
Even after I do those things, I still find myself struggling to be present. Because of that I have started asking myself this simple yet incredibly convicting question “Is what I am doing right now more important than investing in my child?”
The answer is no.
I do want to be clear about the audience I am speaking to specifically. Kids need to learn that the world doesn’t revolve around them. I am not saying that as parents we need to drop everything we are doing at the wim of our children’s demands. I am speaking to parents with intense children. And as I speak to them, I am not even saying that they should drop everything they are doing for their child at anytime. I’m speaking to parents amidst moments of intensity.
Hear me say this: There is power in being present, especially in moments of intensity. Your child’s intensity will look different than mine. It is SO HARD to be present in the midst of the flurry, but I promise you it will be worth it. It may not seem like it, but it will save you energy and time in the long run. But most importantly of all, being present with your child will establish the foundation for the future of your relationship.
I’m in this with you!