Embracing Failure in Front of My Kids as a Way to Demonstrate Resilience
By Natalie Ruskin
Photo © crystalmariesing/Twenty20
Jan 21, 2019
I’ll never do that. I’ll never be that way with my child.
How many times had I vowed before I had kids that I'd never yell at my children like I’d seen other parents do?
And how many times, since becoming a parent, have I found myself the author of those once-judged failures?
Oh, the shock and disappointment after losing my temper at my four-year-old for spilling his milk.
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“I told you five times not to keep your cup at the edge of the table!”
And then, the inner self-critic: “I’m doing the thing I said I wouldn’t! I’m a monster!’
But enough with the self-deprecation. That track’s been on heavy rotation long enough for me to know that it doesn’t lead to change.
"In my experience, change begins to happen when I allow myself to be vulnerable."
What does lead to change is knowing that I am not alone in how I react to my son’s misbehaviours. In my coaching business with working moms, I regularly hear my clients berate themselves for losing their cool with their kids. These are well-informed women who, despite painstaking efforts to love and attend to their kids mindfully, get stuck in this unproductive cycle of self-deprecation and overreaction. Mark Twain wrote in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, “To promise not to do a thing is the surest way in the world to make a body want to go and do that very thing.” And if that resonates, it appears that the well-intended self-promise actually feeds the unwanted behaviour.
In my experience, change begins to happen when I allow myself to be vulnerable.
How I Can Be Vulnerable and Responsible
By imperfectly owning my failures as something I’ve done but not something I am, I feel as though I'm showing vulnerability but still showing up as a responsible adult for my kids. In doing so, I model self-love and resilience in the face of big emotions.
Today, when my son gets teary because I’ve raised my voice — after I’ve asked him literally ten times to put boots on — I’m honest with him about what I’m experiencing. Instead of going into defence mode about why I yelled or guilt mode wherein I immediately tend to tears, I give my son the opportunity to witness waves of emotion and ambivalence pass through me. Then, I talk to him about what’s going on in me and I ask him to tell me what’s going on in him.
Why? Because I want my kids to observe that emotions have a beginning, middle and end. Big emotions like anger and frustration can feel ugly if we’re not used to really feeling them.
Rather than beat myself up for getting angry, I try to see the anger as an opportunity to show my kids that it’s OK to feel uncomfortable and to not know what to do with yourself in those charged moments. Also, I want my kids to get that I’m not perfect so that they can relieve themselves of any perfectionistic ideals.
How I Stay Present in the Heat of the Moment
I track breath and body sensations. Rather than analyze or get cerebral about what’s going on, I focus on being aware of my breath and any tension arising in my body. This mindful approach offers a concrete and simple alternative to the inner harsh dialogue residing in my head.
Last month, while picking up a print job at a big box supply outlet, I noticed a solo mother with her three children in tow, struggling to get a copy machine to work. The staff at the outlet weren’t very accommodating and, as two of three kids pulled on their mother’s clothing for attention, she yelled “stop it” and some people turned heads.
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The employee cashing me out looked at me and muttered: “That lady needs to get her kids under control.” Pre-kids, my thoughts might have been the same.
“Do you have kids?” I asked. “No.”
Today, all I could think was: “I feel for you mama.” And I hope that mother found a way to let her kids know how she felt, too.
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