A Week of Respect
By Shwu Huey
Life with two young children? There are good days and bad days. What makes bad days? Days when my patience runs thin and I get set off by the children even for the slightest things; days when despite myself I say things I regret, in a manner I regret even more; days when I feel like an utter failure at this parenting gig.
Is it possible to have little to no bad days? Days when I am an endless reservoir of patience and calm, invincible to being tested; days when I am mindful of the words I use and even more conscious of their delivery; days when the children and I go through the day as one connected, loving unit and I feel that I completely ace motherhood?
To find out, I decided to challenge myself to apply respect in all aspects of my parenting life for an entire week. This was how the week played out…
I DON'T WANT MAMA
On the first morning, my 3-year old son, upon waking, clung on to my husband and refused to look at me.
“I don’t want Mama! I want Daddy! Mama go away!” he screamed. This was certainly not unusual morning behaviour in our house. Yet, every time it happened it felt like a dagger in my heart.
But that day, I told myself that while I may be upset with his emotions, he has every right to have them, whatever they may be. Perhaps because he is still learning how to communicate effectively, what he meant to say was “I don’t want Mama now. I still want to be with Daddy. Mama go away until I am ready to be with you.”
I chose to acknowledge his emotions. “You don’t want Mama now. You still want to be with Daddy. You want Mama to go away until you are ready to be with me. That’s ok. I understand. I am going to make breakfast and when you are ready, you and I can have breakfast together.”
I went off to the kitchen and before I knew it, he came over with a cheerful, “Hello Mama!” and gave me our usual morning hug and kiss.
What I learnt: Respecting that children are entitled to their own emotions, whatever those emotions may be, helps them feel safe in our presence.
I WANT OATS! NO, I WANT PANCAKES!
In the kitchen, I gave him an option for breakfast.
“What would you like for breakfast – oats or pancakes?” I asked him. “Oats! With dates and walnuts,” he replied. So off I went to prepare oats for breakfast. As I placed a bowl of oats with dates and walnuts, a favourite with the children, in front of him, he let out a protest.
“Mama, I don’t want oats. I want pancakes,” he demanded.
Deep breaths. Yes, I could always eat the oats and make the pancakes. But making the pancakes would take more time, the time needed to get him to school punctually. Was I afraid of disappointing or angering him if I didn’t make pancakes? Every time I back pedalled because I was afraid to upset my son it clouded my vision and affected my judgment, resulting in unclear boundaries which caused confusion, and ultimately chaos. Sure, children need lots of opportunities to be autonomous and have their choices respected. However, in this situation, I decided to help him follow through with the choice he made and explained to him why.
“I’m afraid I’ve already prepared the oats. You asked for oats, remember? You can have pancakes for breakfast tomorrow,” I replied calmly.
“No! I don’t want oats! I want pancakes!” he started to get upset. “Pancakes! I want pancakes!” he whined, and then began to cry loudly. I bent down to his level and looked into his eyes kindly, keeping my voice in a gentle but firm tone. “I know,” I said empathetically. “I know you don’t want oats. You want pancakes.” Just like that his crying dissipated into sniffling. He nodded.
“If I make pancakes now, we will be late for school. And remember, what did you tell me earlier? You said ‘mama I want to have oats’ right? So I made oats for you.” Still sniffling, he gazed at the bowl of oats quietly. “See, I added strawberries and blueberries and powdered dates…all your favourites.” He paused. “Did you say strawberries?” “Yes.” “And blueberries?” “Yes.” “Ok! I have oats!” he chirped, suddenly happy again.
What I learnt: Respectfully setting boundaries by being a clear and kind leader helps children manage their emotional response.
Later in the day when it was time for his bath, I found him busy playing with his building blocks. Instead of yelling for him to get to the bathroom which would have resulted in my being ignored, I went to him and asked what he was building.
“I am building a robot!” he exclaimed proudly. “A robot! What does your robot do?” I was genuinely curious. “It can shoot! It can fly!” “How awesome! Are you done building it?” “Not yet.” “I can see you are not done yet. But you know what, it’s time for your bath. How long do you need to finish building your robot?” “Five minutes!” “Alright. After five minutes, I would like you to have your bath.” “Okay! One, two, three, four, five! Mama, I want to bathe now.”
It was like magic! I had used a different lens to view the situation - instead of expecting him to remember that it was bath time and then getting angry that he was stalling, I decided to see him being in the middle of doing something important to him. I was able to respect that he needed the chance to wrap up what he was doing instead of demanding an abrupt stop, which would certainly have drawn a negative emotional response. By allowing him to indicate readiness, it made him more willing to transition to a different activity, and comply with my request.
What I learnt: Respecting children’s autonomy fosters positive co-operation.
The first day of my one-week challenge was truly enlightening. I learnt that my own behaviour directly influenced my son’s behaviour. When I was respectful, showed empathy, interest and involvement, it made me feel so connected with him all day. I realised that it wasn’t about focusing on fixing him, but how I fix myself first. When I am conscious of what my relationship with him brings out in me, I allow myself to transform into a better version of me.
Over the course of the week, I stayed on the path of awareness, keeping mindful and conscious of the way I was parenting my children. For the times I almost fell off the wagon, I would ask myself the following questions:
Am I overly tired?
If yes, can I take a break? Sometimes just sitting in the bathroom for 2 minutes doing deep breathing works wonders. Other times, I would chat with a close friend to get the negativity off my chest just so I could soldier on till the children’s bedtime.
Am I communicating to be heard?
Am I yelling instructions from half-way across the room? Am I being clear or am I using too many words thus clouding my message? Am I being firm or am I sending confusing messages because my tone is playful? Do I sound unsure? Am I seeking approval instead of leading? Can I demonstrate what I am saying so that the message is clearer?
Are my expectations of my child too farfetched?
Am I setting reasonable boundaries for a child of his age? Am I getting upset for things a child his age naturally does, such as spilling his drink or accidentally making his sister fall because he was playfully tugging her hand?
Am I annoyed with someone or something else?
Often when I am upset with my husband, my children’s behaviours make me more frustrated than usual. Am I unfairly directing my annoyance with an external source unto my children?
It has been six weeks and counting since I took up the challenge. I am happy to say that my good days heavily outnumber my bad. Bad days are minimal, and can now easily turn into good days when I catch myself and revert to more respectful ways.
Try the one week challenge! You may even surprise yourself. Just remember, deep breaths, mindful connection, and perhaps, a big bowl of morning oats.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shwu Huey’s former job as a Communications Specialist would put her in good stead when she became a mum, or so she had hoped. Her job remained the same but her role (and waistline) drastically changed. At first, motherhood was a journey of perpetual guilt trips, self-doubt and chaos, filled with much crying and late-night chocolate binges. Only when she realised the need to mother with kindness, respect, and loving connection did she become a happier mum to happier kids. When she is not busy un-learning and re-learning the art of parenting, she takes a breather to watch TED talks, sew toy unicorns, and practise ignoring pesky chocolate bars who have learnt her name (she is mostly unsuccessful at the last).