I love my kids. So I really love staring at pictures of my kids. Particularly because when these precious beings are frozen in time I can just cascade deep down into my adoration, fully ignoring the reality of how tricky toddlers can be sometimes. If you have ever fought with a toddler you know. (Tis futile.) And if you have ever flipped your lid and Heaven-forbid actually yelled at these delectable little angels then you doubly know the pain. How could I ever yell at one of these exquisite little love muffins?
Nonetheless, it happens sometimes. Maybe especially when times get busy- like say… Christmas parties, cards, and presents- oh my. My capacity drains alongside my bank account, my will to edit an excel spreadsheet and my restraint to turn down another glass of holiday cheer. But, when I can actually receive counsel- in person from a friend, a mentor, a therapist, a sermon, or through media like a podcast or a book- in a way that brings a shift, I am truly grateful. It’s happened in various scenarios about various subjects….thanks to many people over time. PTL.
Looking at this picture of my kids this morning reminded me of this book that a friend recommended I read. A quote from Shefali Tsabary’s book “The Awakened Family”:
“To move away from all illusion that our children are maliciously intent on triggering us is an important step on the path of awakening. When we dare to let go of the mainstream idea that they push our buttons on purpose, we awaken to the true extent of our own immaturity. Without having them to blame on any level, we are now forced to confront our inner lack and discover the reasons why it exists.”
“…Our own immaturity…” What a novel idea! I relate so specifically to her example in the book of a mother and daughter fighting before school. Running late and fighting about clothes. The daughter melting down and fighting the schedule the mother is being driven by.
I. Can. Relate.
She poses: Well, Is the mother always prompt? Is the mother very organized? Uhh negatory, she is not…
And so she draws a connection that the situation escalates quickly between the mother and daughter because it is an issue the mother herself- I myself– struggle with. And it’s easier for me to blame and yell about it than it is to recognize that it’s stemming from my own behavior in the first place. OY. (But like, self-aware-OY, not like guilt-OY.)
After hearing this we personally now make a structured effort to pick out clothes the night before or at least in advance of wherever we are going. It also directed me to sincerely apologize for yelling, in a forward-moving way.
“I’m so sorry I yelled at you this morning- it makes me feel awful. I have been thinking about it today while you were at school and I think it’s because we don’t have enough time in the morning. Would you like more time? What is important for you in the morning? Is there something you would like to do? We can figure out a good plan together so that our mornings are more fun. I love you and I don’t want to yell at you. ”
“I’m so sorry I yelled, I was frustrated because you wouldn’t do what I asked/told you to do.”
Absolutely nothing because you’re not thinking about it at all. Just wallowing about, frustrated and powerless (Fear) rather than convicted and inspired (Love) and driven to establish connection.
It also helps me understand the foundational value and simple pleasure of having more time in the morning. Kids are great teachers! And of course it is supreme to prevent arguments because hurting your precious dumpling’s feelings is the WORST. It’s also nice to just enjoy our time all together as a family. We listen to music, have breakfast, play. It establishes a nice space where we can begin our day without running around yelling at each other. We are now the von Trapps. Simple as that.
Tsabary’s book(s) is full of morsels based on the paradigm that we should awaken out of a state of parenting from fear. Fear that can come across as seemingly healthy concern and protection over our children’s well-being that often-time ends up just being control. Even down to those morning fights- it boils down to a fear that you’re late which means something negative about you. You’re disorganized and so you can’t keep it all together so you’re probably not a great mom, which basically means your kids won’t get into college! Ha- blah blah blippity blah.
Control is the worst. Control = PEEPS. Peep-central. Peep-a-palooza. But peeps would never have a “palooza” because paloozas are too free.
Another quote from Tsabary:
“Of course we justify our fear by telling ourselves ‘we love our children so much.’ I don’t believe that to love someone means we need to fear for them. On the contrary, it’s out of our fear for our own security and wellbeing that we fear for our children. We’re afraid unless the other behaves according to our movie, we will in some way be deprived of fulfillment or a sense of peace. This sense of lack, rooted in the empty feeling left by our crushed authentic self, gets confused with love. Unless we are able to discern the difference between love and our need for our children to assuage our feeling of lack, our connection with them will be muddied.”
[Insert the emoji with the head exploding.]
Even if you don’t have your own kids, you are children of parents. These are common things.
Simply stated: Fear breeds control. And control severs connection because there’s no freedom in control and freedom is an essential need for each of us.
Which reminds me of Danny Silk’s book, “Loving on Purpose.” In “Loving on Purpose” he unpacks how historically there’s been a parental tendency to parent from obedience and compliance- a stern “because I said so” stance. But from that stance, love becomes conditional. Where kids have to please in order to receive love. This then can cause confusion for anyone. Maybe especially confusing when we try to understand how a God who wants us to be obedient can love us even when we fail to measure up and do everything right. Because we will always fail! That misconception causes division. Leaves us wandering in the desert. The inability to be perfect breeds shame and anxiety. And before you know it you’re all wrapped up in the simple but sneaky trap of Fear. Because we don’t stop loving our children any less when they disappoint us. That’s just not how love works.
“When you can choose connection in the face of fear, mistakes, and pain, you have already won the battle between fear and love.” Danny Silk.
Silk’s point of view is that every obstacle with kids is an opportunity to instruct. That “Discipline” connects much more to the notion of a “Disciple”, a teacher, than to strict obedience. That adherence to a rule without regard to connection misses the whole point of love. There’s no fire there. No way to melt.
All of this centers on the premise that Love and Fear cannot be part of the same paradigm, because God is love and “such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.” John 4:18
In conclusion, we are not perfect, nor will we ever be, nor should we strive to be. There was only one who ever was and we have so much to learn from him. But what a gift when people really go to work to dig down and uncover something to educate us so that we are drawn closer to light and truth. Closer to our loved ones, to our children, and into deeper relationships with everyone around us. That saves us from making or repeating bad patterns and habits. If authentic connection can be made even in the absence of just one morning argument then we are winning. As we do that, life will then imitate the art of the pictures that inspired this to begin with.