We had a crazy hour around lunchtime yesterday. Over the summer we have fallen out of the rhythm of tidying up before lunch and dinner, which has put us right back into power struggles over the issue as we try to reestablish our routine. The children did not want to begin tidy-up time, despite several warnings it was coming. They began running around getting out more things and generally getting into mischief. I cleaned for what would usually be our tidy-time then shifted to make the children’s lunches in order to get the baby eating (and stop getting more toys out!). I returned to tidying up, encouraging the older children to help, as it would take much less time to get to eating our lunches should we all work together. This was generally not accepted, although they did help with a few things. As we finished, the final task was for my three year old to put away the costume he had just taken off that was now on the floor. The request threw him into complete melt-down that ended in a fight with is brother and a broken bowl. When I got that cleaned up (I would normally have them clean their own messes, but in the case of broken dishes, I will do it for them) and people settled, my five year old asked for some crackers. I decided to oblige for fear of creating another eruption…the children were clearly very hungry! I put the crackers on his plate, which threw him into meltdown. He didn’t want them to be wet by touching his pickle, and proceeded to throw them all over the kitchen. My response was to leave, saying, “I need to leave because I feel like I’m going to yell at my children, and I don’t want to.” I went into the next room, sat down and took some deep breaths. What I heard from the kitchen was a return to happy conversation and the noises of children enjoying their lunches. I could have chosen to address the behaviours right then and there, enforcing their need to clean up after themselves, but I didn’t. I chose to leave the situation rather than escalating it. When I went back into the kitchen, everyone was fine again. The food was being eaten, including the crackers that had since been picked up. It is really hard to leave conflict in the heat of the moment. For some reason the fight instinct is much stronger than the one for flight. I ask my children to do this all the time – in the middle of conflict, I suggest they leave before they get into a fight. This time I was able to model it, and more importantly experience what it feels like to leave in the heat of the moment.
The past couple of months have been very stressful for me for a number of reasons. There has been a lot going on. As a result, I have been stretched, pushed, and generally stressed out. There was not time or space to properly process all that was happening due to the pace of life with three littles and the circumstances of the situation. I am finally feeling like I’m recovering from what has been a very dark period in my life.
In the middle of it all, I didn’t know what to do to help myself. I felt lost, and frustrated. I was not parenting the way I wanted to be, or how I knew I was capable of. But I had no way to be any different. There was not space to make it so. But what I didn’t think of in the throes of the chaos was to ask for help. What I really needed was an opportunity to walk away, to have a break from the conflict. In retrospect, I now realize that if I had asked for a day off, there are many people in my life who would have stepped up to provide the relief I so desperately needed. I am so blessed with loving family and friends! But what held me back was an inability to care for myself, rooted in my pride. I didn’t want to admit that I was finding it all to be too much. Our culture has such disdain for people who ask for what they need. We suffer silently, afraid to ask for help. But a break, even if it were just for a few hours would have helped me to return home to myself!
This past weekend I had a full day away from the family. The yield from being apart for even just a day has been amazing. The past three days have been much more enjoyable for everyone in the family. I have been able to restore my inner calm so I no longer feel the need to nag the children. I now have more capacity for patience and compassion for myself and my children. Although I hate to admit it, my children have benefited from the break as well. Since we spend all of our time together, it is helpful to clear the air every once in a while. The result of taking time apart has been that this week we have been much more respectful, more loving, more cuddly, and generally it has been more enjoyable to be around each other. Now that I’m beginning to see the light at the other side of the darkness. I can honestly say that I have learned an insurmountable lesson from this journey. I know now that what is best for everyone is for me to have self-compassion. Allowing myself to recognize that the journey can be difficult sometimes is alright.
I have been learning in many ways that sometimes the best conflict resolution is to walk away. A break can bring such clarity. Time away offers the space to stop reacting to it. Asking for help does not speak of failure, but in fact the opposite. When I ask for the support I need, I have in fact succeeded. Having the courage to take time for myself allowed me to gain perspective about the ways in which I was trying to grasp at the illusion of control. Without that oppressive old paradigm thinking, I have been able to reacquaint myself with what’s really important to me…my family.