Sunday, August 28, 2011
“Be sure to secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” You hear it every time you fly, right? And it makes sense: if you didn’t put on your oxygen mask, you would be useless to help anyone around you in an airplane emergency. But even worse, you could be a burden, a hindrance. Your unconscious, inert body could actually block the way and keep other people from getting out of the plane safely. So if those masks ever drop from the ceiling, it’s a no-brainer to most of us that we should put our own mask on first, then help our kids or other people with theirs. But….. I’m sure I’m not the first person to see the obvious analogy. I’m sure you have, too, right? Let me explain.
Right now I’m sitting in my mom’s hospital room, trying to provide help, care, and loving company to her while she struggles with several different ailments. And it occurs to me that this oxygen-mask advice makes sense emotionally, as well. I’m finally learning that when I don’t take care of myself, I can have a negative impact on those around me. In all kinds of relationships, it’s a good idea to “secure your own emotional oxygen” in order to be available to nurture those who depend on you. When we always put other people’s needs first while consistently ignoring our own, we are asking for trouble. No one can be ok all the time, but I’m beginning to understand that I do have a responsibility to try to increase my ok-ness whenever I can.
It seems to me that parents of young kids are at great risk for doing this. Of course it's true that parenting involves sacrifice. Lots of it. It’s just the way it is, and people who aren’t willing to accept this often make lousy parents. When you have kids, especially when they’re very young, it’s a given that your needs and wants will go on the back burner, at least for a number of years. Kids are totally worth it, but there’s no denying that they take priority over everything else. However, it’s important to figure out which of your own needs are so basic to you that they could be classified as “emotional oxygen,” and then work to make sure you take care of those needs. Otherwise, both you and your kids will suffer.
Looking back, I realize that I most certainly didn’t quite get this twenty years ago when I was in the middle of raising little kids. I can see now that some of my difficulties and bad parenting moments were the result of being deprived of the emotional oxygen that I needed in order to function at my best.
In my case, one of the most basic things that I needed when my kids were little was alone-time. Having a little time on a regular basis to zone out or actually complete a thought for a change would have made a big difference, but I didn’t get it very often. I had been raised by a very selfless, devoted mom who never put herself first. I'm so lucky to have such a loving mother who poured her heart into her kids. However, having this role model made it almost impossible to see self-care as an option when my kids were really little. When Emily and Audra were toddlers, I often found myself melting down unexpectedly and being emotionally volatile, which I don’t tend to be by nature. In retrospect, I understand why. My head was spinning with kid-stuff all the time, with no time to think. I still remember how it felt, and I can still conjure up the crazy feelings and headaches that were my almost-constant reality during that time. Being deprived of solitude may not be a problem for some people, but for me it was a nightmare. Marlin was already working extremely hard to support us, as well as pitching in a lot when he was at home. It seemed that he was already as maxed out as I was so I didn’t feel I had a right to complain or ask for even more help. We were on a fairly tight budget, having just moved to California from the much-more-affordable Midwest, and we couldn’t afford luxuries like babysitting very often.
It wasn’t until the kids were a little older that I realized how much it would have helped to have a bit of me-time to look forward to on a regular basis. There would have been fewer mommy-meltdowns and I could have made better parenting decisions. I still remember how awful I felt each time I raised my voice at my kids, and I still remember how they often asked me if I as happy, anxiously scanning my facial expression for signs of stress. Poor little things: they really did absorb my stress and exhaustion. If I had realized that my unmet need for a little bit of down-time was impacting people other than just myself, I probably would have found ways to take care of myself a little better. For example, I could have tried a little harder to work out reasonable kid-trading and babysitting arrangements with other moms on a regular basis. I did some of that but it was sporadic because I didn’t realize the importance of it, and it took effort to plan. With just a little more up-front effort, I could have built in a little more sanity-time, and prevented passing on my stress to my little girls.
While struggling with my mom’s health problems lately I’ve had to remind myself frequently of these important lessons. Caring for an ill and aging parent isn’t all that different from parenting young children. In both contexts, It’s hard not to give in to the strong urge to forget about myself while focusing on the immediate and urgent needs of others. So I am trying to deliberately remind myself to get out of this hospital room several times a day, get fresh air, take walks, immerse myself in a good book, and take other kinds of breaks when I can. Even writing this blog post has given me a refreshing breath of emotional oxygen during this difficult time. Thankfully, starting our new year at preschool next week, with the opportunity to meet my new group of toddlers and their parents will definitely be therapeutic for me.
What is your emotional oxygen? The next time you ignore a strong basic need of your own in order meet some “wants” of your kids, think about it. Every day in the life of a family is full of little emergencies as well as the occasional Major Disaster. But there are always opportunities for self-care if we really look for them. It’s important to remember that no one will do this for you. Even the most sensitive and loving partners or friends can’t see what you are feeling and fix it for you: it’s your job to do that.
My advice: secure your own emotional oxygen before assisting others. Otherwise, you will be of no assistance to anyone.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Teacher Annie’s Transition Support Group
For parents of children in kindergarten and beyond.
At Explorer, Room 11
15 sessions: August 30-December 6, 2011
$150 per family
Moving into the world of elementary school can be a bit daunting….. for parents. No doubt about it: the children are always ready for big changes before we are!
Your children don’t need a support group: they’ll already be finding that on the playground and at their lunch table! But if you’re looking for help as you navigate these new waters, this group is for you. We’ll talk about issues related to being parents of school-agers, as well as discuss the development of children ages 5-8.
Preschool parents have already learned the value of parent-support, so there’s no reason this has to end now that preschool is just a fond memory! We all still need support, information, and connection with other parents.
Tell your friends: anyone is welcome. (Not limited to Explorer families.)
To register, contact Annie Deckert
Monday, August 15, 2011
Marlin and I look forward to our relaxing camping getaway every summer. We’re sitting under the tall trees reading and chatting, thinking about starting dinner, when new neighbors arrive. A minivan pulls into the empty campsite next to us. (Let's call them Family A.) Mom and Dad start getting organized, while a four year old boy and a six year old girl check out their surroundings.
Here are some bits of conversation that I overheard:
DAD: Hey come help me set up the tent. Here hold this for a minute, ok? Let’s pick a good spot for the tent.
4-YEAR OLD: Ummmhhh, over there! (Points to an uneven spot with lots of bumpy tree roots.)
DAD: Well, that might be a little bit bumpy for the tent. How about over here, where it’s smooth and flat. What do ya think?
4-YEAR OLD: Ok!
DAD: You decide which way we should make the door face. Like that? Ok. Good idea. That way we can see the campfire from the tent doorway.
4-YEAR OLD: Are we gonna build a fire right now?
DAD: Later we’ll work on it. Maybe when it’s getting dark. Ok, you take this corner and give the other corner to your sister. Right. Now you can each take one tent pole and put it together like this. Good! Yeah, it’s big but you can handle it. Remember how we did it last night at the other campground? Now- do you see where it goes through the loop?
6-YEAR-OLD: I’ll hold this end and we can do it together, ok?
DAD: Teamwork! I love it!
4-YEAR OLD: Mom! Why aren’t you giving me milk?!?
MOM: Are you thirsty? Help yourself to some water if you like. I’m making a quick dinner right now, and you can have milk in a few minutes if you still want it. I could use some help. Would you like to set out the silverware, or put these carrots in a bowl?
DAD: Tent’s all set up! I’m glad I had helpers. Tents are hard to set up alone.
SIX-YEAR-OLD: Mom, look! I climbed! I climbed as high as I could!!!
MOM: Wow- that IS high. I remember when you were too little to do that, and now you can climb way higher than your head!
4-YEAR OLD: I need to go pee!!!!
MOM: Remember where it is? You can go by yourself if you want to. It’s so close I can watch you walk there while I’m cooking.
SIX-YEAR-OLD: I’ll go with him!
MOM: Thanks! Your brother will probably like the company. Ask him!
FOUR-YEAR-OLD: Yeah, come with me, and let’s pretend we’re hikers lost in the woods!
MOM: Dinner’s ready—I hope the “lost hikers” hurry up and get found so we can eat while it’s hot! There will be plenty of time to run and climb between dinner and bedtime. How does that taste? I’ll bet you’re hungry from all the fresh air and all the exercise! I know I am!
SIX-YEAR-OLD: Let’s go on a hike after dinner! We can find the perfect walking sticks first, then explore!
DAD: Whew- I’m tired, but I think you’re right: a short hike would be fun. Just give me a few minutes to rest first, ok?
Oh dear……even though I’m on vacation, I’m in Teacher-Annie-Mode anyway, as usual. I can’t help thinking about what an excellent example of Positive Discipline this family is demonstrating. Mom and Dad must be tired: a camping trip with little kids? Exhausting. I remember it well. But they seem calm and happy, and so do the children. They are fully connected to their beautiful surroundings, and enjoying being together.
What a contrast from the other family I eavesdropped on yesterday. Let's call them Family B. Here are some tidbits:
MOM: Don’t go so far away—I’ve told you a million times. You’ll get lost in the woods and eaten by bears.
FIVE-YEAR-OLD-GIRL: No I won’t! It’s boring over here. You never let me do anything.
MOM: Don’t touch that: it’s dirty. Why can’t you just play and leave me alone so I can cook dinner? I’m tired enough without you making everything harder.
FIVE-YEAR-OLD GIRL: I’m Dora! You be Diego! C’mon!
SEVEN-YEAR-OLD-BOY: No, Diego doesn’t climb trees. And that stuff is just for babies like you, anyway!
FIVE-YEAR-OLD GIRL: Mom!!!! He’s calling me names!
SEVEN-YEAR-OLD BOY: I just said she’s a baby because she’s acting like one. And now she’s climbing again!
DAD: Get down from there: you’re not allowed to climb trees, and you know it.
FIVE-YEAR-OLD GIRL: I want a soda!
MOM: Don’t bug Dad right now: you know how he gets when he’s trying to set up the tent!
FIVE-YEAR-OLD GIRL: I want a soda!!
MOM: No soda right now. Leave me alone: I’m cooking dinner! We’ll never get to eat if you keep interrupting me.
FIVE-YEAR-OLD GIRL: I WANT A SODA!!!!!
DAD: That does it! No more soda for you for the rest of the day. You’ve had enough anyway. That’s why you’re acting like a brat.
MOM: Lord help me….. Why did I think this trip was a good idea? They’re just as bad as they are at home, only worse because there’s nothing to keep them entertained.
FIVE-YEAR-OLD GIRL: So-DA! So-DA! So-DA!
SEVEN-YEAR-OLD-BOY: Dad, she’s bugging me with all the screaming.
DAD: Listen. Stop the whining. If you don’t stop messing around and bugging us you’re gonna have a time-out. Ok- let’s have a contest: whoever can be quiet for the longest gets to have the first marshmallow later.
MOM: Here: just sit down and watch this movie.
DAD: Shoulda thought of the movie earlier. Good thing we brought the DVD player.
MOM: Thank God for technology.
Big difference, isn’t it? But why is Family A able to handle regular every-day kid-stuff in a positive way, while everything is so hard for Family B?
Here are some things that Family A did well, and Family B did poorly:
-Involving the children in the work of the family (even though setting up a tent with little “helpers” actually takes longer…..)
-Responding to children’s needs and wants
-Setting limits when appropriate
-Encouraging independence and confidence
-Role-modeling cooperation and encouraging teamwork
-Teaching the children how to enjoy the outdoors, by setting an example
-Encouraging imaginative play and physical activity.
-Demonstrating respect for each other
-Giving up on perfectionism
Family B’s approach was almost directly opposite, and the end result is conflict, bad feelings, bickering, impatience, exhaustion, and a very miserable atmosphere. (Not to mention all the negative things the children are learning…..)
And, as you may have guessed, I’m quite unimpressed with the way Family B fell back on turning on a movie for the kids. They’re out in the woods! Chipmunks, trees, rocks, sky, bugs…… everything a kid could possibly need! How can they think it’s a good idea to distract kids from nature by parking them in front of a movie they’ve seen a dozen times already???? Don’t get me started….. I can’t help but wonder if many of the negative behaviors on the part of the kids AND parents in Family B have their origins in too many hours spent in front of the tv at home. And these kids probably watched movies in the car all day on the way to the campground, so no wonder they’re crabby! I’m doubtful that these parents have ever interrupted their important tv-viewing schedule with a parenting book, a parenting class, or a parenting blog. I had to wonder how the Family B parents would respond if they were ever exposed to positive discipline concepts. Would they embrace it and start learning the skills, or would they reject the ideas, saying it’s too much work?
I wonder if Family A is always functions this well. I doubt it. There’s no such thing as Super Parents, and real life brings plenty of problems and frustrations. But it was obvious that although thinking in positive ways takes effort, these parents were actually finding it a lot easier to camp with kids than the other family. Making the effort to learn and practice positive discipline skills makes family life easier and happier in the long run.
When my kids were young, I remember being in Family-B-Mode way too much, even though I was beginning to know better. I wish I could have managed more Family-A-Moments, but oh well…..I was trying pretty hard, doing my best most of the time, and learning a lot. A lot of parenting comes down to just doing the best you can. But even the occasional good-parent-moment is worth the effort. Success builds on success, and every time we do well in our attempts to use positive discipline, we’re laying the groundwork for another successful moment down the road.
I wonder how Marlin and I will do someday, the first time we take our future grandkids camping. I hope I’ll manage to be a bit more like Family A than Family B. It’s so much more fun to be positive.
But listen, Emily and Audra: no hurry on that grandkid thing, ok?