I see it all the time and cringe- Wonderful, amazing, loving parents being hard on themselves in times of imperfection. We are responsible for so much, and we pride ourselves on knowing how to handle everything and keep it all balanced.
When we’re in the thick of it, we often end up in a downward spiral of guilt and anger towards ourselves that is hard to recover from. Unschooling life isn’t always perfect. Unschooled kids are not without issue.
It seems to me that a lot of Unschooling parents tend to feel like when joy isn’t overflowing in the family, it all falls on us; we aren’t providing enough, we aren’t patient enough, we aren’t reacting the right way, etc.
I have come to accept and understand that the junky stuff is just the other side of balance. It’s inevitable that we’ll have off days. We are four individual people living together, and while that is often simply amazing, it can also be trying at times. My goal is not to avoid all conflict within the family. Rather, my goal is to handle it as best I can so we can all bounce back swiftly.
In the heat of the moment, I have some simple strategies. It takes a lot of re-programming myself, but I try stop a blow-up before it starts. I can’t remember who came up with “Connect before you correct” but I love it. If the kids are doing something that isn’t appropriate for the situation and I feel like I need to intervene, I try to connect first by commenting on how much fun they are having, or what I do like about what they’re doing. I also try to say in my head what my initial angry reaction is, and then speak when I’ve been able to think first.
If I have already started to raise my voice I often catch myself in the middle and launch into a melodramatic growl or yell “You’re killing me, smalls!” or “You’re fired!” and we all laugh and I take a minute to compose myself. I also frequently use the imaginary rewind button, and so do the kids. Lastly, but most importantly- I always, always apologize.
Sometimes, things dissolve from a simple moment of annoyance, into a whole day or week of what can only be described as the funk.
When things have gotten to this point I start by making sure that I’m getting what I need. I might need to take a break and go out by myself for a while, or take time to pursue my own interests before I’m able to turn my attention to de-funkifying.
Give my anger/frustration/stress Action–
Tiffani just wrote about the emotional and physical connection and I wholeheartedly agree. For me with anger, more than any other emotion I have to be active. I go for a walk, do some serious stretching, ride my bike or at the very least- throw some air punches, jump, flail and yell into a pillow (or even better, out loud if I have the space to) and get that negative energy moving onward.
Then, I Sit with what’s leftover–
Once that anger’s ass has been thoroughly kicked, I breathe deeply and let the thoughts and feelings wash over me without filter. I label each thought and feeling as an outside observer: guilt, annoyance, stress etc. These thoughts and feelings are a part of me, but they are not Me. They are real, valid, acceptable and worth looking at, but they don’t define me. I don’t shame myself or use words of anger towards myself. I wouldn’t do it to my partner, a child or a friend, and I wont do it to me. I remind myself that my worth does not dissolve when I’m not being super-mom. I love myself despite my perceived failure, and I accept that everything I label negative is part of this journey. I don’t want perfection from my partner, my kids or myself. I want authenticity. Being pissed off, stressed out and frustrated is authentic.
Next, I Pin-point the cause–
By the time I get to this point, I’m generally calm and ready for rational thought. This is when the work begins. I dig and pick at my brain until I find the root of the issue. I talk to my husband about it. I talk to my friends about it. I read blogs about the same issues. I journal, make lists and come up with what is really bothering me.
Teresa once shared a crazy notion with me, the gist of which is- when we’re mad at someone else, it’s usually about our self.
Let me tell you, that made me squirm. I have always been a blame placer, and the idea that my issue with someone else is actually about me was a little hard to accept. This truly radicalized the way I have dealt with every conflict since. Now, when I’m angry, I know the first place I need to look is inward. It’s uncomfortable and difficult, but always dead on. It’s not blaming myself and taking responsibility for every issue; it’s discovering why I’m being affected by someone else’s actions.
Once I’ve identified the culprit, I use many tools to deal with it. Often it’s something recurring that I just need to spend some time thinking about, processing, and putting back into perspective.
When things are out of whack in my life, it typically boils down to disconnection- simple as that. I usually find lack of same pageness is the problem. Sometimes it’s that I’ve been busy, distracted and unavailable, yet I expected everyone else to keep cruising. Sometimes the kids have an issue they are working through, and even if I can’t figure out what it is, I can still be available, present, authentic and anger-free. I take myself out of the equation; remove myself as the victim. I remind myself that when they are off and behaving in a way that I don’t particularly enjoy, it’s because they are feeling something. It’s their own issue coming from somewhere. It’s not personal, and it’s not directed at me, even though sometimes it seems that way. Once I start feeling sympathetic to their feelings again, I’m ready to be present without taking their actions and feelings personally.
Sometimes to reconnect, I look back through my blog or photo gallery. That usually brings back the inspiration to be the mom I want to be. It reminds me of what it is we do and what we’re all about. Sometimes I write (for the millionth time) the list of goals I have for myself as a person and mother. I also read the blogs I love and recommit to living mindfully with my kids. Once I have that feeling back, I become my kids friend again!
This is the fun part; I like to lay in the middle of the living room floor. The kids inevitably join me, I make crazy faces and use funny voices. Being super silly always helps. Sometimes I turn the lights off, put on a movie we all love and let the kids come to it if they want to. I might go sit with them where they are and take an active interest in what they’re doing. Once I feel like we’ve laughed, had fun and enjoyed each other again, if I still feel like it needs to be addressed, I might initiate a conversation about what’s been going on. I apologize for my part in the conflict and suggest we get back to feeling good again. I ask if there is anything they want/need to talk about.
Enlist the kids help–
I occasionally run myself ragged over-analyzing. I look to everyone and everywhere else for help when all I needed to do was ask them! When I come clean about my frustrations/fears/concerns, (without anger or blame!!) they are always incredibly insightful. After reconnecting, I lay it all out there and ask for their help handling the issue. Even if it’s about an outside stress and isn’t to do with them directly I feel like it’s really helpful for them to see me problem solving. They help me brainstorm and have great ideas that really help and, at the very least, they get a better understanding of what’s been going on with me. If it is about something in our relationship directly, they also have great ideas and are able to hear my plight more neutrally without feeling automatically defensive because of my anger. They see that I’m trying to work on solving the problem rather than blame them, and that goes a long way in getting them on board with trying to find a solution too. They often just need to be heard which I’m at times unable to do without reacting negatively. Giving them the space to say everything they need to, without judgment, goes a long way.
We are raising our children in the real world. In this big ole life that is full of all kinds of wonderful, marvelous things and also unfortunately, some bogus shit. As much as I love and adore my kids, I’m not trying to shield them from that. It’s OK for them to see me screw up. It’s OK for me to admit that sometimes, I’m lost and confused and don’t know what the next step to take is. It’s alright because it shows them that when they feel lost and confused and don’t know what the next step to take is, they aren’t alone. They have someone to turn to, someone who can relate. Someone who has shown them that it isn’t about being perfect. We need to love ourselves despite our flaws, just like we love our kids. We need to treat ourselves the way we hope they treat themselves. It’s about being real, honest and giving a middle finger to the lie that says when we feel something other than happy, we’re wrong.
We are people. Fat, tall, short, skinny, wrinkled, freckled, scarred, happy, sad, young, old, excited, inspired, bored, lazy, stressed, overwhelmed, responsible, courageous, fallible human beings. We are all of it, life is all of it, not just the “good” parts. Let’s not teach our kids that on top of feeling shitty for whatever is really going on, that we are only lovable when we’re feeling shiny and happy that we should also add a generous layer of guilt and self-hate.