Today I had a breakthrough. My 2-year had a meltdown. A hysterical, crocodile tears, why did I have children, screaming fit at 6:00 AM.
This is the hardest way to start the day. As you can imagine it was not easy for me when I stopped to sit near him and did my best to connect and choose love. Often, my first reaction is to Shut-Him-Up, by any means necessary. “What is it?”, “What do you want?”, “What do you need?”, “Stop screaming please, you’re hurting my ears.”
This morning was different; sitting close I listened and tried to decipher the needs he was communicating. I did this because I know he needs my open heart. I know that giving him empathy, compassion, and patience will build the foundation for our relationship. Not just our relationship, but all his relationships for the rest of his life. Bear with me, I recorded our conversation and it seems long because it was long. Connection and relationships take time and energy! I kept it long to illustrate the importance of creating space for our children to feel and be heard. I discovered something beautiful, and it went like this:
Him: Nooooooooooo mommmy! I wanted to come in and wake you up! I wanted to surprise you! Go back in! Goooooo baaaaack!
Me: (Try to sit in this with him. Remember this is not about waking me up, this is something more.)
You wanted to wake me up?
Him: Yes! Go back innnnn! Gooooo back innnnnn!
Inner Me: (hmmmmm, it is not a big deal to just start over, maybe I should give in and let him “wake” me. But I do not want to because his Auntie is in there sleeping)
Him: Goooo! Nooooowwww!
Me: It looks like you are sad and angry.
Him: Yes! Go mommy, Go! I want to wake you up!
Inner Me: (Maybe I should. OMFG it’s so early. I’m so tired. What is wrong with this kid?! Why does he have to start already?!)
Him: Go mommmy! Go!
Me: You want me to go back. I’m going to sit closer to you. I’d love to hug you and help you. (I move closer to him)
Him: (Full on T-Rex) Get away from me! Go now! Go mommy go! I need some space, Get away!
The way he kicked and screamed and went deeper into his feelings when I initiated a connection told me I was getting warmer. This was about his desire to connect with me. This was NOT all my fears coming true. (You know, those fears we all have that we are raising an unsatisfied, bossy, manipulative child.) He is desperate for connection. So desperate, that his body and mind can hardly contain itself. He wanted our typical interaction, the kind where he comes in yelling “Surprise!” and then I muster most enthusiastic “Good morning!” I can.
These types of routines send him the message he is safe, loved, protected, and has some control. When you know what is coming next in your day it is a lot easier to feel calm and safe. Think about a time you had to go to a new doctor’s office. Remember the stress it took to find the parking lot, correct floor, correct reception? For me, I’m running traffic lights, making wrong turns, running late, and walking the wrong way off the elevator. Now compare that to going to your most loved restaurant. You know how to get there you know the menu. Probably not stressful at all, in fact it is pleasant. This is what “new” things vs. routines are like for a child. He did not get to connect with me this morning how he usually does, and he was stressed and needed reassurance. Our interaction continued…
Me: I love you, I hear you
Him: No mommy! Go back in!
Me: It must be confusing and hard when you don’t get to see me like usual. Today, I’m here on the stairs with you. It’s different.
Him: Yes mommy, go back!
Me: I’m going to stay here. I will be here if you need me.
Him: (More screaming then suddenly he stops, goes to his room, and slams the door.)
Me: It seems like you want some alone time. I can let you be in your room alone if you need it.
Me: (walking away) Okay, I will stay nearby in case you need me.
Him: Nooooo mommy! Don’t go! I want my dinosaur.
It was at this point my fears were really closing in on me. What if he is just a manipulative brat who uses crying to get what he wants? He can’t just throw a tantrum then get a dinosaur! What if he grows up thinking he can kick and scream then mommy will give him whatever he wants? And here, right HERE is where the important choices are made. I chose love and connection over fear.
Now, I think “Okay, maybe he’s letting me in. Maybe the dinosaur could be a way to connect with me on his terms after having his usual taken from him. So, I dig into the box in the closet and get two dinosaurs. One for him and one for me. What happens next is so big for both of us.
Him: (heartbreakingly, genuinely, grateful) Thank you! Thank you mommy! Can we play dinosaurs together?
Me: Of course. I love you, and I love playing with you. Rawwwrrrr! I’m the dinosaur and I’m walking to the rug.
Him: (Giggling, happy, bright eyed, excited) Rawwwrrrr! I’m hungry! I’m going to eat some carrots!
This is miraculous for me because I struggle. I struggle to choose love, acceptance, validation, connection. I struggle to be vulnerable and emotionally available. It is typical for me to take things personally. Often, my fear and voices like these drive my choices:
“He doesn’t want to connect because I’m doing something terribly wrong. I’ve damaged him in some way.”
“He cannot connect because I can’t connect. I’m a horrible example for him.”
“Maybe if I had more discipline, love, self-control… (insert any great quality here) I could do what all those parenting books say. I should wake up before him, greeting him with a full breakfast, smiling warmly at his entrance to the day.”
Can you imagine the outcome if I listened to those voices? I can, because I’ve mistakenly chosen fear many times. Well today I chose love, and now it’s 4:00 PM and he is once again happily playing with me and his dinosaur. The calm I created this morning has trickled down onto our day like a gentle rain. More often, we need to rest in peace and confidence that our relationships will be okay. We need to believe our children are normal, healthy, and thriving. Finally, we need to create space for them to feel our love by choosing love over fear more often.