Talking to listen
Tuesday morning, Elijah flipped out. It wasn’t necessarily the mother of all tantrums, but pretty darn close.
He threw punches and kicks and dove into the big brown chair he seeks comfort in. He screamed until I thought his throat would seize up, and he put deep bite marks into his own arm.
I stayed and I listened.
It sucked that the episode came right when he was supposed to be putting on shoes and heading for the car. This out-of-the-blue upheaval in our morning made everyone late for work, day camp, or preschool camp. But Elijah was being very clear that he needed help – right now!
I absorbed and catalyzed his tantrum for him. Its ugly emotional discharge did not stick to me. Greg, on the other hand, couldn’t deal effectively at that particular moment.
What is the difference between the way we parent? That morning, I was resourced. What I mean is that I drew from the resources I have been gathering around me lately.
Greg and I had had our family counseling Saturday in which I practiced new skills in listening, which helped Greg get to the bottom of why he doesn’t do certain things we think he should do. The day before, I continued a thread I’ve been working on with my personal counselor. Plus, I thoroughly talked my stuff out at Monday night’s Parent Resource Group, which I’ve been attending for a few months.
Greg doesn’t seek out such support. Guys typically don’t.
But women talk. They need to. Not for some selfish or frivolous reason but because in discussing our experiences we derive the elasticity we need to be the shock absorbers of our relationships.
When we connect, listen, and share with others, we find answers we sometimes don’t logically understand to questions we may not even know we had. We find validation and comfort in knowing others experience their own flavors of our similar problems. We vent and process, and in so doing, we find our strength.
Being able to process my own upsets and practice personal mastery made it practically easy to be there as my little boy was striking out and hurting himself Tuesday.
I used the Stay Listening technique I learned in my Parenting by Connection group. Even when Elijah repeatedly screamed, “Go away, Mommy! Go away!” I remained.
Although I didn’t believe this when I first learned it: Small children should not be left alone when they’re having terribly hard feelings, regardless of the reason, even if they request solitude.
First, I carefully held Elijah down so he couldn’t hurt me, and then I backed away so I was safe. There I sat with a sad but loving smile on my face a few feet from my writhing boy and said, “I can’t leave you to have these big feelings on your own. I am right here for you.” And then I was quiet, except for the occasional validating, “Mm-hmm” or “You are angry.” Or, “Here, do you want to bite on this old towel instead? It’s safe.”
Eventually, something shifted. Elijah cleared and went off to camp with Greg like a happy camper.
I somehow managed to make up the lost 30 minutes in about 30 seconds of focused effort – because I had to. I still had to get Raphael and myself fed and ready for the day.
As Raphael and I were about to leave for his first day of CLC summer camp, Greg called to ask what to do. In his stress witnessing Elijah’s tantrum, my husband had forgotten our boy’s backpack by the front door on the way out. I told him a bus was waiting to take Elijah on a special field trip and to continue on his way.
I didn’t like having to detour to drop off Elijah’s lunch because that, too, was another glitch in the hectic morning routine on a typical day of back-to-back appointments and things to do. But I was resourced enough to stay calm and keep myself going.
Resourcing myself as a mom means everyone, including myself, gets more support from me. It means I can do my job and then some. And then some more.
Later that day when we talked, Elijah said he bit himself because he was trying not to bite me. Strangely, that’s an improvement.
Sometimes he is angry and feels he needs strike out. He needs to vent. We are working on him learning how to manage his anger. But above all, my child simply needs to go through emotional upset at times to clear it from his system.
We all do.
As adults, we are supposed to do this on auto-pilot. For a four-going-on-five year old, volatile skills are still in development.
I intend to remain right by my son’s side to support him as he copes. I hope he learns that we are inextricably connected and that our connection will support him throughout his lifetime.