I was in the middle of what became a rather serious conversation with my brother last night when the term “first world problem” got thrown in. Immediately visions of The New Yorker magazine, hipsters plucked off the set of Girls and privileged ennui sprung to mind. But it’s unfair really because however quasi-pretentious I find the term, the sentiment of living a life that results in periods of existential paralysis and emotional exhaustion is one I can personally relate to.
Before I had kids I would worry about job security and paying rent. Now I have kids and I worry I’m damaging their trajectory for emotional and intellectual fulfillment (dare I say “success”) if I don’t carefully choose every word coming out of my mouth. I actually start the editing of my words the second they fly out of my mouth and land on my kids. This happens in almost of every interaction I have with my kids – this non-existent “delete” and rewrite function. It’s exhausting. Primarily because unlike in writing I can never take back the wrong word or tweak the crafting of that “right” phrase and subsequently the delivery/timing is always off.
Child psychologists will tell you words are meaningless and kids learn from our actions and tone. Well in that case I’m sorely f*cked. My tone is generally loud and angry (Is screaming a tone?)and my actions are ones of an overly tired, archetypal martyred mother/wife who is doing it all and trying to help everyone at the same time.
I used to be obsessed with reading “how-to-communicate to your child so they can go to Harvard one day” books. Ok, so they weren’t really called this but for the most part followed a canned theme of how to produce little socially conscious warriors who then go on to become champions of acceptable dialogues all at the ripe age of 3. Did I mention the adult enablers in these scenarios always seem so composed and patient?
Gone are the days of strong academic pursuits (or reading by the age of 3). Nowadays preschool is about social acuity, emotional awareness, and being kind to others. I do feel that the latter two are in direct contradiction to one another but I’m at a disadvantage by virtue of the unenlightened period I was born in.
And while I recognize that conflict resolution (formerly “problem solving”) is a critical key to success and starts at communication I feel so far from scratching the surface on how to enable my kids to be good with this. The only thing I can take comfort in is sometimes they really are better at working thru issues without me around interfering. I’m not advocating for a Lord of the Flies approach but every once in a while I think it’s ok that my little one thinks her brother is being kind to her when he trades her 1 of something he has for 3 of things she has.
I’m revitalizing and rebranding this blog in the hopes it will help me with a project of mine – probably the most important role I’ll ever take on – being an effective parent.
This blog is a device I’m employing to achieve my goal – which is to equip my children with the proper tools they’ll need to become resilient (adaptable) and compassionate people who leave a positive mark on the world. Sounds easy right?
So with this lofty goal in my mind, I’d like to try and commit to writing in this blog as many times a week to capture the positive, the absurd and not-so-complimentary moments that make parenting what it is. Writing will lead to self-awareness (more ah-ha moments!) which in turn I’m hoping will spur some comments in the way of shared practicies from kind readers like yourself and eventually give way to a little poignant conversation. That’s my intent anyways.
Enough preamble. Let’s get started. I’ll start with a situation that came up last night as it’s fresh on my mind.
Most of my examples at this point will be centered around Ori. He’s the older of my two children and the one experiencing a lot of critical social-emotional development milestones attributable to his age. Albeit a lot of these pivotal interactions involve his little soon-to-be 1-year-old sister, Aya.
Ori is almost 3 and bursting with a lot of energy and ideas about the world around him. These ideas usually give birth to opinions and like most almost-3-year-olds he has an opinion about everything. Usually with his opinions there is negotiation involved. My husband thinks Ori will be a laywer. I think he’s just really smart. Either way, these interactions usually involve power struggles. And while I”m really working hard to own the “Captain [of my ship]” role and disengage from the 2 laywers sparring role like this blog it’s a work-in-progress.
Ori: Mom, I want Reeses Pieces.
Me: Ori, We can’t eat Reeses Pieces right now. If you’re still hungry, you can eat a banana, a piece of cheese, or strawberries.
Ori: [With a no-nonsense, “How did I end up with a mom who just doesn’t get it?” face] ET eats Reeses Pieces mommy.
Sidebar: Ori wastes no time in achieving his objectives in general. He’s an independent doer and very resourceful. In fact sometimes I feel like him telling me he wants something is really a courtesy on his part. I waiver with him how much I want to limit him in this respect. Being resourceful is a critical key to becoming a resilient individual but then again it doesn’t always make for a functional household.
Back to the narrative: Ori heads to the bathroom to grab a stool which he then places in front of the cabinet to reach the Reeses Pieces. He grabs the bag and runs off with them. Before I can even say, “Ori, no!” I’m in his element, laughing alongside him. I even manage to get a hold of the bag of candy. Antics ensue. He burns a lot of energy and I manage to diffuse the situation by having him chase the candy which is in my hand swinging like a pendulum. Surprisingly, the diversion works and he’s having so much fun running he forgets all about the candy.
Is it really that easy?
This is an example of what I call a rare, non-premediated moment. You get freebies every once in a while and this was one of them. There was no strategy to get him to give up the Reese’s Pieces. In fact, my reaction was really borne from my desire to avoid Reese’s Pieces disaster on my living room floor. The result was I simply jumped into his comfort zone. He had a ton of energy to burn and the food wasn’t really the goal. It was more a way to get my attention – which it did.
And eventually he did end up asking for strawberries after his bath – which was good because right before the 3rd attempt to get him to bed last night he explained he was still hungry. Knowing he had those strawberries warming his belly helped me craft my guiltless response, “I’m sorry to hear that but it’s time to go to bed. You can eat again tomorrow morning.”
I’m dizzy. I’ve arrived an hour early for an event at my 2-year-old son’s daycare and while trying to make sense of the flurry of activity unfolding around me something becomes blatantly clear. Clearly I’ve entered a world of sophisticated negotiating I’m ill-equipped to navigate.
The vernacular these tots speak in lot of ways mirrors the language you only wish you could employ in daily professional life. Phrases like “My turn,” “That’s mine,” and Two Minutes” are commonplace. This is partially because kids this age don’t fear confrontation like we adults do or possibly that the desire to obtain what they want renders confrontation a non-factor.
To see these phrases come to life, sprouting up around the classroom is an exercise in mind-numbing repetition. Toddler B attempts to take away the toy Toddler A is playing with. Toddler A then needs to assert him/herself and communicate he/she wants more time with said object. The challenge being that 1) 2-year-olds have no concept of time and 2) 90% of the time these kids are using these expressions there is a physical tug-o-war occurring simultaneously which makes the accompanying rhetoric all but obsolete. This entire interaction can span anywhere from 15 seconds to a whole minute depending on how soon the toddler is onto the next best toy to negotiate for.
But that’s besides the point.
What’s both refreshing and daunting about this crew is that even at the ripe old age of 2 they get goal-directed discourse. It’s something adults spend their entire lives (not to mention countless dollars) trying to recover – the art of both knowing and expressing how to get what they want and in a socially acceptable way.
Imagine how effective it would be if every time someone tries to interrupt you while you are talking during a meeting/conference call, you could say, “My turn…damnit!” or when someone dares to take credit for your work, “That’s mine…byatch” or when your boss has the nerve to dictate how long it should take you to get a task completed – “I said two minutes!”
Okay so perhaps the expletives are gratuitous but the fact remains that as adults who are supposed to mold our young ones and guide their behavior we have a lot to learn in the way of being clear communicators. The fear of being called out for offending someone prevents us from communicating the hard truths or many times just conversing with any sort of authenticity which only serves to undermine our relationships.
We all could really benefit from spending a day with your youngsters and watching them hone these useful skills. They are our benefactors and one day will rule the world. The more time I spend with them the more I’m convinced this is a good thing.