Saturday, July 5, 2008

Operation Invest-in-Alathia

Being a Mom is wonderful, but so humbling and hard sometimes. As you all know, I'm really working on being a gentler mother and I've enjoyed sharing that journey here and learning along with those of you who read my blog and want to be gentler with your kids too.

On top of practicing gentleness, I've recently become painfully aware of some really destructive trends in my life regarding how I'm mothering and handling Ali. Because her personality so often conflicts with mine and she has always been one to need constant discipline and direction, I have a tendency to just always be on the offensive with her. You could call it harsh, unfair, short-tempered or whatever, but I can see myself doing it regularly. It's so much easier to handle my easy-going Jeremiah as he loves to cuddle and hug and lays in my lap quietly, soaking up attention. This causes me to gravitate towards him and often seek out hugs and cuddle time with him, but leaves Ali on the fringes, no doubt feeling like she's "chopped liver." She is a very stocky, strong girl and she will jump on my lap and cause all kinds of pain and discomfort for me. She can't sit still for more than a few seconds and is always squirming and poking, and therefore I often protest her sitting on me and shove her away. I wish I could show her that I love her just the same as her brother, but I feel like the entire day long I'm chiding and disciplining her and she goes from one time-out or spanking to another and my frustration just builds with her to where she no doubt senses that I really don't like being around her a lot of the time. Because I've had to deal with so much whining, so many tantrums, so many fits of bad behavior and so much violence towards her brother ("I'm just pretending to poke a hole in his head with a stick Mom!") or other kids, I just feel like a drill sergeant who will snap at the slightest thing she does, lest I give her an inch and get burned.

My heart's cry is to change my destructive mothering patterns and to be the very best Mama that Alathia Joy needs, with her unique gifts and personality. I know she is very intelligent and advanced for her age, and I know that God gave me this unique child for a reason and He can use her talents and personality for His glory. I'm often at a loss as to how to deal with her but I trust that as I seek the Lord, He will lead me. I definitely can't do it in my own strength.

One thing that has really helped our relationship is going to swimming lessons. I've been dropping Jer off at my mom's to sleep for his morning nap during the lessons. I chat with other moms and wave to her as she swims and then we talk about her fun and accomplishments in the locker room and in the car. It also helps her to have something active to do each day and helps her be more obedient. She's a perfect angel for her swim teachers and even went off the diving board, with their help, last week!

I've talked with my husband about my great need to build a better relationship with Alathia and he prayed that I might be able to invest in her. Thus the title of this project. (Have you noticed that I have to have these big fancy names for the goals/projects in my life?)

Here are some ideas I have for investing in Ali. This is just a starting point:

*After putting Jer down for his nap, let Ali choose a book to read with me before her nap, giving her some one-on-one reading time for a few minutes.

*Make a point to have her help me do one task for lunch and one task for supper. Instead of letting her run around outside or shooing her out of my way all the time because she slows up the process, ask her to set the table or help make the sandwiches, etc.

*One thing I've recently done is made Ali a chore chart with stickers and she loves cleaning up in the mornings and getting her sticker! This has helped me be less frustrated with her stuff all over; it's been much cleaner in her room!

*Let her bike more with me. She recently took her first and second rides to the park a mile away on her very own little bike with training wheels and LOVES it! Allowing her to bike alongside me is a great confidence-builder for her. It can be VERY stressful for me though as I'm constantly harping on her to stay close to the curb and freaking out when trucks whiz by and she is drifting towards the middle of the street!

*Continue to try to have some special one-on-one time with her. When I first started my home-management binder I wrote on my list to have a Mother-Daughter Date with Ali monthly. We've done some things together like go swimming or go out for bagels and she loves it. I'm thinking that I need to shoot for weekly instead of monthly at this point in time since I really want to work at conveying my love and encouragement to her right now. Even if it's just a trip to the grocery store without anyone else, just me and her, I think she enjoys it.

*Be more careful with my speech, to her, and about her when she is listening. I used to hate it when my cousin told me how awful her little girl was when she was sitting right there with us at age 3. I thought it was so mean, and yet I catch myself doing it, whether venting about what naughty thing she's done lately on the phone to my mom or being harsh in the way I talk to her directly.

*Avoid labels. I got this concept out of Scream-Free Parenting and it's so important to remember. Labels can be self-fulfilling or at the very least, confining to a child. Ali isn't my bad child or my difficult child. She is very spirited and has a strong will and gift for leadership but she often does behave and act like a lady too. It was so encouraging to hear my teen brother, who rarely has a compliment for me, say that my kids are very well-behaved kids! He's around his friends' children all the time and he says they are brats compared to his niece and nephew! He's not one to flatter at all ( in fact he's the type that loves to try to irritate me and needle me, "How come you get so HUGE with your pregnancies Lindsey? None of my friends' girlfriends/wives get as HUGE as you!") so I don't take this compliment lightly!

These ideas may seem simple to those of you who have very easy-going little daughters. Parenting may seem like a cake-walk to parents of kids who are more compliant. If we so much as look cross-eyed at Jeremiah sometimes he will burst into tears and after he's punished he always says, "Okay" in a little choking sob, showing his cooperation. Yet for this Mama, who is doling out consequences to her daughter 2 minutes after waking up every day, and dealing with spilled milk endlessly, accidents, "oopsies," mediating fights between siblings day in and day out, and constant requests for snacks or drinks it can be extremely tough to practice love towards a child who often challenges you throughout the day! Don't even ask how horribly I reacted and failed with her (wasn't practicing Scream-Free parenting at all!) when she locked us all out of the house on the morning of the 4th of July when I had a million things to do to get ready for watching the parade with friends!


the momma said...

You know ~ I have more than 1 like Ali and the thing that gets me through is thinking - all these qualities that make it SO difficult to parent strong-willed children will be the very things that will help them when they are adults. Standing firm? no problem! Peer pressure? not an issue!

It's good that you can admit where you need to make a course -correction & that you have a plan.

One additional thing that may help - is finding some scripture verses that fit the circumstance & use them - with Ali. Make them into a little song if that'd help.

best get back to my own little mayhem-makers er munchkins

The Three 22nds said...

Also as a mom with more than one child like that- I hear you! It is tough stuff, this parenting thing. And it does make it harder when friends have quiet, complient children while you are constantly pulling 2 year olds out of trees etc. It is also hard to have in laws and parents constantly saying "you guys never acted this way..."

So I pray for them- that they will be strong leaders and that they will love the Lord...and we do active stuff all the time.

The rule that we started that has done wonders for behavior is "No TV or movies before lunch". They can watch a short movie or tv show in the late afternoon, but they behave badly all day long if I let them watch PBS in the morning...

Heather said...

You're on the right track! None of us will ever be perfect parents (though we'd love to be), but as you said, God has made us the parents of OUR children. And He will give us the wisdom to parent them when we ask. Yay for you--you're growing! I can't wait to hear about the special mommy-daughter times you two will have together.

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