The last few weeks, I have shared how much I have been struggling with Keener. Running into parking lots, impulsively spitting in my face, and clearing every shelf in the linen closet that he can reach… just to name a few of the moments I have lost it in the past week.
The amount of times I have thought to myself, or even said aloud, “What are/were you thinking?” is high. Clearly, he isn’t thinking. And the part of his brain responsible for helping him “think clearly” won’t be fully developed until his mid twenties. I don’t want to spend the next 20 years constantly defaulting to this line of thought and getting incredibly frustrated. The brain research is clear, he isn’t thinking clearly and at no fault of his own.
So how do I help him develop his underdeveloped part of his brain while also not constantly losing it? That’s the million dollar question. I know these “what were you thinking moments” are only going to increase in seriousness as he gets older — clearing a shelf in the linen closet pales in comparison to challenges teenage parents face: juuling, drinking and driving, and video game obsessions.
A college classmate and fellow parenting coach (excited to tell you about a new job I have started!) read my last post and recommended a wonderful book. I have an Audible account and downloaded it right away. I also bought a hard copy, as I knew I would need to refer back to it often. Suffice it to say, I have been listening to it every chance I can get.
The book is called “How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t with Your Kids.” And it is just what I needed. It reminds us not to tie our functioning and sanity on someone else’s behavior. Let me repeat that line again, we should not tie our functioning and sanity on someone else’s behavior. Especially someone who doesn’t have a fully developed brain and laughs hysterically after saying he just stuck his finger in his butt… I really want to hinge my sanity on someone who sticks their finger in their butt?
The point is, we all lose it and all of our kids are not perfect. Parenting is hard and we all have triggers that cause our nervous system to respond in ways that produce the “fight, flight, freeze or freak out” reaction. The author, Carla Naumburg goes on to say, “Fortunately, when you understand not only what’s happening but also why it happens, you’ll feel less out of control and ashamed, and more empowered and equipped to work with your nutso brain rather than being flattened by it every time it gets overwhelmed.”
However, if it were merely a matter of being informed, deciding to make change, and having willpower, parenting would be easy. So would quitting smoking, losing weight, exercising every day, and always being patient. Unfortunately, knowing and deciding are simply not enough.
Carla leaves it all out there, curse words and all. I appreciate this honest, authentic approach, however, I realize this style may not appeal to everyone. She reminds you that if you are looking for a 100% money back guarantee that you won’t lose it again after reading this book, that certainly isn’t going to happen. “The good news for you and me and the rest of us imperfect parents trying to raise slightly less imperfect children is that you don’t have to be the Dalai Mama in order to be more intentional and less insane with your kids.”
She reminds us that it is not developmentally appropriate to expect children to behave well all the time. This is not saying to give up on expectations and boundaries but instead remember that these small humans are not perfect. And nor am I. If I have a fully developed prefrontal cortex, a background in early childhood education, am a parenting coach and I am losing it, how could I possibly expect a 2 and 3 year old to exhibit perfect self control?
What has helped me lose it less
I am halfway through the book and already feel that I have gained valuable insights that have helped me. Below is what has helped the most so far:
- An awareness that I have triggers, or challenging moments that make it harder for my nervous system to stay calm.
- When I am confronted with one (or more) of these challenging moments, it will be harder for me to not lose it on my kids (which is why knowing what they are and anticipating them is so helpful).
- These triggers often have nothing to do with my kids. If I am stressed about someone’s health, a sad story I heard on the news, or an overall feeling of being “overwhelmed” with all of life’s tasks, I am MUCH more likely to lose it on my kids.
- Losing it less is my goal, not being perfect. My nervous system’s response to “fight, flight, freeze, or freak out” is designed to keep me and those around me safe.
- Multitasking is a huge trigger for me that I didn’t realize was making my buttons so much easier for my kids to push.
- Not losing it is hard – if it were easy, I would have done it by now. It is going to take work but it is possible to improve. My kids will be the direct beneficiaries but I also will feel better — and perhaps not be quite so hard on my husband…
The book goes on to share free, simple, evidence-based practices that will help you reduce the size of your buttons. I haven’t gotten that far in the book yet but will share more as these practices help me.
Lastly, remind yourself you are not a bad parent. The very fact that you are reading a parenting blog that focuses on strengthening the connection with your children proves that to be the case. Don’t beat yourself up when you do lose it. You will, and so will I. That does not make us bad parents or our kids bad kids. We are imperfect parents, raising imperfect kids, trying to be more intentional and less insane with our kids.