What are they really asking you for?

“Do you miss Dad?” she asked, looking towards me as she watched me type the email she had just dictated to her father.

“What?” I asked her, hoping both that I had misheard her question, and that asking again would buy me some time to come up with an answer.

“Do you miss Daddy?” she asked again. Her eyes were glistening in that way they do when her tears hinge on the answer that comes out of my mouth. She looked both hopeful and apprehensive.

I panicked. No, I don’t really miss your dad. I miss his friendship. I miss being able to talk to him without feeling the weight of the baggage that we both hold on to. I miss the ease of having a conversation about… anything. But do I miss being married to him? Do I miss having him around every day? No. No, I don’t.

Fortunately for me, in the 5 seconds between her question and my response, I saw something else in her eyes that illuminated the answer she needed to hear.

“I wish your Daddy lived closer so that you could see him all the time. I know you miss him.”

A look of relief washed over her. In that moment, I saw a child who needed to be told it was okay that she missed her dad, that her mom understood this, and that her mom wanted her to have her dad closer. She smiled up at me, and gave me a hug, and the moment passed.

My kids ask me a lot of difficult questions, and my first response is usually panic. I want to get it right. I want to have the perfect answer. Where I go wrong is the thought that the question is really about me. My daughter wasn’t asking if I missed being married to her dad. She was asking whether or not I understood that she did. In that moment, it was all she needed from me. I didn’t need to explain how I felt. I didn’t need to point out the difference between missing a person and missing a relationship. I didn’t need to make it complicated. I just needed to validate her own feeling of loss and separation.

I don’t always say the right thing, and I make a lot of mistakes. But seeing the relief on her face that morning was a great reminder that I can’t always assume it’s about me. In the future, I hope I can remember to ask “What does she need from me right now?” instead of, “What am I supposed to say?”

I’d love to hear from you. Has there ever been a time when you felt like you got it right, and were surprised by the way in which it happened? Do you panic when you get a tough question from your child? Do you make your answer more complicated than it should be? 

 

Do you catastrophize? I sure do.

I came downstairs after my shower and the tv was still on. I had told my 7-year-old to turn it off after the previous show, and once again, she hadn’t followed directions. Without saying a word, I walked over to the tv and turned it off.

“Oh! Come onnnnnn!” she yelled.

I whipped around and said, “Did I say you could watch all the shows you wanted? Or did I tell you that you needed to turn it off when the show was over?”

She grinned her “oops, you caught me” face, and happily hummed down the hall to her bedroom.

I was livid. In my head, I heard: “She doesn’t listen to anything I say! She doesn’t respect me. She is a sneaky little liar. I’m never going to get her to follow directions. I’m going to have to constantly police the tv and other screens. Should I punish her? Maybe I need to punish her severely! Maybe I need to tell her she can’t watch the movie tonight for ‘Family Movie Night.’ But… that seems so harsh. But I need to make the punishment sting. I need to make her know that I’m serious about following rules. I need to make her listen to me!”

And it continued as I walked past her room and upstairs, glancing at that 7-year-old terrorist who was happily playing with toys: “I’m a terrible mother. How can I counsel people about their children when I can’t even control my own? Maybe this is because of the divorce…. Maybe I’ve ruined our relationship and she’s always going to hate me. If I can’t get control of her now, things are just going to get worse and worse! Dammit! Ugh! I hate children!”

I yelled for her to come talk to me upstairs, and I tried my hardest to explain to her my concerns about watching too much tv, and how it made me feel when she didn’t do as I asked. She attempted to talk with me for a few minutes, but very quickly started shutting down, rubbing her eyes, and saying she was “too stressed” to talk about this. I demanded that she stay and talk with me, so she said that when something like this happened, I needed to “use my head,” instead of punishing her.

My 7-year-old is lecturing me?!?!

I decided to let her go instead of strangling her.

Thankfully, I called my partner who talked me off the ledge. His wonderful advice? To take a deep breath and stop catastrophizing the situation. 

Do you ever do this? Do you create this depressing vision of how the future is going to go to hell because of some problem you’re having in the present moment?

Does my child NEVER listen to me? Of course that’s not true.

Does my child NEVER have any self-control? Not true.

Does my child NEVER respect me? Nope, not true again.

What’s true is that my 7-year-old loves to watch tv. What’s true is that she doesn’t have fantastic self-control in every situation (and let’s be honest… mine isn’t great). What’s also true is that she rarely gets in trouble at school, helps enthusiastically with preparing dinner, loves to make me proud, and is capable of finding other things to do when the tv is off.

Do I remember those things in the moment? Not usually. So I end up working myself into a tizzy over something that’s really not so bad. Is it frustrating? Yes. The end of the world? No.

But what about the tv, you ask? Am I going to punish her?

For the time being, we’re going to keep attempting to set limits around the tv. I even turn off the power strip if I want to make it sure it stays off for a while. If we catch her watching at times when she’s not supposed to, we’ll turn the tv off and redirect her towards something else. And I’m even toying with the idea of just removing all limits on the tv. Is it possible that she’s glued to it because she thinks tv time is scarce? Who knows. All I do know is that my kid is doing alright. She loves me. I love her. And we’ll get through this phase and move on (towards the next difficult phase, I’m sure).

Late-night screens = Late school morning

It was 7:05am, and I went downstairs to fix my kids some breakfast. It was strangely quiet in the house, and it didn’t take me long to realize that my 7-year-old and 5-year-old were still snoozing.  I peeked into their room and sure enough, they were passed out. As I pulled their bedroom closed, something laying beside my 7-year-old caught my eye. Sticking out from under her back was a blue iPad. She wasn’t just sleeping a little later than normal…. Turns out, she had gotten out of bed shortly after I  tucked her in, unplugged the iPad in the kitchen, and carried it to her room. I had no idea how long she’d stayed up playing on it, but I was sure it was quite a bit later than her bedtime.

I closed the bedroom door and told her step-sister not to wake her up yet. Then, I went upstairs to complain to my partner about my terribly frustrating child. The iPad (and screens in general) have become quite a problem for my daughter. She’s been sneaking around the house with the iPad, playing it when we’ve asked her not to, and she’s become obsessed with being in front of a screen if she’s not in school. She seems to have lost the ability to come up with anything else to do! When I found her in bed with the iPad at her side that morning, I was fed up.

“We’re going to need to have a BIG talk with her about this,” said my partner. And then it hit me: WE weren’t going to need to punish her. She was going to experience a little something called “natural consequences.” I quickly went back downstairs and told her step-sister to leave her be. Our work schedules, and my step-daughter’s school hours, would allow us to take our sweet time leaving the house that morning. My 7-year-old HATES to be late, and often drives us crazy by announcing what time it is and hurrying everyone along in the morning because she’s panicked about being late for class. It was perfect: Because she stayed up too late playing on the iPad, we were going to allow her to sleep as long as she could, making herself late for school. 

When she woke up at 7:30am (we usually leave for school by 7:40am) and realized how late she was, she immediately suggested that she stay at home for the day because she was “feeling so tired.” We had a quick chat about how she had obviously stayed up late playing the iPad (which she knows she is not supposed to do), and that staying at home was not an option. She would be late for school, and if she was tired, she was just going to have to do her best to make it through the day.

In the middle of talking to her, I realized that I was enjoying this situation a little too much. The tone I was using, and how I was choosing to phrase things, was rubbing her face in her predicament. I was not hiding the fact that I was glad she was going to be late to school; that I was somehow “teaching her a lesson.”

The truth is, there was no need for me to point out her bad choice. There was no need for me to rub her face in it, or make sure she had learned a lesson. She hates to be late, and by staying up playing on a screen, she had overslept and made herself late. She had made a not-so-wise choice, and was now going to have to deal the consequences. Welcome to life, kid. 

More often than not, I do not need to create a consequence for bad behavior. Consequences emerge naturally, born out of the universal law of cause and effect. If my child cannot put her clothes in the laundry hamper, her clothes do not get washed. If my child does not feed her goldfish, she is not given the privilege of having a goldfish. If my child does not do her homework, she will sit out of recess at school. If she does not wake up on time, she will be late.

It is not always my job to impose consequences, but it IS my responsibility to help my child learn to avoid unpleasant consequences and deal with them when they come. 

“But what about the iPad? Didn’t you take it away?”

Yes, I took away her iPad privileges, but not in the spirit of punishment. When she asked about it, I told her, “that it looked as though she had been having a difficult time making good decisions about when to use it. So, to help her avoid those tough decisions, we had decided to put the iPad away for a while.” She’s not happy about it, and that’s okay.

I’m not sure when she’ll get it back, because honestly, she doesn’t really NEED the iPad. I think a break from the screen would be good for her. But, eventually, we’ll give her the opportunity to make better choices and if she can use the iPad appropriately, she’ll have access again. She’s on the learning curve just like the rest of us.

“The Cultivated Mother” is Retiring

For several years, I’ve been blogging over at “The Cultivated Mother,” and as much I’ve loved sharing that space with you, TCM feels like the wrong fit these days. I’m not trying to cultivate myself predominantly as a mother. I don’t feel like a newbie to the journey of motherhood, and I’m no longer trying to flesh out the values that I bring to parenting. Instead, as a woman who has divorced her husband, moved across the world, sent her homeschooled kids to public school, gone back into the workforce, and fallen in love with another man, I feel as though I’m now cultivating a life.

It’s been 5 months since I wrote a post for “The Cultivated Mother,” and there are many reasons for my online absence. My time, emotions, and loyalties have all been affected by my full-time job, my divorce, and my new relationship. There were often times when I wanted to write about those transitions – the good and the bad – but I felt restrained by the judgement and questions that I feared would come my way. So, I wrote nothing.

There is one tiny problem, however, with writing nothing: I love to write. I feel compelled to write honestly about this life I am living, struggles included. If there is one person out there who is going through something similar, I want them to know that they are not alone. Being in a relationship is challenging. Parenting is challenging. Hell, LIFE IS CHALLENGING. Pretending that it’s not doesn’t do anyone a favor.

So, “The Cultivated Mother” is going to be retired. It won’t disappear because I think there is a lot of valuable content there. You’ll soon find a link to TCM at the top of the page so that if you ever need homeschooling ideas, parenting advice, or information about living in and visiting Japan, you’ll still have access. In place of TCM, I’ll now be blogging here about anything and everything. You’ll most likely see content related to parenting (including step-parenting), new relationships, divorce, work-life balance, and spirituality.

My purpose is to help others cultivate the life they were meant to live. I believe the best life is the life crafted out of authenticity and intentionality, and though we can move towards that life on our own, the value of a community is priceless. I want to be part of your community, and I want to welcome you into mine. If you can find inspiration somewhere along my journey through life, that’s fantastic. If not, I hope you’ll at least find a little support, an encouraging pat on the back, as you pass by.