Reconciling with children is much different than with adults. When Bryan and I get into a fight, it often takes several long conversations to cover all the rabbit trails of baggage that manifested itself in the actual fought upon issue.
I get to explain my feelings. I get to lay down the foundation of how I came to respond the way I did. I (usually) get to bring closure to each and every point of contention.
Not so with children.
Their nanosecond attention spans do not make an exception for long-winded apologies. Their simplified reasoning skills do not grasp the complex nature of complex relationships. Often when I get caught monologuing, Ruthie will sigh and say, “You’ve been talking for a long time!”
Lately I feel like Ruthie steps off the bus ready to pick a fight. Like a passenger in a car fishtailing toward a tree on the side of the road, I brace myself for 3:30. Sometimes we miss the tree, sometimes we hit it dead on.
Today we wrapped ourselves around it.
If I don’t have something EXCITING, and DELIRIOUSLY FUN, and WILDLY ENTERTAINING waiting for Ruthie when she comes home, she becomes angry. Not just disappointed or whiny, but downright angry. Right there at the bus stop she’ll yell and stomp her feet and declare she’s never going home again. I’m so boring.
I understand her anger. It’s my anger. I gave it to her when she passed through my body. We like to get our way. We like to be in control. When she falls and skins her knee she cries dramatically, but then she throws something or kicks the ground. Stupid rocky ground! she’ll yell. Falling down means she’s not in control, and that makes her angry. I know this, because I made her. She is from me.
I lost my temper with her today. I feel defeated. Frustrated. Hopeless. Sometimes I feel like I’m raising a monster; sometimes a sweet angel. Sometimes I’m the one who’s a monster. My emotions and hormones can’t hold me intact as I bounce back and forth from moment to moment, first drawing her close, then pushing her away.
Today I happened to be hormonal, so I cried. Right there in front of her. I apologized for losing my temper, of course, and then I just started babbling about nonsense. I was mostly talking to myself – talking myself down off that cliff of despair. But she sat quietly and listened.
Ruthie looked sweetly at me with her round eyes and big cheeks, and then? She leaned forward and began to wipe my tears away with the bottom of her shirt. She was so tender, dabbing gently over each tear, wiping softly the trail it left.
I feel this could be one of our greatest moments of communication, a connection, a breakthrough. She is beginning to understand me, and I am able to tell her how I feel. It’s all going to be okay, just like when Bryan and I work it out.
Ruthie finishes dabbing my tears, and I smile at her.
She sits back in her seat and opens her mouth to speak. I think she is going to say something incredibly profound for a five year old (it’s been known to happen).
In her sweet, compassionate, kind voice, she says, “Can I have some chips?”
2 thoughts on “A Moment Diffused Breeds Laughter”
I love that about communicating emotion with kids. It usually is quick and to the point and then on to the next thing. Kinda like my dog 🙂 I’ll scold her, she’ll bow her head in shame, then two seconds later wag her tail as if pooping on the carpet was the happiest thing to ever happen!
Do you think that it is the short history of emotion that you suggested at? Our kids just don’t yet have the baggage associated with every shred of anger every felt? I don’t know. But I do think it is important for parents to be honest with their emotions.
One night my girls and I had a very rough dinner out after a rough day of work, school, and errands. They were frustrated at me because I was frustrated at them. It was ugly and uncomfortable. On the way home the tire blew. I pulled over and got out of the car. I sat down on the curb and cried. My daughters have never looked at me the same since. Not in a bad way, in a good way. In a you’re-just-like-me way. They see that I’m not always in control either but that I do work really hard to keep things in our lives as controlled as possible for the best of our family. Witnessing me cry made me child like in their eyes. Watching me stand up and deal with the situation after drying my tears showed them what we all have to do when life throws the curve ball. It’s a level of respect they had not realized quite the same way before. A definite turning point.
the chips comment made me almost wet my pants. that is so funny.