A child’s ability to “reset” is still amazing to me.
I’m sitting here typing right now because my 10 year old son is:
1. Picking up all the toys etc from the family rooms and tidying up
2. Vacuuming the whole house
3. Mopping the floors
4. Unpacking the dishwasher
5. Helping my husband cook dinner / clean up
And you know what? He’s quite happy doing it.
Isn’t that surprising??
Even though he’s had basketball training this morning for 2 hours and a roller skating party for another 2 hours this afternoon, he is methodically working his way through his list of jobs around it all…including my 3 year old, who’s currently yelling at him to “get out of the way” of the TV, whilst he cleans the living room.
It actually brings me to tears of harmony and I’ll tell you why.
Last night was an absolute disaster, like cataclysmic….
He’d had a big day. We have very busy weekends packed full of sports and often late nights. Plus, he’d had a friend to play and stay for dinner. He was tired and he’d been testy all week – nudging the boundaries of acceptable behaviour in many mild ways; testing his perimeters like a wild animal looking for the weak spots.
I’d heard the warning bells in the back of my mind, “what’s going on here?”, but I couldn’t pin point it. He’d been sneaking chocolate all week, so I wondered why he so desperately wanted “sweetness” in his life right now. He’d avoided cuddles and quiet down time with us. I’d asked him directly if there was anything he wanted to share, but it was always met with a shrug and a “no”. I was feeling out of sync with him, out of connection, but life is busy and I’m still feeling sick, so my reserves to put in for a massage or seek additional loving moments with him were down and I let it all go with small “bandaid” moments of reprimand and discussion and loving nudges.
So here we are, its Saturday night. His dad and I were planning a movie night once the kids were in bed, so we decided he’d drive the friends home and I’d put the kids to bed, ready to rendezvous when he returned. Best laid plans hey?
The second Heath was told he wouldn’t be driving his friend home, the storm began. I felt it in my chest first, that familiar tightness “no, no, no” I heard a voice in my head shriek!
Me: “Heath get up mate, we’re off to bed”
Him: “No, I’m not going”.
Here we are again. It had been so long since his last ‘episode’ that I thought perhaps we were through this ‘stage’ – nope, apparently not.
So I tried my usual tactics:
“You look angry, what’s going on?” – I was met with smart-ass attitude and snide flicks of anger back... “you didn’t let me take my friend home”…etc
“Do you understand why mum and dad made that decision?” – “no, you never told me”, “Ok, we did, but I’ll tell you again....”
I laid out all the reasons behind our decision. He was still mad as hell and the fury was building along with the attitude.
“Mate, you don’t have to like our decision, you’re not always going to agree with what we believe is best. So its ok to feel angry about a decision we make. It doesn’t change the fact that right now I need you to go to bed” - “No, I’m not going” .....followed by more ‘tude’…
“I don’t like the way you are speaking to me right now. I am finding it rude and disrespectful and that is not how we speak in this home. Right now you have some choices to make. Are you going to go to bed or are you choosing an act of service?”, Shrug of his shoulders and a smart look, “I don’t know”, “ok, well mate that is a choice. That’s one act of service. I’m putting your sisters to bed and then I’m coming back to check on you”. Daggers were flung my way.
I’m starting to lose my cool now. I can feel the desperation. I’m running out of options and tools and it’s starting to suffocate me. What am I going to do?? He’s actually too big to “man-handle” now and put to bed. He’ll run out of his room if I put him in there anyway. So this is new territory. This is very teenage-esk.
What do you do when you want your teenager to do something and they flat out won’t do it??
Putting my other two to bed, I yelled at my middle daughter about her room and its sloppiness. I knew I was releasing anger in a very non-conscious way because really, I wanted to rage and yell at my son, but in that moment she was an easier target. I later apologised.
I came back to Heath.
Me: “Are you going to get ready for bed now?”
Him: “No. I’m not going”
Me: “What’s going on here mate?”
Him: “Well you’re the one who said I couldn’t take my friend home, so I wonder why I’m angry”
Me: “Ok, that’s 2 acts of service”
Him: “Oh! What!”
Me: “I’m going to go and calm down now and I’ll come back to see if you’ve changed your mind”.
So I took myself off for my Way Back to Balance and opened my book. I read until I felt calm again.
Then I went back to him and asked him again to go to bed, re-explained why he needed rest etc and this back and forth went on for another four acts of service. So now his ‘debt’ was six and I gave up. His storm was even deeper and more vast and I knew I was getting nowhere, so back I went to my Back to Balance and waited for his dad to get home.
My husband checked in with me when he got home and then checked in with Heath. He tried most of the tactics I had, however he added one more. Even though his frustration was great, he managed to channel it and asked Heath if he wanted to go do something off his “back to balance list” – “Run? Shoot hoops?...”.
Gosh I was proud of him. That’s years of communication and working together paying off right here and now. When I had no resources left, he stepped up and I was grateful.
Unlike previously, Heath’s Back to Balance didn’t work. He was ‘too far gone’ in rage, we couldn’t reach him and he wasn’t ‘coming back’. He stayed stuck where he was, acting-out and giving us nothing but “I’m not going to bed”.
We lamented together, we didn’t know what to do. What had worked previously, no longer did.
So now we're feeling powerless, resourceless and option-less. We needed him in bed so it escalated to threats – “Get into bed now!, that’s enough”. Which in turn escalated into my son yelling and punching walls and doors for attention. We gave up at this point, we were done, we knew we just had to wait for him to choose to come back and make the decision to go to bed.
In the end, we put our movie on and told him he could make his own choice and we’d talk about it in the morning. He put himself to bed about 15 minutes later. We were devastated. We had no idea what had just hit us and we were strung out to say the least. Everyone went to bed.
We got up to a very sheepish Heath in the morning. Before he left for basketball training we explained that after training we’d be having a discussion together. He smiled. I coveted my inner crossed fingers, just in case he wasn’t fully back, I’m not sure I had another fight in me.
After training, we all got something to eat and sat at the table together. We explained how lost we felt last night, we explained the impact of his actions on this family and this home. Then we opened up to “was there anything going on for him at school or within him from this week that could have contributed to how he felt?”, he said “no”, but I could tell that was a far reach for him to connect those dots anyway.
So I changed tact to how he was feeling.
I asked him to go back to how he felt last night and describe
how he felt and where he felt it.
He thought and said he felt “fierce in his head”. This was great! I was wrapped we had something to go on. “Great” I said, “how was your body feeling?”, “I don’t know” he said. So I changed tact again “when you feel fierce in your head, can you feel your body?”, “no” he answered. My body sighed with relief. Here we were, this is where I love to be. “Yes, that makes a lot of sense to me" I said "because when you get fierce in your head, I can’t feel your heart like I can now, I feel out of connection with you and I don’t know how to reach you. Do you feel like you can connect with your heart when you feel fierce?”, “no” he answered.
And there it was, the overwhelming empathy for my hurting child and the moment to teach my son about growing up into a body that feels wild sometimes.
“Ok. So here’s the deal mate. You’re getting older and the older you get the more wild your body can feel, the more hormones are pumping through your system, the more lost in your fierceness you can become….” I then went on a small monologue of puberty hormones and testosterone and fight or flight response. I asked his dad if he remembered feeling wild and fierce in his body, which he said he did, so we discussed briefly decisions he had made as a teenager when he felt like that – the good and the bad.
Then I brought it back to ownership, a big one for me. “However Heath, YOU are responsible for how you feel and act on those feelings. No one can make you feel anything. So how you respond to how you feel is part of growing up. Ferocity like last night, that doesn’t move anywhere, is destructive and if you continue to do this you will become destructive in your relationships with family, with friends and with girlfriends. So we’ve got to start finding what we can do to help you move it….”
We discussed together, the three of us, how to do that because his old list of Back to Balance was no longer working. He needed new strategies. We discussed how each of us find our balance in a storm of emotion and we waited for him to make some of his own suggestions. He did. He came up with three. We discussed the ownership and self-awareness involved in moving his feelings through is body and bringing his energy back in to his heart and gut.
His dad suggested a code-word he could use when he started to feel wild or fierce so that we knew he needed connection and understanding and perhaps help him find the physical space he needed to get back into balance. After throwing round a few words, he decided on “IFA” (eye-fa) for “I Feel Angry”. Great.
Now what was left was to ‘repay’ his debt of service. He sighed heavily and moaned. I explained how he had done some damage to the relationships around him and in order for everyone to feel better, including him, there was some repair work to be done. He needed to ‘put back’ to where he had ‘taken out’.
This time we didn’t discuss what he would like to do, what would feel equal to him in the repair stakes. This time I gave him a list of jobs that needed doing around the family home that would contribute to harmony. One job for every act of service he ‘owed’. This was my win-win. He cried. We just held that space quietly and allowed the emotion, the regret and the sadness to move through him.
We ended our 'meeting' with a thank you for showing up in this conversation and asked if he wanted a cuddle, which he didn’t and that was fine.
So the rest you know. He got on with his jobs, he’s since finished them and he’s back to eye contact, loving smiles and words. I can feel his heart again. And the awe for his capacity to go so deep, to release into the pent-up feelings he had and to come out the other side with more tools and more compassion fills me up.
That’s why I love acts of service. It’s why I will never “take away” from him and his life. I won’t punish him with the removal of toys, friends and pleasures in his life. But we will add in. We will give him the space to think about the impact his actions have on those around him and help provide the opportunity and ownership to repair that damage.
I will help him find his centre again and in doing so I am equally role modelling and learning how to do the same for me. He is as much my teacher as I am his and this is the epitome of the parent-child dynamic.
There is such immense healing in these parent-child dynamics, but it doesn’t always mean we like the growth!
To find a Way Back to Balance for you and your child/ren, explore more of your mother-child dynamic and find a new parenting toolkit, join us for our next live program - ALIGNED PARENTING - commencing 30 April 2017.
WHAT YOU'LL LEARN:
Module 1 - Emotional Evolution
Learn the basics of secure attachment, respectful, emotionally-attuned parenting and the profound nature of the dynamic we have with our children to facilitate mutual growth. Understand what happens when we're 'too attached' or over-supportive of our children and what 'dis-regulated' states in our children and ourselves look and feel like and how to find balance again.
Module 2 - Mirror Magic
Your child's behaviour is never separate from your own, and the parts of them that trigger you the most, embody the greatest learnings about yourself and your childhood story. Learn how to find the wisdom in wounds your child is calling you into, so you can parent from a place of authenticity, rather than guilt, shame or blame.
Module 3 - Functional Dysfunction
The 'perfect, peaceful family' is an illusion. A family needs both 'war' and 'peace' within it to grow, just like we need to both support and challenge ourselves and our children to grow. Gain an understanding of your own unique family dynamic and find a new sense of gratitude for those who push your buttons, so you can empower yourself, and love more of your family, just as they are.
Module 4 - Play The Universe
Unlock the higher order of the 'guilts' that plague your motherhood and empower yourself with playful parenting principles to create freedom and joy in your relationships with your children. Implement tools to teach empathy and resilience in your children, and by extension, your own inner child, re-patterning your experience and transforming your reality.
Julie Tenner is Co-founder of Nourishing The Mother and is The Pleasure Nutritionist. Julie is a Naturopath, specialising in women’s and children's health, with specific focus on awakening women to their full potential – health for the mind, body and soul – creating lasting life change for you and your family by “coming home” to your magnificence.