Difficult, stubborn, strong-willed, a free spirit. All of these words describe my oldest son. He is only four, yet he often pushes me over the line between parent and child. I am not ashamed to admit I have lost my cool on occasion. I have found myself sucked into battle after battle. I resented him for not being a more easy-going child. On many days, I was just hoping to make it to bed time before becoming emotionally exhausted and physically aching.
If you have a child like mine, I am sure like me, you looked for ways to change his or her behavior. You read the blogs, sought guidance from your own parents and shared your struggles with your friends. All have good intentions. Phrases like “positive reinforcement” and “be stern, but fair,” are constantly buzzing in your ear. You try everything to get your kid to change, to just be a little easier. To be like your friends’ kids. Maybe you see a change, and maybe you don’t. Maybe when things don’t work, you question everything you have ever done as a parent.
I was that parent. I asked, “Why me?” When it seemed like I spent day after day trying to reason with my son. I turned my frustration out on him, and that just made things worse. It was a horrible cycle leaving everyone tired and unhappy. I thought, if only I had more help, if only my kid was easier, if only I had more peace and quiet.
Something had to change.
That something was me.
I had to overhaul my attitude and rethink how I parent my child. I was too quick to blame my struggles on external factors, such as my kid’s personality, or the fact that I do the majority of childrearing in the daytime. And while those remain very real issues for which I, thankfully, have a lot of support, I had to admit my role in creating a better experience for myself.
I kept it simple. I started with breakfast.
On the first morning of our new routine, I made sure I sat down at our kitchen table and ate with my children. I did not get up to constantly check my Facebook or email. I didn’t run off to tackle errands. I sat with them and made sure to be present.
I did that for them.
Then, I did something for me.
I said I was grateful for my children and my husband.
I followed by asking my oldest what he was grateful for. I’d love to say it was me and the rest of his family, but I am pretty sure it was his Transformer. Kids.
The next morning, we sat down for breakfast, and, again, I said what I was grateful for. When I finished, I turned to my son, and asked him the same question.
My answers weren’t always profound. Sometimes, I would just be grateful for the sun. Other days, I had a slew of things worthy of gratitude.
I have long known that voicing words of gratitude or affirmation can lead to a physiological change. I have heard others praise this practice for their own success. I was no skeptic. But, actually speaking things out loud can be extremely uncomfortable.
The first morning was hard. I doubted whether it would make any difference in my day. But things did change. I saw that by establishing a positive tone early, the rest of our day followed suit. There were less tantrums, less fighting and less stress. I noticed a shift in my body. I found I felt better. I felt happier. I saw more joy than burden. I had more energy to take my kids out and about, which lead to even more happiness.
I have now done the “gratitude breakfast” so many times, my son asks, “Are we going to do this everyday?” He doesn’t always want to participate, and I won’t push him. I will push myself, because I want him to see me expressing positivism even if it’s only for a few minutes per day.
No matter what kind of day we have, I will always be grateful for our mornings.