I'm strict about some things with my kids. There's not a lot that I'm really hard core on, I'm lackadaisical about bedtimes, devil may care about wearing coats in the winter (I rarely wear them, I see no need to shove a crying kid into one for the sake of keeping them warm, I'll carry one along, but not force it on them). I don't force kids to eat, I let them have soda at parties, and I've been known to give them ice cream for breakfast.
But I do care about some things. A lot. One of the biggies is respect. Respect for us as parents, for other adults, and for themselves as well as their siblings. Another hot button for me is being responsible for your moods. I have extremely empathetic children. I don't know that all kids aren't like this - but I know for sure and for certain, that in my house, moods are contagious. If one of my kids is grumpy and miserable, it's not going to be long before we all are. Jessica and I, specifically, have always had a tendency to bounce off of each other's mood. Temper tantrums, not the toddler ones, but the ones when she was five, six, and seven were absolute and utter hell. Because I'd wade right in there with her and get just as angry and as frustrated. One of the things that I've had to learn, as a parent, is how to let her have her own feelings and emotions and not feel like I have to feel them along with her. One thing I've had to teach her, as a parent, is that she's got every right to feel whatever she's feeling, but she doesn't have the right to make everyone else unhappy because of it.
We had a party on Sunday for my niece, at a little kids' gym place. You know the type - with mats everywhere and big soft balls, bouncy things for bouncing on, etc. And Jessica was mortified by her father. She's at an age where she's starting to get mortified whenever he does anything other than sit quietly in the corner, God forbid, he sing in public or worse, do anything overt to draw attention to himself. Like jumping on a bouncy thing. Most of the dads were playing with their kids, so it's not like it was a big deal, but Jessie was just so embarrassed. She stormed away from everyone, sat in the corner and glared at everyone. People kept trying to talk to her, and she wasn't having any part of it. Finally I went over and sat down next to her. I explained that I understood, but that she was making the party difficult, and drawing more attention to herself than she wanted. And that the behavior needed to stop, she wasn't allowed to ruin her cousin's party, and to get up and go have fun. AND SHE DID. It worked.
A similiar thing happened this morning. Most mornings are a harried hot mess, with me rushing around to get the kids dressed, fed, lunches packed, coats found, healing stone stuffed full of love, and kids out the door. Sam trudges out of bed, snuggles with his daddy and I deliver a bowl of cereal and his clothes. Jessie staggers out, usually stops by for a hug and then curls on the couch and I bring her a breakfast bar. This morning, she stormed out of bed, glaring at everyone and snapped at me when I tried to say good morning. I gave it a few minutes, and then tried again. The third time she yelled at me, and I looked at her, and told her that it wasn't okay to be nasty to me, she could either change her attitude or eat her breakfast in her bedroom. AND IT WORKED. She was quiet for a few minutes, and the apologized, told me that she was just really tired, and could I help her pick out some clothes.
It was awesome. And I was so incredibly proud of her, because she's really, really growing up so fast. And learning that she's got control over her emotions, that she doesn't have to let herself sink into anger, misery and frustration, that she can take a deep breath, put a smile on her face, and things really do get better is such a huge milestone for her. She wouldn't have been able to do that a year ago. And she's still not at a point where she can stop herself on her own - but she is at the point where I can tell her that she needs to get her emotions under control, and with a firm reminder that we're responsible for our own moods, she's able to pull it together. I've always struggled with this - she's always struggled with it. Me with allowing her the space to feel what she feels without jumping in along side her, and she's always had such a hard time getting control over the emotions. Whatever it is, she does it 1000%. So if she's happy, she's kind of ecstatic. And if she's grumpy - God help us all. But she's getting to the point where she can stop herself before she reaches the point of no return. She can turn it around now, and I'm so proud of her.
I really am ridiculously thrilled by this child. Each one of my kids has a special place in my heart, and I'm pretty convinced that each one is my favorite child. But Jessie - she's my first. She's the one I've known the longest, I've been thru the most with her. I'm so proud of the baby she was, the toddler she was, the little girl she was, the big girl that she was, the tweener she is, and the teenager and woman that she'll be. She's just awesome, and I'm awed by the fact that being her mother is just as incredible now as it was when I first looked into her big, big eyes.
I've had to learn the hard way that, sometimes, being "mean" is what works. Feeling her feelings, and trying to force her to stop by getting as emotional as she was - that didn't work at all. Because I was, and am, so close to her, because her emotions are so available for everyone, especially me, to see and feel right along with her, I had a really hard time being able to stop and say "No - this behavior is unacceptable. It's okay that you feel this way, it's not okay that you are taking it out on everyone." But by doing that, by being firm, setting up the expectation that there is a standard of behavior that we will live up to, by doing that, I'm able to give her the framework to get a grip on the emotions. When I was in the trenches with her, feeling frustrated and angry and miserable along with her because I wanted so much for her to be able to stop, she couldn't do it. By achieving a little distance, by not allowing myself to get swept up in the emotional storm, and by being what I always thought of as mean, I'm able to show her how to better navigate thru the world.