Pace, Patience, & Positive Interactions

* There are lots of disclaimers at the bottom of this post.  Please read them.  To quickly summarize them here, this post is about the struggle to figure out what works for us, not a commentary about anyone else (though I do fill a kinship with those battling the same issue, whether from a similar perspective – e.g. a stay-at-home-mom, etc, etc, –  or from a completely different space!)

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Children have little or no say in the way we set up their lives for them, and in the pace we set for them, and in the way these things effect how we react to them.                         – Sarah at Clover Lane

I read this quote for the first time several months ago, and I truly have not been able to stop thinking about it.

I have thought about it in the busy moments, when I am herding kids into the car because we’re running late and I am shorter or sharper or less patient than I want to be because we need to go.

I have thought about it in my alone moments, and in moments of conversation with my husband, as we have made decisions about what activities to sign the kids up for (and what volunteer activities I should or shouldn’t sign myself up for), and as we have considered (a) what those activities means for our pace of life and (b) what that pace does to me, my kids and the interactions we have with each other.

I have thought about it a lot.

I decided that I would alter our pace, in hopes that it would improve my reactions to/interactions with the kids.  At the right pace, I believed (and still believe) I would be more patient, more available, and a better mom.

At first, these thoughts inspired me to minimize, minimize, minimize our regularly scheduled activities outside the house.

There are parts of that minimization that I have loved.  We took a semester off of “extra” activities and focused on only our big three: (1) school, (2) church (including choir), and (3) playgroup.  Beyond that, we would simply enjoy being at home.   During the fall semester, we picked up E at Kindergarten every day at 2:30, had snack in the kitchen at 3, and spent at least a half hour after that just reading stories on the couch.  And it was great. When my kids are grown, I want to feel – and I want them to feel  – like we snuggled, engaged, breathed in and appreciated each other and childhood as much as possible.  I need lots of slow hours with them to (a) enjoy them and (b) avoid regret (soon, they’ll be reading their own stories without me and I want to know I was there when they wanted that quiet time with mama).  Because the reality is that when I move too fast, the days and years seem to go by faster too.  And I don’t want that.

But there are other parts of minimization that were not so great. Because the reality is that if I start to go stir crazy because the pace is too slow or the isolation (from other adults or activities) is too much, I am just as likely to react in a less than ideal way to the kids.

What we needed was not a slow pace, but the right pace for us.

For me, the right pace is the one that allows us to truly savor the slow moments at home. This doesn’t happen if we are always at home.  When we are always at home the days feel long in the wrong way and we all get ansty.

Nor can I savor the slow moments if we are always on the go (or preparing to be on the go, or recovering from being on the go).

I guess, like most things in life, it’s about finding the balance.  In particular, it is about finding the right balance for us, given our personalities and temperaments.  The reality is (and this happens to be true for all of us in my immediate family at this point), we love being home, but we also love being out together.  Sometimes, it’s fun to just go.

As a result, in another attempt to strike the right balance, we are mixing things up this semester.  One afternoon a week, we will have a new activity: gymnastics.

It feels like the right time (for E, who has now settled into the Kindergarten routine and is no longer exhausted at the end of the school day; for S, who is in her last semester of only having school 2 days a week; and for T, who has finally dropped his afternoon nap.)

Still, the desire to minimize, to enjoy more of the slower moments at home with the kids, to do anything that will increase my patience and decrease those “please just do it” moments I have with the children resonates with me.  In an effort to achieve this, we are changing other patterns.

(1)    I am determined to get more sleep.  When I am tired, I am less patient and cannot be the mom I want to be.  It’s really as simple as that.

(2)    I am letting go of my guilt over things I choose not to do – whether it’s an activity for the kids, a volunteer opportunity for me as an adult, or something else all together.  I am consciously making the best choices I can as a person and mother.  In that situation, guilt is not a compass; it accomplishes nothing and saps too much of my energy.

(3)    I am scaling back my volunteering in E’s class to “only” one day a month.  I believe this will still makes E feel special and give me a sense of her school environment (so I offer her informed support at home) without creating an every-other-week logistical challenge for the other kids and me.

(4)    I am going to increase my pace before sunrise so I can greet T with a smile, read him a story, get things done and then slow down and make sure the half-hour before E leaves for school is as peaceful as it can be.  (The reality is, I simply don’t have the energy at night to be one of those mom’s that has everything ready for a peaceful morning, but I do have a new goal of going to bed earlier so that when T wakes up at 5:00 I can snuggle him, look at book together, then watch him eat breakfast & play while I organize & pack E’s school things.  The reality of T’s sleep schedule is that we have 1-2 hours to do this before any other family members are even awake.)

(5)    I am adjusting our schedule.  This means small changes (like waking E up 15 minutes earlier just so there are 15 minutes of the morning when she can do whatever she wants – or nothing at all – with my absolute blessing, before I have to “encourage” her to get ready for school.   I have already started this, and I believe that slow quarter-hour is a fantastic start to her day, and means I have a positive – as opposed to frantic – time with her before she leaves for school with my husband.  And that leaves me feeling happy – instead of guilty – about my “mommying” during our short time together before she starts her school day.)  It also means bigger changes, like our new gymnastics activity.  Finally, it means renewing our commitment to things that are working:  afternoon snuggles and stories (every day, but slightly abbreviated on the one day we’ll have gymnastics), church activities, and playgroup are things we’re absolutely going to keep.

(6)    I am going to *think* with my husband about letting E ride the bus home from school each day.  This is probably an independent blog post, but I am inspired to think about it by the idea that riding the bus might allow her to be greeted at home by a calm mama with energy, snack and stories ready, instead of being greeted in the school pick-up line by a mama who is herding gracious (but understandably aggravated) siblings into, and out of, and back into, and back out of the car.  With our current pick-up schedule,

o   T is fighting to finish his midday nap,

o   S gets less playtime with mom at home during that nap (important 1-on-1 time, that is harder to find with a middle child, I think), and

o   (since T screams if we try to use the pick-up line) I am exhausted from the in-and-out-and-in-and-out-of-the-car-routine before we even get in the front door for our first real chance to interact with E.

(7)    I am going to allow more time to get the kids ready and load them into the car when we actually need to go places.  No more doing dishes until 15 minutes before departure, then prepping everyone in a hurricane of activity.  While the hurricane feels natural to me, because I have been in that pace – cleaning, organizing, etc., -it is a shock to the kids’ system because they have been playing or (keeping it real here) watching TV.  Then I swoop in and take them from peaceful to crazy…no wonder they are resisting when we need to leave.

Whew.  It’s a lot to think about.  The bottom line is that we are coming out of the “minimize everything!” mode that I though would provide the antidote to the chaos that results from me moving, rather than settling in with, my children.  We are doing that in an effort to find a balance that works better for my family and allows us to savor the slow and enjoy the active.  I credit our recent re-emergence to a friend who absolutely liberated me one day (thank you!) by revealing that she tried a more extreme version of minimization, and then said at some point she just realized: “this is not for my kids or for me”.

So my crew is back in its quest for balance, with new anchors in our schedule, and I don’t know how it will feel in two weeks.

What I do know is that reading the quote, and reflecting on it as much as I have, has helped me.  And I know I need to think about it more.

In that spirit, my new year’s resolution for 2012 has been to reflect on two words inspired by that quote.  Those words are “pace” and  “patience”.

On a daily basis, I want to consciously think about our pace, what decisions I’ve made to demand/allow that pace, and how that pace affects my interactions with E, S & T.

I am going to focus specifically on interactions that occur during the daily duties that constitute the majority of our time together.  This is because I am starting to realize that if I set a pace that makes getting dressed, eating, getting into the car, taking a bath, brushing teeth, etc. into acts that leave me impatient with my children on a regular basis, then we have made impatience (and the negative interactions it creates) a big part of each day – and by extension, a big part of childhood.  I don’t want that.  I know it’s not possible to have peace in every moment every day, but I want to think about the difference between (a) a nice family dinner vs. a whole family race to get people fed before it gets any later; (b) a fun bubble bath vs. a rushed routine before bedtime each day; or (c) a regular old loading of the car vs. one with me pushing and insisting and stressing, “get in; we are going to be late!”  The reality is that I do have the power to structure things so that we are choosing the calmer, more childhood-friendly, relationship-enhancing option almost every day.

I want to be patient!

I want have good interactions during the regular routines of childhood!

Otherwise, a lot of our daily joy is removed from these years – these so precious years(!) – with my children. This is especially true since E & S are now getting to the age that the fun activity we’ve raced to, and had all those “less than ideal” interactions to be on time for, is an activity they do independently, not with our family  (i.e. no more parent-and-tot gymnastics for my almost 4 & 5 year old…they’re on their own in the big class, which means I need to feel good about the hours before and after the activity, since those are the actual hours we spend together).

Can I write the quote again?

Children have little or no say in the way we set up their lives for them, and in the pace we set for them, and in the way these things effect how we react to them. – Sarah at Clover Lane

But to a large degree, I (in conjunction with my husband, of course) can control that pace.

It’s an awesome responsibility: one with the power to shape the tone of the days that will constitute the bulk of a childhood.  And hopefully allow us to (a) experience the right pace, (b) present a lot of patience, and (c) enjoy as many snuggles, stories, fun activities and moments to savor as there can possibly be.

Disclaimers/The Fine Print:

(1)    This is a post without judgment.  I mention several things we have done, plan to try, have quit, etc.  The reality is that something we’ve scaled back on might be the most important thing for someone else’s family, or just something they enjoy, and I think that’s great. (Honestly I think so much of it boils down to the personalities and preferences of the parents and kids.)

(2)    I am writing about what I imagine to be a universal parenting struggle from the perspective of a stay-at-home mom, which probably affects the issues I face and the solutions I consider (quick shout out here to those working parents who make my life so much easier by teaching, healing, making the world better and more fun, etc. for my kids, as well as illustrating that once grown, those kids can be anything they want to be.)

(3)    I will acknowledge up front that I am in a luxury position to be thinking about “our preferred pace of life” at all.  Lots of people have obligations, or are in positions, that don’t allow them that luxury.

(4)    With all that in mind, note that (a) whatever pace you’ve set for your crew, if you’re happy with it, I envy you because we are in the throes of figuring it out,  (b) If you’re not happy with it, I relate to the struggle, (3) I am nervous because I think this post makes me sound like a not-so-great-too-impatient-mama, which is probably why I wrote it and let it sit in my draft box (before revising and hitting publish) for over a week!

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5 responses to “Pace, Patience, & Positive Interactions

  1. Bless you for being such a thoughtful mother. These issues are ones I’m already thinking about, as Henry starts preschool in the fall, and I want to have another baby. I feel so strongly that our children need the balance you are talking about. I was just saying to someone this morning, if our kids are in every possible activity, where is the actual family time? Sitting in the car or bleachers waiting for your kids’ activities to finish is not family time, so there has to be room for that, as you say, “slow” time too. Bravo, K.

  2. Loved this line, “In that situation, guilt is not a compass; it accomplishes nothing and saps too much of my energy.” So true! So so true.
    Also, if it helps, I REALLY wanted to ride the school bus when I was little. I thought how cool it would be to hop off, walk in, and say, “Mom! I’m home!” Mom did remind me that, due to where we lived, I’d be on the bus for about 150 minutes a day. Yipes. Clearly that’s not the case for E, but know that she may be just as excited about it! Just be sure to have those cookies waiting the first day. 🙂

  3. Thank you, MamaMoo! And Meredith, its is comforting to be reminded that we’re all trying to figure this out, and that we have each other for support as we do it. Bless you in your quest for balance as well – and a special blessing with regards to your mention of a possible sibling someday : ). And Ashely, you are so right. E says she would love to ride the bus, and the reality is that the bus usually beats me to our street after school (i.e. she would actually be home earlier if she rode it, if you can imagine that!) I am sure the bus would be great…it’s funny how we default into whatever we grew up with, and obviously as your sister I was in the same situation as you…never able to ride it because of our rural location. I will keep you and the blogosphere posted on how that, and all the other transitions we are trying/considering, end up working out! And the cookies would be a perfect after-school snack : )

  4. One of the many things I love about you, is that you “reflect” – that is no small accomplishment in today’s world. And, may I say, again, without any bias, and as a fact, you are a wonderful mother..You put a smile on their face, simply by walking in the door.

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