It was Mother’s Day in America yesterday. My Facebook was surprisingly light on mentions, but my inbox had a few reminders. I follow a website called ahaparenting which promotes the benefits of Gentle Parenting and I feel really attracted to the philosophies and guidelines described there, but my practices aren’t always in line with them.

I’ve been finding myself overly harsh and shouty with the boys recently – especially E who seems to be a boundless fountain of energy, and can be careless with his long limbs, often resulting in hurting someone (mildly) or knocking or breaking things around the place. I feel frustrated with him and his carelessness, and I think I’ve been overly corrective recently.

On Saturday night he asked me “Why you always say I’m hurting you and making a mess?” and I found that really hard. Part of me wanted to answer “Because you are!”, and it took another day for it to sink in that he was letting me know that he was really feeling the criticism. Sunday then – neither of us changed how we were interacting with each other, but both of their responses to criticism became dramatic with really upset sobbing.

There is this societal conception of The Selfless Love of Mothers. Somehow, upon birth mothers turn into these ever patient, all-sacrificing creatures who do everything for their children, never asking anything in return. It’s an image so powerful that I think even those who didn’t have particularly selfless mothers would describe theirs that way.

I was not birthed into motherhood in this mould. I need occasional space from my children. I want them to grow up with a modicum of self-sufficiency. I expect them to learn self-care and care for others. I demand … I demand too much of four-year olds. And I’m feeling pretty guilty about it.

I love those tiny (not so tiny anymore!) creatures with a fierce fire. I spend a lot of time worrying about how they will be as adults and I want to make sure they develop all those important “hidden” skills that make for success in the outside world. I don’t want to be a snow-plow knocking all obstacles out of their way. I don’t want to be a helicopter, hovering near-by so that they never have to deal with the consequences of their actions alone.

Except I kind of do want to be both of those things. I’m scared that the world will have changed so much by the time they’re adults that I won’t have prepared them sufficiently. I’m scared that they won’t have the appropriate coping skills and that they’ll react like I did when I couldn’t figure out how to cope with the world. And – to my shame – I’m even scared that they won’t be decent humans (and we probably all spend some portion of our lives being less than decent), and I feel that as a reflection on me.

So these poor four-year olds are unconsciously carrying the effects of a whole lot of my anxiety. I’ve been experiencing a fair bit of frustration and judgement over the maturity and responsibility levels of some of my students (who range from 13 to 18!) and I think that’s been trickling out into my interactions with the boys. That’s been really unfair of me.

You know, I’ve been mindful to not negate their emotions as I see them; to give them time to cry, to vent, whatever they need so that they never have to get the message that what they’re feeling is not okay. And yet I’ve managed to negate them in other ways. Through my harsh responses to their energy levels and other actions, I’ve been telling them that their desires, that the way they currently are is not okay with me.

Now, I am not in any way implying that I can allow them to go around hurting people, breaking things, interrupting and demanding all the attention, but I think I can say it better. I think my tone can be gentler. I think I can shift my perspective and start from a place of connection and gentleness before I redirect their actions. I can (try to!) stop shouting.

I have an image now in my head that I could approach E when he’s bounding around with his plastic nun-chucks:

“That looks like you’re having lots of fun with nun-chucks. I bet you have lots of energy inside you right now.”
[Let him respond.]

“I know that you don’t want to hurt anyone with those or knock down anything, right?”
[Let him respond.]

“Where would be a better place for swinging?”
[Guide him to: outside, in the hallway, in an open space where someone is.]

And maybe I could do something better with T when I am busy and he wants my help or attention – rather than just fobbing him off or getting irritated with him.

“You really want me to XXX with you right now, don’t you?”
[Let him respond.]

“Can you see what I’m doing right now? I need to finish that, and then I can help you. It will be X minutes – you’ll know when the clock says X.”

“What do you want to do while you’re waiting for me?”
[His response.]

Planning these scripts helps calm my own feelings of panic and frustration.

I hope I do a better job today.