Last summer my son befriended a girl at our local park who was one year older than him. They played nicely together, so the mother and I exchanged contact information and met a few more times before school started back up. One day, the mother was trying to leave the park and sweetly asked her daughter to put away her sand toys. The girl paused and gave her mother a piercing cold look, then went back to playing. The mom giggled softly and whispered to me, "This is what you can look forward to at 3 years old: the big middle finger."
I've been looking back on that moment a lot lately! The beginning of parenthood was pure joy for me and passed quickly in a blur. My son is a blessing, but my husband and I are finding that parenting is becoming more difficult as he gets older. At 3 years old, he is dealing with a flurry of emotions as he explores his world more, is starting to separate from me a bit, and wants to have more control over his experience.
It's easy to fall back into my old reactive ways when he and I clash and I'm in a hurry or only thinking about MY needs. Though I may not completely understand why my son is not going with the flow as he used to, I am determined to try and understand. It's important to stop myself and see clearly how I'm feeling. When it's anger and frustration, the seeds of rage, I must stop before losing my cool. When I do go off and start yelling it can be scary for both of us, so I've learned to at least pause and let my emotions diffuse a bit before communicating my needs.
With a daily meditation practice, it is easier to achieve a clear frame of mind quickly. Then I am able to shift my perspective and connect with my son on a deeper level. Here's some questions I may ask myself next to reestablish our empathetic bond:
What is he doing right now and what may he be feeling?
How does he feel when I ask him to do something else?
How does it feel to be his size, with his communication skills and physical capabilities?
How does it feel to always have to comply with my wishes?
Does he feel heard?
The book "Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids" by Sura Hart and Victoria Kindle Hodson has been very helpful in providing me with tools to reconnect with my son during tense moments and finding a middle-ground where both our needs are met. This book is also my introduction to Non-violent Communication, which I find very intriguing and hope to learn more about.
Empathy is the key to building, then maintaining a close relationship with our children. By fostering it, I am able to refrain from being too authoritarian, a parental position that I feel is not fair for my son and not aligned with my authentic nature. Instead, I can remain the loving, respectful, and nurturing mother I always hope to be. And most of the time, my son looks like this: