I had this miraculous moment the other day. That moment when everything you have been working on and everything your children have been working on collides into one beautiful, epic and effective conversation. It was an out of body experience to say the least. I felt like I was watching this interaction take place from above and I was witnessing all the parenting tools I have learned being utilized AND executed successfully. To make it even sweeter- it was all falling on receptive ears!
Not only was I witnessing this miracle, there were witnesses present!
In that moment, I could feel it in my entire being that I was actually doing something right. And afterward, I received one of the best compliments I’ve ever had! This most wonderful witness encouraged me that I had done a wonderful job handling my children in the midst of some unruly behaviors. And then she said, “It was as if you knew all the right things to say!”
I could not believe my ears and laughed in disbelief and shock. I was also close to crying in gratitude for it’s not every (or any) day in motherhood that someone witnesses you getting it right, AND lets you know! So many emotions all at once! I quickly confessed that I could not take credit, but the years of intervention and therapy that my children and I have experienced for their various needs were to thank. But then again, I have always struggled to take any credit.
Don’t get me wrong- I want the credit! But I often struggle with feeling undeserving of praise, or even doubtful of it, as if it happened by accident or something. Simultaneously, I also believe that anything good that comes from me is because of Jesus! But like most human beings, I can’t help but hope that I am doing something right and if I am, someone will let me know!
Have you ever tangibly felt yourself trying SO hard to get it right? Trying so hard to get better? Maybe it was piano lessons or a sport when you were younger. Maybe it was cooking meals for your family, or sticking to a budget? Maybe it was not getting so angry, or having more patience?
How about your children? Have you ever watched them experience that moment of success! That monumental moment of potty training, or eating with silverware? Cleaning their room or writing their name? I’m sure the list of things that we ourselves and our children have worked at are endless. Some progress is easier to notice, and easier to celebrate. Some progress is less obvious because the number of fails overshadows any small glimmer of growth.
Early on when my son received his first of multiple diagnoses, the Dr. gave me this advice, “Catch him doing good.”
She knew that catching him making mistakes or wrong choices would be all too easy. She knew that the attention I’d have to give towards correction would dominate. She knew that as hard as he would have to work in areas such as speaking kindly, having patience and self-control, I would have to work at catching him when he did.
Depending on your personality, you may need to work on catching yourself doing well too! I would argue that the intrinsic motivation that results from experiencing yourself doing something well is way more powerful than the extrinsic motivation that comes from fear of making a mistake.
I can see it in my child’s eyes, they sparkle when I shout, “That was so great! I loved the way you used your words and asked for help!” Just as I am sure my eyes sparkled upon receiving the compliment from this sweet woman regarding my handling of some difficult behaviors.
One week later, in the same location, and with the same friends, those difficult behaviors were not received with the same patience, grace and effective communication. Instead I felt myself exhaling, “Guys, please just stop.”
I am not completely sure why I felt so different this time. So unable to respond with the same tools. Maybe it was less sleep, or the weight of other worries and to-do lists occupying my mental space, but I just couldn’t shift into that same mode of parenting that felt like such a major milestone the week prior.
And that is OK. Because even though I did not have a repeat of that same stellar performance, I remembered it.
I REMEMBERED it even in the midst of my impatient response to my children.
It came up in my brain simultaneously as I was about to lose my cool.
It became a new reference point for what I am capable of.
And instead of giving way to my less than ideal parenting, I recovered quickly and began moving once again in the direction of parenting the way that I had the week before.
It is the same with our children. When they take 5 steps forward and make it from mommy’s arms to daddy’s, and then the next time they fall after 3 steps, that is OK. And so it should also be OK when they show incredible self-control one day, and the next day, maybe not as much.
Personally, I had noticed that if my child had multiple successes in an area that he had been working on like keeping his hands to himself, but then reverted back to hitting his brother despite the progress he had been making, my heart would sink to the lie that he would never truly grow in this area. It was almost as if the behavioral “high” made the following behavioral “low” even lower. But it is easier for our minds and bodies to remember the negative than it is the positive. We have to work at mindfulness to retain every ounce of a positive experience. And if we do this, we can nurture the brain to remember our successes so much more and as a result develop a greater chance at repeating them!
Imagine that kind of impact in a child’s brain. For every time they are losing self-control, a memory of when they displayed self-control and were utterly praised for it would race to the surface as if to say to their “down-stairs brain”- “You got this! I saw you do it before! You felt it too, you can do it again!” Imagine getting to see their eyes sparkle more and more!
I am so grateful that this woman “caught” me doing something good. It inspired me to pay more attention. I want to catch my children doing good as often as possible, and celebrate it! I want to catch myself doing well and let myself feel good about it!
I want to spend less time soaking in their mistakes or my own, and more time embracing all that we are capable of. I think it is when we focus on these things that we truly create space for ourselves and others to continue to surprise us!
That is all, for today.