My friend Jessica, who runs the page Once Upon an Upset, once wrote: “So many of us are afraid of getting taken advantage of that we forget the option of offering grace.”
It’s strange that this is true of adults and children, but it is, nevertheless, true in my experience.
I think it has to do with how someone treated us when we were small. I think that there’s a fear that comes with letting your child “get away with” things that you know that you would have been punished or abused for, because, in a way, it means having to acknowledge–maybe over and over again, maybe dozens of times a day–that what happened to you was wrong, that you wouldn’t have become a bad person without what happened to you, that it wasn’t for a good reason or justified.
And so, the defensive and protective thing to do, to make sure you protect your current self and your little inner child self from being hurt by the same exact thing again…is to lash out.
And the vulnerable and brave and better thing to do is to find grace. But it’s hard. It really is. I understand that it’s hard. It’s not just something that happens, it’s a practice that you repeat over and over, it’s a muscle that you practice flexing, it’s a series of small baby steps.
If you’re struggling, maybe this can help you take an extra baby step this week. Think about something that sets you off, some situation your child keeps repeating or you keep finding the two of you in that usually ends with you reacting some way you don’t want to. Make an alternate plan for that situation, an alternate ending. The best one you think you can realistically and authentically achieve.
Here’s an example of what I mean by realistically and authentically: My children keep screaming (with joy) when we go to brush teeth. In the small bathroom, they like how their voices echo. The screaming instantaneously sets every nerve in my body on edge and then the next small thing anyone does “wrong” is enough to push me over into yelling at them to stop or impatiently forcing them into the next step of toothbrushing instead of letting them go at a toddler’s pace.
An alternate plan/ending to this situation is not, “I won’t yell”. That is not realistic. An alternate plan/ending to this situation is not, “I will gently tell them not to scream”; that’s not authentic for me.
An alternate plan/ending for me might be, “When I go to prepare toothbrushes, I will also get my earplugs from the bedroom and put them in before inviting the kids to brush their teeth, so I’m ready for it when they scream.”
An alternate plan for a different person might be, “I will change up the routine and only have one kid brush teeth at a time, because they set each other off.” Or, “I will have us brush teeth in the hallway outside the bathroom, so the screaming doesn’t echo and set me off.”
Having the sound muffled is enough for me to offer grace and say to myself: my children are babies and they like the echo of a bathroom, I can let them enjoy the joyful sound of their own voice.