Yes and no

I tell Amy, “Please ask.” “Ask for help.” “Let me know if…” “Please tell me.”

And then when she does, I say “No.”

I think of myself as someone ready to help, happy to connect, and yet, it doesn’t seem to be entirely true.

Well, if it was a beautiful day and Amy and I woke up smiling and I didn’t have anything on my to-do list, or not much, and she asked oh-so-politely, “Would you like to play Junior Monopoly with me?” I might cheerfully say yes. On such a beautiful day, I might even say yes if she asked oh-so-politely “Would you like to play paper dolls” (or “Miss Clavel” or “Cinderella”)? I’m not sure I would ever cheerfully say yes to “Would you like to play mean girl,” though.

I guess the problem is when the asking is inconvenient to me, or when it happens AFTER I’ve found the end of my rope.

Like today, when I was practicing stay-listening by following her around after she had kicked or hit something she was frustrated with, and as long as she still seemed upset I stayed near her, explaining that I didn’t feel safe yet leaving her alone.

But then, after a while, she started to back away just a little and giggle as I stepped forward just a little. And, ideally, this is perfect! Laughter is a great emotional release, as well as a great connection tool. Ideally, I would have joined in the new game with enthusiastic abandon.

Instead, I got annoyed.

And figuring she felt better now, I left to get back to the work I wanted to do.

And she started to cry and to say “I don’t feel safe.”

And I didn’t feel like doing the right thing and returning to stay-listening. I (too quickly, I’m sure) felt manipulated into paying more attention than I wanted to. She wanted to connect more and more and longer and longer, and I wanted to get away and do something else.

It’s not that terribly hard to set a limit like “No, we’re not going to have a cookie right now,” using connecting and listening tools. But what if you want to set a limit on being together? How do you disconnect in a connected way?

Sometimes my just-like-me ridiculously intensely craving willful daughter feels to me like a looming monster about to devour me, hovering over my every move, waiting to pounce, insatiable. It’s really hard to say “Yes!” to an insatiable monster.

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12 thoughts on “Yes and no

  1. Yeah…I’ve thought about the same thing a lot. We don’t want them to use manipulative tactics, but we’re not responsive when they ask straight out in a nice way. Out of the situation, I feel compassion for how very powerless kids are and how few tools they have at their disposal. In the situation…I’m tired!

  2. My understanding is that a healthy and happy family system is where all family members needs matter. To express your feelings with honesty,warmth and firmness is respectful,both to them and yourself.You can stay connected through humor and validating.
    “I would so love to play Monopoly with you and stay in my pajamas all day but ……..”(whatever is your truth). If you get a huge reaction you stay close for the emotional spill and validate the child’s preference. Also validating your own need in the moment as imperative(this is the practice of Mindful Self Connection/Compassion) If we do not voice our needs in the moment the child does not learn respect for the relationship. Although we don’t expect them to intellectualize their response we have to start the ‘teaching’ process that others have needs and in real life their needs will not always be met. As Chris White says in Essential Parenting, we need to hold the wall of futility…a way for children to learn to handle disappointment in their lives and develop resilience. I would love to know how this post aligns with Hand in Hand principles.

    • Jo, I think you’re right about the need for self-respect in parenting — and I have been thinking lately that I need to find ways to voice my discomfort or other feelings in a way that will not be overwhelming or inappropriate for Amy. Hand in Hand recommends offloading the yucky feelings privately to a listening partner, or some other safe way away from the kid(s). And others recommend not letting kids see how much something they’re doing upsets you. And yet, while I understand both perspectives, it seems to me, at least for MY self-respect, considering my personality and baggage and everything, I need to allow myself permission to stand up for myself, even to a five-year-old.

      The particular kind of difficulty that prompted my post is the situation when she needs my attention, my help letting out her yucky feelings, but I’m at the point where I do NOT want to be close to her and am not able to access compassion for her. I suppose those situations need a calm but firm “I want to help you, but I am not able to right now” — and then, if she can handle that, take out some time for myself to regroup. And if she can’t handle it, stay-listen as connectedly as I can, or at least keep her and me and our things safe until she’s done flailing, and hope that I can manage that long enough without having an explosion of my own.

      Where is this idea of Mindful Self Connection / Compassion — is that from Hand in Hand? (I don’t yet have the booklets.) And I’m not familiar with Chris White or Essential Parenting.

  3. Self connection/Compassion is a major component of Nonviolent Communication…and Connection Parenting (Pam Leo) if we are going over the top of real feelings our children feel it anyway! Essential Parenting is a great supportive website for Mindful Parenting. Maybe google him if you are interested 🙂

    • Thank you — I hope to do that. Do you mean, by “over the top of real feelings,” hiding or masking one’s real feelings by pretending they are less or other than they really are? I agree kids see through that. However, it’s still better to save the yucky outburst for a listening partner than to pour it all out on the kid. It’s enough for the kid to know that mama’s mad or otherwise off track… she doesn’t need to experience the full brunt of it.

      ETA: I see now, you were responding to the suggestion to not let kids see that what they’re doing upsets you — in order to not give them the satisfaction, the sense that they can control that. If it does upset you, you can’t hide it. I suppose it’s still good to reach for greater understanding and perspective and peace and fullness, so that it’s less likely to upset you.

  4. I feel like this a lot lately, with my husband and my daughter. Like they’re draining the life out of me…in reality I’m pretty sure it’s pregnancy related, but in the now I just want to shut the door with both of them on the other side of it! What a terrible confession 😦 But I am aware that being aware is the first step in resolving the problem. Thanks for an insightful post.

    • Oh no, not with both! That IS challenging. I hope you can find a space in which to release that yuck, and to judge yourself (and your judging) with more grace. Hugs!

  5. I have found that I have pulled away from any one style of parenting and go with my gut more and more, and we are happier for it. Maybe because I tried to follow whichever it was at the time legalistically? And then when I failed I couldn’t take it. The amazing thing is~everyone seems to still be fine! LOL! 😀

    • I admire your confidence in your gut, and the trust in God that makes it sensible. I am still finding it helpful to learn about approaches that resonate with one or more of my intuitions and ideals, and at least at first it seems reasonable to give something a solid try before discarding the bits the don’t work for us. One of the things I like about Hand in Hand includes their frequent reminders to trust your own gut, read / learn about other approaches, etc, and not to take anything including themselves as gospel. (Except the gospel. Giggle.)

  6. I so appreciate the raw honesty in this post, and the insights in the comments. Finding that balance between connection, and honoring your own occasional need to disconnect is much harder than it sounds! I can relate to your feelings in a huge way, and this has given me a chance to reflect. It’s also the second mention of stay-listening I have seen this week. A sign, perhaps? Off to do some reading on that!

    • It IS much harder than it sounds! Caught between my compassion and respect for her as someone who has been intense and willful and sensitive and repulsed plenty of people with it plenty of times and nevertheless felt abandoned and betrayed that no one could stay connected and love me strongly through it all — and my disgust, fear, and irritation against her as someone who does not want to be devoured, who wants to be a full person with her own will and agency, and who does not have enough resources to be what she wishes I could be.

      I’ll be interested to hear what you think of stay-listening and the other stuff at Hand in Hand.

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