My children are very active, probably more so then most. They do not sit well, they do not eat well, they require very little sleep, and I only take them out in public on rare occasions. My younger child learned from a very young age how to unbuckle the straps of shopping carts and strollers, leaving me with no restraint system. Both my children are fiercely independent and have little fear. For these reasons, when my youngest was about eighteen months old, I even went against every value I had and bought a child leash... which didn’t work either. My son would run at full speed with the harness on and get jerked back when the leash ran out of slack. All the while, my three year old daughter would yell at the top of her lungs, “Walk me like a dog, Mommy!” It was from these moments on that I realized public outings only resulted in frustration, embarrassment and self-doubt of my parenting skills… so I decided to avoid them at all costs.
This new homebound life style was working just fine until I started to feel like I was on house arrest. I work outside the home three days a week, and on my days “off" I am with my children all day. When you are home all day with extraordinarily active young children, the days are quite loooooong. I tried on a few occasions to suck it up and take them out for small errands or outings, but the days always ended in disaster.
I remember one terrible “field trip” quite vividly. I psyched myself up to go to Trader Joe’s (a small grocery store) and went through the checklist:
- Are they well rested? -Check
- Are they well fed? -Check
- Are they feeling ok today? -Check
- Do I have snacks, drinks and small toys to occupy them? -Check
Ok, we're good to go.
The Field Trip
I put my two year old in the cart facing me, and my four year old walked beside us. Ok, this wasn’t so bad. They needed plenty of reminders and positive feedback, but we were making it. We were in the last aisle, the home stretch, and we just needed some hummus. I was reaching over to grab it from the shelf when I suddenly heard a loud crash. Startled, I turned around to see that the cart, with my two year old strapped in, had tipped over and pinned my four year old to the ground! Both of my children were screaming and there were people gathering around us. I couldn’t tell if anyone was seriously hurt, but it looked like my pinned daughter could be. I didn’t know whom to grab first to comfort.
After we got the cart off of my daughter and unstrapped my son from the seat, the kids and I huddled together in the middle of the aisle hugging and crying. Nobody was hurt, but we were all quite shaken. When the crying finally stopped, my daughter volunteered that she had taken the chance while my back was turned to jump on the side of the cart… and it tipped over on her! We managed to get it together, pay for our groceries and head to the hot mama minivan. As I was unloading the bags into the van, still rattled from the scare inside, my younger child unbuckled the cart safety strap and began to stand up in the cart. I reached for him just as he was falling out and the cart went flying! Sure enough, the cart crashed into, dented, and scratched the side of my van.
After I securing my kids in their car seats, I cried my eyes out the whole way home.
The Light Bulb
I remember thinking that I must be doing something wrong. Why do my kids act up, embarrass me and drive me to tears every time we step foot out of the house? I was a good parent -- loving and consistent, I followed through on all of the rules -- but I still couldn’t take them anywhere.
Why do I see other parents with sometimes four or more children performing errands in an organized manner? Their small children are sitting nicely. Their older children are walking calmly beside them. Was it the parents? Was it the children? I was determined to find out.
Stepping back and looking at my children, I suddenly realized -- my kids are full of MOJO! They are not calm, they do not aim to please, and they certainly have no desire to follow rules. I started to pay more attention to families of "spirited" children like mine. Though I noticed similar behavior of the children in public, I saw a wide variety of responses in the parents. There were parents like me, who were easily stressed, embarrassed and had little tolerance with their children (situations that were hard to watch, no doubt, because I felt like I was observing myself). But I also saw parents who had far more tolerance and patience. Their public outings were not ruined by a little rowdiness. They embraced the chaos of their children and carried on with ease.
From that moment, I became bound and determined to not change my children’s behavior, but my own.
I started working with a life coach who encouraged me to build “experiments” into my day. I started viewing said experiments as either successful or bombs… but never as negative reflections on me. I began to have different expectations for my children. I stopped looking at the calm family next to me, wishing we could swap kids, and I started to view my children for who they are: independent, confident, self-assured, creative, smart, engaging, funny, warm… and yes, quite active! But they love life and they definitely rock their mojo. I started to accept that I was not going to change my children into obedient robots who would be easily controlled; nor did I want to. I began to listen to people around me who shared compliments on how full of personality my children are. Other people had appreciated them all along!
I still have to take deep breaths before I go out with my children in public. I still run down the checklist. But now, I have released many unrealistic expectations and have gotten over that pesky public humiliation factor. I am respectful of others and only go to kid-friendly places, but I am no longer hyper aware of what everyone else must be thinking.
I fully enjoy my children for who they are… spirit, spunk, mojo and all.
What about you? Have you ever struggled with accepting your children for who they are, either while their personalities were emerging, or watching them make choices later in life?
Life Coach for Moms
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