Let’s get something straight from the start: I’m an enabler. And a people pleaser. I live my life in such a way so that my satisfaction and comfort derives from ensuring others are content.
That is certainly my problem, but not mine alone.
While putting others happiness before my own does detract from my quality of life, it stunts the growth of my significant others – specifically my children – and that’s a far worse outcome. I’ll tell you why, and provide examples.
I’m the mother of twin pre-teen boys. They were born seven weeks early, so right away I was prepared to worry about them even more than had they been born at term.
While other moms were immediately bonding with their babies, mine were whisked away to the NICU, the frightening outcome for underdeveloped infants who are unable to survive on their own.
One twin stayed for two weeks, while the other, smaller one was kept for a month. Never mind that I had already inherited the worry gene from my helicopter grandmother, but seeing the babies struggle and not keep up with others their age was both anxiety-provoking and heartbreaking.
In the weeks to come, I was with my twins for Early Intervention therapies (physical, speech, occupational) and then ECE preschool. I saw them progress enough to “graduate” to the public school – where they toted their IEPs along with them – but my worry only escalated when they couldn’t quite keep up with their classmates, whether academically, physically, or emotionally.
Now, I know all moms worry about their kids, and I’m not saying I have been given the right to worry more. But having known my kids were struggling from the time they were in utero has made this anxious people-pleaser want to do all I can to ensure they are happy and healthy.
Healthy is vital. No question about that. Happy? It certainly is nice if they are happy, and it makes your life as a mom a hell of a lot easier! But is it wise to keep your kids from feeling disappointment, and frustration? Your gut says yes, but your gut has also gobbled down that second brownie before letting the first one digest.
It’s said that we learn to recognize the sound of our baby’s cries early on – no doubt an evolutionary skill. The feeling we have when we hear the wails is almost unbearable. We want to do anything we can to make it go away. Sometimes we don’t always make the best choices in our effort to turn down the volume on the screams. It seems we are always torn between providing immediate gratification and teaching our child to soothe himself.
For some children, the tantrum period doesn’t end when they pass the toddler stage. One of my boys has an automatic cry response whenever things don’t go his way or when he’s feeling hurt. Either physically or emotionally.
And the sound of that cry? It’s still as painful as it was when he was a baby. I want it to stop, not only because I hate to see him miserable, but also because I know he’s at the age when kids will poke fun and be insensitive to his suffering. I react to the crying in one of three ways:
- I ignore it, but that lasts for only so long until I start to feel anxiety, anger, and the conviction that I’m incompetent since I’m not actively helping him.
- I explode in a completely irrational way (this, after I’ve gritted my teeth for as long as I can while in the “ignore it” phase.
- I take a breath and a step back, while I try to get to the root of his discomfort. In the past, I’ve tried to offer what I consider helpful advice, he usually doesn’t interpret it that way. So, I offer only my empathy, and I let him be heard.
I will say that the third option is really hard to do. It requires terrific stamina and self-control. Furthermore, I need to consciously choose to try that method because it’s not one that’s set to auto-pilot.
What I’ve learned by attending a Kirk Martin school presentation, and subscribing to his regular emails, is that CALM is the emotion which is most successful in defusing a tantrum, and it will ultimately teach your kids how to solve problems on their own. You have to train yourself to get there because if you’re a worrier like me, you can’t help but make the connection to that early feeling a panic and the oft-repeated question that infiltrates your brain: “Will my babies ever be okay without my help?”
In most cases, they will be. They don’t need to be coddled and spoiled, and you won’t like the results of that kind of parenting.
So brace yourself for their disappointment. The feeling is miserable, but it will pass!