I could feel the clench in my jaw and squeeze of my hands as my frustration began to bubble over into irritability, overwhelm, and that terrible feeling of not-enoughness that lives in the shadows of my psyche and sometimes whispers to me.
The mess I can’t unsee that is overtaking my home … the nagging to-do list that creates a mental fog ... and my kiddos, who in their desire to find their own way, are pushing back against my requests with either a strong “No” or ignoring me altogether. Like the tall tower my child was building, it was all adding up and I felt as fragile as those blocks likely to fall.
We have all had them - those moments where we have a choice to either skyrocket to a heightened state of emotion, letting it carry us into reactions of yelling, blaming, or scolding - or to pause long enough to take a deep breath (or five) and stay planted on the ground.
The way I was feeling, I was headed towards a launch.
But then, I saw it. My little square lifeline: a green sticky note that I had written on the night before in a place of calm and reflection.
On it was nine parenting mantras for me to live by, especially in contentious moments where my instincts were to react in ways familiar to me - i.e. yell, argue my rightness, or try to control the situation or person before me.
My intent for writing these 9 mantras down was to change the wiring of my brain, shift the circuits, and create a new story. I figured if they were right in front of me where I could see them often enough, then I would be more likely to remember, embrace, and live into them.
What I found through my personal growth work - aka becoming a parent to two tenacious boys - is that I am often responding to parts of myself that are rooted in my past, defense mechanisms that were put into place long ago and, while I thank them for getting me here, I have outgrown them. Removing the veil of these parts of myself, I can be in the now moment with more joy and ease, and without the looming shadows of my bias, conditions, and negative loops (or at least that is the goal anyway).
Here are 9 mantras that I use when I feel low on patience with my kiddos:
1. (PBS) Pause. Breath. Start again.
Who knew that four words could be such a game-changer? I literally went as far as to write this one (PBS) on my hand with a pen until it became intrinsic. Taking a pause is often the difference between pitfalling into my reactive mechanisms and my ability to center before responding to my child. Our children often match our energy, so if I come in like an angry bear, so too will my little cubs, but if I model how to center in the face of big, unpleasant emotions, so too will my little humans.
2. This too shall pass.
Power struggles, sleep disturbances, the uprising of confusing behaviors … When we are living it in our day-to-day, our fear can lead us to irrational thinking and feelings of permanence. Will my child grow up to be a psychopath? Is this normal? Is my child behind? Will this last forever?
When I keep in mind that everything is temporary and this too shall pass, I can wrangle in my trepidation to be with and be in the current moment, because two things are true: 1) the present moment is all we have and 2) it is highly unlikely that my son will be a 20-year-old young adult who doesn’t know how to pee on the potty or eat with a fork.
3. Misbehavior is an unmet need.
This is an opportunity to step out of my world and into my child’s. When I can stand before misbehavior and see it for the communication it is, my mind shifts from He is giving me a hard time … to questions of What are my child’s unmet needs and how can I meet them? What tools is he lacking and how can I teach them?
Staying curious to my child shifts my perspective and creates space to recognize his dysregulation signals so that I can help him notice and manage his body through co-regulation. In doing so, our children will grow into adults who have the tools and confidence to ask for what they want and need.
4. All emotions are sacred.
This goes both ways. My child’s feelings are relevant, informative, and useful, and so are mine. Under every behavior, there is a thought process and emotion. And while we may not always agree with the behavior before us, we can always validate the emotion behind it. When emotions are allowed, safe, and accepted, we too feel allowed, safe, and accepted. Through the acknowledgment of these divine birthrights, we cultivate developing brains and nurture open hearts.
5. My goal is to connect, not be right or control.
Our children come into this world with their own agendas, perceptions, and paths - a fully developed soul who is here to learn and grow through our modeling and guidance. It is not for us to change them, but rather to embrace them through connection.
When I have goals to be right, I make my child wrong, and this can be detrimental because it denies their intuition and undermines their view of the world. When I attempt to control my child, I disempower who they are, robbing them of the opportunities to grow into their full self-expression. But when I connect, my child sees me, and I see them, and together we find a win-win. Bottom line, the relationship with my child is my number one priority, much more so than arguing my rightness or controlling them.
6. I am allowed to set boundaries and my child is allowed to feel their feelings about them.
Another game-changer here. Sometimes boundary setting is a challenge - we can either be permissive with boundaries in fear that it will upset our children, or we may be on the other spectrum and find ourselves stuck in rigidity, holding to our limits with inflexibility.
Our power lies in our thoughts, feelings, and actions, not in controlling anyone else’s. So, as we tune into our intuition and set loving limits, making decisions about the actions we will take, we find our power and empower our children in their process, too. Positive parenting is both firm and respectful, meaning we can hold to our loving limits and validate our child’s emotions around the set boundary - both are necessary.
7. My child’s behavior is not my report card.
Isn’t that a relief? I feel the stress and guilt melt away a bit just reading it. A meltdown in the store … throwing a toy … pushing their sibling when not wanting to share ... None of it is a reflection on who we are as parents, or who our children are as little humans. Our children’s brains are developing and they are still learning big life skills like self-awareness, empathy, problem-solving, impulse control, and emotional regulation. Their behavior is a sign of their developmental process, not of my capabilities as a parent.
8. My triggers are mine. They are separate from my child.
We all have hardwired beliefs that affect the way we perceive the world and others - our reality. And our reality may look markedly different from another’s. When the emotions we feel in the heat of the moment are disproportionate to what is happening, it is a gentle indicator from our body that what we are upset about is not from the present moment, but rooted in our past experiences and beliefs. This is known as a trigger.
While others may ignite something within us with what they say or do, our triggers, emotions, and actions are our own. When I realize that my child is not my trigger, then I can look inward to heal the parts of myself asking to be healed. Befriending and tending to our triggers offers us a new lens through which to view the world and our children.
9. I love myself. I am enough.
How many times have I felt like I need to be doing better, somehow be more, for my kids? The answer is too many to count. But I have learned something remarkable: We are the exact parents our children need - in all of our strengths and areas of growth, in all of our reactions and mess-ups, and in all of our connection moments - we are enough. There is no better expert on your family than you.
While I will never be a perfect parent, as a member of the Generation Mindful positive parenting community, I am learning day by day that perfect is not my goal, rather, being present is.
When I practice these daily mantras, I notice a shift in my self-talk and the way I show up for myself and my family. In re-framing my thinking, my behavior shifts, and I move closer to my heart.