Parenting while calm

By Lisa Cucinotta

I have never believed that yelling at your kids is particularly effective or necessary, except in extreme circumstances, like danger. That being said, I haven’t exactly practiced said parenting philosophy regularly. The kind of parent I aspire to be and the kind of parent I’ve been most days the last six + years line up only about 50% or so. I imagine this is pretty common among parents and so I’m guessing there’s been yelling at your house too, at least the exasperated kind.

Lately, since I’ve been practicing parenting with P.E.A.C.E. I’ve noticed 2 things: The first is that I am not being as hard on myself for my perceived parenting flaws.  The second is that living with P.E.A.C.E. has made me a much calmer, happier person and as a bi-product, I am able to practice calmer parenting with much less yelling (we’re not talking a full state of zen parenting bliss, but I definitely feel we’re making progress over here).

I am very open on this blog about my challenges embracing parenting and my anxiety problems, which pre-dated having kids. It made for quite a cocktail when you mixed self-pity, generalized anxiety disorder, lack of autonomy, lack of sleep (at least in the early years) and parenting.

Self-pity was a deep driver of my anxiety before I had kids, and one of the ways I managed those things was trying to exert control over my environment.  There’s nothing like parenting small children to make you feel completely out of control.  You can not predict them, nor can you always manage their endless stream of needs and wants and interruptions and crazy ideas and dirty hands and spilled milk, and…. wait hold on, I just fell down a rabbit hole there for a second.

But for every time they get peanut butter on your shirt right before they leave for work there is a moment where your daughter calls a thermos a “thermostat” or announces she needs a family hug, or your son does a booty dance to Rihanna in his diaper or requests extra hugs at bedtime.  I want to make sure you know this, and know that I know it too, that a safe space to complain about parenting absolutely needs to have a place to also sing its praises. Being someone’s mom or dad is an awesome honor and privilege, and when we lose sight of that, like I have hundreds of times, we are doing a disservice to ourselves and to our kids.

This is why a big part of P.E.A.C.E. is the “bank of proof”. The bank is where you store your positive experiences – both parenting successes and moments of pure enjoyment with the kids.  It’s part of the Embrace stage, (the second E) where you embrace the outcomes, no matter how small the win.  And it’s crucial to continually working through the first E, Examine, where you are able to draw on the bank when you feel yourself getting worked up.  Both Es can save you a lot of yelling.

So, back to this new calmer parenting thing I am working on (modestly) mastering. How does it work? It’s something that honestly needs a lot of practice, patience and a good deal of self-control and doesn’t that just sound easy (ha).  I spoke in my last post about how practicing P.E.A.C.E. is like starting a weight lifting practice and I really mean it.  Not just because you start small and build (a literal analogy) but also because if you stop practicing it regularly you will have less strength to continue it.

My #1 tip for you to start with is to build up your flexibility. You have to challenge yourself to say yes more often, and to make sure when you say no you have a real reason, and give it to your kids. I tend to be a rigid parent, and once I say something, I have a tendency to refuse to back down. What I have been doing lately is questioning my rules, especially because some of them genuinely make no sense to anyone but me.

Here’s an example: I have stopped refusing to read certain books to Julia before bed time based on how close it was to 7pm. I discovered that my brain was so focused on having the reading end within a few minutes 7pm because that is her bed time. And I had secret anxiety I wasn’t even fully consciously aware of that Brian would be upset with me if I came down too much later than 7 because he was timing dinner with her bedtime.  Guess what happened recently when I stopped caring as much about nailing bedtime to the minute? Pretty much nothing bad.  Julia and I stopped arguing about books. I stopped feeling tense while I was reading them. Brian never seemed bothered I came down later and on the “latest” days I was still downstairs by 7:15.  Listen, I do believe routines are important for kids, and I’m a little OCD, so my flexibility isn’t going to mean Julia can just go to bed whenever, but giving a little has resulted in getting a lot.

It turns out there are a ton of these rolling around in my brain and I am trying to knock them down one at a time. I’m not always successful – today I managed not to yell when I was frustrated with Julia while we were out shopping, but I did say a few things that in retrospect I wish I hadn’t, even if I said them calmly.  On the bright side I didn’t beat myself up for it after, Julia seemed ok with what I said, and we had still had fun shopping, so that can all go in the bank.

Your yelling or impatience or frustration might (or likely does) come from a totally different place than mine. A fifteen minute adjustment to bedtime might be laughable to someone who doesn’t stress about routines.  But I am sure you aspire to be a calmer mom too.  So try it out.  Let me know how it goes!