This is how I want to be able to communicate with my children. It’s easier said than done. I have children at varying stages of life, and all of them have varying degrees and skills in communication. Trying to blend and meet their needs and their wants and ensure that their concerns are met in a way that is productive and respectful to everyone in the family is easier said than done.
All the people, all the voices
Many days, when all members of our family are in our house, we might experience a clashing of needs. It’s likely that this clashing of needs is accompanied with a break-down in communication somewhere. The toddler cannot entirely voice his needs yet, or determine how to express himself, or even sometimes decide what he wants. The primary school-aged child is also a middle-child in our household, and is trying to figure out her own ways to express herself and for her voice to be heard; and, as a child still herself, might sometimes lash out. And the teenager is trying to assert her own boundaries and define her life as an adult, while still sometimes lacking adult communication skills.
Then there is the stay-at-home mom who wants a few minutes of quiet to herself, and is trying to negotiate everyone’s needs, including the working father’s needs. On the best of days, it could easily amount to watching a scene from Clash of the Titans.
On more than one occasion, I have found myself leaving the room as each person spit out their wants and their desires and their needs all at the same time. My poor ears and my overwhelmed emotions and brain can simply not process the cacophony of demands. Before I inadvertently say something I’ll regret, I find myself simply getting up and leaving the room. I have left the room without my toddler, with the other children arguing — leaving the arguing to go out, leaving my toddler crying “Momm-y! Mom! Y!” I have left the room to feelings of guilt, only to wonder whether I did the right thing; to ask myself: how can I handle this better? And then I go back into the room after a few simple minutes, with the kids staring at me as if I’ve gone crazy and my toddler crying into my chest with deep heaving breaths. I take a breath myself, and try to figure out how to negotiate all the voices, the demands, the needs, in a way that is productive.
A moment of failure or an opportunity to learn
There are times that I realize I am failing. That I have failed in a moment. There are times when I find myself snapping back at my teenager, or my middle-child, or being passive-aggressive, or being snarky. And of course, my snaps and snarks are met back with silence. They are met with angry eyes. They are met with huffs. They are met with returning snaps and more passive aggressive comments. Sometimes they are met with tears. They are in no way productive, and the tears are most likely from both a child as well as myself.
These failed moments must come with apologies from the mom. I explain to the child how our conversation had a breakdown in communication, how our words were not productive, and how angry comments are always met with angry comments. I explain how one person’s anger, or hurt, or sadness, breeds more negativity in more people. It is a dangerous chain reaction. And these failed moments must be met with an explanation and effort to make them better.
Because I do not want my children to feel that they cannot be in our home. I don’t want them to worry that our home will be met with angry words — ever. I want them to feel loved, to be at peace, to be growing in positive ways, to be laughing, to be happy.
And I want to be all of these things with them.
Communicating with love and honesty
Most days, just as there is the opportunity for a breakdown in communication, there is also an opportunity for positive, reflective, empathetic communication. It’s this type of communication that helps our children further develop their own skills in communication, in problem-solving, in decision-making.
It means that, where a mother might want to say, “If you weren’t so busy thinking of yourself, you would notice that your brother is wandering outside while I’m cleaning and being the maid, and help him out,” the mother would instead say: “I’m really busy with cleaning right now. Would you mind helping me out for a few minutes by watching your brother? I understand you want some chill-out time also, and really appreciate your help.”
It means that, when a child is crying and yelling about how their life is ruined, that as a parent we ask the child with openness and honesty, “I understand that you’re feeling frustrated right now. Do you want to tell me about what’s bothering you?” Or, “Are you feeling sad right now? Is there a way that I can help?” Or, “Sometimes when I feel frustrated I want to yell also — I find it helps if I figure out what’s bothering me and try to fix it. Can we try to fix it together?”
It means asking the questions. All of the questions, no matter how small they might seem. It means listening openly. Listening honestly. Really hearing what our children are saying.
It means modelling our behaviours toward them so that they can learn from our behaviours. I don’t want my children to learn from my mistakes, to learn to answer with frustration or aggression. I want all of my children’s needs met with love, and in turn for them to be able to communicate with love and honesty and compassion.
And so we have these beautiful moments of communication in our household. Not just in my head. But in reality. Yes, these moments happen also. Because we are all learning together. We are learning from each other. I am learning from my children just as much as they are learning from me. Many days it comes with difficulty and fear and frustration. But there are so many moments, so many indeed, where as a parent we must make the choice on how we are going to deal with these difficult moments.
I choose to use love.
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