All last week, we talked about how we want to be remembered by the people we love. If we want to be remembered in a certain way, wouldn’t it stand to reason that we try to live our lives in such a way as to be remembered that way?
It would, of course, stand to reason. This was a purely rhetorical flourish. But we don’t (ahem. I don’t) always act like that’s what we want.
Case in point:
I want to be remembered by my little boys as someone compassionate and who has a great sense of humor, but I will be the first to say that sometimes the sound of their neediness leaves me cold and honestly, I do not always like to laugh when they are trying to be funny.
Being a parent does not come naturally to me. Compassion does not come naturally to me. I confess that this is one of the hardest parts of being a parent for me. I just don’t care enough to cater to their whims.
This little confessional right here: lets keep it between us, okay? I love these boys to pieces, but I just cannot bring myself to hear what they are saying through all the whining and fighting. The more they whine, the less I actually care. I hate this about myself.
It was easier when they were tiny, and their needs were obvious. They would cry and there were essentially three options: Hungry? Feed him. Wet? Change him. Tired? Put him to bed.
Their needs are no longer so obvious. Sure, at the core it might be hunger or fatigue. But it manifests so differently. It’s not crying anymore, it’s getting into a squabble with his brother. And now, they are proud enough to refuse the solution: now, they can be grumpy enough to refuse a snack when that is what would help diffuse the situation, or too “grown-up” to take a nap when a nap would reset their mood.
I lose my cool when they refuse my solutions.
When they sparkle
I have said it before, but one of the core tenets of my philosophy on family life is to become a student of the people I love.
One of my favorite things to do is to watch my boys when they are getting along. My favorite sentence of all time is when one or the other lifts up an index finger and says, “I have an idea!” There is a special energy when they are getting along, both yes-anding the other.
In moments like this, my little boys are sparkling.
At the beginning of this school year, they were not getting along. At. All. I was putting out fires constantly, sending one to his room to cool off, scolding the other for taunting. What a nightmare! My compassion was at an all-time low. Not only were they not sparkling; I was pretty low-luster myself.
When being absent is actually being compassionate
My boys are almost 5 and 6 years old. I don’t know if they are old enough to ride an elevator by themselves. But let me tell you why they started doing it.
I did it because when we would arrive home from school and we would all try to ride the elevator together, the three of us, one of the scalawags would inevitably be hungry and crabby and would start kicking the other one. The one being kicked would cry and start hitting. When I would get in the middle to stop them (hah. In an elevator? Super smart.), I would get kicked and/or hit. It was a nightmare.
I knew what they needed: they needed to eat and they both needed to decompress from a day at school. A truly compassionate mother might naturally, calmly, gently be able to explain this to them and have them understand. But I am not a truly compassionate mother.
So one day, I dreaded so badly this daily elevator debacle, that I said to my 6 year-old, “You’re on your own. I’m not riding the elevator with you.” So do you know what that scalawag did? He took my keys, called out to his brother, “Come on! Let’s go!”
And they did. They ran off like thieves to the elevator, and took it all the way up by themselves.
I found them, not four minutes later when I arrived, already having gotten out their favorite toys and already setting up a scenario for their Playmobil guys to act out.
I came in as quietly as possible. I set down my things, took off my shoes and walked silently through to the kitchen, from where I could observe and start making them a snack.
For whatever reason, my presence was sublimating their neediness, and for some reason, my presence made it okay for them to kick and hit one another. In my absence, they were as thick as thieves.
My absence made it possible for them to work together and get along.
Removing myself from the equation was the most compassionate thing I could do for those boys. This may not always be the solution to every problem, but now when I see how they sparkle as they put their arms around one another on the way to the elevator, strategizing who is going to be what character, my heart grows three sizes in my chest.
In moments like this, I kinda feel like I am sparkling as a mama. Somehow, my lack of compassion has met the moment with a brilliant solution: just let them figure it out.
Sparkle reinforces positive pathways
The more times my boys take the elevator together and have a brilliant playtime together, the more times I can arrive and silently sneak in so as not to disturb them, the more pleasure we all take in the prospect of coming home. What was a dreaded awkward transition period has become something we all look forward. Fewer outbursts. Fewer tantrums.
For someone who stinks at being a parent, I feel like I might be doing something right. And that feeling almost makes me look forward to being with them, because they are sparkling and getting along.
Finding the sparkle
It is often easier to see what makes other people sparkle than it is to see what makes us sparkle. It’s way easy to see what makes kids sparkle. But think about your significant other. What makes them sparkle?
Your homework today is to ask your spouse what they think makes you sparkle. And likewise, you are going to talk to them about what makes them sparkle.
Getting more sparkly moments into our lives requires observation, self-reflection and some effort, but it’s totally worth it: If we want to be remembered for doing the things we loved, then we need to figure out what those are and start making time for them! Tomorrow, we are going to take a look at what makes us feel alive and how to bring that sparkle into our life.