So…. the other day I wrote here about how I felt when my 6 year old said that I was calm and how I attributed that to my mindfulness practice. To be quite transparent, I felt very proud of myself as calm is something I really strive for. I grew up in a very loving and caring home, but calm is not a word I would use to describe it. My upbringing certainly had its benefits and taught me a lot, AND I always wanted my kids to grow up in a more peaceful home than I did.
Well, it’s been less than 3 month since that ego boosting comment from my son. The other night, at bedtime, he let out, quite naively, that I was not like other moms. “WHAT do you mean?”, I asked, hoping I was “better” than other moms in some way. But what came next was quite the opposite. “You are a lot more “GRRRR” than other moms”. After we did some deciphering in 6-year-old language, I understood that he was saying that he felt that I yelled at him too often and too fast. He was not seeing me as that calm mom afterall.
The moment I heard those words my body responded. I could feel my heart sink, my shoulders tense and my chest tighten. My first instinct was to start defending myself, saying that he didn't know how other moms “really” are, that I was calmer than most and he had no idea how lucky he was! Thankfully I was able to practice STOP, a tool from the Search Inside Yourself curriculum that I teach, which enabled me to stop myself and choose my response as opposed to react and most likely, regret.
In the STOP framework S stands for STOP, T for TAKE A BREATH. And that’s what I did. Before I responded, I kept myself focused on the bedtime routine while I took some breaths and let the initial agitation and “fight” instinct cool down. I gave it some time for the executive part of my brain to pick up what was happening and evaluate the situation while my amygdala, the “alarm system” of the brain which is in charge for "fight, flight or freeze", was going off full speed. I then moved to O and started OBSERVING what was happening. I was getting triggered, my body was tense, I started judging him as inconsiderate and judging myself as a bad mom. I was angry both at him for not recognizing all the effort I am making and at me for “failing”.
Once I recognized these stories building in my mind I realized that any reaction based on them was not going to be very productive and would probably trigger more of what he was bringing up, the GRRR mom. I was able to actually choose the strategy I wanted to pursue as opposed to acting as if I had no choice.
So I decided to acknowledge what he was feeling and keep my response short and non-defensive. I told him I knew yelling was not ideal and although I tried to stay calm, sometimes I wasn’t able to. And that I was doing the best I could and that I would keep trying to do better. I kissed him goodnight and left so I could continue observing what was going on inside me.
There is no magic, so for a while I was still quite shaken by that comment. I talked about it with my husband and after some tossing and turning I was able to fall asleep. And there is nothing like a good night of sleep to clear our thinking.
I woke up with a very different understanding of the situation, which I reframed as another lesson from the school of life and an opportunity for growth. I am glad my 6 year old was able to express his feelings and we are able to address it. I know in my heart I am doing the best I can, which removes a lot of the guilt. And I also know I can always do better and will keep aiming at that.
I know the GRRR mom will still show up some (or many) times, and that is ok as kids also benefit from learning that their parents are not perfect and that people are sometimes loud, defensive and unpredictable. But this conversation opened my eyes for new possibilities on how to show up around him.
So once again I was presented with evidence that mindfulness really works. It might not prevent me from getting angry and losing my mind sometimes, but it always helps me reflect about the impermanence of life and see situations for what they are, with compassion and kindness, and as an opportunity to always become a better mom, wife, friend, professional and human being.