On any given weekday, after work, I get into my car, turn off the radio, then text my husband to let him know I am on my way home. The drive takes fifteen minutes and silence is welcome after the noise of the day.
Once home, I take a deep breath and walk towards the house. I prepare myself for whatever is happening on the other side. The other side houses my guys. A big one and two little ones. Within minutes, we are engaging with one another, carrying the details of our day within our bodies.
I make my way to the bedroom to change into something more loungy because I subscribe to the controversial theory that home is where the bra isn’t and everyone should have comfort in their own space. I take off my socks and then grab a hair tie to pull my hair off of my face by making a bun on top of my head before re-entering the kitchen to help with dinner.
While my husband and I unload the details of our day we make our way around our tiny kitchen, attempting to make dinner and manage the chaos that is occurring between our two adventurous boys.
Stories from the day are often interrupted by a number of things, including my own brain. The capacity that remains after being bombarded all day by sensory input is often decreased and I find myself in a space where my ability to handle more stimuli is low. We move into dinner at which point we embrace the emotions and stories of the day alongside the opinions of little people regarding the food at the table.
We follow our schedule for the remainder of the evening and eventually the kids are in bed and the adults are seated on the couch awaiting the moment of certainty that they are indeed asleep. I choose for myself what my body needs to do for the evening to relax and unwind before bed and before I know it the day has come to an end.
When the night is still my mind reminds me of the input of the day. Between work and home there was crying and questioning, laughter and play, yelling and arguing, instructing and correcting. As a parent and a therapist guiding the children in my life, I am aware of what a challenging task we have to live out each day. There are days where I am proud of the way that I engaged with those around me and there are also the days that I wish I could rewind and start over again.
I recently was recounting a story to a co-worker about apologizing to my son for a response that I had. My nine year old patient stopped the task he was working on and looked up at me with a question. “Hold on”, he said. “You mean to tell me that an adult apologized to a kid? In all my life, I have never heard of such a thing!”
Being an adult who engages with children is difficult. It often feels like we are trying to balance caring for others with caring for self. We want to raise respectful, well-mannered, grateful human beings and behavior becomes the measure that we use to determine how well we are implementing our knowledge.
At times, I fear our focus becomes so myopic that we forget that we are teaching children. Children who don’t want to wear jeans because the fabric hurts their skin but they don’t know how to tell us that, so instead they kick and scream when getting dressed. Children who feel overwhelmed by the request to clean up a messy room because they can’t identify where to start so they say that they “can’t” and set up camp on the floor. Children who are unable to regulate their emotions so they cry and scream for “no apparent reason”. Children who yell at adults to stop talking because they don’t know how to say that they are overwhelmed by their thoughts and your words.
Often times, we invite them to engage in ways that we as adults aren’t even willing to do ourselves. I make choices that allow me to regulate my body and my actions: turning off my radio, breathing before entering chaos, taking off my socks and bra, changing clothes, and pulling my hair back. Each of these actions may not seem like a big deal to you but to me, they are the difference between agitation and peace. They are the choices that I get to make that provide rest for my body. What if we looked for ways to help our children to make choices that bring calm to their chaos?
When we are emotionally responsive, it calms and strengthens the brain and builds attachment which feels like an essential building block for relationship.
Can we be adults that teach our kids to say no thank you and then respect their boundary? Can we be curious about the feelings behind the behavior? Can we work to de-escalate our responses knowing that it will help them in turn? Can we communicate comfort rather than threat? Can we be adults who apologize when we hurt our children? Can we be curious?
What if in creating a consistently secure attachment with our children we are actually also caring for ourselves and our world? What if…?
Bethany Cabell is a Texas transplant, residing in Michigan with her husband and their two young boys. A lover of beauty, she lives life chasing after wide-open spaces: sharing her heart with others, in relationship with Jesus, and through music and photography. She tells her story here. &