Although patience is one of the most obvious lessons of motherhood, I think the one that surprises me the most is the power of gentleness. Although yelling happens—especially when I am stressed—it has to be the least effective means of being heard. My kids, and I suspect yours too, simply don’t respond to yelling. Or they do respond, but not in any compliant way—it just makes them either shut down or resist more forcefully.
I don’t know how or why, but somehow I have managed to be more gentle in my parenting lately. One of the shifts might have been going to hear Sonnie McFarland, a montessori educator, talk about unveiling the aunthentic self. She talked about the “love light” they children have, and how careful we need to be not to squash it.
And nothing squelches love light like harsh words. You can literally see the light in your child’s eyes flicker and dim when they are being yelled at. Oriah bursts into tears whenever we yell at her, and Jordan scrunches up his face and yells back, mimicing our tone.
When I do get angry, if I have a little bit of spaciousness, I try to corral my empathy. Instead of “Jordan, put your toys away right now,” I say: “I know you are really into playing right now, but it’s time to go. We can play with angry birds again when we get home.”
The other thing i have been doing when I do get impatient and raise my voice is to quickly cough up an apology. “I am sorry I got irritated and yelled at you,” I tell Jordan this morning. We were late for the carpool and he wasn’t able to close his car door. I could see his face shyly light up as I owned up to my misbehavior and showed him the dignity he deserved.
I think he loves it when I apologize, and it’s great practice for me. I am trying to extend the art of apology to my other relationships, namely with my husband. Somehow he is much harder to apologize to.
I keep coming back to how important is is to see and hear our children in their full essence, without trying to change them. And to do that, we need to, as my dear friend Mel, Queen of Frog Belly Farm, said yesterday in our women’s circle, “hear ourselves better.”
After we circled, led by the gifted artist, mother, and friend Lindsay Heppner, I took my kids for a ramble around the farm. I had nothing to do but enjoy the company of my children as they chased—and were chased by—chickens. We climbed up the tree house on a rickety ladder. They climbed every piece of farm equipment they could find. They raided the greenhouse, digging into lettuce and bok choy with a zest that”s nonexistent at home.
Gentled by the frogbelliness of the farm, we spent a happy couple of hours exploring how good it feels to be in relationship with the space around us. The mild wind blowing through the bare trees, the weak sun on our faces, the smell of hay and goat poop, all revealed the natural order of life’s soft underbelly.
“You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”—Mary Oliver