When something felt hard (ie: the MESS of my house, the crying up all night, the mounds of laundry, toys everywhere, the backlog of emails and responsibilities that gathered cobwebs, a dwindling career with a terrifying lack of focus, poop on my hands, the countless vulnerable moments in a day, children running around my house with sparkles and markers and dirty hands on the walls), I learned to let go into the delicious mess of it most of the time. These experiences have given me a rich context for what it actually means to be productive and effective in the world.
As the kids get older they are thankfully forming their own ideas, interests, and pursuits. My psychological blind spots have been growing right alongside, pretty much always identified and sometimes wildly triggered by these little teachers. This is the new mess to navigate.
When my son behaves in a flippant, disrespectful way, or if he's being too this or too that, there have been times when I get super, well, controlling, which is, in another word, powerless. It is maddening to attempt sourcing power from a place of powerlessness. It is infuriating to feel ineffective with my son. That said, he has been getting me ready for raising my daughter. There have been too many times when I threaten to take things away or he can't go here or there if he doesn't do this or that. It sucks. There has to be a better way! Sometimes I can see his light dim when that character in me comes out. We always re-establish connection and, ultimately, know the true essence of the other with our idiosyncratic methods of making amends, but sometimes it takes awhile.
In light of this, I stumbled upon a most helpful article from which, I imagine, others will benefit. It examines the raising of moral children and the difference between using shame and using guilt to shape them. Adam Grant wrote about this brilliantly in his recent NYTimes Sunday article "Raising a Moral Child", which directly speaks to my experience in a most life-changing way.
The other night at Passover Seder, my son was being crazy wild and almost dangerous to the other little kids. When he gets to be "too much" like that, I often bust out with a controlling face of threats and anger. This time, I did something very different. I gently asked him to come into the other room with me. I closed the door. I laid on the bed and asked him to lay down with me. He sat at the edge of the bed and said, "Do you think I'm bad?". I said, "No, love. I think you have a lot of power and you're 9 years old. It is your responsibility to learn how to use that power wisely and it is my job to help you with that. Sometimes I don't know how to use my own power but we're learning and growing together." He got closer. "Tell me what you need, love. Why are you choosing to be so wild out there with all of those little kids when you know better than that?" He got closer and said, "Mama, I just have so much energy but I do think I'm not being so responsible." Then he started to cry. My heart was bursting open with him. Then, he came out with the unforgettable of unforgettables, "Mama, I never want to leave you. When I go to college will you come with me?" I told him, "Oh love, you feel that way now, but when you're 18 I bet you'll feel differently." He turned 9 on Tuesday (he was born before the 2nd Seder 9 years ago which in the Lunar Calendar makes his birthday this week). Then, we hugged and he cried in my arms. It was such a tender, magical moment of my life. I loved every part of it. Thank you, Adam Grant, for writing this article and helping me understand how the hell to deal with my feelings and get to the root of what lives beneath my experience of too muchness. I needed to get this morsel of wisdom to move forward with this leg of the journey in Jedi training.
Also, when we left the room, he immediately went to help clear the table and bring the dishes to the sink without me asking. Then, he looked at me and gave a smile and a wink. Amazing.