Ten Things She Can Do For Herself; or, Alternatives to Killing the Children
By age twelve, I had read everything printed in the house at least twice, including all the ad copy on the cereal boxes. I was desperate for new material. Sneaking into my mother’s room one afternoon, I found a book on my mother’s shelf called How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Fascinating. I was already working with children in my mom’s daycare center, babysitting, and wrangling two younger brothers, so the book with its cartoon format interested me immediately on a practical level. But I was also a tween, and liked the feeling that I was getting an insider’s spy view of my mother’s parenting. I read it in a day.
When I was older, my mom recounted the following story about what led her to teach parent-child communication classes as part of her practice. As a naughty two-year old, I was scampering away as my mom pursued me with a raised hand to deliver the spanking I’d rightfully earned with my wrongdoings. I turned to her and said, “You can’t do that–it’s MY body!” And my mother, raised on the firm and loving corporeal punishment of my grandfather’s generation, thought twice. She began retraining herself to respond differently as a parent. Later, she recounted to me that she kept a list culled from How to Talk posted on the inside of her kitchen cupboard door, to help her recast her language.
“Don’t you remember–you’d be fighting with your brother and I’d say, Hold on a minute! and disappear? Then I’d go check my list to figure out what I was going to do next.”
I don’t remember this. But I do remember hotly retorting one day, to some reasonable statement of hers: “You can’t use that technique on me! You just got it from that book!!”
Now I keep my own list, posted in plain view on my kitchen door, layered over calendars and newsletters and snack ideas. On the good days, I remember to check in with my list before a hot moment with my kids gets hotter.
Cool off. Apologize. Make amends. State your own feelings and expectations. Let others know how they can make amends.
Talk to your partner about how to share the work. Do the work that’s most important to you. Consider: ensuring that each partner has different kinds of breaks (daytime, evening, and weekend), and a chance to do different kinds of work. Make sure both people feel the split is equitable. When your plates are full, see #6. Kids can help with laundry, setting and clearing the table, dishes, cleanup, caring for each other, and more.
3. Get help!
Babysitters, in-laws, babysitting coops or swaps, moms’ clubs, day care, housecleaners, take-out dinners, therapy…whatever you need and can afford, it’s worth it! On a budget, choose help that gives the most value, and get creative.
Call a friend, send an email, go to a playgroup, schedule a date night, go on an adventure with your kids, or just sit and play.
5. Let it all go
Leave a tub of soapy dishes in the sink for the night. Pile clean laundry into separate baskets and let people dig for what they need. Clear a walking path on the floor and leave the rest.
Use that babysitting time to get out of the house. Do your own thing. Go to a bookstore after the kids are in bed. Go for a walk. Plan a weekend getaway with a friend.
Let yourself laugh at the way their faces get all screwed up when they cry. Let yourself laugh at the absurd expectations of your partner. Read a funny book. Watch a funny movie. Tell stories about how ridiculous life with young kids can be.
9. Do some magic
Go outside. Sing a song. Blow bubbles into the bedroom to signal the end of a time out. Light a candle. Hold a grounding rock together. Spin around in circles. Cast a spell. Transform the moment.
10. Cultivate your garden
Create the life you want for yourself. Design the garden. Choose the seeds. Water them daily. Make your life what you want it to be.