Since my kids were born, I have always felt a very strong connection to them, one that only a mother would enjoy (sorry, Eric ). This connection is what I cherish the most in our relationship, and it is also the reason why I’m a strong believer in Respectful Parenting practices – because this approach to parenting builds and strengthens that innate connection through time.
Recently though, I’ve been having a lot of challenges with Isabela, my 4-year old. First of all, that hairpin turn from 4 to 5 seems to come with a lot of changes in her psycho-emotional state. She is now able to communicate herself really well compared to before when she would simply throw tantrums or stop them depending on whether or not she likes something. Now, she is able to verbally communicate herself proficiently and can even carry a logical debate (aka negotiation) with you. On the emotional front, her feelings are now becoming more complex and much deeper. Anger becomes hurt, and left unresolved may start turning into resentment. She can now identify when she is afraid or just merely startled. As I told Eric, it’s like having a mini-teenager at home now and so we, as parents, also have to adjust our style. The good part is we can now have deeper and more meaningful conversations. The challenging part happens when something that I did upsets her. It now takes longer for her to be okay and in fact, stays away from me for a period of time until she is ready to engage. In Tagalog, marunong nang mag-tampo. Unfortunately, conflicts between us keep happening a lot lately and even if I try to employ PET tactics in resolving such conflicts, even down to resolving the TAMPO – I apologize, say sorry for the thing that I did to upset her – nothing works, still. “Something is not right”, I thought to myself. There’s something deeper here.
Whenever a child is distancing herself from her parents, the easy way is to just let it be and let her come around on her own. In other words “pabayaan mo lang” (let her be) until the feelings pass. But recently, I have decided that when it comes to parenting my children, I will not take the easy way out, if I can help it. And so I decided to investigate.
Last night, she got upset with me again because when I was putting Isabela and Aria, my 3 yo, to bed, I helped Aria sleep first (by patting her back) before Isabela. Then when I finally turned to Isabela to pat her, she wouldn’t even let me touch her. “You pat Aria first when I was sleepy as well, you should have helped me first,” she said. And the whole episode lasted for almost an hour! Now the easy way out would have been “okay, you don’t want my help then fine! I’m just gonna leave you there to sleep on your own.” (blame her for feeling that way) But I didn’t want to start a cycle of that. She clearly expressed to me that she wanted my help, my touch, my presence but is just very upset right now. And so I just stayed there and tried to approach every now and then, waiting for her anger to pass. In my head, her reaction to the incident doesn’t seem commensurate. It felt like an over-the-top response to what just happened. So there really must be something! While I was waiting, I had an epiphany. I realized that my Isabela’s Love Tank must have been empty! And maybe that is why she felt slighted that I put her sister ahead of her. It wasn’t just about bedtime, it was about everything that had been going on. She was craving for one-on-one time with me. But when will I find one-on-one time with her, I wonder. How do I fill it up? How do I successfully divide myself between two young children? Do I have to take her on a mommy-daughter date? And it seemed very challenging to make that sustainable.
The following day over dinner (tonight), as they were finishing up eating, Isabela pulled out her Legos and asked me if we can build a model together to which I happily obliged. No phones, no distractions, it was simply the 2 of us playing together. After which, I helped her brush her teeth, read her a book and put her to bed. A good 1 hour. “I had a great time with you today, Mommy” she spontaneously said, before she dozed off to sleep. “I did too, Honey. ” I replied. Love tank replenished, I felt.
We adults sometimes over-complicate things. Just when I was feeling overwhelmed with coming up with a solution, my daughter spontaneously thought about how to spend one-on-one time with me. I read an article that said to pay attention to these openings or invitations from our children to “repair” their relationship with us, the most important one they have in their life, right now. In fact, the author said to normalize such invitations so that strained relationships can have a resilient way of being repaired as conflicts inevitably arise from close personal relationships. I’m glad I noticed my child’s invitation today and said YES to it.
Epilogue: As she was brushing her teeth, I said something that normally would have thrown her into a full-on tantrum. And while I saw that she got pissed, she was able to hold it together and keep at the task while acknowledging what I said. I guess this is what happens when a Love Tank is full.
To read more about the mentioned article above, check this out.
ABOUT JEAN MADRID
Jean is a huge fan of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola and believes that at some point in our lives, we have to focus on nurturing our spirituality. She is mom to two beautiful daughters: Isabela and Aria and is based in Singapore. Her day job is in the exciting world of data-driven marketing. But during lull times and when lightning strikes, she writes her insightful reflections on A Woman’s Reflections From The Peripheries, which is about her journey of faith, spirituality, marriage and motherhood.
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