I believe I am not alone when I say that this parenting gig is just one big learning curve. The moment you feel that you have routines and habits under control and you know what is going on, there comes another growth spurt and you have a new curve ball thrown your way (yay for the growth spurt!!). I feel like I am constantly trying to catch up.
When my little one turned two, a switch went off somewhere. Literally overnight (I am not exaggerating), she transformed from someone who listened and followed instructions, to someone who would throw herself on the floor in a tantrum as soon as the word “no” was uttered. I would stand there in astonishment, confusion and in a little bit of amusement at seeing my little cutie come into her own element, and how! But as a first time mom, I also did what I do best, WORRY, WORRY, WORRY! Worry, that my child is going to become a brat if I say yes to everything. Worry, that she will be that ill-behaved child whose “working” mom did not have enough time to spend with her (of course, working mom guilt just comes gushing in at the slightest opportunity). I would see children around me at the park or at a play date and it seemed to me like they listened to their mothers and did as told. What a failure I felt like, yet again! I was losing “control” and my child was misbehaving. What followed was a lot of yelling and time outs, and just unhappy faces all around. I knew this was not the right answer. Something had to change.
Then I did what I inherently do to find answers – I researched (I guess it is years of training at work). I talked to mom friends, her pediatrician, read articles, posted on forums, you name it and I had read it. Through it all, I learned some very interesting things, not only about my child but also about ME – about how I could best handle the situation at hand. I also learned that some of these concepts were not alien to me, in fact, these were basic rules of thumb that we are taught in our professional lives to resolve workplace conflicts. You see, I became a career woman first and then a mom. So although I am learning to be a mom, it was comforting for me to know that I could apply my learnings from my professional world, to this new world, only with a lot more love, patience and humanization. Who knew?!
Let go of emotion, stay calm:
The most important rule in any negotiation is to not think from your heart. I learned that I needed to let go of my emotion from the situation because the “other party” was only thinking about this emotionally. Always hovering over my little girl and watching her like a hawk was preventing me from taking a step back to collect myself, and look at the situation objectively. I was so invested and involved that I was not able to make rational decisions. I decided to practice calming techniques and also coach my daughter in some of these. Now, before impulsively yelling the first thing that comes to mind, I pause for a moment. A teeny-tiny micro-second to breathe, to think about my reaction, and most importantly about my words. We also practiced calming technique from our favorite TV show, Daniel Tiger (Oh I love that show probably more than my little one). Now sometimes, when I am flaring up and forget to calm down, she reminds me, “mom, when you feel so mad that you want to roar, take a deep breath, and count to four.” Thanks Daniel Tiger!
Walk in their shoes: A very important rule of negotiation is to know the motives of your opposition. When I was young, my mother would say “to understand why someone is behaving the way they are or doing things the way they are, you need to walk in their shoes.” Somewhere along the way, I forgot all about this. But during my research, when I was reminded of it, it was so easy for me to understand why my daughter was behaving the way she was. She was hungry, tired, hurt or needed attention. It was a big “aha” moment for me. Once I learned that, I was also able to help her realize that “when” she gets grumpy, she should come to mommy to ask for food, medicine or just a tight hug!
Use the right words – communicate clearly: A few months ago, my daughter started saying “go away” for everything. The first time she said that, I was very hurt. I felt she didn’t need me anymore, because I guess I wasn’t around enough (yep, working mom guilt again). But then she was saying it to everyone and every time. Once I was desensitized to it, I realized she was not communicating clearly because she was learning a new language. These were new words she learned and was using them without really understanding when to use them. So she was using these to express every emotion. And these little ones can have very big emotions. We talked about finding new words to express the emotions and work on our communication skills. Now, every time she says, ‘go away’, I ask, “do you really want mommy to go away or is there anything else you want to say?” and then we work through whatever it is she is intending.
Do your homework, prepare yourself: Like in every negotiation, you need to do your homework. After a lot of self-reflection, I learned that I needed to find my happiness to bring happiness in my family. My family is like my mirror, it reflects my happiness and my frustrations. So I made changes in my life. I started exercising regularly, focused on getting good amount of sleep, going on MNOs (mom’s night out) and doing things to make myself happy. After all, happy hearts make happy lives.
Work the room: Often, during big boardroom negotiations, to get “buy-in” from your audience, you have to work the room, have offline conversations, and get people in your corner before walking into the meeting. This is a very useful concept. I am starting to apply this to my interactions with my daughter. We talk about “things” when we are not in the heat of the moment. It could be when we are snuggling during bed-time, walking to the park in the evening or just having a good time. I found that it is in these moments that she is able to listen. We talk because both her and I are not negotiating at those time. We can both listen at those times.
Influence not control: The one thing that did not apply from my professional world was trying to control the situation. I learned I was thinking about this the wrong way. I was thinking about controlling another individual, a human being, so what if she was a tiny being completely dependent on me. I need to influence her, not control her. Influence by asking questions, by being a role model and leading by example.
Last but not the least, it was important for me to remember this: this isn’t a power struggle, this is NOT a business negotiation. This is my child, and it is therefore, important to “respond not react”. Sometimes, nothing will work, no amount of dialogue or talking or calming down. During those times, it is important to realize to respond, be the grown up in the situation, let her melt down in your arms, let her feel the emotion and not be embarrassed about it. If needed, just give in a little – not to the demand necessarily but to the love most definitely. She is very young and there is still time to learn important lessons. And meltdown time is not the time for lessons. It is time for love and to gather the extra cuddles.