Well, it happened.
Before my latest big and painful lesson, though, Willa has been making the phrase "In her own way, in her own time" a relatively easy mantra for me. Over and over again, she shows me that when I listen closely, when I pay attention, when I let go of my own ideas and projections and fears, I am doing the best I can to Let Willa Be Willa. And the power of trusting children keeps showing up for me, reaffirming: I can trust her.
I can trust her natural curiosity to drive her academic explorations, such as reading and writing.
I can trust her intuition to explore creative expression.
I can trust her to guide her need for space and time to create.
I can trust that when she asks the hard questions about death and homelessness all sorts of pain in the world, she's ready to hear the best answer I can offer.
I can trust that she will develop her own boundaries and pathway towards her own version of what it looks like to be a sister, a daughter, and a part of our family.
I can trust her to be full of wonder and curiosity and beauty.
I can trust that when things happen to her that are out of our control, she will process about it when she's ready, she will be resilient, and she will keep on trusting and loving herself and others.
I can trust that we can explore our world together, exploring and risking and appreciating together.
But somehow, despite all of this trust... I lost my way.
It all started with our new Kindergarten commute.
On our way home, W's behavior became increasingly... intense... loud... and altogether WAY too much for ME. I needed it to stop.
I tried acknowledging feelings that may be up for her: no change.
I tried offering to Try Again and Start Over: no change.
I tried encouraging her to take space in her room after we get home: no change.
I tried clear limits and consequences (like having to skip previously planned adventures): no change.
I tried family meetings and plan-making: no change.
All through this, our relationship felt more and more disconnected. She said things like, "Only my teacher and gramma listen to me!" and "Just stop talking!" and "Did you hate your mom like I hate you sometimes?"
For all my efforts, not only did the behavior NOT stop, but I felt like I was failing our relationship.
Then the incredible Janet Lansbury came to Portland. Her talk started with me smiling and nodding: Let Feelings Be! (yep, yep) Fully Accept and Acknowledge! (yep, yep). And then she ripped my heart out of my chest. She explained (these are my words attempting to recreate her message):
When we act on an impulse to STOP a behavior, we are telling the child that their feelings are too big for us to handle. Acknowledging is ineffective as a technique or tactic to STOP behavior. Acknowledging and letting feelings be, when used as a Stop Tactic, simply become another way to distract and disconnect instead of supporting our goals of Acceptance, Emotional Regulation, Connection, and Healthy Attachment.
It hit me really hard: I needed a mindset shift. How could I truly be ready to hold space for my child to Let The Feelings Out and Test Limits and (ahem) Annoy the Shit Out of Me AND still be assured that by doing so, the really shitty behavior was going to change? I realized that there is only one answer to that question that would work for me: I just have to choose to be ready, choose to believe, and choose to accept that the behavior might not change any time soon but that I'm not about to let my child and my relationship with my child bear the costs of my need for control.
And that's where I'm at right now.
What am I going to do differently?
I don't know.
What's going to be my intention moving forward?
I am going to try to remember something really simple: Accept.
I'm going to breathe it. I'm going to repeat it in my head. I'm going to let it ground me and wash me over with as many calm feelings I can muster while she chants, "NAAAAH NAAAAAH! GONNA SING THIS SONG ALL DAAAAY!" Because I can't make her stop yelling in the car. And techniques and tactics are failing us. I've missed something, and I need to get back to a place of looking closely and listening carefully. She's telling me, and I haven't heard it yet.
I don't know what's going to happen, but I do know this: She will make mistakes. I will make mistakes. And it's ok. It's really ok. She is a perfect kid, just as she is. And I am a perfect parent, just as I am. What we give our children, we can give ourselves. We can forgive and grow and Let It All Be.
Tomorrow's Monday. Wish me luck.
(And here's a follow up post from the next morning.)