I can so clearly recall standing at a coffee shop and watching a woman softly speaking with her wee-one, asking which muffin she wanted, “blueberry or peach.” “Your little girl has no idea, just choose for her, c’mon, this is ridiculous” I thought. “I am never gonna be one of those yuppy wishy-washy parents. Hell no! I’m not spoiling my kids, they’re gonna know who the boss is!” Oh, and I would watch the women pushing their strollers around the street and standing around talking to each other at the playground and would shake my head convinced I would be a working mom. Fast forward 5 years…. I’m totally soft (although of course now I don’t call it “soft”) and spend the vast majority of my time with my three kids. And I’m so glad that righteous judgmental childless me was so wrong, because I’m a much happier and probably a much better person now that I’ve allowed myself to be schooled by my children!
How did it all happen, you ask? Well, when my daughter, Maayan, was almost a year and a half, I felt like I hit a brick wall. I was totally and unnervingly powerless in getting my little girl dressed! Yes, something as simple as that. I know, totally pathetic! But I came to dread trying to get out of the house, no matter how desperate I was to do so, because it would be such a struggle to get her to put her clothes on. Most of the time I would end up forcing her, and she would fight me so hard that I would be left feeling beat. Maybe being the boss was not all it was cracked up to be, but what was the alternative? How do I parent this willful little girl? I didn’t want my relationship with my daughter to be one of power-struggle!
A friend of mine recommended a few books. I started with the thinnest one: “Parenting from Your Heart” by Inbal Kashtan. I read the whole book one evening and was thrilled with what I read. There was a possibility of stepping out of the power struggle and instead, building trust, connection, and cooperation. BUT, the next morning, I still couldn’t get my child dressed! In order to learn how to apply these principles to my daily life, I sought out a counselor and started biweekly counseling sessions.
My counselor’s commonsensical advice shook my world. For instance, my counselor, Kathy, pointed out how behind every NO, there’s a YES. What is my daughter saying YES to when she refuses to get dressed? Turns out she was saying yes to choice. All I had to do is provide two pieces of clothing to my pre-verbal child, and my struggles were over! She also taught me the difference between needs and strategies. Maayan would also never agree to put her coat on, no matter how freezing it was outside. Kathy helped me understand that my need was for Maayan to be healthy, and that my strategy was to put her coat on before leaving the house. Once I could see that putting the coat was just a strategy, I could imagine new ways to meet my need for Maayan to stay healthy. I could take her outside and wait for her to feel the cold and then put the coat on. Or I could bring a blanket and cover her on the stroller… Struggle over.
What happened next totally took me by surprise. Turns out, the book I read, the advice I was getting, the strategies that were working so well and transforming my life, are not what other people do! On the contrary, this was pretty counter-cultural and radical, and I started getting a lot of push-back. I was warned that my child would become a bully, and spoiled, that she was going to rule over me, because if I’m not in control, she is. If I was too soft, too permissive, I would live in chaos.
That’s when I decided to make a movie! Because I might not be good at getting my daughter dressed, but I’m pretty damn competent at making movies! And because this new approach to parenting totally rocked my world, it got me wondering, why not the rest of the world? So I decided to run a little experiment and see how other families would respond…
In my upcoming movie, Taking Our Places, I intimately follow three families as they learn and try to implement new parenting strategies. What I’ve learned and what I think my movie will show is that parenting is a skill that can be learned and practiced. My message is simple: no, you are not alone, and yes, there are tools out there that can really help!
If you’d like to swap stories, share your struggles (I’ve been there!), and learn more about the movie, check out www.ParentingTheMovie.com and follow along on Facebook and Twitter. Or leave a comment here, I can’t wait to hear from you!
Tags: making the movie