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Parenting Kung Fu

There’s an extra dose of accountability that comes with posting your goals and resolutions on a major parenting website. It’s like telling your husband you’re going on a diet or telling your kids that you’re trying not to say “CRAP!” anymore. Once you’ve told them, you feel their disapproval (real or imagined) every time you go to slam a giant plate of spaghetti or let out a less-than-explicit expletive. For the past few years I’ve recorded one major parenting goal here, and it’s time to check in for 2009. Have I mastered the art of empathy?

No. And yes. And I’m still working on it.

Last year I said I wanted to try and understand my kids better, to see the world through their eyes and show them unconditional love. Of course I had lots of little goals along the way, like forcing them to work more and teaching them to love it, reading with them daily, sharing with them the wonder of vegetables and the joy of regular bowel movements, and teaching them to balance play with other important life activities. I also had a goal to teach them through continued example how to share their feelings less violently with each other. I made progress on each of these goals but the big one was to love, understand, and feel stronger empathy for them.

So, do I feel like I love and understand my kids better going into 2010? Yes. I’ve made a great discovery this year that’s helped me do this. That discovery is Dan.

I found that when I started to pay more attention to the kids, I also paid more attention to Dan and it was through understanding him better that I learned to understand and be more patient with my kids. He’s sort of a rock star parent, something I had no way of knowing back in our wild and crazy days of collegiate co-ed courtship at BYU. He seemed like a nice guy, but nice guys are not always great parents. As a side-note to those ladies still seeking a spouse, mean guys are rarely good parents and should be avoided. I don’t think he knew he’d be a good parent either. We’re both pleased with this development.

Over the past year, Dan has taught me his ways. He’s the Master Shifu and I’m the Kung Fu Panda of parenting. I’ve spent a year asking him to do the heavy lifting whenever a difficult parenting “issue” arose and then debriefing him afterwards to find out what magical thing he did to restore order, smooth chaos, and deal out consequences. He’s done this all while leaving the kids feeling better about themselves and more loved than before the incident occurred.

This fall I was ready to give his techniques a try myself and after one particularly trying afternoon with Laylee that found her rolling her eyes, stomping her feet, plugging her hearing aids, and slamming the door to her room, I decided to give it a try.

“Now remember,” he said as I headed upstairs, “Look at her the way you look at Wanda, like a teeny baby who’s still learning because compared to us, that’s exactly what she is. Love her like you love Wanda and don’t say anything unless it’s motivated by love.”

And I did it and it worked. Now loving unconditionally does not mean accepting all her actions or letting her get away with destructive behavior, but it does mean trying to see why she did what she did and finding a way to point out the natural consequences of her actions without humiliating her. We recently had an incident in which she messed up big time and ended up being sent to her room where she unleashed her raucous fury.

I listened to her. I talked to her. I held her while she cried angry tears and together we figured out a way that she could fix the things she’d done wrong and make it up to the people she’d hurt. This incident ended with her doing some serious extra work around the house, offering heartfelt apologies to everyone in the family and then cuddling with me and telling me that I was a perfect mom and that I made her feel loved every single day. I couldn’t ask for a better outcome.

So although I’m far from perfect, it’s been a good year and I hope they keep getting better.

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