William 101 – Coming back together, even while falling apart
While I am embarrassed to tell you of how I yelled (understatement) at my son when getting ready for school, the event offered me such powerful insight that I will put aside my pride to share this shameful but totally awakening moment.
The ‘incident’ happened this past June, his last week of 5th grade. Every morning, William has some very basic self-care and clean-up responsibilities. And even though this routine has been ‘expected’ of him for almost two years, he still needs constant management. On this particular morning, my patience was low (okay, non-existent). I wasn’t on top of my own list-of-things-to-do, nor did I wake to practice yoga or meditation, and when I found myself having to ‘once again, hyper-manage the morning’ I kind of lost it on him. I mean, totally lost it on him.
It began with a simple but stern reminder: “William! Put on your shoes. Eat your breakfast. We’re going to be late for school and I have to catch a train.”
But I assure you, that was my ‘nicest’ communication for the next half hour. Because, 10 minutes passed and the shoes where still not on, breakfast was not eaten, and William suddenly remembered that he needed to print an assignment from the computer.
I will spare you the complete details of my furry-filled dissertation but it covered topics such as: what he should be able to do; what he’s not doing; how he needs to contribute to the family; and why this can’t keep happening.
Occasionally I stopped for a breath or two, and in the seemingly silent pause I wrestled with the following thoughts:
- Why must I tell him this everyday?! He should be able to do this. I deserve to be mad.
- This yelling won’t actually help us right now. Yelling is not going to change his behavior. But, I deserve to be mad! Don’t I?
- How can I be this angry? This is a ridiculous response. I should be able to find a better way. But, if only he did what he should do, I wouldn’t have to talk to him like this. I don’t want to be so mad.
- Oh my god! Get control of yourself Jillian. He does not deserve this. You don’t want to be doing this. Just stop. Please stop.
But, I didn’t stop. In fact, I continued barking all the way to school (even while I was simultaneously regretting it.)
And as William reached for the door handle to get out of the car I desperately wanted to turn back the time. I scrambled, “Wait. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have yelled at you like that.”
“It’s okay,“ he said despondently. “I’ll do a better job. See you later.” And he was off.
Filled with remorse I drove off, yelling again… but now, at myself. “How can I be so out of control? I know better. That was such terrible behavior.”
“Your body hears everything your mind says.”
As I felt my body grow tighter and more rigid, I realized that I was scolding myself with the same fervor that I unleashed on William.
If I want William’s inner voice to be supportive and nourishing, I too have to come from that same place in me. In order to treat William differently, I had to begin with myself; I had to change my behavior (rather than reinforce it) on-the-spot - whether I ‘thought’ I deserved it or not.
So I closed my eyes, took several deep breaths, and sat for a few minutes of Metta meditation. I relaxed; became more present; and, offered myself a few words of forgiveness and support.
I stopped berating myself, and began soothing myself. Organically, I began to feel space, in my body and my mind for first time that morning. And, suddenly, unexpectedly, I felt warm and loving.
I called William at school and took full responsibility for my behavior without asking him to apologize for his part in the morning. This was about me, not him. “I am sorry I treated you so badly. I was stressed and acted poorly. I love you and I will do a better job.“
“I love you, Mom,” William said with a sweet, heartfelt voice. “I can’t wait see you after school.”
Gratefully, I finished, “I Can’t wait!”
Later that week, after some time away from 'the event,' William and I had a productive discussion about how to better work together in the mornings.
While I promised to speak with care and love, he pledged to commit to listening better to my request as well as completing his responsibilities. However, he said he needed some help. So we came up with a 'code sentence'. Each time I need him to do a task, I will preface it with, “This is important and I am asking you now for this first time…”
Amazingly, it’s working like magic!
Much like using a Mantra: using a 'code sentence' is reminding us to pay attention in a specific way. Not only is it helping William respond more competently, but me, too! When I begin with this phrase, it gives me a heads up, as if my own little coach is whispering in my ear, "This is where you may lose it. Take a breath. Slow down. Be skillful. Act with care."
With this reminder, I talk with William more lovingly, and respectfully, and find that I am more creative in motivating him to do ‘chores’ and things he’d rather not do.
Sure sometimes I get to, ‘This is the second time I am telling you’ (but we haven’t gotten to third time!) and with the mantra in place, even when have gotten a little edgy with each other, we have the tools to come back to a loving place more quickly.
The great news is, I am finding that I am able to not only be more patient and graceful with William, but with myself as well.
Phew! With the school year now in gear, we sure need these extra tools for moving through the transition from summer and into the busy scheduling and quick energy of September!