The other day my three year old looked at me and said: “Are you happy Mama?” I responded with “of course I’m happy love!”, and she went back to playing. But I know the phrase wasn’t an innocent one, as my eldest is very observant and in tune with the emotions flying around her. So I started to ask myself if she possibly thought I was unhappy... I’m not unhappy, not at all, but I do have a lot of anxiety that I repress as much as possible, and there has been a lot going on over the past few months: new baby, new home, some financial struggles, my partner working two jobs, and then starting the therapy process for my eldest’s own anxiety issues. Her simple question really got me thinking about how we communicate with our children and how this may or may not affect them adversely.
Sometimes I feel like my head is going to explode with the mama guilt... I’m usually so soft spoken and patient, but if I count the amount of times I yelled at the end of a day I want to curl up into a ball for a few minutes. I don’t want to be perfect, but I do want to be GOOD, and I do want to be a positive example for my kids. So I did a little research on healthy communication methods, on areas where I could improve, on some things I could get rid of, and also on the things I was doing well. I have a tendency to ask too much of myself, and nowadays with three kids under four I have to teach myself to chill out a little and not to sweat the smaller things (an ongoing practice). But anyway, here are some of the most important healthy communication skills I found that we should try to implement on a regular basis with our kids:
Be available: while I work from home and therefore always around, I am aware that I am not always THERE. I sometimes answer questions without really hearing them, or while I am doing something else. And yes, we shouldn’t be constantly dropping everything for our kids, but a good hour of one-on-one time really can work wonders. So now the phone and/or laptop go away, and I fully commit to being dinosaur mama, Princess Celestia’s best friend, and Lego master every day. I found that making this a daily routine really helped us all feel a lot closer and I also felt a lot less anxious about “getting it all done”. I also found that we were having a lot more spontaneous moments during the day, something that I missed. I’m sure these play sessions will move into tea and cake breaks, hikes, and museum visits as they grow older.
Be at our child’s level: I’m pretty good at this one. I like to talk to my kids as I would another adult, listen to what they have to say, and not dismiss their comments or thoughts. I can recite entire My Little Pony storylines, and tell you why my daughter is dressed in a mix of 4 outfits, because I like to listen. I have always been a good listener: my personal issue has always been in speaking up. My kids don’t seem to have inherited my shyness though, so hopefully I can empower them to consistently speak their mind, while still listening to others. I can definitely see how putting ourselves at our child’s level can help them develop into confident and empathetic humans.
Share stories: I’m always chatting away to my kids, telling them stories, and just recently I realized that they actually listen and remember them! It’s a good practice to build too, because it helps establish a circle of trust, a safe place for your child to go to with questions and worries. And I think it’s a great way to bring up difficult topics such as bullying and sex as they get older, in a way that doesn’t feel contrived or uncomfortable. I actually read somewhere that it can be good to start conversations in the car, as it doesn’t force your child to have eye contact with you at all times. This then makes them feel comfortable about bringing up tough subject matters.
Take a deep breath: I’m really bad at this. I need to learn to consistently take a few seconds before reacting to something that bothers me, because it really doesn’t help any of us if I yell or even grumble under my breath. Loud noises often bother me, something that comes from my own childhood, so I sometimes feel like I am just replicating something that I learnt earlier on, even though it bothers me. So, this one is a work in progress.
I DO these things, but I don’t think I do them as consistently as I would like to. I really let life get in the way on a daily basis, rushing through certain things, phone in my hand because I have to answer an email, or write a new pitch, or just communicate with someone on the outside who is not demanding mac and cheese, chocolate, and milk in the same sentence. I did find that I was naturally doing a lot of the things above, and that a lot of my mama guilt was invalid, but I also learnt a lot about how certain communication patterns can be unhealthy in the long term. So I am going to try my best to be a little better at communicating, taking a deep breath before shouting, and also just letting go of some of that guilt. I think sometimes we forget that as adults we are all still a work in progress too, and that we can always stand to learn something new.
(And I am very happy by the way!)