This is a guest post by Julie Burton. It was originally published on her blog, Unscripted Mom.
Last week, my 9-year-old daughter came barreling down the stairs one morning, five minutes later than our agreed upon time. As she flailed about and hastily put on her winter coat, she inadvertently knocked over a huge bucket of beads, turning our mudroom floor into a sea of sparkly beads.
Needless to say, I was not happy.
It was now 8:06, six minutes past the time my kids needed to leave to get to school on time (my oldest son drives my 12- and 9-year old to school every day).
Tension was sky high. Time was of the essence. I felt six eyes upon me.
At that moment I realized that there were a few different approaches I could take, and have taken during similarly stressful times.
- Yell at my daughter for coming downstairs late, and for her haste and carelessness that caused her to spill the beads.
- Make her pick up the beads, which would cause all three of my kids to be late for school.
Either of these anger-based approaches would most certainly cause my daughter to burst into tears, upset my other kids, and make them all even later for school. Also, these approaches would, most likely, cause me to feel disturbed for the rest of the day as well.
In a matter of seconds, I was able to find these four pivotal words, “I have a choice,” which reminded me of a quote I read at a recent Mussar study session. (The goal of Mussar practice is to release the light of holiness that lives within the soul.” – The Mussar Institute).
Rabbi Eliezer Papo, writes in his essay entitled “Anger,” “The angry man should make himself like a deaf person who does not hear, and like a mute person who does not talk. If he must speak, it should be in a low voice and with words of reconciliation. Even if his heart is burning like fire, and his rage flames within him, he is capable of controlling his words.”
I was reminded of how I often futilely jump to anger when parenting my children, causing me to act from a position of reactivity=weakness, rather than from a position of proactivity=strength.
I knew right then that it was time to try the proactive approach.
What happened next, surprised me almost as much as it surprised my kids.
I took a deep breath and said in as calm of a voice as I could muster, “You guys need to go. You are going to be late. Jo (my daughter), I know this was an accident. Please come downstairs earlier next time so you won’t be in such a rush. Have a good day, guys! I love you!”
Then I turned away from them and began to pick up the beads.
My kids stared at me for a few seconds longer, checking to see if there would be a delayed outburst. When I turned back to face them, I saw the look in my daughter’s eyes change from panic-stricken to relieved.
“Bye mom,” they called as they walked out of the house to pile in my son’s car. “Love you!”
I’m not sure if they talked about this issue in the car, or even if they got to school on time. It didn’t really matter. But as I picked up the beads from the floor, I caught myself smiling. I realized that in not letting my anger and frustration dictate how I dealt with the spilled beads, I had found a much more productive and positive way to deal any tense situation with my kids.
I make sure to look at those beads every day.
Julie Burton is an experienced writer specializing in any and all aspects of parenting, relationships and finding balance. She is a contributing blogger for SheTAXI, you can find her blogs about motherhood on her website, and is a soon-to-be author of a tell-all book for mothers. She serves on the board of NCJW (National Council of Jewish Women), and is an active volunteer for JFCS (Jewish Family and Children’s Service) and Breck School in Minneapolis. She lives in Minnetonka, MN, with her husband of 20 years and her four children.
(Photo by Aney)