How to Be Compassionate When You’re Ready to Lay the Smack Down

It was the perfect storm. In-laws, being out of town, off schedule, and fruit smoothies at 9 o’clock at night. I was on edge, feeling anxious, wanting, to say no, stick to our schedule, stay with what works, and not doing it for fear of being the “bad guy”, yet again. The downward spiral began to spiral.

When we finally got pajamas on… 3 hours later than it would have been at home, hopped up on fruit smoothies, the kiddo just lost it. It was more than I could handle. Mad at myself for not saying no, becoming completely overwhelmed by the screaming, those not so fabulous limiting beliefs around how my kiddo should behave, and how easily it should be for me to get her to behave that way, all these thoughts leading to feelings, swirling, crashing, and threatening to overturn the boat, so I passed the melt down over to her dad. He jumped into the mix with his drill sargent routine, expecting immediate obedience, leaving no room for negotiation. I immediately felt guilty. We’re not on the same page when it comes to discipline, and I knew I’d handed off to him so he could be the heavy and I wouldn’t have to. I could maintain my “zen mom” appearance, even though at the moment I was so far from zen I could barely remember what it felt like.

give a bit of your heartA few minutes later, all I could hear was yelling, and I snapped. The boiling point had been reached, and I was bubbling over.  I went in to the bedroom ready to lay the smack down. I just wanted this situation over. done. quiet. I just needed quiet. Quiet to soothe my nerves, to let me refresh and reload my own energy reserves for the night. In the past, the quickest way to get this done is to just go in, lay the smack down, and when she yells, yell louder. You know, the best defense is a good offense and all that.

I swung the door open to a red faced dad and a little girl curled up on the bed. “What the hell is going on in here?” I said, fairly loudly, creating the tone I needed to just get.this.done.

Her dad replied with confusion and threats, and I looked at my little girl, tears streaming down her face and I melted.

All the noise. My fear of being judged not good enough by others, the need to “get it right”, it all fell away, and I saw my little girl. A little girl up well past her bedtime, wanting to take advantage of every single moment she had to play with her cousin, who she only gets to see a couple times a year. A little girl hopped on up fruit sugar way too late at night. My frustration and overwhelm turned into compassion. I no longer needed this to just end. I needed to connect with her, and help her find her way through this situation.

I told her dad I’d take care of it, and I climbed on the bed, pulled her on my lap and gave her a big hug.

I’d like to say that hug fixed everything, but it didn’t. She thrashed about, freed herself from my hug and ran out of the room. She waited, and then peeked around the door jamb. I think, testing to see if there was a point she could push me, where I’d walk away. Tonight there wasn’t. Luckily more and more days that “walk away” point doesn’t exist, and as time goes on she’s beginning to trust that even in the middle of the worst behavior, I’ll be there for her. A solid, quiet, soft place to land. I was still there, sitting on the bed. I called her over, and she wouldn’t come. I gave her some choices about how she wanted to go to bed, and she made a decision. I kissed her goodnight, she laid down, and snuggled under the covers, and finally, there was some silence.

A few minutes later I came back in to go to bed myself. She was still awake. She reached over and grabbed my hand and squeezed it. She told me she loved me. She told me she didn’t know what she’d do without me. I know she’d manage, she’s a strong girl, she’d find a way, but that’s not what she wanted or needed to hear in the moment. She needed to know that I’m her mom, and I will always be here for her, to help her negotiate the overwhelming times, and that’s what I told her.

Every time I find myself in these situations, where I’m about to revert to my old behavior patterns, my old responses, my old ways of dealing with things, and I don’t… I give a little bit of thanks. It’s not easy changing 40+ years worth of learned behavior. It’s not easy to choose to react with calmness and love, when all I want to do is scream my face off to to make a situation stop. Sometimes, more often, the more I practice, I find myself doing it though. It’s my responsibility. I have a responsibility to my daughter, to help her see how to manage frustrating, and overwhelming situations. It’s my job to teach her to overcome them with love, kindness and compassion. I can only teach her that if I can manage to do it myself.

Try it yourself: The next time you feel like you’re going to lose it on your kid, take a minute and think about where they’re coming from, what they’re going through. Let all your stuff go, and give them a hug. If they don’t want a hug give it anyway, and remain compassionate even if they push you away. It’s a start. It’s a practice. Lucky you, you get to keep coming back and trying again. :)


Jackie Lee Zen Wahm

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