Friday, August 12, 2011

Successful Parent/Child Interactions

What qualifies as a successful parent/child interaction? The child agrees to do what the parent wants? The child changes their future behavior because of the interaction? The parent accomplishes whatever they were hoping to accomplish through the interaction? The child does not fuss, complain, talk back or argue? The child is obedient?

How do you define a successful parent/child interaction?

My husband and I were have a discussion with one of our girls about painting on the walls. She had painted sea creatures on her bedroom wall and now wanted a larger canvas. Could she paint on the living room walls? We discussed that option and came to the conclusion that in shared areas, like the living room, everyone in the family should have a voice in what was on the walls. As it turned out, not everyone in the family wanted sea creatures painted on the living room walls. We discussed other possible options and we agreed that the hall bathroom was in need of painting and sea creatures seemed at home in a bathroom, so this became her new walls for painting.

For me, a successful parent/child interaction is defined as an interaction when I am the parent I want to be regardless of the situation. When I manage to stay rational and respectful no matter how dramatic the moment or how strong my child's emotions; when I am thoughtful and sincere and I do not expect my child to handle the moment with any more maturity than they are already demonstrating.

When I focus on everyone's needs, instead of getting grumpy about my own needs or discounting the needs of my child, we have a successful interaction. When my child feels love, heard, and understood; when I express how I am feeling without blaming, shaming or making someone else feel guilty we have successful interactions. Any time we feel more connected we have had a successful interaction. When we are silly and get the giggles, solve a problem, watch a movie, work through strong emotions and find our way back to peace, and even when we are sitting together in the same room with each person doing their own thing, we are successful.

When my love for my children is louder than any other voice in my head, any message from society, any critical comment from a stranger on the street or a friend on facebook, when I remember that nothing is more important than my relationship with my children, that is when I am successfully the parent I want to be.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

What is important?

We have been car shopping. We find car shopping to be a long, hot, exhausting process. The used car salesmen are feeling a bit desperate, though some are willing to let us walk away when they hear our price range because they just aren't that desperate. Desperate car salesmen make me uncomfortable. Well, really all car salesmen make me uncomfortable. And I use "salesmen" instead of "salespeople" because we have yet to find a car saleswoman. We visited one lot where the salesmen aren't paid commission but you know that each sale counts because they are quick to step up and do their best to make sure you become their customer, not the customer of some other salesman on the lot. It was at this lot that we met Colin.

Colin was nice enough, eager to figure out exactly what we wanted and to find a vehicle on the lot that would meet our needs. The challenge being that we are quite specific in our search parameters. We took a test drive in a van only to find the air conditioner wasn't working and on that hot drive we started talking about kids. We found out that Colin has a two week old son. He showed me a picture of his wife and son on his phone. I asked if he was getting much sleep and he assured me that since his wife was on maternity leave she was the one on night duty.

It was getting late on a Sunday, we'd been car shopping for hours and had promised our daughter that this was our last stop before heading over to get a blended coffee drink to cool her off, but Colin kept trying to figure out some way to make a sale. There was one other van they had that might work for us but it was in a locked building and wouldn't be on the lot until the next day. Colin asked us to come back in the morning to see that van. He asked what time we would be coming because it was his day off and he would be driving up from Portland. We set up a time, he took down our phone number, and we finally ended our day of car shopping.

As we thought it through we became increasingly uncomfortable with the thought of Colin coming in on his day off to show us a car that we were not at all sure we would be buying. More importantly, we were uncomfortable having Colin come in on his day off when he could be spending precious time with his wife and son.

The next morning we got up early and called the dealer and asked them to let Colin know that we wouldn't be keeping our appointment. Later that day, as we expected, Colin called to see why we had cancelled. I explained that we didn't want him coming in on his day off because we were reevaluating our options and we needed to do some more research. I also said that we thought it was more important that he spend time with his wife and baby than it was for him to come show us a car. He paused and then thanked me for thinking of that. He seemed truly appreciative of our consideration of his new family. And then he was back to being a car salesman and assured me that being a car salesman was a 24 hour a day job and we could contact him at any time.

I wanted to tell him that no matter how important a car sale was at that time, that it was not more important than his wife and baby. Maybe his mother-in-law was visiting and was helping his wife, maybe he was feeling the financial burden of being the provider for a new family, maybe he really needed to make a sale to keep his job, I don't know the details. What I do know is that his wife and son need to know that they are more important than a car sale.

It was a reminder to me that it is easy to get caught up in jobs, obligations, blogging, sports, our "me time" and our friends.We need to remember to show our children, and our partners in parenting, that nothing in our lives is more important than they are. We need to tell them this, but words alone aren't good enough, we need to consistently show them through our choices and actions. We need to make it clear through our body language and our tone of voice. Saying, "I'm here for you" and "you are the most important people in my life" doesn't do any good if they don't have good reason to trust our words. We need to pay attention, to our families and the messages we are sending them.

Do we talk on the phone when we need to be talking to our children? Are we ignoring them while we spend time on the computer? Are we getting irritated with their behaviors when their behaviors are our child's best attempt to get our attention, to try and get us to show that we do care, that they are important. Do they feel like something, anything, is more important in our lives?

Our families need to know, deep down inside, without a doubt, that they are the most important people in our lives and that we are there for them no matter what. If they don't feel it then we need to find ways to show them, over and over, until they know they can trust us, until they have no doubts. And then we need to show them again. Every day, in big ways and small ways, we need to be showing our families that they are more important to us than anything else in the world.