By Kristi York
Last year, my younger son was mired in the classic 3-year-old “I’m going to have a meltdown over nothing in particular” phase. Unfortunately, these ear-splitting tantrums tended to occur in the schoolyard while dropping off or picking up his older brother.
I am a fairly calm and composed person, but nothing makes my blood pressure skyrocket like my child having a public tantrum. I immediately feel a giant invisible spotlight on us, along with the watchful eyes of the assembled parents, tilting their heads disapprovingly and evaluating my reaction.
Maybe that’s not really what they were doing—maybe they were all checking their smartphones and barely noticed us. Maybe they were secretly feeling sorry for me because they’ve been through it with their kids.
Either way, I found myself constantly feeling on edge and seriously questioning my skills as a parent.
As the school year went on, I noticed someone who radiated the confidence and positive energy I was lacking. It wasn’t a parent, but the school’s Developmental Education teacher. As she circulated during her supervision shifts (often with some of her students accompanying her), she exuded cheerfulness.
I was intrigued by her endlessly optimistic attitude, but figured it had to be an act. No one could possibly be that upbeat all the time.
It turns out, someone could.
One day, I introduced myself, and we became instant friends. It was like we’d known each other our whole lives. As is her way with all kids, she showed a genuine interest in my son, crouching down and listening intently to his random comments about football and robots.
Reframing what I saw
During our chats, she showered me with encouraging words that I didn’t necessarily feel I deserved, but desperately needed, as I attempted to manage my son’s stubborn behaviour, whichseemed impervious to time-outs or other consequences.
She would tell me that I was doing a great job of finding a balance between his personality and his testing of boundaries. Instead of focusing on his behaviour glitches, she praised his wonderful qualities—his charm, his sense of humour, and his endearing way of phrasing things.
She viewed the very things that were wearing me down (such as his constant repeating of “Mom? Mom? Mommmm?”) as an amusing and temporary stage, and it helped me to reframe them, too.
After spending time with her, I would walk away thinking: “Every mom should have a friend like that.”
Not surprisingly, she was also phenomenal in her role as a Developmental Education teacher, where she created customized learning opportunities for students with a variety of special needs.
Visiting her classroom was a happy and uplifting experience—a direct reflection of her approach. As one of her colleagues put it: “She considers it a privilege to walk with children in their lives. She honours where they are on their journey and meets them there. She does not rush them with her own teaching agenda.”
When you think about it, isn’t that a great philosophy for anyone who interacts with kids?
'You really get him'
Through her example and supportive words, my friend made me a better parent. Thanks to her, I realized that it would be more effective to embrace the qualities my son already has and work with those to shape his behaviour.
This spring, she sent me an e-mail that said: “You really ‘get him.’ You have taken the time to ask him questions and get to know him. It doesn’t mean that you will have all the answers, but it does mean that you appreciate him.”
She went on to add: “Kids are going to be who they are, like it or not. As adults, why not go with it, have fun and learn from them, instead of working so hard to put them in a box that they aren’t made for?”
This kind of wisdom shows in everything she says and does. Even the words on her car’s bumper sticker—“Be kind to each other”—are a relevant reminder.
If we see other moms or dads working through a situation with their child, we should give them the space they need, rather than make them feel they are being judged or criticized.
I have not had the same access to my friend this year, as she and her husband (also a teacher who has worked with students with special needs) relocated to a northern community to teach at an aboriginal school.
I miss her terribly, but on tough days or during emotionally charged parenting moments, she has become the voice in my head, gently encouraging me to follow my instincts.
Every mom should hear a voice like that.
Kristi York is a freelance writer and mom to two boys who enjoy talking about sports . . . and sometimes robots.