Finding the Right Teachable Moment

finding the right teachable moment

Submitted By Erin Rockafellow

Back in October the kids and I were sorting pumpkin seeds for roasting that we had brought home from a group carving. The kids and I were having fun being together with slimy hands and all. As we sorted the seeds some of them had started to sprout already.

The big discussion began between my 10 year old daughter and my 8 year old son about what to do with those seeds:

“We should save them and plant them!” says my daughter.

“No just throw them away,” says my son.

“But if we plant the seeds they will grow into new pumpkin plants.”

“Yes, but they aren’t pumpkins yet- so we should just throw them away.”

“We shouldn’t throw them away; it isn’t their fault that they sprouted when they didn’t need to.”

“It’s almost winter. What are we going to do with pumpkin plants? We can’t grow them in the house; we need to throw them away.”

As this conversation went on, my husband and I kept looking at each other. First with amusement about the parallels between this topic and the abortion debate. As the debate wore on, we really started to wonder if we should go ahead and have the big conversation with our kids since they really seemed to have very strong opposing opinions. The kids continued their lines of thought, trying to convince the other that they were right. It was like watching a tennis match.

In my head I was trying so hard to decide what to do: would I be a bad mom if we didn’t have that big talk? Is it really in our best interest to have that discussion with a 10 year old and 8 year old? My husband and I just looked at each other with a slight amount of panic and silently came to a decision to not have that discussion.

We congratulated the kids on having a well debated topic and we told them how proud we were that they never started fighting, but continued to use kind language with each other. Honestly, the kids did a great job of articulating why they thought their opinion was the right one. We helped the kids agree to disagree and explained that sometimes the best thing you can do is hold your opinion and let someone else have theirs too.

It ate at me. For weeks I second guessed my decision to take the easy way out. I knew that when we made the decision it was more about us feeling uneasy and unprepared than it was about anything else. Over breakfast one morning I told a friend about my story. She listened to everything including my own self doubt. Instead of telling me that I chickened out, she reminded me that sometimes situations have more than one teachable moment; my husband and I picked the one that was right for us. The other moment that we had skipped over would be waiting in the back of our minds for when the time was right for that big discussion. We had not lost our moment we just cataloged it away for later; and for us, that was the best we could do in that moment.

What are your tips for approaching challenging teachable moments? Share below! 

Explore this idea through children’s literature: What is most important at any given time? “Being present” in The Three QuestionsBy Jon Muth

Calm, Cool and Collected

Thinking

It finally happened. I have been working with my 3 and 5 year old kids on naming emotions and finding coping mechanisms for anger and frustration from the time that they were wee babes, and wouldn’t you know it, they have gone and thrown it all right back in my face.

“Uhm, mom, I think… maybe you need to find something calm to do. You aren’t being a very Peaceful Piggy.”

Great. That’s all I need. My 5 year old trying to teach me a lesson. I don’t want to slow down. I am sure that everyone within a mile radius of me can feel my intensity today, but I don’t care. I just want to get everything on my to-do list done. Now. Yesterday. And who does that child think she is, anyway?

“Thanks for the reminder,” I am glaring at my 5 year old. “But it is time to get going. Now. Get. Your. Shoes. On.” 

Okay. To be fair, there really is no rush. It is just that I am tired and cranky and we just got back from an emotional trip out of town and there are loads of laundry to do and I desperately need a nap. I am also a fair bit hungry, so getting the kids to put back on the shoes they took off for lord knows what reason and leaving church for the comfort of home sounds oh-so-appealing at this moment. So… let’s get a move on.

“Maaaaayyybbeee try a deep breath. Or play with toys. I like to play with toys when I am angry.” My 5 year old keeps digging deeper as she ever so slowly puts on her shoes. Today’s lesson in church was on meditation and finding ways to calm down when we feel overwhelmed, frustrated or angry. It was about finding a peaceful place in your heart so that you can take on the day, feel powerful, and love yourself and your neighbor. I should know. I put the lesson together myself.

I am growing impatient. “I will give it a try when we get home. But we have to get there first. Now, let’s go!”

“If you feel so mad you can ROAR,” sings my 3 year old son, “Take a deep breath and count to 4! One… Two… Three… Four!” He repeats the lyrics from an episode of the PBS show Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood; lyrics that I have sung with him many times as he has come down from tantrums, usually involving not getting his favorite foods for dinner. He doesn’t always love hearing this song and it usually takes a while before he begrudgingly stops stomping his feet long enough to “use his words” and tell me that he is just heartbroken that we can’t have pizza for every meal of every day. Angry stomping feet, it seems, are a lot easier to muster than finding the words to express disappointment. Except right now he has a giant smile on his face; he just put his shoes on all by himself and put his mom in check all at the same time. The kid is over the moon.

By this time I am feeling some weird combination of complete exhaustion, pride, hunger, humility and love. I am beginning to understand why my kids would much rather throw a tantrum than “use their words.” It is like when an annoyingly chipper morning person wakes you up in the morning after you get a terrible night’s sleep. I’m happy for you that you love waking up so early and that you are feeling so refreshed and wonderful. Truly. I am. And I really do realize that my scroogy-ness is the problem and your positive attitude should serve as a reminder for me to open my heart to the possibilities of the new day. But can’t I just be the lesser person for once? It is kind of comfortable down here in the dumps…

But I do it anyway. I take a few deep breaths and try to remember that this state of feeling overwhelmed, stressed and tired is just temporary. I will eventually make it home. I will get to eat some lunch, and I will get to rest. Everything will be okay. It will.

I am now off the ledge just enough to realize that I need to dial my stress back a bit, check my ego and recognize that my children are right.

“You guys are right; I am starting to feel better. Sometimes I get frustrated, tired and angry, too. I think that because I wanted to get home so badly I forgot to be kind and loving with my words. Thank you for reminding me and helping me to find more loving words.” I am saying this to remind myself just as much as I am affirming my children and the lessons I know I want them to hang on to. I am thinking eating a little lunch and resting might help me reset a bit. Can you guys help me do that?”

Of course they will help. Kids love nothing more than to know that they are wise, important and needed; because they really are, and so are we. Sometimes we just need a little reminder.

Here are some great tools to help you and your family become “Peaceful Piggies.” Add your favorite resources in the comments section below:

Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood on PBS

Peaceful Piggy Meditation by Kerry Lee MacLean 

A Common Language

MultitaskingI realized today that I talk about my kids incessantly. I have become one of “those parents” who can’t help but insert a funny anecdote about my kids and their bowel movements to help illustrate a point– any point– even if the conversation at hand has NOTHING to do with children OR poop.

And yes, it did take me 5 minutes to remember the word “anecdote,” because my brain is only 25% focused on what I am writing at this moment. The other 50% is paying attention to the toddler and preschooler fighting over who is going to get to sit on my lap right now. And before you start wondering about the missing 25% of my brain, it has long ago turned into mush and has a voice that sounds like Elmo. I am not making that up.

But as I look back over my sadly out-of-date blog, and attempt to type with one hand while my toddler has staged a sit-down strike on my right arm, I realize that the reason that I write so much about parenthood is because… well… it is sitting on my right arm. And it’s starting to smell.

I have been lucky enough in life that I have had few challenges as profound as parenting. But this challenge, or series of never-ending challenges, never has and never will leave the forefront of my brain. It occupies my existence 24/7/365. So I guess that it is probably a good and necessary life skill to be able to find big life-lessons in the seemingly small, gross, and weird that comes along with kids. Think of it as multi-tasking.

Now, if childless me from the past had accidentally stumbled upon this exact blog entry (because, let’s face it, childless me would have never read a blog talking about kids, like, on purpose) I would have told me to stop complaining.

Well, childless me, let me let you in on a little secret: I am not complaining. I am merely speaking a different language– a not-so-secret tongue shared between caregivers of children the world over. You might witness evidence of this language in supermarkets; that knowing look shared between parents when a tired, hungry child has a complete and utter meltdown in the bread aisle. It is a look that says, “Yeah. I know. I’ve been there too. But I am SO glad it’s not me this time.” This look, childless me, is the exact opposite of the look that you presently give to parents with cranky children. The “you are the most horrible parent in the world, and I know this because I have taken care of a kid for a couple of hours before” look. Stop this look. It will come back to haunt you, I promise.

Spoken correctly, this “caregiver of children” language is spoken with great love, understanding, and support. This language can transport you to a world where it might SOUND like you are complaining to a friend (or complete stranger) about changing crib sheets three times in one night after your toddler discovers how to undress himself for the first time. But, really, you are bragging about how awesomely brilliant your kid is for performing this Houdini-esque act, and paying tribute to that adorable, proud smile that made your otherwise miserable day. (Besides, you took some sweet pictures that you are going to show your kid’s future friends and partners. After all, you did change the sheets three times.)

The best part of this language is talking to other caregivers knowing that their lives have been forever changed as profoundly as yours has; that they, too, have had the unbelievable opportunity to humbly rediscover the world all over again through the eyes of a child. Stories shared have the power to help bring back beautiful memories, they can open your eyes when perspective has been lost, and can help a parent come to terms with the limits of what he or she can realistically offer their child.

Somehow being around and nurturing children, and being around others who share these experiences, has taught me more about this world, myself, and even my own childhood than I could have ever learned any other way. Shared experience, I think, can be one of the most powerful tools of understanding and support. Sometimes we just need a little anecdote about poop to break the ice.

And now that my hand is falling asleep from the toddler that has been happily perched on my arm, I am wondering if perhaps there is a lesson in this for me; a subtle reminder that I also need to care for myself so that I may be a fully-functioning parent. Or maybe my son is just telling me that he needs a new diaper. Multi-tasking.

Finding Meaning

sunsetBecoming a parent for the first time is a tricky business.

It really is true what they say: you are never really ready for the adventure that awaits you once you become a parent; there is nothing you can ever do to prepare, and there is no perfect time.

For as long as I can remember I have been the type of person that likes to be “the best” at everything I do; a horrible character flaw that is quite possibly related to the “overly and unnecessarily competitive” gene I seem to have also inherited. So it was only natural that when I became a mom for the first time that I was determined to be the best parent. Ever.

Of course I knew beyond any doubt that I would be able to effortlessly add “mom” to the laundry list of other things I was committed to keep doing after giving birth; hormones and sleep deprivation be damned. I would breastfeed, homeschool, be involved in my community, make all our own own baby food (from our own garden, of course!) and cloth diaper; I would also continue working and working on my career, write, continue school, take care of our home and our pets, and everything else I was already doing. Even with the wonderful partner I have in my husband, I was vowing to be super-human.

Shortly after our daughter was born, we discovered that some of the issues that we were dealing with as first-time parents were outside the realm of “normal” (whatever that looks like). Our beloved child was covered from head to toe in eczema and it never seemed to get any better, no matter what we did to treat it. As her level of discomfort increased, sleep became harder and harder to come by for all of us as we spent many of our nights trying to soothe her so she could rest. My hazy waking hours were spent searching for new answers; stressing out as new approaches consistently fell short.

Of course, after trying countless treatments and several doctors were consulted, our answer came to us after our daughter’s first taste of candy sent us to the emergency room and her life-threatening peanut allergy was revealed to us a few months after her first birthday. Upon further testing, she was diagnosed with many other “less-serious” food allergies as well.

We were scared and heart-broken, and our lives totally changed. Again.

After everything we had done “right”, none of our efforts kept this from happening to our daughter. Surely we had listened to the wrong doctors, and I MUST have eaten the wrong things when I was pregnant, or perhaps we introduced solids too early, or maybe we should have questioned the vaccines, or perhaps our house was not clean enough. In the months that followed our daughter’s first anaphylactic reaction, I found a million different ways to blame myself for her allergy. It broke my heart to know that, in all probability, the rest of her life she will not be able to enjoy a birthday cake at a friends party or eat Halloween candy; and it horrified me even more as I realized that her life would be in danger anytime we left the safety of our peanut-free home.

The three years since we learned of our daughter’s hidden disability has been filled with making new discoveries, tweaking the way we live everyday and anticipating the challenges of the future. We have learned to read labels, educated ourselves about current laws and and school policies, and made sure that among our daughter’s first phrases was “I have a peanut allergy.” We have been frustrated by the lack of understanding in some, but also moved to tears by the efforts of our family and friends to ensure that our daughter would be safe and feel included in our celebrations. We have felt anger that this has had to happen to our family and then overwhelmingly fortunate that, really, things could be a hell of a lot worse.

I have never been a fan of the whole “things happen for a reason” bit, but I have discovered through all of this that I am okay with “everything that happens can have meaning-if your mind and heart are open to it.”

My daughter’s allergies have been a challenge and a gift all at the same time; I have learned so much about the challenges of parenting, gained empathy for the range of challenges that people face every day, and, most importantly, I have been learning a thing or two about understanding (and respecting!) my own limitations. I can’t do it all, and I can’t anticipate every curve ball that will be thrown my way.

What will tomorrow bring?

I am not sure; but I think the biggest challenge for us is to not let our imagination of what is going to be or SHOULD be take away from the “is” and the lessons it brings.

Want to learn more about food allergies?

Nut Free Mom Blog

The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN)