Breathe in. Breathe out. Count to 10.
1 … 2 … 3 …
These are the things I tell myself in an attempt to quell my mounting frustration at the 4-year-old standing before me having her tenth meltdown of the day.
This time, it’s because I helped her get dressed. She can dress herself and is quite capable, but for some reason requested my help today. But the problem was that I didn’t help her dress in the right order. “Pants always come first Mama! Then shirts!” As I try to calmly breathe and keep myself from losing it over something that will have no lasting significance, I think to myself, “Is this real life?”
And then I remember an occasion just last week when my husband put the wooden spoons back in the wrong drawer while unloading the dishwasher, and I had a similar (albeit slightly more age-appropriate) meltdown.
This is the type of scenario that plays out on the daily in our household … occasion after occasion where I am met with my own imperfections in the form of a little girl who is my mini-me.
There is nothing quite so humbling as being forced to examine your own shortcomings manifested in pre-K form. My daughter is literally like me in every way imaginable. She is so Type-A it’s not even funny, and she brings the sass same as her mama. Already at the tender age of 4 we are butting heads — Lord, help me during the teenage years — because so many of our struggles are the same.
We both thrive on order and control and often clash over who can have more of it. We also share a penchant for bossiness, talking over other people, and for being emotionally volatile and prone to sudden meltdowns.
I don’t want to paint a picture of only flaws for my daughter — we share many positive qualities, such as being socially inclusive and dependable. We even share a love for fashion (no matter how different those styles may be). But, it is the challenging characteristics that make me question my ability to parent a child that is so much like myself. I mean, if I haven’t been able to get these things under control for myself now that I’m in my 30s, how can I teach my 4-year-old to keep these things in check?
This fear was never more evident than one evening about a month ago when, during a particularly challenging tantrum, I sort of lost it. Emotions were running high for both of us and I raised my voice and reacted in a way that I am not proud of. I felt overwhelmed and at a loss for how to handle the situation.
Thankfully, my husband stepped in with a level head and soothing presence to diffuse the situation. I was a bit in awe. I was able to regain my own composure and apologize for my bad behavior. We hugged and made up, but I couldn’t stop thinking about my husband’s interaction with our daughter. Once the kids were in bed for the night, I brought it up.
Me: “How did you do that?”
Husband: “Do what?”
Me: “How did you get her calmed down like that? It was like magic! I need to know how to do that myself!”
Husband: “Well, I’ve had lots of practice.”
Me: “Practice? When?”
Husband: “Well, she’s just like you, and I’ve had a lot of years learning how to handle you. When she is having a hard time, I basically just think about how I would approach you in a similar situation and then apply it to her. It works really well.”
It seemed obvious, but I suddenly realized that if I could put myself in her shoes and think about how I would want someone to respond to me in that situation, I just might be able to figure out how to better approach her and how to parent her the way she needs to be parented.
So I’ve been trying it out, and it’s been surprisingly effective. Not only am I finding better ways to parent my daughter, I am also learning a lot about myself in the process. I am being forced to face my own shortcomings, and I am starting to address them. In helping my 4-year-old find ways to handle her emotional outbursts, I am finding ways to handle my own as well. It is certainly a work in progress but we’re making baby steps toward progress.
For better or for worse, my daughter is a lot like me, and I am trusting that I can get through these challenges … and maybe even learn some things along the way.