Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Having Patience

I write a lot of parenting posts here that celebrate the small, every-day triumphs and breakthroughs and just ordinary wonderments of guiding my wonderful four year old daughter. But in the interest of reporting reality, and because I'm feeling a deep need to emote today, I thought I'd mention at least one case of seeming failure and total frustration.

How do we teach our children when they don't want to be taught? My little girl is struggling right now, struggling to do something that she should have learned to do a long time ago, and she is convinced she cannot do it. I'm talking about potty training. Without going into awful details, I will say that she's not completely untrained, not by a long shot. For the most part, I would say she's been about 80% trained more than a year. We started late due to her speech delay, but once she started, things seemed to be going pretty well, if a little bit slower than I would have liked. In fact, around Christmastime I was realizing with a sense of great joy that she would likely be fully and finally trained by spring because she was doing so incredibly well.

That was then. In the past couple of weeks she has regressed in certain pottying areas. And again, without going into details no one wants to read, I will say that I am completely and utterly depleted from the potty wars. Completely exhausted from hearing my daughter, in tears, telling me -- not "I won't!" (which would be more of a willful problem, and one that I could deal with a bit better) but a despairing "I can't." And realizing that she has really convinced herself on this one.

How do we teach our children when they don't want to be taught? My daughter is bright, capable, and usually a persevering learner. Even when she thinks something is hard: balllet class last semester, a couple of our recent reading lessons (which are going very well, by the way) -- she can usually be encouraged to keep on, and she will keep on. I am very proud of her in that.

I've tried to tell her that: tried to tell her I believe she can do this, that she's capable, that it can be done. I've tried to tell her that what she's doing is not only not big girl behavior, but it's hurting her (because she's been getting terrible rashes, which is excaberating the problem). I've also resorted to some very stupid things: I've totally lost my cool and shouted (especially when she's not following the simplest rules I've laid down this week to try to help her remember to do what she needs to and what she has exhibited hundreds of times that she *can* do); I've cajoled; I've lectured in ways that even I am realizing are not getting through to her; and earlier this afternoon I actually found myself in tears about it in front of her. None of that is helpful.

At this point, I don't know who I am more impatient with: myself? or the sweet girl? Actually, I think if I'm honest I will admit that I far more impatient with myself.

So much of this can get tied into feelings of inadquacy and failure. All those lies we listen to in our heads sometimes about what it means to be a "success" and what it means for our child to be a "success." I realize sometimes I feel more sensitive about this, perhaps, because S. is my only child and because she has always had developmental challenges. She is an odd mixture of way ahead of the curve in certain areas and way behind in certain others, and that's just always been who she is.

I can accept that; in fact, I love her for who she is. I love her so much I want to help her learn and change and grow.

Being patient with myself and loving myself is far harder. Why? I'm not sure. I'm tired right now; I do realize that. Winter is long and cold and icy in our neck of the woods, and D. and I have been working far too many hours and juggling far too many things. We haven't had a really refreshing break in I don't know how long. When I get depleted like this, I am more susceptible to letting myself be shaped by discouragement and untruths. I need to stop doing that, because that kind of behavior hurts me. (Sounds familiar -- sounds like the kinds of things I say to S.!)

So I will try not to listen to the lie that I am a bad parent, and a failure as a mom and a teacher. My daughter is struggling with something that she needs to overcome; I need to find creative ways to be patient enough with myself and with her to help her overcome it. This isn't the first hill we've faced together, and it won't be the last. Grounded in prayer, we're going to keep on climbing.


Erin said...

I know you're not alone in the potty struggles. I've heard many a despairing remark on this score, and I know I was a source of great frustration to my parents until that final hurdle was over. What a sense of accomplishment when it's all said and done, though... Anyway, keep plugging away; one of these days it will all come together! In the meantime, rest assured that these challenges are in no way indicative of bad parenting. The Sweet Girl is very blessed to have a mom like you. :)

Beth said...

Thanks, Erin. I'm tired enough this morning that your kind remark actually has brought tears to my eyes!

I know it wasn't much of a Valentine post yesterday, but then D. and I didn't really get a Valentine's day. We'd planned a little family celebration and had hoped to get S. to bed early so we could have some time for just the two of us, but due to the potty wars, everything got cancelled. S. didn't get to bed until late and then in tears, and it was just a mess of a day.

Our "date" turned out to be an exhausted stupor-like hour in which we tried to follow that convoluted and somewhat troubling LOST episode. More on that soon -- I may even blog about it here when I get a chance!