As you may remember from my last newsletter, last month our family went through a rough patch. We had transferred my son to a new school, midyear, and he was struggling. We knew it was the right choice for our family, but it was a huge shift.
Behavior-wise, things were understandably pretty hairy.
I shared in my last newsletter about my own process of trying to be there for my children through this time of change. I shared my feelings of regret for the times when, in response to difficult behaviors, I had snapped, and what I’ve learned about how we can move through such moments, the importance of self forgiveness, and of making a repair, not only with our child, but with ourselves.
Today I want to share with you a little more about this transition, and what happened since then.
The first days at his new school were very challenging. He enjoyed it while he was there, but was understandably also terribly lonely, since he knew no-one. On his first day, he came home happy. But that night, he collapsed. He wept and begged to return to what he knew.
“How can you do this to me?!” he asked. “How can you make me go somewhere I hate?!”
As an attachment leaning Mama who values responsiveness to children’s emotions, this caused me a deep ache. And while I felt strongly that this was the right choice for our family, it also made me question a bit.
I knew that had never done anything to push him so far past his comfort zone and I knew it.
I held him while he cried and raged. I allowed his feelings, affirmed them, and maintained my own inner stance that it would be okay and he would get through it. But inside I was shaken.
His words kept ringing in my ears. “How can you do this to me?”
As days went by, we held strong. Our family banded together, sending family members in to volunteer in his class whenever possible, taking as long as was needed at drop off time to help get him past the tears.
Day by day, we struggled along, somehow getting him to his new school in one piece, then home again, with all the forms, the folders, the new people and routines, holding on as best we could, and hoping for the best.
And then, one day, it was just… better.
As palpably as dawn rising in the sky, things had shifted.
“Mama,” he said to me one day, “guess what happened? I LOVE my new school! Now my new school is my cozy nest!”
I was so happy to see him happy and settled in, and I felt grateful for how our family had showed up for him. I could feel how much this extra family support had helped.
But I also carried, still, a small stone of regret for the times when, during this month, I had lost it with him.
My deepest aspiration in parenting is to live those wise words I’ve shared before, the ones spoken by Mr. Rogers – “there is nobody in the world just like you, and I love you just the way you are.”
Those times when I had lost it, I had really fallen out of alignment with this spirit, and I felt sorrow and regret.
I kept thinking back on some of the less than admirable things I’d said when I was frustrated. Had they damaged that sweet, strong, positive sense of self we’ve worked so hard to nurture in our children?
Of all the ways I am and can be, what is he most taking in?
Then, one afternoon, I got my answer.
We were engaged in one of his new favorite activities, making little books out of paper. He was practicing his new skills of writing and spelling.
This is what he wrote:
“In this world, there are good things and bad things, but I love everything no matter what. I love Papa and Mama and Peregrine. And I love myself.”
I love myself.
There it was.
Proof that in spite of my perception of my shortcomings, the most important stuff was still sinking in.
When I hear my son say those three magic words, “I love myself,” I know that whatever happens, he’s going to be okay.
So here’s a few last thoughts about moving through change with little ones.
Young children deeply need consistency and predictability in their lives. Any change can disrupt their sense of safety in a huge way. Whether it’s a seemingly negative change for them, like having to start a new school midyear, or a positive change like grandparents coming to visit, makes little difference.
To a young child, change is change, and it is almost never easy.
Whenever your child’s behavior seems to take a sudden nosedive, and you’re trying to figure out what’s going on – the most important question you can ask is this –
“What has changed recently?”
Look to the source of the change, and you will probably find the reason behind the struggle.
When our children are struggling in response to a change, we can support them by getting really, really grounded. Our own grounded-ness helps to reassure them where the world seems uncertain. Part of being grounded is holding space for them to feel what they feel. They need the space to lose it, cry, freak out, let loose.
They need for us to hold strong in our own personal sense that things are and will be okay, no matter how upset they get.
We do these things, and we keep doing them, all through the disruption and for weeks afterwards, until our children are settled again. Then, one day, just like I did, you look around, and yet another stage is over and passed. Just like that. And it’s onto the next thing.
When you think about it, to be there for our children in this way… It’s really just another way of teaching them how to love themselves – unconditionally and through any difficulty.
They learn this from us. But the funny thing is… We learn it from them too.
This is what my children teach me – how to live into my striving, mess up, rebound, repair, and hopefully always come out of it a little richer, a little deeper, a little more surrendered to love.