Sometimes you look back over your morning and you realize things went wrong. Somewhere, somehow they went wrong, but you can’t quite pinpoint where. You thought everything was just “regular” and going “fine,” then suddenly your child is hitting you repeatedly in the school parking lot and all your triggers are flaring and you realize… ooooh noooo. Something is very NOT fine. And, contrary to how the facts may have appeared at that moment, the thing that was very not fine was me.
The kid in the parking lot is hitting me because of the Hair Brushing Edict. More specifically, she’s hitting me because I said she can’t jump out of the car and go greet her friend Ariel just then. She has to stay in the car so I can brush her hair the barest, most minimal amount I can get away with. The amount that will juuust barely enable her to get through the preschool day without looking like Cousin It or to not come home with blue-green-purple paint streak highlights necessitating the fifth bath in four days…
When I reflect and slow down the moment, it all happens in a flash.
“Ariel!” my daughter shouts and waves. Her feet are moving forward to the car’s edge and I block her with my body, saying, “You have to wait. We have to brush your hair. Remember? As agreed on the way to school this morning when you refused to let me brush it the four times I offered to do it earlier?” Just kidding I didn’t say that last part. Just the first 2 things.
Next thing you know, she’s thwacking me on the back as I’m digging the comb out of her backpack and I’m backing up and she’s kicking out at me and I’m reaching for her hair and she’s reaching to punch my face…
It’s the kind of moment you don’t imagine when you’re rubbing a pregnant belly and sighing happily at your partner, or when you’re cooing over tiny onesies at your baby shower. Or even when you’re picking out baby names. When you’re picking out names, you rarely think, “Which name will have the best ring when I’m shouting it in rage in a preschool parking lot?”
Actually, I wasn’t shouting in rage. Externally. Externally I just kept moving back so she couldn’t land her kicks and punches and calmly directing her to “back up a little if she needed to kick and punch so no one will get hurt.” (I learned this in a parenting class. Parents have to be neurologists now. Apparently when her amygdala is flooded she can’t think rationally so any kind of reasoning is pretty much lost on her. And if I just tell her to stop punching and cut it out, she tamps down her feelings and they will just come out some other time and way. Theoretically.)
Here’s the thing (and yes, we can talk about how my kid needs to get with the program and use her words and not punch when she’s mad. Totally agree.) BUT the thing I realize now is that I had let MY amygdala get flooded. And I totally hadn’t realized it.
I got so sneakily dysregulated by all the breakfast-getting and the homework-supervising and the sock-switching and the hurry-upping and the water-cup-retrieving and the remembering and the time-checking, that in the moment that my daughter saw her sweet friend and her heart was bursting with joy (the word “social” only BEGINS to describe her personality) I wasn’t present with what she was feeling and unintentionally shut her down with my Hair Brushing Edict.
I don’t want to get bogged down in parental nitpicking here. (Yes, yes, I should be able to tell my kid I want to brush her hair without her punching me in the face.) BUT the fact remains that I just wasn’t THERE. WITH her. IN that moment. And the only other way I can describe what I mean without using ridiculous capitalization is to say that I just totally missed where she was—she couldn’t feel me, and I couldn’t feel her.
And when I don’t feel where my kid is, I miss the opportunity to connect with what she cares about… Like, if I was really feeling her in that moment, I might have said, “Oh, wow! Look! It is Ariel! Look at her rad gold skirt! Here, jump down and wave to her while I brush your hair up out of your face for a minute, then we can run and catch up to her.” And then, as she felt that I was feeling her, she’d feel me, and happily jump down and let me brush her hair and we’d both feel awesome about understanding each other and helping each other get what we want…
And that’s the point of this parenting-by-connection business. It’s not that I need to connect with her so that SHE will do what I want. It’s that we need to connect so that we can truly see and feel EACH OTHER. (The ever-elusive parenting win-win!)
Back to the kicking kid in the parking lot, in case you’re wondering what happened next. Probably because I didn’t react much to her kicks and hits by shaming and lecturing, she stopped doing it in about 3 seconds flat and let me brush her hair and she was totally happy when I kissed her goodbye…
But when I came home from the preschool, I cried. At first, I thought I was crying because parenting is hard, and I feel like I’m miserable at it. (Which is true.) Then I realized that I was actually crying because life is really hard. Staying in the moment, and staying connected with those we love is hard work.
And then I realize the zinger. I’m also crying because I am REALLY, REALLY hard on myself. I put so much pressure on myself to BE PERFECT, and have the right response, to react the right way and do the right things, to set up all the right systems and routines. And I REALLY REALLY DON’T LIKE NOT BEING PERFECT!!!
And I don’t want to live this way anymore.
My name is Marika Paez Wiesen, and I’m a Perfectholic. And a Hair Brushing Nazi. And a mom who is working really, really hard to keep her amygdala regulated and stay present and connected to her kids.
Thank you for listening.