Monday, August 15, 2011

The House Thermostat

Several years ago, we were having a particularly difficult time with Princess #1's behavior.  I don't remember the details at all (proof that this too shall pass!), but I do know that it was occurring right around the time Princess #2 joined us, so she would have been around the age of 2.

Desperate for sound advice, I took myself to the place I knew I would get some answers, the internet.  Thank God for mommy message boards right?  I don't know how June Cleaver survived without them.

Anyway, I found myself on a message board full of caring, devoted, and attached mommies who were passionate about intentional parenting.  For me, being the newbie, I had no idea there were so many parenting philosophies or that I even had one (I later learned my own default parenting philosophy was a combination of my experiences in being parented, and my expectations about parenthood.  But that's another post for another time).

I poured out my heart in a post about Princess #1, describing her behavior and my desires to change it.  I probably referred at one point to how she seemed to turn into this monster of a child I did not know.  It was true.  I was praying that someone would read my post, relate to it in their own lives and tell me what to do to fix it.

So you can imagine my shock when I anxiously checked back for a response and found not sympathy and empathetic responses but rather chastisement about my attitude towards Princess #1.  Suggestions that I stop seeing her as a "monster" but rather a small human who was incapable of controlling her emotions and reactions stopped me in my tracks.  That wasn't what I meant at all!  I was totally being misread!

Or was I?

I remember leaving the computer in a huff, feeling let down.  I do not remember how we addressed Princess #1's behavior at that time.  Clearly we got through it and I moved on.  But I never forgot the sting I felt at the words of the women on that message board.  Women who did not know me, did not know my intentions, or my heart.  I felt unjustly judged.

Now several years down the road into parenthood, I'm able to assess the words of those women with a little more perspective and clarity.  While I immediately took offense to the suggestion that perhaps the problem lie more with my reaction to the behavior than the behavior itself, I now can accept the wisdom in that idea.

I can see it now, most clearly demonstrated in Princess #1 as she nears the age of 9.  If I expect her to behave badly, she does.  If I perceive her to be a difficult child or in a difficult phase, she is.  As much as I hate to admit it and tire of the responsibility, I control the climate in our home.  And that includes the behavior of my children.

That's not to say that it is peaceful all the time or that my children never throw fits.  Believe me, they do. But as I've matured as a parent I've discovered that the key to diffusing tantrums and changing behaviors lies in my attitude toward my child and my reactions to that behavior.

Because the harsh reality is that I can't control my children and what they do.  Try as I might, guide as I may, they are their own people and they will make their own choices.  Even at the young age of 2 when I cried out in frustration at Princess #1's behavior.  While I was seeking ways to control her, the wise women of that message board were gently (or maybe not so much) trying to show me that all I could control was myself.

It's still a work in progress.  I'm still a work in progress.  There are many days I respond in frustration or irritation and I watch as it ripples down through the girls.  A blunt reminder that I need to take my job as house thermostat seriously.  We will have phases, some that are pleasant, some we wish to forget.  With four girls the drama level is guaranteed to be high.  But all the more reason for me to be on my game.  There is a saying that hubs has at his work: Assume Positive Intent (and I know that my friend Jess is going to bust out laughing at this reference).  I try to keep this thought in the back of my head as I confront a new behavior or issue.  My children only know how to be children.  My attitude towards them and this behavior is going to set the tone for how we deal and manage the situation.  I need to intentionally choose to approach them with love and understanding and at times firm guidance and discipline.  I am the adult, I have more control over my reactions and emotions and therefore it is up to me to provide a safe place for my children to explore their own feelings and to learn how to take charge of their own reactions.

My friends, how well do you do at being your house thermostat?  What is the climate like in your home?Have you run across a situation where you know your attitude towards your child could have been better?  Or do you do a good job at this?  What sort of suggestions do you have for mama's who want to improve?


  1. this is all so true.  as moms we can make or break a day simply with our attitudes!  great post.  i found you through jess.  for moms who want to improve,  i think it is wise to take a step back and calm down before dealing with stressful situations.  dealing with things camly and in a quiet voice does a lot to change a crazy situation! 

  2. What an excellent post and incredibly important at that.  I don't like thinking that I control the mood/temperature/temperments - but as you wisely pointed out, I do.  It's all a mindset - life is a mindset and parenting is definitely a mindset.  Thanks for the reminder to monitor my temp first!

  3. This is something I'm reminded of almost daily as i am also still very much a work in progress. It usually comes to mind after I have sighed loudly or raised my voice in frustration. Now I see some of these habits mimicked in my 3 year old.
    Not fun.
    It's so funny because there are days where I feel like I am so in control and on top of everything, and others...not so much...*sigh*
    great post.
    Great reminder.

  4. I read this post earlier today, and it has stuck with me. I've been thinking about it all afternoon. Although you may have come to the conclusion that those moms had a good point, it makes me really sad that you weren't supported more in how you were feeling. We moms have tough jobs (particularly with first borns where we are learning everything from scratch), and we have to support each other. The "I am a better parent than you" attitude - whether about discipline, breastfeeding, cloth diapering, co-sleeping, crying it out, or whatever just frustrates me. Why couldn't the moms on that board have said, "Oh man... I've been there. That is SUCH a tough situtation! But... I've found that if I do xyz, things go a lot better." Chastising you for how you handle a situation only  loads on the mommy-guilt that we all already load on ourselves.

    As for the thermometer thing, I think that is true, but I also think that we are all human and can't do that 100%.  I know that my 3 year old really needs to be in bed by 6:30, or she turns into a raving lunatic.  My job, as her mother is to get her in bed by 6:30 as often as humanly possible. I do that as much as I can. Tonight though, my DH is out of town, my older daughter had jump rope, and we had to eat dinner. There was no way I could do all that by myself and get her in bed by 6:30. As expected, she got out of control. I tried my best to stay calm, but I also got frustrated and aggravated. I think that is natural. Yes, it was my mistake to keep her up too late, and I knew what I was getting myself into, but I am still allowed to feel frustrated by the situation. Yes, she was a bit of a "monster", and I feel OK calling her that. I do my best as a mom to keep her "monster" at by by getting her in bed at the right time every night, but in the real world, I can't do my best every single day. I think moms should have some compassion and sympathy for each other for that very reason.

    And by the way... your post on my blog about my being brave. You are crazy!!! YOU are the brave one! You have 4 girls with you ALL THE TIME!!!  :)

  5. I am not always so good at running the house thermostat.  I have learned, however, that the old quote, "If mama ain't happy, nobody's happy" is so true.  So I try to be more positive and calm.  And it actually works...most of the time.  Huh.

  6. I so needed to read this today! I'm having issues with my eldest and it's so frustrating. Btw, I've learned to really take everything I read on a message board with a grain of salt. There are some people that just don't come across well in writing and may seem really harsh and mean when they don't mean to be and then there are some people that are really harsh and mean that are just looking for an opportunity to make themselves feel better by putting down other people.

  7. Thank you for posting this. It touches perfectly on how I've been feeling. Your words are ones to live by.

  8. Oh my gosh I really needed this right now! Isis is in this crazy tantrum stage where she gets fussy & throws fits more than she ever has before! I am trying to manage & not make it worse & not encourage it & ignore or do all those things you read about. I just keep having that fear in the back of my head "what if I don't handle this the right way & she ends up being some fussy child with no coping skills!" LOL I really needed this post.

  9. I read an amazing quote the other day: "Children need models, not critics". I completely understand where you're coming from, and it can be REALLY hard, and a lot of pressure. We're not perfect, and neither are our children! But just know that like psychology and therapy, several studies have confirmed that it is the "helping relationship" that is the most effective "mode" of therapy (over cognitive behavioral, freudian, solution-focused, etc.), and I believe the "loving relationship" is the most effective mode of parenting (over parent-led, child-led, attachment, etc.). As long as you love, you're golden =) (with boundaries, of course!!)

  10. This is something I needed to hear! I am not good at setting the right temperature in my home. I tend to react fast and without tact. I'm learning. You'd think I'd get it by now since I have an almost 5 year old and 2 year old, both boys. Everyday is a new learning adventure. Thank you for this post! It was so perfect for me today!!

  11. Yes, the "with boundaries" is the hard part! LOL Thanks for your comment!

  12. I know from long and difficult experience that my mood impacts the mood of everyone in this family of mine.  My daughters have strong and dramatic personalities, and if I lead them in a negative direction, our day is ruined.  I try so very hard to keep my less mature stuff inside . . . to provide my daughters with an image of womanhood and femininity that is positive and not tangled in bitterness and pettiness.  I find humor helps a LOT.  No matter what is going on, if I can make them laugh, the battle is half won.

    Love this post, and I love your sense of calm perspective.

    FOUR girls?



  13. This is a fantastic post!  Very well written!


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