It is a lovely day. Sun is shining. Birds are chirping. And the girls are excited to get to the park. Jackets on, shoelaces tied, and we are off! Let the games begin!!
To the swings they run, laughing and giggling as they imagine themselves taking off high into the clouds. “I can touch the sky!” they scream as they ask to be pushed higher and higher. When a school friend from my youngest daughter’s classroom arrives, the fun keeps getting better. “Let’s go ride the toy snail!” the friend shouts, pointing to the snail. With only room for 2 of the 3 children to ride at a time, I sit and watch, observing the negotiations.
“I want to ride up front,” their friend continues. “Who is riding with me?” My youngest daughter, excited at the prospect of riding with her friend screams: “I will!” from high on a rickety bridge leading to a tall, swirling slide. But she was too late. Her older sister, also excited at the opportunity to ride the toy snail with their friend, runs towards the snail. By the time my youngest daughter arrives, both girls are already clambering up the snail. There is no room for the little one who, from high atop a rickety bridge, yelled to the world that the backseat of the snail was hers. Her sister was already there.
A story Deconstructed (a) Dominant Paradigm
I was angry. There’s really no reason for my eldest daughter to monopolize the time of her sister’s little friend. She heard her sister call out that she wanted to ride the snail so she should have expected exactly what she got: A very frustrated younger sister screaming “Get off! I called it!!”
“Hey!” I should at my eldest daughter. My anger is visible in my furrowed brow and the terse edge in my voice. “Get over here right now!” My eldest daughter knows I’m talking to her and rushes over, only hesitating once as she looks back at her seat on the toy snail, knowing if she moves her sister will take her place.
When she arrives I have my criticism ready for her: “You knew that your sister wanted to play with her friend so why would you take her spot on the toy snail? These kids are smaller than you and you should know better. If this behaviour doesn’t change, we are leaving the playground and there will be no fun at the park for the rest of the week. Do you understanding me? Am I clear?”
As the joy of the park dissipates, my eldest daughter replies sullenly, “Yes.”
“Yes what?” I ask. She knows better than to add fuel to this fire with the disrespectful reply to my directives.
She quietly walks away from me, eyes on the ground, the sounds of the other two young girls laughter seeming entirely out of place. The energy around us is certainly not playful, and as my eldest daughter creates a distance between us, she only looks up once, glancing at her sister and her sister’s friend riding the toy snail. In no time my eldest daughter has created a quiet space for herself, alone, under the slides.
The park just doesn’t feel like the park anymore.
A story Deconstructed (b) Nonviolent/ Peace of Mind Paradigm
As the rising voices of the children arguing begins, I can feel my shoulders growing stiff.
“Hey!” I shout, and then I catch myself.
Laura Mae, what are you feeling right now? Well, I’m feeling angry too – we came to the park to have a good time… to get out of the house for a bit and enjoy ourselves at the park. And now because we have 3 kids here instead of 2, the day is absolutely ruined! I’m going to have to start yelling and screaming to keep everyone in check.
I am hearing you say that you are frustrated and that you feel like the time you set aside to bond with the children is being co-opted by feeling like you now have to manage 3 children. Does that sound about right? Well.. not entirely. I mean, I enjoy hearing the kids play together and I love the sound of their laughter and giggles. But I am uncomfortable with the competition I feel my children have with each other when a new child comes into the mix. Sometimes I just find it easier to be just us – managing their behaviour can be challenging enough as it is. Adding a friend that is my youngest daughter’s class in the mix without someone being around to play with my eldest daughter just seems so unfair.
I think I’m starting to understand this a little better. I’m hearing you say that you feel unhappy for your daughters because today, there is only 1 extra friend so someone might be left out as they try to negotiate playing on the rides available at the park. Yeah! I mean, if the numbers were even, than they may naturally divide themselves evenly so that everyone can play together. But with odd numbers, someone is bound to feel left out. And that’s when the feelings of having to compete for the new friend’s attention starts.
Wait a second! That’s it!! When I heard my youngest call out that she wanted to play with her friend on the toy snail, I was frustrated because I wanted my eldest daughter to acknowledge her sister’s request just as I had. When I say my eldest daughter run to the toy snail, getting there before her sister, I felt so badly for my youngest. I could feel her disappointment. Usually it’s her big sister who has friends over or bumps into friends at the park. She must be so happy to finally have a chance to see one of her little buddies outside of the classroom! But maybe my eldest was just as excited as her little sister and just wanted to have someone to play with.
A rush of calm swept over me. I called again to my eldest daughter, this time caller her by name and asking her if she would come chat with me for a second.
When my daughter arrived I crouched down, holding her hands and looking directly in her eyes. “Baby,” I began, “I’m guessing you’re pretty excited that you and your sister have a new friend to play with at the park today. Am I right?” She nodded yes. “Did you know that this was one of the first times that your sister has had a friend come play with her at the park?” She thought for a moment before replying, “Yeah… I think you’re right!” “Well, I’m also guessing that it might be kind of exciting for you to see another little one at the park. And while I want you to have a chance to play with her, I also don’t want your sister to feel like she doesn’t get a chance to play with her too. Did you hear your sister shout that she wanted to ride on the toy snail?” She nodded yes. “I wonder what she may have felt when, by the time she got there, you were already trying to get on the ride with her little friend.”
“She probably felt kind of sad,” my daughter answered thoughtfully.
“So what do you think we should do about it?”
“Don’t worry – I have an idea!”
Before I had a chance to get more details from her, my eldest daughter had clambered up on the back of the snail ride, turning a 2-seater into a 3-seater game!
“Gosh, these kids are awesome,” I thought to myself. We were all smiling from ear to ear.
What does it mean?
If we work through the judgements and recognize how they have impacted upon the way we choose to communicate with our children, plenty of space is made to teach our kids all the lessons we hope for. The dominant paradigm might get you there quickly, but what you loose far outweighs the gains.
Sop let’s commit to be present. Let’s commit to be peaceful. And let’s commit to hold a space of love and understanding for our children and for ourselves.
With love, light, and healing,