I was running late. It was winter, and I live in New York City, so of course there was a blizzard happening. We had a ferry to catch, and if we missed it we'd be set back a full hour.
My son wouldn't put on his shoes, and he wanted nothing to do with his coat. In seconds, my good natured child effectively became my nemesis. It was a tantrum: There were tears. There was screaming. (In these moments I always wonder what my young, hip neighbors think of me)
So I picked him up, the most promising option for getting the coat on. He gave me the limp noodle — you know, when your child throws up their arms and goes totally limp, while somehow dropping their center of gravity with such gusto there's no way to avoid them slipping through your arms. That. move. makes. me. crazy. And did I mention we were about to miss our ferry?
In two years of being a mother, I've noticed the moments I feel most out of control usually always coincide with moments when I have a strong idea of how things MUST go down. The further the distance between my vision of what should be happening and what is actually happening, the higher the stress.
I'm opposed to indulging stress, so something had to change. Shockingly, I discovered the ONLY way to get through these situations with some grace intact was to soften my own attachments and stay more present. And so I call it non-attachment parenting. While there are lot of small ways to practice it, these three elements are foundational:
1. Don't be a dictator.
Sometimes I forget that my family members are not simply extensions of my self. They're also not my subjects, so (sadly) they're not obligated to roll along with every plan I cook up. It turns out even my two year-old has a mind of his own.
Like most people, children don't respond well to orders and demands. Whenever possible, I use suggestions and invitations. They get the job done without the dramatic outbursts, and my son usually responds better too, which leads us to number two ...
2. Allow space for your child to make their own decision.
I'm not suggesting you let your children run the show. On the contrary! Children need calm, confident leaders to mirror. Set yourself up for success by letting your child's nature work in your favor.
With demands and coercion removed, many children — especially toddlers — actually want to take part in what their parents are doing. They also like to decide on their own to participate, and how. Giving them the opportunity to do this enrolls them in the process. They're less likely to rebel if they feel like part of the team, not an item on your over packed to-do list.
Time is key to this strategy. Rushing out the door almost always produced tears or limp noodles until I started using this reliable trick: We rush together. I tell my son we're in a hurry and invite teamwork. Then I give him little tasks: Put these diapers in the diaper bag. Get your hat out of the drawer. Grab your shoes and meet me by the front door.
Best. Trick. Ever. He's excited to help, and we have a stress-free departure. Even more importantly, we're developing a family culture of collaboration and cooperation — setting goals and working toward them together.
3. Be flexible whenever possible.
Have you ever noticed yourself saying "No!" when the answer could have just as easily been "Yes"? For example, "No we can't turn left here honey because we're going home, and home is straight ahead."
Well, because children live in a world of magic and often non-linear thinking, why not indulge their wonder in these fleeting moments? The carefree nature of childhood passes soon enough ...
Of course, there are times when you can't, but being flexible whenever possible creates space for your child's imagination and independence to blossom. What could be a better return on an extra lap around the block, or three minutes spent examining a crack in the sidewalk?
Non-attachment parenting won't make meltdowns obsolete — they're a natural part of every child's development. But if you can soften your attachment to even your judgement of what a meltdown means, you're bound to experience the stressful moments less frequently, and with far less intensity.
In those inevitable moments that we still struggle, I remind myself that children are wired to mirror us. When he's saying no to me, I know the best thing I can do is find more opportunities to say yes to him.