Change works best inside out

Gleek has been wrestling with many complicated emotions. Her inner turmoil leads her to run fast, play hard, and be a bit demanding of her playmates. This frequently leads to conflict with those playmates, which creates more inner turmoil. There are brief windows of time when she is ready to talk about her feelings and sort through them. Usually these times happen inconveniently, when we’re headed out the door to school, or when it is already past bedtime and I’m trying to get her to lay down, or when three other kids are all needing things from me at the same time. I try to listen as best I can while still addressing the other tasks at hand. Her inner turmoil is comprised of loneliness, a feeling that something is missing, sadness, and a desire to be more connected with people. The times she is picking to try to discuss them with me are conducive to adding to the feelings rather than resolving them.

This evening she sat me down and very sadly told me that she doesn’t feel like Kiki loves her and that she feels like our family is breaking apart, like we’re not a real family. My first internal reaction was a tired frustration. I spend an awful lot of time trying to build family togetherness and relationships. Here was my child telling me that my efforts had been fruitless for her. A split-second later the frustration was followed by the knowledge that I just need to listen to Gleek. She feels what she feels. She feels it regardless of the things I have done which I think should make her feel differently. So I listened. I asked questions. I tried to get the full picture of what she felt was wrong. As I did, I also tried to think how I should handle this.

The “how should I handle this” question is one that I’ve been asking a lot. I’ve been presented with so many “thises” to handle of late. Just in the past 24 hours I’ve had 2 major (multi-hour) and at least 10 minor (30 min or less) behavioral problems to address. Right now peaceful play is rare. When the kids are at home, I am constantly helping, negotiating, and disciplining. I know this time is temporary. The kids are just simultaneously in developmental stages when they are challenging everything around them. The stages will pass. Things will settle down. But I can’t help feeling like the challenging developmental stages are like watershed moments in a child’s life. It sets the course for what comes next. So I put pressure on myself to get it right, to make sure that the necessary lessons are learned; the lessons which will serve the kids well in the future.

Gleek’s tale of woe wound to a close. I didn’t have a solution for her, so I simply asked what she thought she should do about it. I’ll admit that the question was stalling for time. But the moment it was out of my mouth, I realized that it was the answer. I elaborated for Gleek, explaining that we have no power to change other people, we can only change ourselves. If Gleek wants her relationships to be different, then she needs to do something different. I don’t think she liked the answer at first, but she listed a couple of changes she could make. Then we got talking about Kiki. Gleek suddenly came alight. She realized that she could do Secret Santa things for Kiki. She could make little crafts and leave them as surprises. Gleek jumped up and began with a paper snowflake. Then I was finally able to maneuver her into bed.

The more I think about this solution, the more I feel like it is the right one. I could run myself completely ragged trying to create events so that Gleek would feel like our family was strong. I could nudge and coerce all the other kids into doing nice things for her. The result would be a still-lonely Gleek and a newly-resentful set of other kids. We already do plenty of things as a family. Our family is strong, if a bit chaotic at the moment. The change needs to be inside Gleek so that she can see it. The best way I can think of for Gleek to feel loved is to teach her to show her love by serving others. When she is focused on helping others feel happy, she will find that she is happy.

This is going to mean more work for me, but I’d rather spend the time helping Gleek do service, than spend the same amount of time breaking up squabbles. I hope it works.