Parenting is tough stuff. No surprise there.
"Stop teasing your sister."
"Get away from your brother. Can't you two just spend some time apart?"
"Would you please pick up your dirty clothes? All of them."
Dialogue, or I suppose more like monologue, like this happens all the time in our house. As a mom, I feel like it's my job to prevent battles, to maintain some kind of order, and to foster loving relationships. We express a lot of emotions in our house, and I try earnestly to say and to show my children how much I love them.
There are still those times. The witching hours, the frayed nerves, the tight schedules, the incessant teasing. And my parenting focus becomes more "do no harm" rather than "love real big."
One night, after a particularly taxing parenting day, I noticed my daughter, crying softly on her bed (she is typically a dramatic crier, so I knew something was really bothering her). I took a deep breath and went over to sit next to her. "Mommy, I've done so many things wrong today. I don't know what I'm going to do." And in her sincere, seven-year old angst, she looked down with a sigh.
Oh, man. I glanced over at her soft, little hands, and I replayed my commentary to her throughout the day. I had declared nearly a chapter's worth of to do's, reminders, reprimands, declarations, insistences, and warnings.
But, that's not what hit me (thank God) at that moment. My daughter had done SO many good things that day - from speaking gently to her little brother who needed some assistance with his drawing, to setting the table without being asked, to singing and dancing throughout the house and lightening our moods, to asking her sister how her day was.
Blech. She had forgotten all of that and now felt reduced to her actions that I corrected.
That's not the kind of parent I want to be. That's not the kind of human I want to be.
Because for every mistake or failing, there are at least double if not triple the amount of goodnesses occurring every single day.
Even the rough ones.
So working from a very concrete level, where we sometimes need to with ourselves and young children, I developed the Good Stuff jar. It sits right by our front door, near our only staircase, right in the center of our home. My three kids fill it with their goodness. By this I mean, every time they see one another or we see them spreading goodness, they put in a gem (our name for the colorful glass beads). Once the jar is full, we all get to decide on how we want to use this goodness - special time together? something special for someone we know? something for our home?
And I've loved that they are seeing just how GOOD they are.
A few things about the Good Stuff jar:
- It's not a behavior system. It has not eliminated poor choices or bad behavior in our family. It wasn't intended to do so.
- It's used only to show goodness. We don't take beads out when the teasing starts up or the hitting ensues. The Good Stuff jar is not a score-keeping tool.
- It's an all-for-one system...so that when the 5-year old is kind, we all benefit (because we really do), and if he does great things ten times today and the 10-year old is in a mood and feeling like she needs her time away, than it's all good. No one "wins" for having the most gems in the jar.
- The celebration for a full jar of goodness is decided as a family and enjoyed as a family.
But it has made all of us (me included) aware of all the many, many ways children are sweet, humble, generous, and delightful. I need to remember that and celebrate that. And I want my children to see it in themselves and all the other people they encounter.
Because that's just the kind of parent I want to be. And that's exactly the kind of human I want to be.
Would you consider a Good Stuff jar at your house?