Be Gentler

If you find resistance and tension building inside, notice. Feel it. It might feel like a tightening of the abdominal muscles or shortness of breath. Maybe a dull headache or clenching of the jaw.

Perhaps you don’t register the anxiety or frustration in your body (or aren’t aware of it there). For you, it might be the mind-loop of what else can be done, or what you will say when you get the chance and courage. You might find yourself obsessing about how to “get” someone to “do” something…to relieve the mounting worry.

Complicating things is your desire to be a good person—to not blow up, to not yell, to not pressure or interfere. You want to be patient and kind, you want to trust your kids, you want to believe that whatever is happening right now is good for them…even if you can’t quite see it and aren’t quite convinced—in fact, are worried to death, if you would admit it to yourself.

The “it” could be anything: too much screen time, not enough commitment, too much silliness, not enough hard work, too little cooperation with your goals, not paying attention, so little progress (as you understand progress), so much dawdling.

No one anticipates the moment when the carefully managed irritation erupts into a full scale panic (manifested as shouting, yelling, shaming, blaming, lecturing, manipulating, punishing, threatening, nagging, enforcing, lording over, prophesying doom, eviscerating, character-assassinating, and abject resignation or tears).

Feel the irritation now—admit the creeping fear. Say it aloud to yourself and own it. It’s okay to know that you are worried—you can choose not to do anything about it right now. Better to admit to worry than to pretend it away, only to be blindsided by the sneak attack when the last straw is added to your already full load.

Turn the ideas over in your head:

1. Can I give it another day before I make a change?

2. Is there another way to think about this situation that I haven’t considered?

3. Is there a halfway step I could take—to take the child’s needs/feelings into concern and mine as they are today?

4. What would it feel like to “give up”? Can I give up my notions of what is “right to do” today and lean into what is instead?

5. How can I let go of the pressure I’m carrying right now?

A few strategies work for me:

See the person, not simply a body doing what I wish it wouldn’t do.

Touch someone (a brush of my hand across a shoulder, a sideways hug, a cuddle on the couch, a tickle, a butterfly kiss).

Close a door (to a bathroom, the laundry room) and be alone for a couple of minutes to regroup.

Ask for help: “I’m about to lose my cool! Help me. I don’t want to yell and I feel really frustrated with _______. Can someone give me a hug (or fill in what would help—make you a cup of tea, bring you a book, get you an apple and cut it into slices, make you a cozy spot on the couch so you can read to everyone)?”

Do a search of my beloved homeschool sites and read some encouragement. Find a way to understand this particular impasse that helps me love and admire my children, rather than feel ashamed of and worried about them.

Breathe. Do a few stretches. Look through a window and see the sun or the sky or a tall tree. Let the world beyond home be bigger than home.

You can be gentler with your children if you get into the habit of being gentler with yourself. It’s okay to worry. Worry is part of life. It’s not bad or wrong. You can choose how you interact with your worry.

Start today—start small. Even here, be gentle with yourself—do a little, be a little kinder to yourself today than yesterday. Bit by bit.

Image © Ionut Banica |

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