Positive Parenting Challenge with Captain Optimist

I recently wrote about how I wanted to use more positive language with my kids and stop constantly using words like No, Stop or Don’t. I called it a Positive Parenting Challenge and I passed this on to other parents to see who felt the same and wanted to change too.

Captain Optimist aka Becky has kindly agreed to take part in the first guest post of the series.

Hello! I’m Becky, but online I’m known as Captain Optimist. You can call me Becky. Or Captain Optimist. Whatever, really.

I’m a mom, a wife, an actress, a singer, a writer, a crafter, a creator, a multitasker, a horror movie addict, a Feminist, a Liberal, a Millennial (just barely), and a whole host of other things. I have a BA in Theatre Arts and an MS in Journalism and Mass Communications, and I’m not using either degree right now. At least not professionally. When the mood strikes (though I’m working on accomplishing this with more regularity) I blog about parenting, politics, education, depression, and basically anything I feel like ranting about.

Now that we’ve got the awkward formalities out of the way, on to the questions. You asked what my kids do that infuriates me? It might be simpler to list the things they do that don’t infuriate me.

(Before you write me off as a terrible mom who hates her kids, it’s important to note that I have two boys who are 20 months apart, both incredibly smart, creative, and strong-willed. You know…kids. Despite their penchant for pushing every one of my buttons on a daily basis, I love them more than my own life.)

So let me narrow down the list of things that infuriate me to the main ones that (mostly) fuel the rest. At 8 and 10, I know that they’re prone to irrationality, but it seems like any time things don’t go absolutely 100% according to plan, they both dissolve into fits of rage and tears and make zero effort to try to find a solution to the (usually) VERY MINOR PROBLEM.

A video game loads a bit slowly? End of the world. The Internet is down? Prepare for the apocalypse. Can’t find the thing they set down three minutes ago? Call in the National Guard.

Every minor inconvenience is treated like a catastrophe. We’ve explained to them, calmly, how to go about fixing/resetting things. We’ve told them to chill out and be patient. We’ve instructed them to try…I don’t know…looking for the things they’ve misplaced. Or we help them look, and when we inevitably find the thing they looked everywhere for in 3.5 seconds, we are rewarded with rudeness.

The rudeness is the other thing that infuriates me. I suppose part of my frustration with this behavior is that I wasn’t expecting it before they were teenagers, but one thing I’ve learned about parenting is that nothing is ever how you expect it to be and you’ll never be prepared for anything. Encouraging, right?

For the following example, I’ve provided a Hulkometer for reference.

Now, on a typical day, these interactions go like this (shortened/simplified for time):

Child: “Ugh, why won’t this thing work?! It’s so STUPID.”

Parent: (1/5 Hulks) “Have you tried [insert solution here]?”

Child: (rudely) “Yes I already tried EVERYTHING. Nothing ever works.”

Parent: (2/5 Hulks) “Take a breath. Don’t talk to me like that.”

Child: *annoyed whiney/growly noise*

Parent: (2/5 Hulks) “Please don’t make that noise.”

Child: (extra rudely) “SORRY.”

        Child is clearly not sorry.

Parent: (3/5 Hulks) “Try doing [solution] again.”

Child: (very rudely) “THAT DOESN’T WORK. I’VE ALREADY TRIED IT.”

Parent: (4/5 Hulks) “Stop talking to me like that!”

Child: *louder annoyed whiney/growly noise*

Parent: (4/5 Hulks) “STOP THAT.”

Child: (supremely rudely) I’M NOT DOING ANYTHING. THIS STUPID THING WON’T WORK.

Parent: (5/5 Hulked out) “DO. NOT. TALK. TO. ME. LIKE. THAT. GO TO YOUR ROOM!

At this point, Parent will do [solution] and will probably let child know, sarcastically, that [solution] worked. Why? Because Parent is a fallible human being prone to sarcasm.

Shortly after the fight is over and the child is (probably) crying in their room, Parent will feel guilty for Hulking out, take a deep breath, and apologize to the child. Child will apologize to Parent, more sincerely. Both will vow to try harder to deal with things calmly next time.

We do a lot of that in our house, talking things out after the fact. It’s not the most effective method. The problem is…well…truthfully there are a lot of problems. Chiefly, I know exactly where the boys get their temper: Me. I know they respond the way they do because that’s how I’ve always responded to them when I’m frustrated. The stupid thing is that I’m usually not even frustrated at them, per se. I’m frustrated that I have failed to lead by example, that I continue to fail to lead by example, that I haven’t been able to teach them the things they should know by now to handle these situations calmly, that I’m not in a place in my life where I feel like a good role model for them. My frustration comes from feeling like a failure.

For example, while I can’t remember the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever lost my shit over, I can tell you about the most recent ridiculous thing. It happened today. Just a little over an hour ago, actually.

Today started out great. Most days do, to be honest. We all wake up refreshed and happy. We’re nice to each other. There’s lots of hugs and cuddles and “I love you’s” and we’re just a sickeningly sweet family for a little while. I will say, however, that as the “way more prone to sarcasm” parent, I can be kind of an asshole even if I’m not angry. The boys are used to it, they know I’m just trying (usually failing) to be funny.

Anyway, so the first thing I said to them this morning was, “Up and at ‘em boys. Hey. When your alarm goes off that means you get up, not turn your light on and get back in bed. Uppity up up up!!!”

They got up, they ate donuts, they got ready, then they walked to school. As they walked out the door, they shouted, “Goodbye, I love you!” It was a good morning.

Then I started focusing on work. I’ll sum this up: I’m not a fan. There are roughly 100,000 things I’d rather be doing that, if I had the time to focus on them, I could turn into income. So work, in general, pisses me off.

Shortly after I got into a groove at work, I got a phone call from the boys’ school. My eldest was, apparently, throwing up and needed to come home. He has been known to fake illness so he can come home, and I expected this was yet another case of that. I became more annoyed. Then I thought about how he would react if I showed up annoyed and I shoved it back down so I could be a loving, supportive parent when I showed up.

We got home, I got him set up on the couch, and allowed him to play video games because it keeps him occupied and – more importantly – quiet while I work.

After about 30 seconds of video games (I exaggerate) he wanted to download a horror map to play on Minecraft on the PC so he could make a video. Because he was, miraculously, feeling better.

(I feel like I probably don’t need to document my level of annoyance anymore, it’s pretty apparent in my writing.)

In order to make a video, he needs his hair styled. This is something he could do himself, but he was in a mood. So, to keep him happy and occupied, I styled his hair, downloaded the maps, got the recording set up, and left him to it.

Then the map wouldn’t work.

Then the next map wouldn’t work.

Then we needed to try to fix Minecraft so the maps would work. In order to do this, we needed to use a different, older, version of Java. I did not have time to fix this technical issue for him because, as I may have mentioned, I was AT WORK. So I told him to do something else.

He played video games on the TV for a bit while different maps downloaded, something his father helped with when he arrived home for lunch.

I got the recordings set up again for the new maps, and left him to it.

I began to calm down and work. Work continued to piss me off, and I was slightly annoyed that I hadn’t been able to shower over my lunch break because I hadn’t been able to take a lunch break.

School got out, and my youngest arrived home – with my eldest’s best friend. I was still in my pajamas. The best friend left, thankfully, quickly after seeing that my eldest was fine, and I attempted to focus on work for the remainder of my work day.

Then I took a bath to calm down again and get centered.

I came out, and one of the dogs had pooped in three different locations while the other one had left a pile of vomit next to the dining table.

I cleaned it up. I muttered to myself the entire time. And yes, I muttered loud enough for the boys to hear.

The boys were arguing over wanting to watch different things on YouTube, so I sent my youngest to watch it in my room, and told my oldest he needed to get his homework done – that he should have done it as soon as we got home – and he needed to do it now.

Here’s the ridiculous thing I lost my shit over.

Roughly three and a half seconds after starting his homework, he complained that one of the questions was “stupid” and “made no sense” and he didn’t know how to do it. I looked at it, and saw that it was something he could easily have figured out, because he’s incredibly smart, but he chose to be lazy instead.

And I lost it.

And I yelled.

And I said mean things.

And then I felt bad.

As per usual.

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and calmly talked him through the problem. I apologized for being an asshole. He promised to try to deal with things calmly. I promised to try to react calmly.

Rinse and repeat.

I. Hate. This.

So how do I end the cycle?

By accepting your challenge.

I know when I can feel my anger bubbling. When I feel it, I resolve to take a step back, take a deep breath, and choose to react calmly.

When I think of an assholish thing to say, I’m going to swallow it, and find a more constructive way to respond.

I am going to find ways to praise the boys when they are doing good things, tell them how creative and amazing and smart they are, thank them when they are getting along or not being rude.

I will encourage them to do things for themselves and ask for help if they need to.

I will try to remember that they, too, are fallible human beings and we’re all learning.

I know I will not always succeed (I’ve yelled at them three times since I started writing this because they’ve been fighting over video games), but it’s time to make a concerted effort to try.

As for tomorrow? I’ll let you know how I do.

If you would like to read more about Captain Optimist read her blog here.

Want to take part in this challenge? Enter your details below and I’ll be in touch.

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