mid-week zoo day

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Yesterday, we took a mid-week trip to the zoo. (Turns out the zoo is an actual destination and not just the word people use when referring to our family) The older kids had a day off from school, and our three littlest have never been to the zoo. We knew that summertime or weekends would be too much for them to handle – too many crowds, too hot, just not ideal. Wendell took off work, and we headed to meet his sister and our two nieces for the day. We are blessed to live close to one of the best zoos in the nation. (Arguably, the best depending on what list you want to reference.)

The weather was perfect – 70 and sunny – and there was virtually no one there. Which was perfect for the ways that we need to parent our children. They were able to have some freedom to explore and run, which we would have been unable to do safely if we’d be in crowds. We were also able to have some freedom to allow them some ‘incidents’ and to wait for them to be ready to move along.

We’ve discovered there’s nothing much to be gained in forcing our children to do things when they’re too scared, anxious, or just plain defiant. If we have the time, the space, and the safety to allow them to come around, we are all better off. When we started parenting traumatized children, we were fully on board the ‘it’s not obedience unless it’s immediate’ train. First time obedience is a bandied-about phrase that we find less and less use for the longer we parent. Early on in our foster parenting journey, we learned some principles that really and truly revolutionized our parenting.

1) By sharing power with our kids through appropriate choices and compromises, we prove that it’s ours to share. We cannot share power that we do not possess. This in no way diminishes our authority as parents.

2) If my child complies with my request, whether it’s immediate or when they are able to, I still win. I just have to ask myself, “what’s the goal?” Is it for me to prove my ‘power’? What do I gain by that? If I’m honest, usually my goal is that my child complies. So if they comply, does it matter how long? Not usually. Clearly this doesn’t always work. I can’t wait for Niah to listen if she’s darting out into traffic. Sometimes we have appointments, and I can’t wait until one of them ‘feels’ like putting on their shoes. But I have found that the more opportunities I take to allow my children to come around when they feel capable, the more immediately compliant they are the rest of the time.

“Force is all-conquering, but its victories are short-lived.”
Abraham Lincoln

There were a couple of events yesterday where Brenden just shut down. The general public (including me, for many years) are plenty familiar with two options that we have in the presence of stress: flight or fight. Truth is, there’s a third: freeze. This is Brenden’s go-to defense. The benefit of this particular day at the zoo is that when his defenses were up, when he was frozen in the middle of a pathway for minutes, we were able to allow him the freedom to work through it on his own rather than force him to continue with something he wasn’t ready for. I stood a couple paces ahead, told him I could wait as long as it took until he was ready to move on, and eventually he was able to move past it and join me. I took his hand, kissed his head, and on we went to join the rest of the family.

A couple of years ago, he wouldn’t have been able to do that. I would never have even thought to allow this with my older two kids. I’ve learned better. I’ve learned to evaluate why my heart is so set on ‘obedience’. I’ve (mostly) learned to temper my responses by choosing to not focus on the right behavior at the expense of relationship. Brenden’s learned better too. Now he has skills, he has trust, and he knows that no matter how long he takes, we’ll be waiting. All of this is a Very Big Win.

The other big win of the zoo day? This:

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