OK, if you're friends with me on Facebook, you're expecting Part 1 of a little series on our church hunt. However, this week has simply not gone as planned, and I'm not going to take such an important topic and rush through writing about it. I have an essay written, but anytime one is super important to me, I have Scott read it, and he is already asleep, so it's just not happening tonight (yes, it's Tuesday, February 11 at 10 p.m. Yes, I am a procrastinator!)
Instead, we're going to talk about communication!
Over the past few years, I've begun making an effort to be more direct, more honest and more clear in communicating rather than writing a dramatic story in my head about how saying what I mean and meaning what I say will hurt someone's feelings or make them think badly of me. I still struggle deeply with this, as it is not at all my natural tendency, but I've made great strides and it actually seems to have improved my relationships and overall satisfaction with life. Who knew a server at a restaurant is just really not going to care if I ask for something a little out there, like seltzer water with lime instead of water with lemon? Man, it feels good to just say what you actually want and not feel bad about it! I've found in close relationships (with safe people, anyway) being direct and honest about what we need usually leads to more intimacy, more trust and usually helps resolve conflict rather than creating it.
Another area where I'm learning being direct and honest is incredibly valuable is in parenting. Oh my goodness. I don't know about you, but it is so unnatural to me to just explain to a small child (like 0-2) what I'm about to do, what I expect, what is going to happen next, etc. It seems so much easier to tell little white lies, manipulate them, spring something on them at the last second or whatever other tactics we employ to avoid meltdowns or to get them to do what we want them to do (who hasn't tried to get a toddler to eat a vegetable by covering it in sour cream or telling them it's something else?). And sometimes explaining things in detail to someone who doesn't really talk yet just doesn't occur to me, you know? Through some amazing parenting books and blogs and podcasts, I'm learning how important direct and honest communication, especially about things that might be scary or unfamiliar, is for babies and toddlers.
Julia is sick right now. I feel like she is sick every two weeks and it is just about to drive me insane. Thus, this week not going as planned. She is actually awake right now playing with her baby next to me because I was tired of trying to get her to go back to sleep over and over again. Poor thing. She feels horrible. All bets are off when a 102 fever is involved. Just go ahead and forgive any typos or non sequiturs in this essay because things are cray cray around here as I type!
Anyway, I knew we needed to spray saline up her nose to clear her sinuses before bed. It helps her breathe easier when she's congested, but she HATES it. Who wouldn't? I've done it to myself, and it does not feel great.
Usually, Scott and I kind of just grab her and hold her down while spraying it up her nose. Many times, she moves her head and the saline ends up spraying her in the face. It's just the worst!
So tonight, I decided to be honest with her about what was coming. While Scott went to the bathroom to retrieve the torture device, I told her, "Daddy is going to get the thing we spray in your nose when you are sick. We need to spray your nose to help you breathe better. I'm going to spray one side, and then the other, and then we are done. Do you want to hold the wipe? Are you ready now?"
She looked at me and just sat there, offering up her nose and holding the wipe, ready to go. I sprayed in one nostril. She didn't cry and didn't flinch. I sprayed in the other one. The end. We wiped her nose and went back to reading.
Another time recently, I took her to the doctor because she was running yet another random fever (no respiratory symptoms that time, so I thought it might be a UTI). They needed to collect urine, and we had just started potty training. She was NOT a fan of the big potty at home, and I just knew trying to get her to sit on the one at the doctor and pee in a cup on command was not gonna happen. But we had to try, so I explained to her that the doctor gave us a very special cup and she needed Julia to pee in the cup on the big girl potty. It was very special and important, and I knew she could do it. I gave her some apple juice, waited a couple minutes and then repeated what I needed her to do. Wouldn't you know... she sat on that potty and peed a river into that cup. Everyone was amazed! She did not have a UTI, by the way.
Yet another example of eliminating drama by being honest with her happened at her first dentist appointment. Like many toddlers, Julia doesn't *love* having her teeth brushed, and I just knew the dentist was going to be a nightmare. It was just her first checkup, not a cleaning, but still. A random man putting his hands and possibly a metal tool in her mouth in a strange place? Hahahaha what a joke!
All I could think of to do was over prepare her. The day before, we talked about the dentist and keeping teeth healthy. The morning of, I started describing where we were going and exactly what would happen. "We are going to the dentist! Can you say dentist? The dentist keeps our teeth healthy! The dentist is a nice man who is going to put his hands in your mouth and look at your teeth. The dentist is safe. It's OK that he puts his hands in your mouth!" I repeated something like this probably 10 times on the way and then another 5 after we got there. When the dentist came in, I repeated what he was going to do again. He allowed her to sit in my lap and lean backward into his lap. And guess what? That girl opened her mouth and let him look all around. He even got the mirror and that little pointy thing out and counted all of her teeth. It was incredible. The dentist was just as shocked as I was. "These first appointments are usually really stressful," he admitted.
This totally doesn't work every time, of course, but these three examples are enough evidence for me that treating our kiddos like they are fully human and explaining things to them is the way to go. Every time I choose manipulation over honesty with my child, I regret it. And every time I'm honest with her, I'm shocked how much she understands and that she has such an amazing ability to be brave!
I think we can assume that most humans, regardless of age, respond better to direct, honest communication rather than being lied to, manipulated or ignored. It's so scary to possibly encounter conflict, whether it's with a toddler or a coworker or a friend, so my natural inclination is to just avoid it altogether by skirting the truth or ignoring my feelings. But wouldn't it be nice to live in a world where we knew people meant what they said all the time? Wouldn't it be nice to be able to trust that people would let you know if they were upset with you or you said something that hurt them? Wouldn't it be amazing to nip every conflict in the bud when it was tiny, rather than letting it grow and bloom into a huge deal before addressing it?
I'm challenging myself this week in my parenting, other relationships and in random encounters with people to just be honest, whether it's positive, negative or neutral! I think it's totally possible to be kind and direct at the same time. And if you're being compassionate and reasonable and someone still responds poorly? I love this quote: "If someone throws a fit because you set a boundary, it's just more evidence that boundary was needed."
Happy communicating this week, y'all!
Side note: Please pray for this mama. I'm obviously madly in love with my child, but it's still so hard when she's sick and I'm so pregnant. I'm. over. it. And she is just sick so much this winter. 😭 Also, I had shingles this week. It really wasn't super horrible and I'm better now, but I had the freaking shingles. WHY? BLESS US!!! 🤣