Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Learning Gentleness

Elizabeth Foss put up a wonderful article that Melanie put up a post reflecting upon. It was too good not to do a post about it.
Surely children must learn to wait; I don’t dispute that fact. Often, though, adults must learn to stop and see the child and to respond with careful attention and thoughtful gentleness. Children can teach us to be present in the moment. They can require us to slow down and truly listen, because, frankly, no one can readily understand a two-year-old without focusing and looking at context and listening carefully and asking clarifying questions. No one can listen to a two-year-old with absentminded attention while attempting to multi-task and really understand what the child is saying. And neither mother nor child grows in virtue if interruptions are met with anger.

Children can teach us gentleness, if only we have teachable spirits. Gentle mothers make an effort to speak softly and less often, to listen carefully and more often. Mothers who are able to permeate the atmosphere of their homes with gentleness can see God’s hand when a child interrupts her work. Like the monastery bell calls a monk, the child calls Mother to service and her work with the child becomes a prayer. If she is wise, she will see opportunity to grow in holiness in every interruption. She will count every call to gentleness over exasperation a blessing.

I, like Melanie, can very much relate to the challenge of responding to little ones with patience and gentleness. Sometimes I need to scold Cecilia for not waiting when I have told her to wait, like yesterday when it was time to pick a DVD and by not waiting for me to open the entertainment center she squished Felicity's thumb with it. At the same time, I am noticing more and more how often I tell her, "Just a minute," or "Wait a second," and she does wait very patiently and I have not been recognizing and encouraging and applauding that patience.

I am making a concentrated effort to not yell but rather talk when one of the girls does something they know they shouldn't. I've been trying to reinforce the golden rule to Cecilia though just how well a 3 year old can master the "Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you" concept is questionable. Instead of scolding her this morning when she threw a toy down and hurt Felicity's hand, I told Cecilia to look at Felicity crying and tried to emphasize that she had hurt her and she doesn't like to be hurt and then told her to hug her. Of course, Felicity didn't care much what Cecilia did as she just wanted me to hold her, but it is a beginning. Part of me is wondering if talking and maybe, in some way, guilting by tugging on those heartstrings that do love sisters and parents might be much more effective (not to mention pleasant) than yelling, scolding, etc. I don't have high blood pressure but I bet it would help me keep my peace more throughout the day as well.
It is not a weak woman who is gentle when her home is bustling with activity and several people are dependent upon her for their very existence. It is a strong woman who gathers the grace necessary to respond with goodness and gentleness and brings peace to her family. This summer, I pray for the strength to be gentle.

It is easier to blow one's top than respond calmly to chaos but responding with anger to an interruption or a problem only teaches losing one's temper. Likewise of a challenge is responding to interruptions within interruptions. When Cecilia hurt Felicity's hand this morning, I had to leave my computer and set down a nursing Elizabeth to deal with the situation. I must say Elizabeth was a real sport about it.

But I put the question to you: Does responding in any way that isn't patient and gentle ever seem to be really beneficial to anyone? You? The kids? Anyone within a 5 mile radius? Does anyone besides me notice that once you begin responding with anger, it is easier to do it again and it seems like you need to do it more often than you did before? Did the kids get worse? Or is my temper just shorter? Or both? Did responding with anger help in the long run?

I need a little monastery training in responding to God's bell when He rings it. I will say this though, with my little girls, I couldn't have chosen better teachers. It is wonderful to be taught by butterfly kisses and little arms around my neck.


  1. "once you begin responding with anger, it is easier to do it again and it seems like you need to do it more often than you did before?"

    Exactly so. I've felt like I've been caught in a downward spiral, every time I lose my temper my fuse becomes that much shorter. I began to realize I'd developed a whole bunch of bad habits and unrealistic expectations and that I needed to make a concerted effort to change. It is so hard to undo habits that have been formed, to change one's reactions.

    I do notice I'm much more likely to get frustrated and yell if I'm tired, if I'm not feeling good, if I'm hungry and if I've been slacking in other areas, like if I've putting off a housekeeping task I know I should be doing. Then suddenly I feel a need to get it done and that's competing with an immediate demand from the girls. I know if I'd just done the task in the first place the conflict wouldn't even be there. And my frustration with myself and awareness of having messed up makes my overreaction even worse not better.

    Thanks for your commiseration and I do hope you're right that things get better after the baby is born. I'm afraid that post-surgery recovery, sleep deprivation and the like may make that not so easy. Not to mention that as excited as I am to have my mom coming to help out and as necessary as her help really is as I recover, it still is very hard for me to accept help especially when it means that things don't get done my way.

  2. domesticaecclesiaJuly 2, 2009 at 8:01 AM

    I've caught myself in that same spiral ... more than once ... too many times. It is very frustrating and being upset at myself can make it just as hard to break the cycle.

    I've wondered if there are people who are better when they are tired but I am not one of them. Everything is harder, worse and more miserable when I am tired and that especially goes for myself.

    The first day I was home I had a nice hormonal emotional meltdown. Then I made a priority catching up on the sleep I missed during labor and at the hospital. (I just cannot sleep well in the hospital.) I considered that Sunday night's sleep so important I made it one of my successes for the week. By Monday I was finally feeling like I was recovering and mending from labor, birth and the sleep deprivation and it has made a world of difference. I still can't do everything I'd like to do but I'm feeling better and my spirit and temperament have improved significantly. I have never had a c-section, and I know they take longer to recover from but I think once you are on the mend and have had time to rest and sleep, you will be feeling so much better that it will be easier to remain calm even when a little one is testing your patience. I think the best thing I did since getting home was making sleep a priority. A few nights now I've gone to bed at 8:30 or 9:30 (generally I'm never in bed before 10/10:30) and it has really helped. I know you are a night owl but I bet after giving birth and a little reading in bed and you will be tired enough to get to sleep earlier than you usually do.

    I have trouble accepting help too. This time around is the first time I've had anyone besides my mom or the godparents bring us meals. Part of me really just wanted to tell these wonderful women not to trouble themselves, especially as one of them has 5 children 7 and under herself, but I've read enough great posts on blogs about accepting help and giving others the opportunity to help that I have finally felt strong enough to accept help. I think I had not long ago also read that Gospel passage about "If a thief steals your coat offer him your cloak as well" when Jesus says something like, "Give to everyone who asks of you." Certainly, no one is stealing, but if someone is asking me to allow them to help me, it resonated with me that Christ is asking me to consent.

    I've babbled but I hope not preached. Cecilia is asking to go out and play in water at 8am when it is 65 degrees so God keeps ringing a bell I can only answer by trying to distract a 3 year old against going outside yet. I have to applaud her efforts though and at least she is begging to go out rather than watch a DVD (though I've heard that request once this morning too). I think I have to consent to her request to play on the computer at this point so let me just end by saying that I think, during that 9th month, everything is just harder and while we need to try to be patient with our children, God asks us to be patient with ourselves as well. I hope the coming week gives you some rest before Benedict makes his appearance. I can't wait to see pictures!

  3. Thanks, Katherine, It's nice to just have someone to chat with a friend who has the same struggles. I've been praying about this and really focusing on it during my prayer times; but I think it has been helpful to write about it. It's hard to bring something like this up on the blog but Elizabeth Foss' article and the other pieces gave me a good entry point. Anyway, thanks again for the support.