A parent’s self care is often a missing piece in parenting advice. We need to be as loving and respectful to ourselves as we are with our children. Therefore, when addressing whining and complaining, we must strike a balance between attending to underlying feelings AND setting loving boundaries to avoid negative behavior and communication patterns.
Awhile back, my son was coming home grumpy everyday. Knowing that underneath his complaining/whining were real feelings needing to be expressed, I would often take a deep breath and try to get through the grouchy hump, back to connection with my sweet boy.
Some days it would work, and other days, his whining and complaining (that there is no playdate scheduled, that I didn’t bring a junk snack ,that I am not letting him tune out to tv or video games), would affect me so deeply that after 10 minutes, I was grumpy and unable to be lovingly present with him.
Recently, I recognized that allowing him to decompress by complaining was chipping away at my heart, and allowing him to develop a damaging and unproductive habit. Remembering, (as I always reassure my clients) that compassion turned inward, unfailingly results in a more loving connection with my children, I connected within and explored what taking care of myself AND loving my son would look like.
Here are some steps we took in our home…
-Maintain Boundaries with Love:
Whining/complaining often happens because we have unwittingly reinforced it by not maintaining firm boundaries. I told my children, that allowing them to whine and complain to me was not only draining my energy, it was hurting my heart because it felt uncaring. I reconnected to my inner knowing that the rules they’ve been complaining about, are rules that I have established with great consciousness and love for them (i.e. no junk food, tv, excessive peer stimulation, chaotic schedules). I acknowledged that I may have confused them by being wishy washy at times and that I would be recommitting to our loving boundaries.
By setting loving boundaries, we hold invaluable space for our children to return to self-connection and connection with us, even as their impulses want to drive them outward to cheap thrills. This is holy and integral work in this day and age. Being self-loving means we do not need to apologize for it, engage in lengthy explanations, try to persuade our children or field excessive complaints. We simply set loving boundaries that are truly in our children’s best interest and stick to them.
-Explore the Issue with COMPASSION for Yourself and Your Child:
Setting the intention to be open to learning about this situation, I explored the issue with my son. A key here was that he knew I had made my decision to no longer field the whining/complaining…so he did not resist and we had a heart to heart conversation. When children sense our underlying desire to change their behavior, i.e. control them, they unconsciously resist by being defensive. This is why focusing on our own self-care is helpful. When we are clear on what we will do to take care of ourselves, regardless of what another does/says, then the other is free of trying to resist being controlled, and is generally more open to problem solving.
My son is eight and understood how hurtful for both of us the situation had become. He recognized that although he wants to reconnect with our family, he feels very pulled toward his friends. (Gordon Neufeld has a lot to say about why this happens). I listened and validated. I let him know that I also deeply want for us to connect…and from this open-hearted space we looked at solutions.
I shared that, to have compassion for myself, I would simply not engage if he were whining and complaining about rules or at my expense. We discussed that a compassionate approach for him may mean some quiet or “down time” at first, whatever he needed to decompress…and I would be available to talk, listen or simply offer a hug…when he was ready.
Prepare to be Present-
By setting limits on complaining, we give children the opportunity to access the underlying authentic feelings that they need to discharge. Often we let whining/complaining persist by responding to it (“Oh, okay, just this one show”) because we want to avoid the “meltdown”, but in fact our children often simply need to “melt down” from the stresses of the day.
Being self-loving here means that we commit to taking good care of ourselves and getting the help we need, so we can be present for our children’s authentic emotions. This includes a conscious recommitment to basic self care: eating well, exercising, getting rest, journaling, whatever helps us feel whole or filled up. Often, this also means getting special support around the challenging situation.
I asked a friend to listen while I expressed my feelings of disappointment and connected within, asking “What do I need to do to take care of myself in the face of complaining?” I realized that along with setting limits, I needed to honor myself. An affirmation for me became, “Even if they become upset, I am a loving mother.” Reconnecting to this truth, allowed me to open more fully to being an empathic container for my children’s upset.
Explore the Power of Complaint Free Living-
This conversation caused me to dig out my ‘Complaint Free Contract.’ Having a Complaint Free Contract is a way to consciously set limits on the ways our wounded self/ego mind sabotages our happiness. We commit to giving up: complaining, criticizing, gossiping and whining. This is another way to say that we essentially commit to taking personal responsibility for our life because ‘what we think on grows’. It was not serving my son to support him in a daily habit of disempowering complaining. And it was not serving me to simply complain about the situation either. Letting go of complaining for both of us, meant that we focused on what we DO want.
I let my son know I would like to hear any ideas he had about what would make our home feel more relaxing or fun. More importantly, I focused on MY vision for a peaceful home with clear communication and empathic emotional support. I envisioned how good it would feel to transition from school to home, with love and respect for each of us, and opened to ideas on how to make this happen.
When we focus on “the problem” we feel heavy and our children feel controlled. Complaint free self-care reminds us to focus on our own happiness, asking “What do I need to do to feel happy in this moment?” By remembering my power to impact my end, I felt lighter about the whole situation, which allowed me to approach it with more peace. And by making my own shift, I modeled for my son how to make his.
The day after making these changes, my son came running up to me afterschool, bright and cheery, “Hi mommy! Hi baby! (to his 5 month old brother)” and launched right into telling me about his day. Breathtaking. Transformation.
Free of the habit of negativity (unwittingly reinforced by me), my sunny and effusively loving boy was shining before me.