By Guest Writer Angelina Berlin
I am the blessed mother of a lovely, fun, and boundary-pushing two year old, Honor. My husband often reminds me that as a two year old, Honor’s job is to push boundaries. She is learning from us what is a yes and what is a no, what is it like our people to do in situations. It’s a glorious and tough part of this age.
Sometimes Honor pushing boundaries can act as an immediate switch for my relational circuits going off. To stay in relational mode, I try to avoid triggering situations when Honor or I are hungry or tired. I’ve added to avoid situations when I am feeling rushed because as the clock ticks, my anxiety rises, and my relational circuits are short fused.
Recently while living abroad in France, I decided to take Honor on a walk to a local outdoor shopping area. It was after her nap, so she was well rested, and we had about 2 hours before I needed to have dinner prepared. As we were wandering around the market, Honor saw a little girl eating an ice-cream cone with her mama. Honor was enamored. She stood right in front of the little girl, watching her enjoy her cone. After several minutes, I began to feel embarrassed and anxious; my muscles tightened, my teeth clenched, and I began to tell Honor we needed to go. My anxiety increased as she shrugged me off and moved closer to the girl. With each passing minute, I felt more uncomfortable and angry. I repeatedly said, “Honor, we need to go now. It’s time to go cook dinner for Dada”. But she wouldn’t budge.
Around this time, Honor got up on the bench next to the little girl. It was like God knew I needed a new perspective, a new vantage point from which to see my little girl’s joy. There she was, looking up at me, beaming with joy, sitting next to a little girl whose language she did not share, but whom she was so glad to be with. And in that moment, my heart softened and I saw what she was needing. She needed me to share the joy moment with her. She needed me to see and acknowledge her joy. I started doing some exercises to shalom my body. After several repetitions, I felt my relational circuits warm up and I was ready to engage Honor in a way that could build our connection.
When I am in this kind of situation, because they happen often in their various forms, my plans being altered with a toddler who “can’t keep up”, it’s like me to repair my relational circuits when they go offline. I’ve caught myself wanting to pinch my daughter, the way I was pinched, I’ve raised my voice, and sadly, I have shamed my girl at times. That’s not what it’s like me and my people to do. But I’ve done them, because that’s what I’ve seen modeled. My goal is to keep strengthening healthier ways of interacting, including turning on my relational circuits and repairing them with my girl when I don’t.
Sometimes the repair is sharing the disappointment that there wasn’t time for the joy to go on as our little one wanted or repairing that we fell out of relational mode in the midst of the disappointment. It can be the attunement that says, “I know you’re really sad right now, and I’m so glad I get to be here with you to share your sadness”. This concept of repair has meant so much to me in this second year of her life. Many times I have experienced shame for the way I’ve let my girl down by not acting like myself, but then I am reminded that to model repairing connections for Honor is a great gift to my girl.
Learn more about relational circuits at: https://thrivetoday.org/skill0/