So a couple of years ago, I was a bit less annoyed by my son in general — it’s hard to be mad when he’s just learning to walk and talk and he’s just so damn cute all the time. We didn’t have ‘terrible twos’. But one thing he did do all the time was cry, and his crying used to irritate me to no end. Then, my wife — reading Nurture Shock again, if I recall correctly — found this amazing paragraph.
To summarize, it said “When your kids cry, it’s almost always a good thing. If they’re crying because you’re leaving (or stopping) an activity, it shows that they’re sad to be stopping — which means they’ll want to do it again. If you keep at something until they’ve had their fill and they don’t cry when you leave, they won’t be as inclined to come back in the near future.”
She read me those words, and instantly, my entire perspective on my son’s crying changed completely. Suddenly, the sound of his crying — as strange as this sounds — was sweet to my ears. He hurt himself and he’s crying? That means that he wants my attention, which means he loves me and thinks of me as the guy who makes things better. He’s crying because he’s not getting his way? That means that he’s learning how to cope with not getting his way.
I wouldn’t ever say that my son’s crying is something I want to hear, but I can at least say that understanding crying as something other than whining whininess has made it much, much easier to not get annoyed by. My ability to deal with my child during times of stress and pain has improved 1000% because of that simple revelation.
That’s the power of a paradigm shift: it can turn something you despise into something you not only can get along with, but actually look forward to. We took my son to the playground today after church, and as we pulled away, I thought, “Oh, no — my son’s not crying yet! This isn’t good!”
Then, when the waterworks started, I sat back in my chair, satisfied. Mission accomplished: he’ll want to come back next week. Completely 180 degrees opposite of how I would have felt without that single revelation changing my perspective.
Similarly, since my son told me on Wednesday that he didn’t want to bring me home from Trader Joe’s because I yelled all the time, I haven’t yelled. Not once. Not at him, not at my wife. She mentions it at least once every few hours, usually pointing out how much less stressed out she is now that I’m not a yeller.
All it takes is that single moment — that paradigm shift that takes you from (in my case) “It’s OK to yell because it’s the only way to get my son’s attention” to “It’s not OK to yell because my son doesn’t want me in his life when I yell.” Emotional trauma induced, personal revelation revealed, paradigm shifted, behavior changed. Life moving on better than before.
It took me months of my wife telling me to stop thumping my son’s noggin before we had the argument that made it sink in. I’m not going to be that recalcitrant again: I know that there are lessons to be learned, and I’m determined to learn them the moment I figure out what they are.
Because seriously, this is my kid I’m talking about — there’s no part of my personality or habits that’s more important than his well being, period.