This morning I got into a fight with my 3 year old daughter. In a few days, I might not remember what we fought about specifically. In a few weeks, I very likely won’t remember. 30 years from now it will just blend into the general memory of the challenge of getting out of the house on time with 2 small children and trying hard not to scream, cry, or both.
It’s almost always a forgettable fight. 3 year olds are notoriously unpredictable, so anything can trigger a nuclear meltdown.
Let me be clear about 3 things:
I intensely dislike yelling at my 3 year old.
I tend to believe rules are made to be broken.
So does my 3 year old.
It’s an explosive combination.
After apologizing and telling her I would keep trying to be a better mommy and yell less, I dropped Milly and her brother off with a friend of mine who said she’d happily pinch-hit-babysit for us with her 2 teenage sons.
When we arrived, Milly started to cower in fear behind me. My friend and her sons are tall, but so is Milly’s dad. She clung to me tightly as I picked her up and carried her inside. She begged me not to leave and was screaming for me as I walked out the door. I know part of it was that she was in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people. Part of it was that we had just fought and now I was leaving her and she didn’t have enough resolution to make her feel safe.
When I left, she was wailing, with tears streaking down her little face. I felt guilty for our fight before dropping her off. I felt awful about leaving her in tears, even though I knew that within minutes of me leaving, she’d probably recover and rebound and play happily.
I also thought it was interesting that Milly wanted so badly to stay with me even though we’d just had a mommy-threenager battle.
We, as people do this, though.
We cling to things tightly even when those things don’t make us feel so good.
We cling to them because they are familiar and comfortable and predictable.
Stepping into the unknown is unappealing because it is unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and unpredictable.
This is why so many people have difficulty changing unpleasant and unhealthy habits.
This isn’t a perfect metaphor. I do want my daughter to cling to me. I want her to know that she can come to me for comfort, even though we might argue or yell or make one another feel awful sometimes. I want her to know that I might leave, but I will always come back. I want her to hold on tightly to the knowledge that I will love her forever and always.
I also want her to learn that she can un-tether herself from me slowly and safely over time.
I’ve seen this kind of clinging in other situations.
I know yoga students who cling to injuries that have long since healed and are so afraid of re-injury that they avoid certain poses out of fear. And while I believe fear of re-injury is valid, we also have to slowly un-tether ourselves from the fear if we want to get stronger.
I’ve seen this when it comes to changing undesirable habits and patterns, too. I know mamas who desperately want to feel good in their bodies, but can’t stop snacking late at night even when they aren’t hungry or struggle to create the time to exercise.
Making changes is tough.
Staying the same is easy.
Almost no one I’ve worked with has said, “I love snacking on junk food late at night in secret. It makes me feel really good. I can’t wait to do it again tomorrow!”
And yet, it’s a tough habit to shift because it’s easier to keep eating junk food at night than figuring out why we have that behavior in the first place and what to replace it with.
So by default, we stick with the familiar yucky feeling instead of doing the work to release ourselves, slowly, from what we know, even though it will make us feel better.
Like Milly clinging to me, even after we fought, instead of happily going off to the babysitter.
Again, this is an imperfect metaphor – Milly was clingy for lots of reasons and I did want her to know I loved her and would absolutely come back to pick her up even though we had a fight.
I do think it’s a reminder of our unwillingness to let go of something unpleasant, even when we have an opportunity to experience something healthier and more enjoyable.
If you find yourself in a similar situation with an old unsupportive habit, ask yourself these 4 questions:
1. What are you really clinging to?
2. What is your ultimate goal?
3. What are you choosing to prioritize? Is it helping you move towards your goal or is it helping you stay stuck?
4. What is one simple way you can un-tether yourself just a little bit? What will help you create a healthier behavior in service of your goal?
When I was teaching my class, my friend sent me multiple videos and photos of Milly happily playing just 5 minutes after I left. I was relieved. When I returned to pick her up, Milly came running to me. She was happy to see me and ready to come home.
Maybe it’s not Milly who needs to untether. I know she will naturally as she gets older. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I need to release myself from some not-so-wonderful habits around anger, frustration, and preparedness, so getting out of the house is smoother and we fight less.
Since I’m the one who has the awareness and the tools, I’m the one who needs to step away from the unhelpful behaviors and habits. I’m the one who needs to step towards the relationship I want to have with my daughter, myself, and our time together.