In my days before momming, I was a therapist who worked primarily with children. As a licensed social worker, I learned and practiced many key skills that I often find myself using as a mom (bonus!) One of those skills I have been thinking about a lot lately is “reframing” because the frame I was choosing for my children wasn’t always a positive one. Dusting off my copy of The Social Work Dictionary and I find that reframing can be defined as,
A technique used by therapists to help families (and individuals) understand a symptom or pattern of behavior by seeing it in a different context (Barker, 2003).
You may be thinking … that’s just fancy talk for “looking through rose colored glasses” or “turning a negative into a positive”.
But it’s so much more than that.
My son was a naturally happy baby. His cries were usually easy to figure out and quickly ended once his need was taken care of. He loved playing on the floor and as long as he could hear my voice, he was happy-go-lucky. Even now as a toddler, the majority of the time he is pretty darn happy.
Then my daughter entered the world and she brought with her a whole new world of parenting. She voices her discontent quite loudly, her smiles are harder to come by and she wants mom’s constant attention. After a couple of particularly hard weeks, I found myself saying (a lot) “she’s so fussy!” “why can’t she just be happy?!” “I never get a break from her!”. Eventually, I started feeling that inner voice telling me to rethink what I was saying. To change my frame.
Did I want my language to start defining the personality of my daughter?
Was she going to be “the fussy one” or “just never happy”? Of course I didn’t want to put those labels on her. I’m not pretending that her temperament is rainbows and butterflies, but it certainly doesn’t warrant a mom who constantly speaks negatively about her.
This is when I started thinking about reframing. About understanding her pattern of behavior in a different context. I began to remember that when it was just my son, I had all the time in the world to play with him, hold him, snuggle him till he got sick of it. I wasn’t chasing another child around. He had my utter devotion.
By default, my daughter doesn’t get much if any of this quality time. Her brother is banging around the house and often, crashing into her as well.
What I was seeing as fussy was perhaps just my daughter wanting that same devotion her brother enjoyed.
Perhaps her need to be held so much is just an extension of her social nature and a desire for a close relationship. Now, instead of getting frustrated with her, I try to stop and assess her needs in the proper context. And usually that means strapping her in my Ergo so she can get quality time and I can still go about my day.
I have a feeling I will often need to reframe my thoughts and words towards my children as they continue to grow and change. Parenting is hard and I don’t often win the day, but the frame we choose to view our children through is powerful. I challenge you to take stock of the words you speak about and toward your children. Are you seeing their behavior in the correct context? Do your children have strengths and positive qualities that you often overlook?