Family life

The best thing I did for my family in 2012

Tracy's resolution to focus on her family this year took an unexpected turn.

By Tracy Chappell
The best thing I did for my family in 2012

I had good, but modest, intentions for the year that’s passed. I waltzed into it with curiosity, wondering what lay in wait, thinking that positivity would carry me through whatever came to face me, greet me, thwart me. Positivity is a good thing, but a hard thing to keep up every day. In some ways, there has been a lot of change in my life over the past year, yet I find myself at a place not so different than this time last year — with one pretty major exception.
My goals for the year were to focus on my health and my family. I didn’t do so well with the former, but am feeling pretty proud of where my family is standing right now. If you’ve been reading my story over the years, you’ll know that my six-year-old, Anna, is a pretty spectacular kid. Intelligent, hilarious, articulate, creative, energetic. You’ll also know that we have had our struggles, mostly surrounding Anna’s temperament, which can be explosive, unpredictable, aggressive. We call her “spirited.” We’ve read books and talked to people and scoured the Internet for help, but nothing seemed to make a lasting difference. She felt a bit like a time bomb with a constantly changing clock; we never knew if our sweet, smiling, snuggly Anna would wake up in the morning, or if it would be the one stomping her feet, throwing things and screaming about a pair of pants or her breakfast selections.
To make a long story short, we got help from our regional children’s centre. Help took the form of a wonderful woman, I’ll call her Mary, who came to our home once a week for about an hour. Mary worked with Anna, doing different games and play-based strategies to help her recognize and understand what her rising “volcano” felt like inside, and what she could do to calm herself down before it erupted. She worked with her on social issues (another area Anna often struggles with), using scenario-based conversation and role-play to help Anna think differently about compromise and respecting personal space. Anna adored Mary, who showed her such kindness and tenderness and understood her in a way that not many others have — certainly not many adults.
We adored Mary, too. Because Mary wasn’t just here for Anna, but to show us ways to understand our daughter better and find more effective parenting strategies to help us all — our four-year-old, Avery, included — have a happier home life. Because the program lasted six months, we were able to discuss exact examples of what was happening here, rather than trying to match our life to examples in books. We could try things out and, if they didn’t have the expected impact, talk about it the next week and figure out a new approach. Mary was always on “our side,” reminding us that we were putting an incredible amount of effort into our parenting, doing an amazing job, and that we needed to give ourselves a break — emotionally and physically — on a regular basis. 
So Anna wasn’t the only one who sprinted to the door when Mary rang the bell. We all saw in her a beautiful, unifying, hopeful presence reminding us that even though there was no magic wand to make all the problems go away, they weren’t insurmountable. Over time, and with consistency and persistence, Mary assured us that things would get better.
And she was right. I wrote in the summertime that I felt a calm had settled over Anna in a way I’d never seen. Again, over the fall, I’ve seen her grow more mature, thriving at school, getting along better with her sister, and showing more respect for our rules and requests. She certainly still has her outbursts and freak-outs and days she seems angry at the world, but those moods don’t last for weeks anymore. And best of all, we recognize them as phases that will pass, and can sometimes even prevent an eruption when we sense a volcano boiling under the surface.
It wasn’t hard to reach out for help when I realized it was available; I knew we needed it. But I did find it hard to admit to others that we had a counselor coming to our home once a week. At first. Now, I don’t feel any embarrassment — I’m more excited to share what we’ve learned when I hear someone else struggling. Because we all have struggles, and that doesn’t mean we’re “bad” parents, or have “bad” kids.
When I wrote at this time last year that my focus for 2012 was going to be on my family, I didn’t know it would take this road or lead to this place, but we are so much happier today and I’ll be forever grateful that we made that phone call. It sounds so simplistic, but just being able to pick up Anna at the end of the day and knowing I’ll get a smile, a big hug and happy chatter about her day, is pretty life changing.
I guess that leaves focusing on my health for the year ahead? Blah! And I’m turning 40! But I’m really at the point where, no matter what comes this year, I’m feeling stronger and more confident to face it. Bring it on, 2013.
Time to pat yourself on the back: What was your biggest accomplishment of 2012?

This article was originally published on Dec 31, 2012

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