I took a deep breath and tried to will my body to relax. Try as I might, it was not having the desired effect. My horse, Mercy was still not comfortable at all in the cross ties. I just wanted to groom her and get the mud off her coat. A simple task. All she had to do was stand still in the cross ties. Her feet shuffled from side to side, her head was up and her nostrils flared. The tense body language communicated it all, she was not happy about being confined like this.
One of the hard things about adopting a rescue is we don't always know their history. What I saw as a very simple task was not what my horse saw. She clearly did not feel safe in the cross ties. I tried for a while to train the "problem" out of her, but then decided to step back.
I stopped pressuring her to accept what she clearly communicated she could not. Instead, I started working with her in the arena without any ropes or halter. We build our relationship there. I asked her to stand still while I picked up each and every one of her feet. She had no problem with that. If she felt like it, she would simply walk away. I had to work to earn her trust and respect to allow me to complete my simple goal to clean her up from her outdoor adventures. Now, I can groom her, pick her feet and brush her tail while she either stands untied in the arena or to a hitching spot. Instead of forcing her to accept a method she did not feel safe in, I focused on our relationship and obtained my original goal: a clean horse.
I reflect on this as a Mom with two kiddos. There are days when I am so focused on the tasks that need to get done that I lose the connection. I prioritize homework, chores and getting to various events on time first. When that happens, not only am I frustrated, but my kids are pretty unhappy as well. When I forget to put the connection and relationship first, things fall apart.
It's an easy pattern to fall into. After all, that's my job as a Mom. I make sure things get done, expectations are met and schedules keep rolling. It will work for a while, till it doesn't. My kids may start to tune me out, ignore my nagging or finally explode in frustration.
In moments like this, I can choose to do one of two things. I can either come down on them even harder or I can step back, take some pressure off and look at where I lost the connection. Horses and kids aren't so different from each other. Both need to feel safe and both look to us to do that for them. For a horse, being safe means that there is a trustworthy leader to follow. The same is true for children. Yes, as mothers, we love our children, even as we are criticizing them. However, that love isn't communicated when we box them into a corner with a list of unmet expectation. Now, we are no longer a safe and dependable leader, we are an unappeasable task master.
Being a leader, being a Mom, is about connection first. It we lose the connection, the rest of the list won't matter. Humans require connection. Yes, there are still things that need to be done, but are we asking from the position of an understanding leader or a single minded project manager? Our kids need room to breathe. They need room to make mistakes. They need us to consider what they can and can't handle on their own.
I'd like to suggest that we, as mothers, can lead softly. One of the amazing things I've witnessed with my own horse is how well she responds if I just relax and ask for what I want softly. I'm not a push over and I still have some firm boundaries, but most of the time, I request things gently. The tighter I squeeze, the less room there is for growth, trust and relationship. The same is true for my kids. When I focus on the task and not my child, our trust and relationship suffers. However, if I step back and channel my energy into the relationship first, the tasks are no longer the battle they once were.
Are there times when I have to discipline a kiddo? Yes, but it's after they've had a chance to make a good choice and decided not to. Even horses will use discipline to keep each other in line. After all, they must be on the same page to survive predators. Allowing children to make mistakes and suffer the consequences is part of growing up. The question is, are we still a safe leader when we do need to discipline or do we take a bad choice personally and wound the relationship with our child?
Amazing things happen when trust, connection and relationship are the bedrock of interactions with our children. It's one of the many ways that we can show them love. Let's be the leaders that our children feel safe to follow. Let's give them the room they need to breathe, develop , and explore as they grow up into the amazing people they are designed to be. Let's be Moms who can lead softly.