Problem solving and focusing on what I can control in circumstances largely out of my control

I’m the type of person who sees a silverfish-in-the-house type of problem and launches a set-silverfish-traps-in-every-room-vacuum-every-hour-then-drench-the-house-in-gasoline-and-light-a-match attack. Took care of that problem. And how.

In other words, when something concerns me, I want intervention that yields powerful and fast results. I will research the problem online, identify all possible causes, gather solutions from the nuclear to the homeopathic, and then attack that problem with such focused ferocity that it wouldn’t dare show its face here again. I won’t lie.. sometimes this works for me. There’s a reason, after all, why I have developed a habit of doing this.

And then I became a mom.

As a parent, I assume my children’s problems as my own. Their wellbeing is my top priority. Coming up on four years of parenting experience, I’m starting to realize that my go-to problem-solving approach may not be the best. If I put myself in their shoes, having their problems attacked aggressively or from all angles could be really scary. Being scared is not an ideal state for cooperation.

Start with me. This is my 2023 focus phrase and on day four of this year, I’m already being tested… erm, given the opportunity to practice.

My almost 4-year-old has been feeling miserable these last four days with a fluctuating fever up to 103.5 among other symptoms of illness. On top of whatever virus he has, he’s very constipated. Since he spends most of the week at daycare, I can’t even say for certain when the last time was he had a bowel movement but it was sometime between 6 and 10 days ago. Yikes.

I’ve spoken with a nurse from his doctor’s office, pushed fluids, added stool softener to these fluids (per nurse instruction), pushed fibrous and hydrating foods, sat him on the toilet immediately following meals, added lubrication, encouraged active movement, massaged his abdomen, tried a warm bath (this backfired with his fever returning with a vengeance), described how much better he’ll feel afterwards, and detailed what will have to happen if he doesn’t get relief.

To show for my efforts, I have an unhappy kid who is not drinking as much as I’d like, not finishing the recommended dose of stool softener, crying and protesting, in pain, and still stopped up. I can overpower a small colony of silverfish but there is no forcing a three year old to do what he doesn’t want to do.

Start with me. What can I do?

  • Focus on the present
    • Calm my own anxiety by focusing on the current situation rather than what might have to happen if this isn’t resolved soon
    • Instead of scaring my child with the undesirable next steps, say nothing
  • Make room for joy
    • Hide constipating foods from my child’s view so he’s less likely to desire or ask for them
    • Offer constipation-relieving foods that he loves such as grapes, berries, popsicles
    • Make drinking water more inviting with a fun cup, silly straw or frozen fruit “ice”
    • Encourage playful physical activity
    • Play soothing music, read a book or add screen time while he’s on the toilet
  • Invite connection and collaboration
    • Remind myself: it’s my child and me vs. the constipation, not me vs. my child
    • Ask him to drink water with me
    • Join in physical play with him
    • Instead of making demands of my child, ask him what he needs
    • Trust my child is already doing the best he can
    • Admit we need help — Schedule a doctor visit
  • Let go of all things beyond my control
    • I can’t control how my child or his body responds
    • I’m doing the best I can. If it doesn’t yield the results I was hoping for, that does not make me a failure or a bad parent.

Ok, I’ve got to say, I am pleasantly surprised with how many positive action ideas my little focus rubric helped me to come up with. I feel much better about these steps than what I’ve been doing, which has been causing both myself and my child anxiety. Now to put it to action. Well wishes appreciated. I’ll let you know how it goes, assuming all of this potty talk hasn’t scared you away. I’m keeping it real, folks. (And for any especially concerned citizens, know that I’ve already swallowed my pride / faced my fear and scheduled a doctor appointment for a few hours from now.)

Update on 1/5/23: We have success!

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