Image courtesy of The Guardian
I was recently talking with one of my favorite mom-friends about what we wish we were better at as parents. This particular mom is one that I highly admire and, quite frankly, wish I were more like that majority of the time I’m talking with her. Within this conversation, she confided in me that she has to make a point to not hit her daughter. She was raised in a household where hitting was the norm, so it is her first reaction. She said she has only done it twice (and very minor offenses at that), but she feels incredibly guilty about both of the incidences. As she was saying all this I wasn’t shocked or appalled, but rather I could see the genuine love that she had for her daughter in her active attempt to change herself. She knew that was not how she wanted to parent, so she made the effort to change.
I think that’s what matters–the effort. We all make mistakes. I know that’s such a clique about parenting, but it’s very true. No parent is perfect and I would say a lot of us are frequently awful. I wouldn’t say a lot of parents are always awful, but from a day to day basis, I certainly have had more than my share of days where I am just, simply put, an awful parent. Or maybe it’s just that moment where I do something that is so horrendous to me that I want to quite literally punish myself for doing it. Like once when Peanut was less than 2 and I threw her onto the bed. Yes, it was onto a soft bed and she wasn’t even the slightest injured, but the hurt in her eyes afterwards at her mama reacting violently at her made me burst into tears.
I have to keep reminding myself that it’s the effort to change that matters. If we have ideals and are working towards them, our children will see that. My problem is when I get caught up in life and stop working towards my ideals.
Such is the case in time outs.
When Peanut was younger, we didn’t do time out. Rather, we did time in (I can’t find the original article I read that explained it more thoroughly, but this one explains it well enough). For a long time, she thrived on it. We would go to a chair or corner and she would sit on my lap and we’d talk about what was wrong with our behavior. We’d always end in a hug and she’s run away happily playing. Somehow over time, time in became a punishment (don’t do that or we’re going to have to go to time in) and I’m not sure how exactly my mind switched over. I honestly hate the whole “Don’t do this or this will happen” line anyway, so why did I start using it? Why do I continue to use it?
Eventually, we moved away from the time in idea. I’m not quite sure why, but I started sending my, at that time around 18 month old daughter, to her room. I think I justified it in saying that she was just overwhelmed and needed to be removed from the situation. Originally she went willingly and would close the door. Less than a minute later she’d ask me if she could come out and I would respond by asking her if she was going to do whatever behavior she was sent for again. In the beginning she didn’t even realize that she was supposed to answer no, but rather told me yes, possibly because the positive word seemed to her like what I wanted to hear.
I realized at that point that I didn’t like what I was doing. I tried to change and we would try different strategies for a while, but somehow revert back to it. Now, a year later, we not only send her to her room, but she’s screaming crying as she goes. She has even been crying so hard that she can’t figure out how to open the door again and thinks she’s locked in. She starts to panic and I have to come save her. How did I get to this point? This is not how I wanted to parent.
So, even though I’ve tried it in the past and still reverted, I’m going to try to stop. I don’t like who I am when I take my love and physical presence from my child as a form of punishment. I don’t like how I make her feel and how I feel every time I do it. I am going to make an active effort to change. I am going to try to change my habits before Twig comes so I can have a different default to fall back on when things go downhill.
Here’s my game plan:
1. Say “yes” more. A big reason that she ends up being sent to her room is because of hitting. I’ve found out that she hits me when she’s frustrated because I’ve told her she can’t do something. Not only am I going to try talking to her about why it’s not nice to hit (which I do now, but I’m going to do it to a greater extent), but I’m going to try to stop saying no as much so we don’t get into the situation to begin with. Just because she’s older doesn’t mean I can’t redirect her attention. Just because I’m stressed or trying to do other things doesn’t mean that whatever little, slightly annoying thing she’s doing is bad. Why do I care if my child dances on the coffee table? She’s not doing any harm.
2. Talk more. As I just said, I’m going to try to talk to her more. Rather than “If you do that again…” talk, I’m going to ask “Why did you do…” and tell her “It makes me feel ____ when you…” I don’t want every little thing to be a consequence. Along the same line, I don’t want to count at my daughter anymore. I don’t want her only to stop hitting me or doing something that can injure herself because I got to three.
3. Listen more. Not just listen, but just give her my attention more. It’s difficult when I’m in the middle of the semester and I feel like I have a billion things to do (not to mention actually getting some me-time in) and she’s wanting my attention too. When she’s starting to frustrate me because she’s doing something while I’m trying to concentrate on a blog post, I need to just close the computer and walk away. When she’s chasing the cat screaming at it (and scaring the cat to death), I need to put down my knitting and go play with her. I’m stressed because of my lack of time to do all the things I want/need to do and so is she. I need to remember that it’s hard on her too when I have so many things to do and she isn’t getting enough attention.
4. Involve her more in what I’m doing. Obviously I can’t do this for blogging or homework, but I can easily involve her in housework. She loves to help me with laundry. I also need to remind myself while she’s helping that if she doesn’t do something right, it’s okay. Or if she’s suddenly decides it’s more fun to throw the laundry rather than fold it, maybe it’s time to do something else. The laundry isn’t going to go bad if it sits on the floor half-folded for a while. I also need to avoid using the punishment voice to get her to let me finish the thing I’m doing (for some reason she’s devastated if I tell her that we have to stop laundry because of her, even if she doesn’t want to do the laundry).
5. Stop using “the voice” in general. I’m all about my child understanding the natural consequences in life, but I don’t need to make unnatural consequences to get her to comply. I noticed something that a (different than the earlier) friend does when talking to her son. She automatically goes into a happy voice, even when he’s done something wrong. She never speaks to him like he’s a “bad boy” as I often do with Peanut. When I want her to comply I start using this voice with her that sounds so condescending it makes me want to pull my hair out “Well if we keep doing such-and-such-thing, we can’t do other-such-and-such-thing.” No. More. Of. That.
6. Stop bribing good behavior. I have never been comfortable with the idea of bribes for children. It’s just another form of making unnatural consequences to get a child to comply. Regardless of my ideals, I still told Peanut a few weeks ago when we were shopping for maternity pants and she wouldn’t stay with us that she would get a cookie only if she behaved. She didn’t behave and therefore didn’t get a cookie. Of course she was upset. Rather, I should have realized that maybe that day was not the best one to take my child to the mall looking for pants. Why is it so difficult to realize that a stupid thing like buying pants can be put on hold until tomorrow?
7. Look at her needs first. I’ve noticed that every evening right around when my husband is getting home, Peanut starts getting super whiny and particularly defiant. Part of this is not something I can improve right now (her naptime at presschool is way too early in my opinion and she is a much happier child when she naps 2 hours later, which we will do when she’s out of preschool in December), but part of it is that she’s hungry. I need to remember this and feed her a late snack a couple of hours before then to tide her over while dinner is being made. Things like this must be considered when dealing with a toddler. If your child hasn’t had a nap, it’s going to be a more rough night, so A. realize that and work knowing the cause and, B. try to get them the nap in the first place.
So that’s my plan for now. I’m going to make an active effort to change my habits and make my personal parenting more in line with my ideals. Yes, there will be times when I revert. This is a natural part of changing a habit and I shouldn’t stop trying just because I reverted back once. I will continue trying. I will do my best to be the parent I want to be.
Do you have an parenting habits that you’d like to change? What do you do to work towards your parenting ideals? Any ideas for alternatives to the ways I’ve been parenting?