Monday, February 06, 2012
Those small victories
I recently had one of those moments as a parent where I felt truly proud of myself, like I actually might have some clue of what I'm doing here. These moments are rare-- in fact, I'm not sure I can recall any other moment that felt this clear to me.
Yes, in the grand scheme of things I think I'm a pretty ok parent. Good, even. But in the day-to-day dealings of tantrums and discipline and all those tiny decisions that feel so huge in the moment, I usually feel utterly clueless. I wish I had a crystal ball to show me whether a particular decision will work out or turn out disastrously. And every time I feel like I'm figuring out my footing, the path changes. And as it turns out, navigating through life with a four year old is different from a three year old, is different from a two year old, and even your first one year old from your second. It feels like this constant game of making "educated guesses" as to what's the right thing to do when, and often second-guessing those guesses, and often not being able to see the true outcome of your choices for a long time yet.
So. When I had this one moment of clarity and even pride in myself as a parent, I felt it was worth recording, if nothing else to remind myself that yes, they do exist, and who knows maybe over time I'll experience more of them.
I (more or less) practice a form of discipline that many people call "gentle discipline" or "non-punitive parenting." I know this can be a controversial topic, and I don't want this to become a discipline debate post. Basically, I've never liked spanking, and even time-outs to me don't seem that appealing-- in part because I look at D and both our temperaments and I feel fairly certain that trying to force him to sit in a corner for a prescribed number of minutes would only escalate any conflict, while I'm often able to dissipate the situation using gentler methods and use simple, clear reasoning with him afterwards. So far this has worked pretty well, honestly. But every so often I'm faced with a problem where I wonder if I need to re-think all of this.
Last week D was in a needy, clingy, moody state a lot of the time. As part of this, he was less able to deal with even minor irritations and so ended up hitting or pushing Quinn more than usual. He never got close to seriously hurting him, but still it was alarming. What made it worse is that each time he did it, I swear he immediately knew he'd done something he regretted, which made him feel bad and get defensive and just devolve into worse behavior. He'd get mad at me for reminding him that hitting is not ok, when I could tell he was mad at both me for reminding him but also himself for doing it.
So after one particularly bad encounter where he and I both ended up yelling at each other and I told him to go upstairs and I felt so angry, and so lost. I just didn't know what to do, how to handle this situation. I figured it was a phase, a mood that would pass, but still I needed some way to deal with it as it happened. Maybe I should use time-outs after all? (though, again, I'm pretty sure they just wouldn't work for us) I wondered about asking for advice online, except I felt pretty sure I knew the advice I'd get back. So I kept thinking, and wondering, and racking my brain trying to figure something out.
About 10 minutes later he came back down again, and I asked him to sit with me for a minute. At first he started to whine and fight me, but I said, "I'm not going to get mad and I'm not going to yell. I just want to talk to you." That calmed him down, and he willingly curled up in my lap as we talked. I mentioned how annoying and frustrating little brothers can be. He told me a few ways that Quinn upsets him. We talked about how it's ok and normal to sometimes like your brother, and other times really dislike him, and to even get really angry with him. How it probably feels good to hit him when you're mad, even if at the same time it also feels bad.
Then I said, "As your mom part of my job is to keep you safe. And as Quinn's mom, part of my job is to keep Quinn safe. I just as I won't let others hit you or hurt you, I can't let you hurt Quinn. It's ok to get mad at him, but it's not ok to hit him." We also talked about what we can both do to help prevent the hitting-- how to help him not get to that point of anger, what to do instead of hitting, and I promised to be more watchful and step in more quickly when Donovan tries to voice his frustration or asks for some space.
It was just a few minutes, but I could tell we both felt a lot better after that small chat. He was happy and cooperative the rest of the evening. And I felt like I had won a battle. Except we had both won, there was no loser. I realize that's certainly not the end of that issue (though the hitting has been much better since then). As D gets older I'm seeing glimpses of issues we'll deal with in the future, ones that frighten me and will no doubt leave me questioning our whole parenting approach over and over again, as we try to figure out what's ok and what's not ok, what we can try to change and what we even have control over.
But I felt really proud of myself for coming up with an approach that I could feel good about, that felt good for both of us, even if it was just in that moment.