I read somewhere that kids go through phases of equilibrium and disequilibrium that tend to run in six-month cycles. Last summer when DD turned 3, I was really thrown off guard. New behaviours came as a shock, my usual bag of tricks were not working, and for a while I faltered. It was a very difficult adjustment, and probably the first time as a parent that I’d truly fallen “off the wagon”. Not because I doubted my philosophy, but because I had run out of tools and resorted to knee-jerk parenting techniques like yelling, scolding, and various punitive actions that left me with feelings of guilt and self-loathing that just perpetuated the cycle of poor parenting.
But eventually I picked myself back up, reminded myself of the First Rule of Gentle Discipline: when children are at their worst, that is when they need you the most. The worse the behaviour, the more they need to be responded to with love, empathy, and an unconditional prescence. And I found some new tools that worked, and after a while things were running much more smoothly. It was around November I think I woke up one day and realized that things were “normal” again.
And just lately I have been noticing new behaviours from DD that are wonderful to see. I’m truly enjoying being around her, and taking a great deal of pleasure in her company lately. This is such a difference from how I felt last summer, when I actually began to dislike being with her. That was a very difficult feeling to handle as a mother. You love your child, but then suddenly you don’t like them. I now recognize where that was coming from, but having gone through that makes this current stage even more precious to me. Now that I’m also doing the SAHM thing alone for long days during the week, I’m noticing even more how smoothly our days go, and how little conflict arises between DD and I.
Children change so much in these early years. Just when you have them figured out and know how to handle virtually any situation successfully, they up and change the rules. Finding new tools can be challenging. For a brief while you feel a bit lost and lack confidence in your parenting. But then you hit on a few great ideas and these work and then you use these as a starting point for creating new solutions. And, of course, as the child gets older they can become more and more involved in solving problems. I’m still often surprised by how I can ask DD for suggestions or solutions to a situation that I see having no happy ending, and she’ll come up with a very reasonable and workable solution that makes her happy and stays within my own boundaries. These are particularly rewarding, because I can see that DD is actually *learning from my discipline, she is learning problem-solving skills and acting from an internal motivation, rather than from an external punishment/reward mentality.
I’m also still working on the setting limits thing, though I’d say it’s going well. It’s hard sometimes to stand my ground when she initiates a strong reaction to a limit, but I’m constantly amazed at how well she weathers it and how well she comes through it at the end, so it’s becoming easier to have faith and let her discover that she can make the move from frustration to futility and ultimately, acceptance. Definitely good Life Lessons at work here!
So I figure we have until summer, when she turns 4, and then we might find ourselves heading into another period of “disequilibrium”. But having successfully weathered the last one that really took me off guard, I’m prepared for it this time. And so I think I’ll handle it without losing sight of my parenting goals. It’s a real feeling of accomplishment for me, and for DD. And just cements my faith even more in the way we’re parenting our children.