Two days ago we met up with another homelearning family for a walk in the forest. The 1 km trail led to a river where we rested, picnicked, and watched the kids play in the water. We ended up staying in the park for over 4 hours. Overall it was a lovely day, but there were “moments” with my kids (the photo above is of Daughter with her new “7 going on 15” look of defiance), one of which in particular was a much needed reminder of the importance of responding to our children with love.
The other mom, E, is a new friend. We’re in the same homelearning program and our kids get along well. I met her through Mothering.com and so she comes from the same background as me with respect to discipline, child-rearing, lifestyle, etc.
E and I are relatively new friends: we live far apart so can’t get together as often as I’d like, but I am very much enjoying our get-togethers. There’s nothing like trying to start up a friendship with another parent when your children decide to behave like…well, like children do from time to time. The other parent is thinking “thank god I’m not the only one whose kids do this” while you’re thinking “omg, I’m so embarrassed, she must think my kids are monsters”. I admit it, I’m prone to feeling embarrassed in these situations and it sure doesn’t help my parenting.
After Son had already thrown his Sigg bottle at his sister, hurled a small rock at her, and tried to scratch her (she was teasing him rather mercilessly), I was losing my cool. I was getting embarrassed, not to mention just plain tired. The final straw was when we were walking back and Son got angry when I said I wouldn’t help him climb up on the giant rock (I just wanted to get back!) and so he picked up a handful of pebbles, walked up to the group of us, and hurled them at us. Fortunately nobody got hurt but I was so shocked and upset and humiliated, etc….I just lost it. I started to “yell” at him in a whisper so that E couldn’t hear me, but the seriousness of my tone and face only made him laugh and giggle.
There’s nothing that pushes my buttons more than being responded to by laughter when I put on my “serious business/grownup tone”. I was in a bad place myself by this point and all I wanted to do was make him cry so he could “appreciate the seriousness of what he did”. I grabbed his arm tightly and shook it a little bit, when I realized that I didn’t want to come across as some kind of mainstream, ranting, punitive parent in front of my new friend. As much as I wanted to “lay down the law” I couldn’t do it with her nearby and so I had no choice but to take a deep breath, gather myself together, and do what I knew I should do: respond with love.
I took a deep breath, took Son’s had, and began walking with him. I told him I felt angry and worried that he might have hurt our friends. He wanted to let go of my hand but I told him that I needed him to walk close to me for a while because I felt he couldn’t be safe at the moment. After a minute of silence he said “Mama, I love you”. My first thought was “You can’t fool me with that” until I realized that the boy was only 4 and the idea of kissing ass to get out of trouble was not a concept he’d grasped yet…By suppressing my desire to scold and be punitive that way I was allowing him to process what was going on, and this was him trying to reach out to me. Eventually I began to melt a bit and the raw emotions faded. I could see more clearly that I had a very tired little boy who’d been playing pretty well for most of our 4 hour trip, who didn’t intend to hurt anyone but who’d been very upset that his mother couldn’t stop for one minute to lift him up onto a rock (in hindsight it would have saved us more time had I just done it).
Meanwhile, E had started the other kids on a game of “hide and seek” while we walked back along the trail. The whining, tired kids were transformed into laughing, giggling, children who were practically running along the trail to find a good hiding spot up ahead. Son really wanted to play. It would have been easy to use that as punishment, but by that point I was over my own inner tantrum and thought the idea was simply pointless. Instead I had a brief talk with him about being safe – in which he solemnly explained to me how he would do so – and off he went, after giving me a kiss. He was fine for the rest of the walk.
I’m so grateful that E was there to keep me in line. This is the kind of peer pressure that works in one’s favour!
Looking back on the situation I can see how my own issues, my own past experiences, and my tiredness all combined to push me towards a retributive attitude. I mean, when I stop and think about it, I suppose I do look pretty funny getting all serious and stern with them – that’s just not my personality type at all. Why should I punish a child for the joyful laughter of a 4 year old? Instead, I took a deep breath, and just told him how I felt. I gave him time and emotional space (free from a defensive attitude) to think about what he’d done and to feel regret and remorse for it.
It is so hard when you are in the moment, when your child has done something and you think “Oh boy, that one was BAD”, to not let loose with scolding and anger. I can’t get over how strong the urge is to be punitive. This was a good reminder of how these moments do pass, and if you can get through them with dignity and respect and most of all – with unconditional love for your child – they really do reward you by working through it. I’m grateful for this reminder and have been doing my best to keep in it mind.