When our fiery wills met to build Sage, they didn’t cancel each other out as two similar forces should. They quietly grew for 23 months and then on a dark and stormy night they colluded and turned my soft cherub into a pocket sized dictator with a personality disorder.
When she was born, she could do no wrong. I wrote her monthly love letters and waited eagerly to dismiss my students so I could nurse her in the on-site daycare. She consumed my thoughts and my heart. A year later, I stopped working full-time because I longed to spend my days with her. I had a calling to motherhood and was eager to pour myself into our relationship. I said goodbye to full-time work and the transition was as good as I expected
Then she turned two.
She still consumed my heart and I was (mostly) wildly in love but being her Mommy became reeeeeeaaaaaallllly hard. Life with my two-year old became one part boxing ring and one part steep mountain of sand. I was emotionally (and sometimes physically) in the boxing ring. When I took the high road (up the mountain of sand), I gained footing only to lose half the footing I gained.
I want to raise an independent thinker, not a child who “behaves” simply because “I
said so,” or for fear of consequence. I want to raise a good human, a critical thinker, a doubter, a question asker. Someone who understands her impact on the
world and who is intrinsically motivated to do good and be good. But let’s be
honest, I also need to get out of the house, put her in her car seat, prepare food, clean up toys, vacuum, prep for my part time work commitments, and have some order in our everyday life. Finding this balance is murky, unstable and confusing. Parenting, as it turns out, is HARD. Oh yeah… I also refuse to use screen time as a parenting tool. So there’s that.
During her twos, I looked at mothers of multiple children in disbelief. They were a premium species anointed with the fresh pressed juice of patience and flexibility.
If I had more children one of us wasn’t going to survive the night.
The terrible twos morphed into the year of the threenager. Parenting was still HARD. But the clock ticked and we wanted Sage to have a sibling.
We threw caution to the wind and within a month I was pregnant. I panicked and in the depths of my mother heart, (quietly) panicked until the day our son was born.
He arrived. Early and quickly. This perfect, tiny, soft, glowing, goat-crying being emerged from the water and into my arms. I cried because in my arms was my transformation. I could feel it. As I held the tiny boy, peace washed over me. With him came my confidence. Everything was going to be ok. I was a good mother and I needed to trust my instincts. I needed to make myself a better person because only then could I become a better mother. He pushed me to realize that controlling another person is not the answer.
I had to learn how to control myself.
To pause, observe, think, and breathe. To shift my parenting mindset from battle ground to something more like a saltwater jacuzzi tub. He told me that no one is making me angry, worn out, headache ridden, or red around the eyes. The pocket sized dictator isn’t doing this to me.
I am doing this to me.
He pushed me to understand that being a reactive, sighing, fighting parent wasn’t going to make my life any easier. I needed to shift my perspective…
- From wishing my child were not so annoying to accepting that my child will act like a child. Children can be annoying.
- From acting my child’s age to being a calm and respectful adult.
- From reacting to her behavior to seeking understanding for the root cause of her behavior
- From feeling exasperated to being more proactive about self-care. Laughing and letting the yuck go.
- From thinking my child can’t make a good choice without a bribe or threat to trusting that her heart is pure and she is innately good… if I am patient she will make a good choice and if not, that’s ok. We will continue to explore intrinsic motivations to help her make good choices. We will talk about the impact of her good choices. Most of the time she will want to do good and be good. And if she wants to be a booger, it’s ok. We are all boogers from time to time, it’s not the end of the world.
I still screw up. I screw up in big reactive failures. But in my mind and heart, there has been a shift.
- My child can be exhausting and annoying and can make me want to yell. But I am learning how to set limits and follow through with my expectations without adjectives, big reactions, punishments, threats, or bribes. My children need me to be their trusted, calm leader. Not someone to tip toe around.
- When the adjectives and reactions happen, I apologize. I model for her that we all make mistakes but how we handle our mistakes is what counts.
- I think through how the past hour, day, week, month could be affecting my daughter’s moods and behavior. Am I taking care of her as I should? Has she slept enough? Eaten enough wholesome food? Are we doing too much?
- I remind myself to see her as a whole human. Beautiful and messy. Someone whose needs, like mine, change and whose desires and fears need to be honored. Someone who is allowed to make mistakes.
- I make caring for myself a bigger priority. I call for back-up (often). And back up comes in the form of friends, family, and grandparents. While screen time has creeped in, we held off until she was three and it’s less than an hour a week. It’s incredible what children (and parents) are capable of when pushed to overcome boredom or the screen time “quick fix.”
- I am looking at this parenting gig as a complex, layered, constantly shifting organism that isn’t as easy as a 1,2,3 program. It’s hard. And guess what? Anything worthwhile is supposed to be hard.
Until Cedar arrived, the books, articles, and discussions I had with friends about this style of parenting never completely sunk in. Thanks to baby boy there is space for me to love my (now bigger) free-thinking, doubting, challenging, loving, hilarious, personality disordered pocket sized dictator even more. I breathe and rejoice in her wild strength. Her challenging qualities are gifts that will serve her in adulthood. I refuse to break her spirit.
This is not the easy road. It’s still a mountain of sand.
But good people aren’t crafted on the easy road, they are sculpted from climbing mountains.
I am trying to make my mountain a little less sandy.
If you are struggling with your child’s behavior— I challenge you to think twice about a book that promises a quick fix or set of rules to get your child to behave. I challenge you not to yell or spank or make threats. I challenge you to rethink timeouts, punishments, or other behavior controlling strategies. Pick a book that spends ¾ of its words making you work on you. If it doesn’t help you behave, it’s probably not a good book.— GOOD LUCK!