Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Being small is hard: A response

So firstly, full disclosure: I've been in bed with a stomach bug since Sunday, with one child watching Busytown on one half of my computer screen and the other breastfeeding and Eug just trying to keep us all alive.

In this haze, I read this article that received a lot of attention, and a lot of comments. I read a lot of the comments. The basic gist of the article is that a mom had a tantruming child in the grocery store and got told off by some rude guy, and the article is telling that rude guy off. I'm in total agreement. I hate getting advice from strangers. Hate it.

But what stood out to me was the general orientation of the article and the comments: that your children are insane creatures who will destroy you if you let them. The framing is "they will take more and more and more if you let them". Although the blogger was saying that the tantrum was not a reason to judge the parent (I agree), I think he still sortof went with the general idea of crazy children make crazy requests and it's impossible.

This is an orientation I came into parenting with, and it didn't serve me well. My situation is different from yours, my kids are different from yours, so the best thing for our children is different. But taking Noah's perspective has made so much difference to me. I remember struggling to strap Noah into the car seat as he freaked out and and said he didn't want to leave my parent's and deciding that I would never use force with him again, unless to push him out of the way of an oncoming large vehicle.

Being small is really hard. People treat you badly a lot of the time. They tell you what to do, touch you without permission, and tell what you can and can't have, and even laugh at you. My brave 3 year old went up to the children's worker at the Two Ocean's Aquarium to ask if crafts would start, and you know what the worker did? She started laughing at him and and poking him in the face with a pencil, and talking to him Xhosa, which she assumed he did not understand. To my shame, I was paralyzed and just ran up, glared at her, and took Noah by the hand. I don't think this is terribly unusual in the life of a small child.

A while ago we were really struggling to get Noah to go to sleep. It was a nightmare and we used words like "he's manipulating us" and had no idea what to do. We were sick of it. Noah was getting more and more sleep deprived as he tried to - indeed- manipulate us into giving him the attention he wanted at night. I think it is hard- I don't think we should pretend to be be superhuman and sacrifice our lifeblood for our children. But we realized it wasn't working to take a hard line. So we just gave him the attention he wanted at night. and over time, his bedtime got earlier and earlier, and he even said the words "I'm tired" once. For us, that's about as close to a miracle as it gets.

Now Eli, I am not sure what Eli will be like when he reaches two or so. He seems totally different. But the perspective of the child is what is often missing from the conversation.


leah said...

Really? You never pick him up to put him in the car? Ever? Do you never have to get anywhere on time with him? Ever? Do you never have to leave Grandma's house? Ever? What do you do if Eli is exhausted and wants to nap and you want to get home and make dinner and Noah refuses to leave Grandma's house?

mattbc said...

"She started laughing at him and and poking him in the face with a pencil, and talking to him Xhosa, which she assumed he did not understand. To my shame, I was paralyzed and just ran up, glared at her, and took Noah by the hand."

I really do admire your self restraint.

Concrete Gardener said...

Hey Leah! I should probably be a lot clearer when I make sweeping statements without too much context- sorry.

I wanted to give my approach to force a little more context: First, as all you parents know, parenting is very much a work in progress. There's stuff I said last year that make me cringe. When it comes to force, I'm thinking specifically of a time when I was trying to get the straps onto Noah in his car seat and he was thrashing around, I remember deciding that kind of force was never appropriate for me because clearly it wasn't doing anything good for our relationship. In the context of my parent's house, for example, my parents will just go inside and continue with their lives and I'll let Noah play outside until he's ready to go- it's never more than a few extra minutes. It makes a big difference to his feeling understood. We do have a fair amount of leeway in our lives and we're not usually in a massive hurry.

When it comes to conflicts between Noah and Eli, I will usually remove Eli from the situation. I don't pick up Noah during a tantrum unless he wants me to.

We don't have to go with his whims, though we do take his input seriously. I say "I don't want to do that" also. It seems to get better with time. For example, with sleep it took a while for Noah and us to feel safe and comfortable with something- we really didn't want to go with his whims so we tried and tried to defend our boundaries. But now we have something that works for both of us. I read to him for a long time, and it's really nice, he talks to me about his day and then I leave.

Then there's stuff where I wish I could force my hand somehow, like getting help cleaning up. This is one we haven't figured out yet.

leah said...

Thanks for the response, Jo. And I also marvel that you have so much more time than me when I'm a stay at home mom with literally nothing else to do.

I just came back from taking my kids on a walk. We walked up to Whole Foods, got lunch, and came home. The half-mile trip took us about an hour each way, not counting the half hour in the store. I give my kids A LOT of leeway to explore with their time. So I sit around while they throw sticks in the water. I sit around while they jump on and off the railroad tracks. I sit around while they play in the Whole Foods play area. I don't have a smart phone, so I spend a few minutes marveling at their beautiful cuteness and a lot more minutes being bored.

During our walk, I picked up Zion several times and put him in the stroller against his will. (When he wouldn't get off the train track and Harvey was biking down the street for example). I had planned for a long trip, but as it is we were late to drop off their friend with his caregiver. I don't believe there is a way to always give my children as much time as they would care to take without saying 1) fine, don't have play-dates with friends and 2) fine, we'll never go to church (or music class or art class or whatever), and 3) fine I'll just let my brain drain out of my ears (which I consent to pretty often anyway.)

Concrete Gardener said...

I think I would probably have done the same as you Leah. (put Zion in the stroller) I guess there's the day to day stuff where Eli might not be excited about something but consent, and then there's full blown resistance to something. In the first instance, I don't think too much of just going ahead.

Our lives are pretty slow- no classes, not a lot of play dates- that might change in time. I also am only with the kids alone for about 4 hours a day. The rest of the day it's Eug and I together, or I go to university for at least 3 hours in the afternoon. It's pretty predictable, so there's a standard time we spend in places.

I don't think it's any kind of ninja skills on my part, it's just what it is right now, and will probably change. It's not that I replace force with pleading or anything, but Noah is much more amenable to the needs of the family than he used to be when I tried to use consequences or force, and Eli is happy as long as Noah is nearby.

Concrete Gardener said...

I realised I might have been overly tentative earlier, when the broader topic I'm wanting to explore is whether the ends ever justify the means.

A little like it was assumed that you had to spank your kids for them to grow up disciplined and respectful, and now it's not ok, it's off the table as an option and most people are surprised by what a bad idea it was.

My instincts aren't perfect, because I have insecurities unrelated to what is best for the kids etc, but as a general rule the actions that made me cringe are the things that I've been gradually taking off the table as possibilities for disciplining the kids or getting the tasks of my day done. It does put some limits on our days, but it doesn't feel oppressive- in general I don;t think gradually moving away from punishments or forcing my agenda has meant a net loss in efficiency. It's sortof a slow transition.

leah said...

I have never met a mother of multiple children who has not from time to time spanked her kids. I reserve the right to spank my child if he is having a violent episode where he doesn't stop hitting me.

What bothers me is the invisible lines in the sand, where another parent says: I have decided this is the line I will not cross, and everyone else who does is a monster. I have friends who say "Smokers should have their children taken away" and I have friends who smoke around their kids. I mind more the judgmental friends than the addicted ones. (This is not to say you're judgmental at all, but there's something that really rankles me about the lack of compassion in the greater parenting debate, where everything is absolutely right or absolutely wrong until it isn't anymore.) I think parenting techniques are a vast continuum and everyone makes their best decision for their child.

Concrete Gardener said...

I hear what you're saying on the broader debate. I agree, though I know I tend to descend to generalities - which- when people actually read my blog posts- could be pretty bad, because for me part of it is just thinking out loud. I also deal well with certainty and less well with navigating gray areas, and that probably comes through.

When I take things off the table for myself and share it, it's more a matter of "wow, I'm surprised that I don't have to be this person I thought I did have to be." I think I could be a lot more careful with my sweeping language.

Amen: "parenting technique are a vast continuum and everyone makes their best decision for their child."

leah said...

Amen to you Jo :)