We are going through an adjustment in our family. E. has recently noticed that other children act differently than she does. So she’s been exploring integrating any random behavior she sees into our lives. This is lovely when she asks to sit on the toilet or says, “Mom, what I can clean?”
It’s harder to know how to react when she, for example, tries screaming at me to get her way. Or because she saw some other people at a meeting screaming at babies and running and jumping on chairs at the library, she wants to know if that’s okay so she tries it at home. She mostly tries these behaviors out only on us and not in front of other people (it’s a safe space).
I have to admit, I have not responded the way I wanted to these past couple of months. My patience was very, very thin with her and I think that took its toll on our relationship. When I realized how much I was frustrated at her, I apologized and tried to repair the damage caused by my ungracious reactions.
As I have felt better in the past couple of weeks, I have tried to get my head around what to do with this newfound belligerent streak. Through talking with some trusted advisors from my community of friends, I finally realized that the way I parent is weird. In American culture, there aren’t really that many people who don’t spank their kids as their go-to form of punishment and yet expect (and better yet, actually consistently receive!) respect from them. I know some other people who parent this way. I hope they won’t mind if I say they are weird too. At least in the eyes of our culture.
I find it a relief, in a way, to just realize it is a bit of an upstream swim to raise children who don’t get whatever they want but aren’t under my thumb. Acknowledging that I am fighting more than just the strong (ahem….very strong) will of my daughter and my own pregnancy-heightened emotional reactions is really helpful to me.
Talking with dear, wise friends M. and C. from Columbus really helped me to clarify some thoughts.
Other families function however is appropriate for them, and other parents know what their limits are. Other parents have much different limits than mine. This is a good and healthy thing, although it is a lot for a 2 year old to process. My two year old is amazingly smarter than I gave her credit for. I forgot for a couple of months how verbal she is and how much she can understand. Once I remembered that, everything got better.
As she tries out new behaviors, we talk about how the ‘desirable’ ones make her life, our life, or someone else’s life easier or better. When she tries out a behavior that I don’t accept, it seems to play out as follows:
“MOOOMMMMYYY!!! I SAID I WANT A COOKIE! GIVE IT TOOOOOO ME!!!”
“Um, excuse me?!” (pause a second to adjust the screaming-interrupt tone of voice back down to regular volume). “Do you know someone who is allowed to scream at their parents to get what they want?”
“Did you see that work for them? Or did you see their parents get really frustrated and have a game with them about it?” (either of these outcomes seem to be a win for the child in some way)
“Well, are you allowed to scream at me?”
“Does that get you what you want?”
“No, I have a different mommy”
“Has it ever gotten you what you want?”
“No! I sorry Mommy. Screaming the wrong thing. I gonna stop it.”
So, I have been really impressed with my kid the past few days. Being able to grasp the idea that something which comes naturally to you is unacceptable and won’t work is really hard. Learning to adjust your actions on the fly is a very difficult skill. I’m not sure I can do it as consistently as my kid can at this point.