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.
Ev is just at the cusp of me being able to have a reasoned discussion with him about his behavior and what he can and can not do. And I have to say, it is a relief to finally see this stage appearing. I have been very envious of how well discussing things has gone for you and E. because talking to a child who doesn’t seem to understand what you are saying and can’t respond indicating that they understand can feel like the road to nowhere sometimes.
Also, I like your weird parenting. It looks an awful lot like good parenting to me.
You are a weird parent too. Definitely one of the ones I was referring to.
He will keep learning. I have been explaining things to E. basically since she was born and well before she could answer back. Before she could understand (even though it did feel like a road to nowhere like you said) I just thought it was good exercise to practice explaining things to her (almost more for my benefit than for hers) and to get her used to hearing reasonable explanations early on so she’d know what to do with them later.
Oh how I love this post. I’m a ‘different’ mummy too I’m proud to say. 😀
When DD used to try the whiny voice routine because she’d seen others do it I used to simply say “unfortunately I can’t hear you when you speak in that voice so when you’re ready to speak properly, I’m ready to listen”. We NEVER have the whiny voice; funny huh?!
I love your style of parenting (not least because it sounds like mine) but because it almost follows something that is very dear to me and that’s the natural law of consequences. ie every action has a consequence and we can take that from my passion of creating landfill waste right up to a kid screaming that they don’t want their coat on on a cold day. If you follow this natural law then there is no need for punishment.
I nearly slipped the other day when I’d given DD the day off school and one of our neighbours saw her out climbing a tree LOL! She was supposed to be ill 😉 I’m afraid I behaved pretty badly and thought I needed to punish her in some way, say, by taking away her ipod for a week. but then I figured, amongst all my anger, that this would teach her nothing and what does the ipod have to do with climbing a tree?
However, when I spoke to her about how climbing a tree when you’re supposed to be sick and being seen by the neighbours might just result in her and me getting into trouble I could see from the look on her beautiful face that she didn’t need any punishment at all because the natural consequences stated that when she next went to school she might be in trouble and my lovely girl ended up with nervous tummy ache and feeling quite worried about things.
now I’m not saying that was good (we hate to see our children suffering right?) but she was facing her own consequences due to her thoughtless behaviour just as a toddler who says they don’t want their coat and then are too cold to play for long at the park for long, so end up coming back home after 3 minutes does. It takes a toddler a little longer to learn, but for my 10 year old I can pretty much bet she will think about what she does next time she gets a day off school.
I feel I’m rambling horribly, but I think you might just get what I mean (a little bit 😉 )
Aww, Mrs. G you’re making me blush! 🙂
I completely agree with you about consequences needing to make sense. It actually results in framing many of the same consequences in a different way for me…for example if E. throws something at me she doesn’t get a ‘timeout’ exactly, but I tell her that she’s not being safe with her body and that I need some space. It amounts to the same event happening but places more emphasis on the action and its result rather than the fact that she’s being punished in some arbitrary way.
Thank you for sharing your encouraging story about how parenting the way I do plays out with an older child…it’s helpful to hear that it still works.
I don’t know you or your blog (just stumbled here from another blog), and I don’t have children of my own…but as a first-grade teacher of many years, I applaud your “weird parenting”! It’s amazing how much I can learn from seeing a child interact with his/her parents. Regardless of parenting styles, it’s a given that everyone loves their children and wants them to succeed…but being both firm and loving leads to independent, confident children who will thrive.
What a great tool; thank you so much for sharing. I loved reading about how it played out practically in your lives (and with such positive results, too!). I particularly appreciated the way you mentioned not punishing but balanced it with high expectations of respect and reasonable behaviour. Definitely a balance too often missing!