I’ve written before about my commitment to gentle parenting.
I recently realized that my writing about gentle parenting might give the false impression that I’m generally succeeding at gentle parenting. That I resist yelling at my kid, choosing to use a respectful tone at all times. That I never lash out with hurtful words or handle her roughly.
Sadly, this is very far from the truth. And I don’t want anyone believing things about me that aren’t true — especially if they make you feel worse about yourself.
The truth is, I yell at my kid. Quite a lot.
She’s a wonderful kid. Truly. She’s sweet and fairly cooperative. She’s funny and gentle, and not prone to tantrums or aggression (though she’s not immune to them, either. She is almost two, after all). I’ve said before that there are no bad babies, and I’d extend this to all children; but I find my Lydia to be a particularly delightful human being. She just exudes goodness.
The problem is me.
Two-year-olds are going through a [difficult] personal crisis: They have just learned how to walk and use tools, so they really want to explore the world; at the same time, they are terrified of what that world contains and constantly fearful that their parents, whom they love and trust to a terrifying degree, will suddenly abandon them. Oh, and those same parents? They’re suddenly barking “no” all the time, seemingly just for fun. What the hell?
It’s a rough life when you’re two.
Moreover, this month my daughter’s last (read: biggest) molars have been coming in, and this has made her generally wretched. She doesn’t want to eat, preferring to breast feed all day (and night). She’s been waking up every few hours at night, wearing me out. And she wants to be held. All. DAY. She follows me around, grabbing onto my leg so I can’t walk. She stands there, immobilizing me, and weeps: “Hold me!” “Up!” and “I want Mommy!”
Then she wants me to read her a million books and play the same six songs on the iPod and nurse some more and then walk to the park. When I finally get her to fall asleep and I FINALLY think I have a blessed hour to myself while she naps, she wakes up crying ten minutes later.
Some days, after 48 hours of having a little whiny person attached to either my boob or leg, I lose it.
(As an introvert, I go a little loopy when I don’t have any time to myself to just sit and reflect. I need quiet and solitude to process everything. And when she just. Won’t. Leave. Me. Alone, I tend to lose my cool.)
In fact, I first yelled at my daughter when she was only five weeks old. WEEKS! I was trying to can tomatoes, and at this point I had her in the Moby Wrap (because she just wouldn’t stop needing me!) while I inventoried my storage room. She kept whining and wiggling and I finally burst out,
“Come one! Can’t I just do something alone for five seconds?!?”
To my innocent little newborn. Because she was being inconvenient.
Since then, I’m ashamed to confess I’ve spoken these words aloud:
“Get away from me!”
“You’re driving me crazy!”
“Leave my alone!”
I have found myself running in circles away from her around the kitchen island, while she toddles behind me with outstretched arms and tears streaming down her face. And instead of feeling compassion, all I want is for her to leave me alone.
What kind of message am I sending her when I do these things? I shudder just to think of it.
I snap. I snarl. I run away from her and lock myself in a different room. Sometimes, I just can’t handle her constant presence. And that makes me mean.
* * *
One way I console myself is by reminding myself that I’m not being mean on principle.
Some parenting “experts” actually advocate making your children feel bad when you don’t like their behaviour by hitting them, isolating them, taking away privileges, et cetera, with the idea that this will teach them to behave better.
I’m not mean to my daughter because I think she deserves it or will benefit from it. Quite the opposite. I don’t think making people feel bad about themselves — at any age — does them any good. I KNOW that I’m at fault when I utter unkind words or raise my voice or shove her arms into sleeves. I just haven’t cultivated the resources or virtues to deal with my problem.
And then I regret it.
While on the one hand, the consequences are the same, regardless of my intentions (i.e. my child feels unloved); on the other hand, at least I can acknowledge my error and apologize later. I can say, “Hey — I was very wrong to yell at you. I’m so sorry. I will try to do better.” The damage has been done, but at least (hopefully) my daughter knows — or will eventually understand — that it’s not her who’s unlovable. I’m the one being unloving.
Meanwhile, I’m continually learning what I need to do to prevent the cycle from repeating itself and dealing with my own bad feelings appropriately.
I’m also trying to remind myself that I’m not being mean because I’m evil or pathetic. I’m just tired. I’m new at this. I haven’t had much practice with this kind of thing in my cushy life so far. Also, I have the kind of brain that easily overheats from too much human interaction. I’ll get better at this.
She’ll grow out of this clinginess. In the meantime, I should be more willing to let my friends and family help out with her before I reach my breaking point. And I need to remain committed to cultivating kindness, gentleness, patience, and the other Fruit of the Spirit which are so relevant to gentle parenting.
So there you have it. I’m not always t he gentle parent I wish I was. How about you?