Saturday, June 25, 2011

Mama Bean does not play well with others

The other day, at the park, Bean started stamping his feet, probably in frustration over being told no. Again.

Life's hard for toddlers.

A nearby mom said to PB, "Ooooh, he's about to meltdown." But actually, he was doing precisely what we had asked him to do instead of melting down. For awhile, several weeks, maybe months, itfeltlikeyears, Bean had been getting progressively screamy. I think (hope...) all kids go through this screamy phase.

It's, y'know, a little wearing. They are shrill, these little humans. Shrill and impossibly loud. Sososoooooo loud.

To save our sanity, we started asking Bean to stamp his feet when he's frustrated. I like this strategy because we're still acknowledging that he is, indeed, frustrated, we're not denying it, we're only asking for a quieter expression of it. (When he screams out of excitement, we invite him to clap his hands. But really, a scream of joy is so much easier to take, and under appropriate circumstances (e.g. not in the nursery during church lol) I'll let him yell with glee as much as he likes, cuz that's just part of being a kid, right?)

Anyway, we asked him over and over. He kept screaming and screaming. We asked some more. He screamed some more. We asked and asked and asked again. He screamed and screamed and screamed again.

It really didn't look like it was going to work.

Until it did. That's when he started stamping. And we thanked him. Both to reinforce that he's doing the right thing, and also being we are genuinely thankfulpraisetheLORDhestoppedscreaming. (Mostly. He still screams sometimes. It's okay, though. We can take it now.)

Anyway, this post is not about stamping out our frustrations.

This post is about discipline in public, or maybe just parenting in public, and how I suck at it. [In a fit of internet serendipity, see also these posts by Her Bad Mother re: spanking, and Real Child Development re: letting children problem-solve. Aaaand, here's tidbit from Roots and Wings re: giving choices within boundaries.]

I like parenting at home, by myself, in private. At home, by myself, in private, I start to feel like I am getting the hang of this. I feel kind of warm and cuddly and safe and private. I feel like a bird in her nest. I am making mistakes, but at least the only people who witness them are my husband and my kids, who love me.

Starting out on this parenting adventure, I steeled myself for feeling the mompetition, feeling the mamageddon, feeling judged for my decisions, feeling beat down by the Baby Pundits, feeling unsure, and attacked in the vulnerability of that uncertainty by alpha moms much more certain than I. I don't know why I started out with this persecution complex, it was just there. It seems to be just part of the parenting culture, the rhetoric of it all.

But actually, it was much easier to deflect judge-y moms when Bean was just a baby. Because you can't really judge a baby, babies are sinless, whatever they do is pure innocence, they're just being a baby. And so any judginess, real or imagined, is only directed at me, and I got really good at not caring about that, really fast. Because we're all just doing our best here, and I don't mind deflecting whatever flack you're sending my way, because I know I'm just doing my best as well as anyone else.

It got harder after Bean turned one and started walking. With mobility, his destructive power increased many-fold, out of simple exuberance really - I'm Bean, I'm curious, I want to touch everything! RAwR! So his actions were still innocent, but now I felt a little more responsible for the real consequences of those actions. (There are few consequences to your infant, like, drooling on things. I find it hard to apologize for drool. But I do apologize for that expensive vase my toddler just licked off your coffee table, because he wondered how it would taste.) Now I felt the judgment for not being able to somehow control my 14-month-old was maybe a little justified, if not a wee bit far-fetched. But it did kick off the isolationist drive - I preferred to simply stay home, where the crap he was breaking was my crap.

Now, he's a toddler. He's expressing self-hood, he's pushing boundaries, he requires guidance, which is what I see as the ultimate goal of discipline. And it's a process, right, he's learning, he's growing, we're all learning and growing. And it's all okay to me, though we're muddling through it, though we're trying on new hats and new roles and new ideas, it's all okay, because we're watching it and doing it and living it within an arc of time. We, his parents, who watch him 24/7 and know his intimate person-ness, and love every molecule of it, can see the progress. We may get impatient, we may feel uncertain, but with a little help from God, we can see growth, in context, and it is beautiful. That stamping is beautiful.

The lady at the playground doesn't see this. She only sees a snapshot, a moment taken out of time. And she's judging my child based on this. And she's judging me.

This is why I struggle with parenting around other parents. On the one hand, I feel they're judging me based on my child's perceived misbehaviour, which can feel like maybe their judgment's a little justified, even when it's not, but I can sort of put myself in the shoes of their standards, which may differ significantly from my standards, but out of congeniality, I feel like maybe, yeah, they're right, I'm a 'bad mom.'

But on the other hand, they're judging my kid, and I can't help getting quite defensive and more than a little angry and fairly BigMamaBear about their snapshot-out-of-time judgments of my child. I'm not saying his behaviour is perfect, I'm saying his misbehaviour is part of a context, is part of his growth, and no one knows that growth like I do, can know that growth like I do, so they can't judge.

So it's like this totally crazy ambivalent defensiveness anger guilt craziness reaction that I've just spent far too many words trying to encapsulate, all to say, I don't react well around other parents. Sheesh.

We all want the angel children, I know, I want it, too. Those perfectly behaved polite angels that exist only in our fantasies and on television. But I know that I am only normal, and so are my kids, and I mostly just want to let my children be children. And I want to guide their childhood with gentleness. My heart resonates with Sarah's thoughts on attachment:
See, I want their hearts. I want their hearts so connected to mine and to my husband's that the love between us will be stronger than any thing else that comes along. So, I do these "things" not because they make me a good mother but because they help me to capture their hearts. And once I have their hearts - and I do - I can lead and direct and train them with their full trust and confidence.

For me, that means raising them to love God and love people. I can't enjoy mothering without a strong connection between our hearts. Our relationship is not adversarial in nature - they know I love them and they trust that. And vice versa.

As my tinies grow older, I marvel at their security and confidence. They are deeply attached to both of us (not just me!) and have a deep connection with each other and their extended families as well. They are deeply compassionate and intuitive, trusting our instincts and us implicitly.
What is my point? I've lost it. The internet is so full of parenting Win, I lost track... my point is... that I can't get away from feeling judged by other parents when I'm doing discipline, which I don't even like to call discipline, because I just see it as guidance, but whatever, when I'm doing guidance in public, and it makes me angry and feel brittle, because it's just a moment out of time, out of the whole time of their whole life, and I wish I didn't feel this way, because it makes me want to stay at home all the time, and wrap myself around them like a giant blanket, and protect them from everyone, which is impossible, and I've lost my point again.

My point is I love my kids, and I don't know how to reconcile my parenting style or whatever, with the static I feel off others sometimes. That's my point.

I'm probably just taking it all way too seriously. I'm definitely taking it all way too seriously. What say you? How do you stay consistent in your parenting and stand your ground when all the world's a judgmental mamageddon crazy-place?

1 comment:

  1. I *try* to remember that I sometimes make comments to other mothers that are taken the wrong way. I *try* to remember that everyone's child is different and they are relating to my child with their own children's behavior for-most in their minds. I *try* to remember that the other mom's and parents are probably just trying to be helpful in their own little weird way.
    It doesn't always work. :)
    Feeling judged by family and friends is difficult, especially when it comes to parenting. I often feel judged because I allow Kya to express herself.. even her 'negative' emotions. Laughing and yelling with joy is all fine and dandy but crying because she is sad or because she feels hurt (either physically or otherwise) is usually not allowed by some members of my family. I get defensive and explain that she's just expressing herself. But then there is usually some way what I say is misconstrued and turned back on me when Kya is going overboard on the expressing. (When she is over tired and crying about nothing and I tell her she needs to stop, the line 'she's just expressing herself' get's shot back at me, sarcastically.. and I LOVE that my family is so supportive. Grrr..)

    I don't know how to not feel judged.
    I have no answers.
    I feel you're pain.