Thursday, February 3, 2011

Day 32: I'm on to You

I will choose to find a positive perspective under even the most negative circumstances.
I will choose acceptance over resistance.
I will choose to focus on the things I value about my children, not the things that drive me nuts.
I will choose to extend the same grace, love and forgiveness to myself that I try to lavish on my husband and children each day.

Simply put, I've been stooping to manipulation lately. Like anything else, it crept in slowly under the guise of something positive and went unnoticed until finally I reflected on some of our interactions and thought, "Did I just say that? How'd we get here?" 

My goal is always to avoid arbitrary punishment that uses fear and emotional pain to control behavior in favor of allowing natural consequences that teach self-regulation. Following this, most of our discipline-related communication is structured in an "if, then" way: "If you choose to take CDs out of the cases, then I have to put them away to keep them from breaking." Or "If you choose to get up out of your chair at dinner, then you have to sit at the big table instead of your little table to help you keep your body still."

But "if, then" began to morph into manipulation, eventually verging on arbitrary punishment: "If you don't get your jacket on now, we can't bring our library books home." Okay, not so bad. It's kind of true that we might run out of time to check out books, but I was definitely grasping at a way to make him do what I wanted. "If you don't eat your supper, then we'll go straight to bedtime." Yes, it's the next thing in the sequence of our day, but does not spending that time eating mean he forfeits all pre-bed time? After all, he doesn't have to go straight to bed the nights that he finishes his supper early. "If you're too full to eat supper, you're too full to nurse at bedtime." This one pains me. I never wanted to taint our nursing relationship by making it a bargaining chip, but somehow I let it happen. And the fact that I made nursing about the milk, the very least important aspect of it, is very disappointing. Hopefully he won't take that message to heart. "If you rest your body for 10 more minutes, then you can watch Lady and the Tramp when you wake up." Alright, I've outed myself. There's officially no connection between nap and DVD. I was dangling a carrot out in front of the mule with this one to buy myself a few more minutes to get some work done. The best part is that it backfired on me because he chose not to rest his body, which meant no DVD and less time for me to work!

It wasn't long before he caught on to me; partly because he's such a bright kid and partly because the way I was presenting it, especially the resistant energy I was projecting (choose this or else!), gave me away. He called me out by refusing to be manipulated, choosing to forgo the thing he wanted just to make a point.

Making a child into a puppet seems appealing in the short term. Whose life wouldn't be easier with a child that does as told when told. But parents only get to be behind those strings for so long; eventually someone else, someone you don't get to choose, becomes the puppeteer, and the results are almost always disastrous. I love that he has a strong will and resists my attempts at control. This is an important guiding post for me, and it's going to be such a valuable trait in his future, one that I don't want to take away from him to make my life more convenient in the present.

 The amount of time required to parent in a positive way is overwhelming. The energy required to stay present with all  our interactions is exhausting. And gratification is almost always delayed, sometimes for years. This means that losing focus, sidestepping, and even heading off course are going to happen. But the road to a healthy relationship and an emotionally healthy child is always right where I left it. There's always an opportunity to learn from these experiences and get back on course.

1 comment:

  1. That last paragraph was exactly where I was today. We had a lazy day and to be frank I parented lazily. But the thing is, if I can at least try most of the time then we make progress. That progress is not undone by a few mistakes for any of us.