Last week (&, er, the week before…) I wrote about some of my recent parenting fails. I’ve shared these personal happenings not because I’m on some mad quest to become the perfect mom but because, well, there’s a lot of perfection (or allusions of perfection) out there & there’s also a lot of theorizing (I’m probably guilty of both on this blog… allusions & theorizing, that is…). Sometimes you have to get down to the nitty-gritty examples of the every-day.
Ok, so your child is finally asleep or independently busy or with your partner & your about to sip on some tea or wine & finally relax when… a guilt starts to come over you. “I’ve messed him up for life!” “She’ll hate me by the time she’s in kindergarten!”
But we all mess up.
And our children will likely be fine. Especially if there’s a strong foundation of love & trust & physical/emotional proximity.
What follows is a list of techniques I use with my son when our relationship needs a little repair work. I say “a little” because what I’m talking about here are the confrontations between parent & child that are something more than the countless minor conflicts but are short of the type that have the potential to cause irreparable damage. (In other words, I am not talking about mental or physical abuse… or even spanking.) But I think most parents (right… right?) have those moments when we get so frustrated that it hurts after we recover our cool.
Ok, here’s what I do when I need to work on my relationship with T (& admittedly some of these techniques are more for me than for him…):
• Apologize when appropriate
I am not above apologizing to my son when something goes awry. I actually think it’s really important when it’s appropriate. Which is to say, I don’t think parents should be apologizing every time things get rough.
But if I react poorly to a situation (say, I raise my voice & act angry long after the conflict ends… that never happens…), I will apologize for getting upset or for spewing unkind words.
This works when it’s an immediate response to an event & I can see T is still upset or mad.
If bed time doesn’t go we’ll, though, I admit that I will not apologize in the morning because T is so present (& in the present) that it just doesn’t have much use to rehash the past.
• Follow your child’s lead
This tip is sort of a corollary to the first. If T has moved on & just says he wants to play with me, I’ll join in & not bother with talking about what happened. If he’s upset, I’ll offer a hug & an apology.
• Give you child your undivided attention
Get down to their level & engage. It’s a really great way to reconnect & (just as important) make you feel connected to your child.
I don’t always remember to do this, but when I do I find it really works. Engagement with T is a gift. I get to enter his world, see things from his perspective, empathize with the emotional & developmental stage he is in.
The only way to get there is to take a deep breath & dive in. It doesn’t have to be for too long (most of us adults don’t survive for long in toddler/preschooler land for long…) but you’ve got to be fully present for a while.
• Share sleep
I’m not looking to start a debate on the benefits or hazards of co-sleeping with infants. I’m talking about having an open-door policy with a (slightly) older child.
I find T is sometimes pushing my buttons because he needs me emotionally & physically close by. I can’t offer him my constant physical presence & sharing sleep is a way to steal more time together.
So I let T climb into bed with us or I’ll lie in his little bed with him. It’s a sweet penance to pay (mostly… I could do without the kicks to the back but that’s the “penance” part of the equation, I suppose).
I’ll say, respecting T’s nighttime needs the last couple of weeks has resulted in a (precarious) peace in our house. I don’t worry about “bad” habits any more than I did when he was 6 months old. All I can do is roll with the punches, er, kicks in the back.
• Say “I love you” a lot & in many different ways
This will make you both feel a lot better because just talking about love can make it palpable. You can make it a game if your child is at the stage where she likes to say “I love you” back. Our games have space & construction themes (e.g. “My love for you goes to Mars & back”).
• Continue to set firm but reasonable limits, in the friendliest voice you can muster
After we’ve hit a rough patch & we are back to our normal selves, I am tempted to be a more permissive parent, to let T rule the roost. … As another sort of penance.
Wrong! Bad idea!
Not only will this lead to more frustrations, it will create an unwanted consequence in a child’s mind: Get mama riled up & I can do whatever I want for at least a few days!
So instead I try to focus on those nice-sounding parenting techniques that I read about but don’t always have the wherewithal to implement. … Maybe I can muster that kind, friendly voice & try out some logical consequences…
Now, these are the techniques I’ve used & they seem to work for us. This isn’t to say that T won’t end up in therapy on my account in 15 years anyway. But I’ve gleaned these practices from many sources that I think fit well with AP & gentle discipline.
What else do you do when the going gets tough & you need to refocus? I’m sure I’m missing some good techniques in here (& I can always use new ideas myself!).