As I have thought about it, I realized that I should have expected this and been more proactive. Last weekend, B. and A., two of her special people moved to school. While she seemed to be okay. I don't think she really was. Then when you combine that with my virtual absence while I worked diligently to get school planned in time, you have a recipe for a major meltdown. She was feeling scared and sad and missing her people... including me. Life has been a little quieter today since I have finally connected the dots and figured out what was up. It also explains why instead of running this morning, I spent an hour and a half sitting with L. in a chair, reading stories and just snuggling. It also explains why I took both girls with me when we drove to TM's appointment this afternoon, an hour and fifteen minutes away. They just need me right now and leaving them home with older siblings wasn't going to help their general functioning.
Learning to parent my children who need more external support for emotional functioning has gotten me thinking about some things and I realize my parenting philosophy has changed pretty dramatically from when I started writing this blog. If you were to go back and read posts about parenting in order, I bet you could see this gradual shift. What has changed the most, I think, are my ideas about what constitutes a spoiled child.
In modern terms, it seems that the accusation of raising a brat is about the worst thing you can say about a parent. And in parenting, there is always the fear that if your child misbehaves that someone will come along and criticize your parenting or point out how you are spoiling your child. In some more conservative parenting circles there is the not-so-unspoken rule that if you are truly a Godly parent, your child will always be "under control" and if they are not, well then, you are not so Godly as you would have people to believe. (Oh, I have so much more to say on this particular theme, but it will have to wait for another day.) It seems that parenting is all about the product, even if the child is not yet grown, and not at all about the process.
But we need to be all about the process. And what every parent deep in their heart knows, even if they are not willing to admit to it out loud, is that the process is messy and loud and imperfect and full of failure. God has not given us little automatons to raise. Instead He has given us perfectly imperfect human beings who He created. Just as we the parents rarely get everything perfect, we shouldn't expect our children to get it perfect, either. God extends all of us His grace and we need to do the same thing for our children.
In the law-and-order, but what if I raise a brat, fearful parenting mindset, a child who is melting down is one who just needs to be punished more. Clearly, nothing good can happen to this child or it will just reinforce that this kind of behavior works. Sterner parenting is called for. This type of parenting does not take into consideration what is actually going on with the child. What if the child genuinely cannot get themselves under control? What if the child is communicating, although imperfectly, a deep fear or unhappiness and they don't have the ability to show these feelings in another way? How does firmer parenting help this child feel safe and loved?
While sometimes you just can't win as a parent, for instance the overly tired or hungry child crying for a candy bar at the check out counter, there are certainly things we parents can do that put us on the same team as our child and not on the opposing team. Here are some of the ways I have come up with, feel free to add your own.
- Don't try to over schedule. The younger the child, the less that child will be able to tolerate. One errand, one class, one event. Keep in mind your child's ability to manage and don't set them up for failure.
- Focus on relationship first. Have you spent time interacting with your child in a positive manner before criticizing or correcting? Have you snuggled with your little one and read some stories before starting to tackle your to-do list? Have you stopped to think about why your child is behaving like he is and addressed that underlying need?
- It's OK to give treats. Really. Giving a child what they ask for is a way of showing that child that you care for them and hear them. You don't have to do it every single time, but I can tell you when one of my children has asked for something and I've said yes, it goes along way towards making them feel loved and cared for.
- Have fun together. Let the jobs go, let the to-do go and just enjoy each other every so often. This is what your children will remember... those times where you showed them that they were most important.
I find a good way to clarify all of this is to think in terms of husband and wife relationships. A way of telling people how much your spouse cares for you is to say, "He (or She) spoils me," and we mean this in a good way. It is a way of saying that our spouse goes above and beyond in making an effort to making us feel loved and cared for. Can you imagine what kind of marriage it would be if one party expected the other to always do what they were told... immediately.. and with a good spirit? Can you imagine what kind of marriage it would be if when one party was hurt or scared and not acting in a terrific way as a result that the spouse would get angry in return? Can you imagine what kind of marriage it would be if nice things were never done for one another, just because? Yet this is exactly what some of our parent-child relationships look like.
A child cannot be spoiled with care, attention, love, or any other good thing. A child who experiences these things will be much more likely to be the kind of child someone wants to be around. The only spoiled child is the child who is not listened to, not cared for in a way that communicates love, not made to feel valuable for who they are. So stop caring about what other people think and start caring for how your children feel.