This is the fourth in a series of posts about Attachment and Parenting
Discipline is an action that requires us to be involved in an on-going way. Contrary to how we behave ourselves, discipline isn’t one and done. This means if you don’t like the way something went down, you can always address it later.
There are many, many moments when I have all sorts of feeling that I am not proud of or don’t like. There are many times that I respond my kids and I wish that I had a do-over. For example, recently, after asking the kids for the bazillionth time to get ready for bed I realized that I was using a tone that I didn’t like. I wouldn’t like being spoken to that way, and I know that they don’t respond well to that tone. So I stopped and took a breath and said, Hey, ya know I’m sorry I’m speaking to you so sternly. I don’t know why I spoke to you that way just now. I shouldn’t have. My son said, “Its okay. You usually talk to us like that when you are tired and just want us to go to bed.”
Wow. He got it. He understood what I’ve been trying to show him. He was climbing the scaffold that I've been building. He got that feelings are complicated. He got that love and frustration and closeness and exhaustion and amusement and boredom can all exist together in one person in one minute. He got that it’s okay for me to make a mistake and it’s important to take responsibility for your actions.
As an aside , don't mistake that interaction to mean that the kids magically became better behaved and started listening to me. Nope we still struggled that night but it somehow felt different.
This parenting thing is not easy, and I don’t claim to have all the answers. I’m constantly shifting and learning and trying to keep up with the changes. But those moments keep me engaged, the ones that sneak up and show me that my kids are becoming their own people right before my eyes and they are helping me grow up too.
This is the third post in a series about Attachment and Parenting.
My fastidious and strict German grandmother used to say: a child needs to eat a certain amount of dirt to grow up right. I always loved this. As a child it allowed me to get messy and have an excuse. As a mother, it helps me to know that a child does not need a perfect parent. A child needs a parent who is present and available.
Children need to learn about disappointment and how to overcome greed and selfishness. They need parents to teach them about limits and appropriate behaviors. They need to learn about everything from rules of conversation, table manners, what feelings are and how to mange them.
Whenever I get to this point, people ask about discipline. Each parent had their own question about the topic which I can summarize here as: How do I discipline my child the right way? I wish that there was a straightforward answer to this, but I don’t think there is. Instead I try to keep a couple of ideas in mind to help me.
First is to understand the difference between guilt and shame; guilt about something that you have done and shame is about who you are as a person. A guilty person feels badly about taking a cookie from the cookie jar. A shameful person feels they are bad for taking the same cookie.
Little kids have a hard time understanding that their feelings are transient, confusing and not the totality of themselves. They feel things intensely and assume that everyone must feel the same way that they do. If you are angry at them, they cannot fathom that you still love them. Likewise, if they are angry at you, they assume that you must also feel angry towards them.
The way that I tried to explain this idea to my kids was to tell them over and over again: I love you even when I am angry at you, and even when YOU are angry at ME, I still love you. I would tell them in the midst of the angry feeling, and at other times when we were feeling closer. I wasn’t sure if it was registering until once when I was very angry my son patted my shoulder and said: Mommy, just remember I still love you even when you are angry at me.
Turns out that was a great reminder to us both.By saying that, he reminded me that he pays attention to what I say as well as what i do. He reminded me that our connection was the primary thing, and the anger was the fleeting feeling. He reminded me that I have a choice about how I manage my feelings, which is what I'm always busy telling him he can do too.
This is a continuation of last week's post about Attachment and Parenting.
Donald Winnicott was a British Psychoanalyst who coined the phrase “the good enough mother.” For our purposes I’ll use parent in place of mother, but the idea remains the same. This ground breaking idea was that rather than being omnipotent and perfect, the Good Enough Parent keeps trying despite ongoing trials. As one person said, less goddess, more gardner.
I remember the days of having an infant. I had read that mothers are supposed to know the difference between their babies cries. Supposedly one cry meant hunger, and one meant tired, and one meant something else….this left me feeling hopeless and inferior. I could never differentiate between the cries. As hard as I tried I never was able to differentiate between a cry of hunger and a cry of exhaustion or frustration or loneliness. Nope, I felt like dismal failure at that. When I could get past that feeling of failure, I was able to notice other cues that I learned which helped me to understand what my babies needed, so that we were able to create a wordless communication.
Later I discovered that recent infant-parent studies found in the BEST CASE SCENARIO mothers were able to understand their infants needs only 30% of the time on the first go. Let me repeat that 30% of the time the BEST parents were getting it right. That. Blew. My. Mind. 30% is the best you can shoot for? Seriously? I can do that!
This is so important to remember because it means that the bond is not created by instinctively knowing what your child needs. Nope. Importantly, the bond is created in the space between the mistake and the repair. Mistakes and missteps are inevitable. And actually, the attachment bond is strengthened each time the parent realizes that they haven’t fixed what ails and tries again....and again...and again. The bond is created in the behavior that says: I’m here. I hear your pain. I’m not going away. I will try to help you.
As a parent we don't have to know what we are doing all the time. We just have to be able to communicate that we are willing to try to help them figure out a solution.