Progress in parenting is a slow leak, not a flash flood. It seeps in, until it soaks the ceiling, then runs down inside the walls and eventually stretches out across the floor, buckling the floorboards. It doesn’t sweep through the front door, smashing windows, floating the coffee table up the stairwell in a swirling clutter of magazines, candles and remote controls.
This is what I’m learning. Slowly.
Mama and I took two parenting classes and I took the Orange Rhino’s no-yelling challenge (really, that’s what it’s called…google it…) and I was ready to be calm, cool and collected. And I was…for awhile. I would get past my instinct to raise my voice. I would find clever solutions. I would use techniques. I would congratulate myself. I would encourage Mama. But then…
A trait the kids get from my side of their DNA is being easily distracted. And, hey, I’ve got work, the yard, baseball practices, a daily commute, Facebook–plenty of touts and louts shouting at me from the sidelines as I try to just walk down this path in the woods. Hey, speaking of woods, did you hear that bird call?
As I got more distracted, I stopped focusing on solutions and techniques and I started needing results. I need you to get in the car now. I need you to get in the bath. I need you to put down the iPad. While I wasn’t quite the Old Yeller that I had been, but the volume was definitely going up. But then a curious thing happened that I didn’t see coming and almost didn’t see when it happened.
3B has sat on more curbs than a stray dog, having been put out of the car for name calling, hitting and general obsreperousness. This has been the result of other methods, techniques and blinding frustration in the past. It’s always worked to stop the behavior–even if he kept calling names, at least it wasn’t in the car–but it never worked to control it. That’s because the only person who could control it is 3B himself, and we weren’t teaching him how to do that. Rather, we weren’t giving him the chance to figure it out himself.
But, in this last few weeks, I have sat along more roadsides than I can recall. Oh, I wasn’t on the curb–I was in the car, along with 3B and Jewel, who is now old enough to be just as mutinous as 3B, in her own way. While they were going at it hammer and tongs, I was flipping through Facebook on my phone, or scanning the news, or just listening to the radio, up loud. What I wasn’t doing was paying any more attention to the kids than I needed to determine that they were done squabbling.
They’re both smart. They figured it out. And nobody needed to unbuckle a seatbelt or navigate a car seat exit and re-entry.
It seems a small step, but it was huge to me because I wasn’t engaging them; I was letting them figure out the solution on their own. I was providing the nudge of motivation–the car won’t move until you’ve figured something out–but I wasn’t providing the fear, shame, anger that direct intervention, yelling and confrontation delivered previously. And then, yesterday, I found 3B lacing up his Wheelies while in his pajamas. I firmly told him that he had to be dressed before he went outside, and he argued with me–it’s just our neighborhood, it’s no big deal, etc. I repeated, firmly, but not yelling, that he had to be dressed before he went outside and then realized that his protests were just an angry reaction to being told what to do.
Hm. Not that I know what that’s like at all…
So, I turned around, went into the kitchen and washed dishes or read the paper or sipped some coffee. It was up to him to choose going outside in his pajamas or doing as I required. Either way, I was going to leave him to himself to work through his reaction to my demand. After all, I understand how he was feeling. He did come by that red hair honestly.
Half a minute later, he walked calmly upstairs and changed into his clothes–a process which took about an hour, involved some reading and some art and who knows what else–and then returned downstairs. He never did go out on his Wheelies, which shows me that the important part of the dispute wasn’t what he could or couldn’t do or what he did or didn’t have to wear–it was the dispute itself.
Once I removed that, we could both get on with our decisions and our daily lives.
Both of these seem small from the outside–So what? In both cases you did…nothing. Yes. And that’s a big change for me, but not one that came a’gullywasher. No, it came one drop at a time, slowly filling and flooding me, floating me away, grateful for the rising tide.