Puck & Pearl
As promised, more on the insanity of parenthood from Psychologist Mom…. check out the following “insane” moments (that you might relate to):
1) So, I’m putting A to sleep one night, this is months ago now (before M came along) and he’s not going to sleep. Forty-five minutes pass, then maybe an hour goes by, and he won’t budge. I’ve tried Tracy Hogg’s technique, the Pat-Down-Method, of putting him back into a lying down position each time he attempts to get up. How dare he not fall asleep, I think. I’m super pissed off. My whole body is starting to react. My heart is racing. Then I observe what I’m doing as my anger builds, and I feel like I’m literally wrestling with my baby, physically forcing him down each time he innocently (or defiantly, at this point), gets up. It’s like I’m negating his natural instincts and imposing on him my own need for him to sleep now. I suddenly stop in horror. I can’t believe my rage and indignity at my own child..and for what? for not falling asleep? Really, how dare he do this to me…..And, then I can’t believe that I’m following a prescription for sleep training that does not feel right to me at all, on top of everything else….what’s happened to me?
2) My son gets a new toy. It’s a school bus- a perfect gift for a boy obsessed with cars. It’s nap time and he wants to take his car to bed with him. He holds the bus as he lies down. I think to tell him that he should not bring his bus to bed with him. I imagine telling him that mommy will put the bus on the floor beside the bed so that he can have it after he wakes up. I imagine that I’m giving him a lesson in sleep hygiene, and helping him distinguish play time from sleep time. I’m doing this for his own good so that he will fall asleep more easily. Then my mind turns to moments when I have been excited by something new: a new friend that I met, a fun conversation I had, a new song that I discovered, a book….and how I’ve taken all of those to bed with me: imagined meeting that person again while falling asleep, played back a conversation in my head, read till the wee morning, or played a tune over and over that kept me up at night a bit too long…so what if I can’t fall asleep as easily, I’d take all of those to bed with me again if I could, and I dare anyone to take them away. Why would I have a power struggle with my child over THIS? How absurd? What a waste of time….and before I’m even done with this reverie, A is asleep.
So, now that I’ve given more examples, you might not agree with my choice of words again, “insane”. Many parents get frustrated with their children when they can’t go to sleep (hence the apt title of the book “Go the Fuck to Sleep”. It is 100% natural, and very common to get upset in this situation ( and incidentally, many parents have effectively used the Ferber or other sleep training methods to deal with this issue). However, when you look at what propels the feeling or thought behind these examples, and you step back a bit, it doesn’t really make sense. Getting mad at a baby because she can’t fall asleep? Taking a newly cherished toy from a one year old on principle?
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The best description I have found of these irrational thoughts during parenting is in Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves: Transforming parent-child relationships from reaction and struggle to freedom, power and joy. She creates an acronym to help people communicate with their child in the heat of the moment, when the child has elicited a strong emotional reaction in the parent. The “S.A.L.V.E formula” for effective communication begins with S, the process of “separating” yourself from your child’s behavior and engaging in self-talk in order to avoid acting on some of the automatic thoughts (which I am referring to as “insane”) that might emerge. She recommends restraining yourself from saying the first words that come to mind in those moments, and taking a deep breath before attending to your child.
‘Check the validity of the words that drive your upset, anger, worry, or criticism. Are these really your words? Do you really believe them? Thoughts like “She will never learn,” “He shouldn’t behave like this,” or “She should know to take responsibility”…. (“he should go to sleep already”, or “he shouldn’t go to bed with a toy”)…. are old records you may not even agree with. Maybe they are what others say; maybe they are your fears, your memories, or what you aspire to for yourself. One way or another they stand in the way of your ability to love and understand your child the way she is.’ (Aldort, p.8)
As she explains, any insistence that your child “should not have done what they did (spilled the milk, torn the paper, hit the other child” takes you away from the reality that your child did this, and from being able to attend, listen, and understand the child’s action. Any fantasy to control the child or shape him to suit your fancy is an insanity that all too many people have experienced.
The good new is that these “insane” moments through parenting babies are harmless. In fact, Naomi Aldort suggests to first play out the full scenario of your immediate reaction in your head, whatever it may involve, yelling, hitting, belittling, withdrawing. In this way you come to know the inner contents of your mind without having to act them out. At the end of the day, these are just thoughts, often hand me downs from our own parents, or from society. As long as they remain thoughts, you can simplyobserve them like you would a television show on a TV screen. The thoughts come and they go….
Unfortunately, every now and then we let some of these thoughts slip through (affecting our speech and behavior), and in this way the negative patterns from the past are repeated. If we are saying things like: ‘”How many times do I have to tell you?” “What’s wrong with you?” “You have ruined everything!”; “If you don’t….you are going to get it!”‘ (Aldort, p.19), then we are letting the past seep through into the present. If we are using any coercion to manipulate our kids into compliance, praising them for meeting our needs, bribing them to behave a certain way, using fear to get them to behave, then we are acting out some of these thoughts.
Join me in continuing to marvel at the insanity that emerges through parenting…. in noticing, without judgement, the voices and ghosts of the past, the many expectations we have of ourselves, and of our children that keep us from simply relating to them with love in the moment.
And….feel free to share your own challenging parenting moments.