Thursday, 10 July 2014

Lessons in peace

I've written before about my struggles with gentle or peaceful parenting.  I fully understand and appreciate the thinking behind it, and I genuinely believe that it's an approach which has the best interests of our children in mind.  I'm completely on board with the theory, though as I explained a very long time ago in this post, I'm hesitant to commit myself fully to any parenting style or school of thought, as parenthood should be flexible enough to evolve with the needs and personality of each child and each parent.  However, Dom and I had an experience recently which has put me firmly in the "peaceful" camp.

For no reason other than mischief and toddlerhood, Dom loves to beat people up with a viciousness belied by his adorably chubby cheeks and huge, innocent eyes.  When aimed at me, these ambushes involve him smacking my face, hauling my head around using clumps of my hair for leverage and pulling my glasses off.  This last indignity is the most worrying, because I'm useless without glasses (as an example of how bad my eyesight is, if I remove my glasses while sitting at my desk, I can't read anything on the computer screen), and I don't have a spare pair.  I used to use my old glasses in times of need, but my last pair were a victim of Dom's merciless need to render me blind, and my eyes deteriorate so quickly that the pair before those are now useless.  New glasses aren't cheap and, like having kids, there is never a right time to have to pay out a couple of hundred euros for the privilege of sight.

Usually, when Dom goes on his violent rampages, we deal with it by stopping his hand before it makes contact (if we're fast enough), telling him firmly that we won't allow him to hit, and reminding him to use kind hands.  We demonstrate kind hands by stroking him gently and he usually responds in kind.  He's also a dab hand at "saying sorry" now, which involves leaning in and cuddling and rubbing his cheek on the recently-mauled face of his latest victim. With hindsight we'd have probably done better to encourage a verbal request for forgiveness, as his apologetic approach generally strikes fear into the heart of the tiny peers who have just suffered at his podgy hands. This isn't to say that he's worse than his contemporaries - he's just being a baby. Despite my embarrassment when he skulldrags an immaculate little girl around the park or lays into someone because he doesn't like their hat, I know it's normal behaviour and it doesn't make me angry at him. His outbursts are becoming more infrequent as his impulse control catches up to his curiosity about the consequences of beating Mama with a plastic spade, and I'm confident that we're on our way to convincing the local kids that it's safe to visit the park at the same time as my little terror. 

However, a few weeks ago, I let my guard down for a second.  I don't know why - I could say it was because it was Saturday and I was tired from working nights, or I'd had a dingdong with Mat, or it was the 8th time in a minute Dom had tried to break my glasses.  I could, but I won't, because I'm not looking to make excuses for myself.  That's not what this is about.  

So, he launched himself at my glasses like a crazy baby, grabbed them off my face and proceeded to pull the arms in opposite directions.  Without thinking, I exclaimed "NO!", tapped the back of his hand a couple of times with two of my fingers and took the glasses from him.  Physically, it wouldn't pass muster as a smack or a spanking - it didn't hurt him or leave a mark.  It was probably about as much force as you'd use when tapping your wrist to let someone know they're late.  To be honest, I exert more effort when patting his bum in the way he likes at night, the way that sends him to sleep while he drinks his milk.  The difference here was the intent.  I wasn't soothing him with rhythmic pats, I was using force to show him that I disliked his behaviour, and I was immediately and crushingly ashamed of myself.  I apologised to him and promised him that it wouldn't happen again.  

The sense of shame didn't leave immediately, but eventually I resolved to stop beating myself up about a mistake and learn from the experience.  I was still shot through with darts of regret every time I thought about it, but I made sure I did some reading on how best to handle similar situations and Dom made sure I had plenty of opportunities to put the theories into practice.  

After a week or so, we'd put it behind us - or so I thought.  Then something happened that made the shame I'd endured before feel like a mere pinprick of guilt.  I had hold of Dom when, once again, he snatched at my glasses.  He'd done it several times since "that" time, so I don't know what it was about this particular time that was different, but as I gently liberated them from his eager hands, he stuck out his left hand and tapped himself twice on the back of it with two fingers of his right.

My heart turned over and I felt - still feel - like the biggest failure there ever was.  In that instant, I saw almost two years of being calm, patient, gentle and loving go down the toilet.  In one moment of lowered guard, my baby boy had learned that he got hit when he did something I didn't like, and the knowledge that he'd learned from me made me feel sick.  

There's nothing I can do to change what's already been done - I can't go back in time and change that moment, though I wish wholeheartedly that I could.  Dom hasn't reprimanded himself like that since (though he often tells himself, too late, that he's not allowed to climb on the table by gleefully shouting "Get down, you menace!"), and his ongoing obsession with my glasses indicates that he's by no means traumatised by the incident.  I can't quite say the same for myself - I still writhe with remorse every time I think of it and I don't think I'll ever fully forgive myself for teaching him a lesson I'd have preferred him to never have learned.  All I can do now is hope that all of my good teaching before and since eventually obliterates that memory from his brain, and make sure that every lesson he learns from here on in is a positive and peaceful one.

Most people I know would think nothing of a swift smack to the bum or a sharp tap on the back of the hand, and they'll probably think I'm crazy for being so upset by it.  Be that as it may, I'm not happy with myself for reacting in that way and I plan to make sure it's the first and last time.  Others may judge me harshly for my momentary lapse in control, and I can't stop that.  I suppose by writing about it, I'm inviting that criticism.  I just hope that the majority of people can remember a time when they struggled or failed, and I hope that they too resolved to let it be a lesson, not a loss.


Anonymous said...

:) This is how we learn. We learn something about ourselves and our limits and where we need to work on ourselves. This will happen again, but it's not the end of the world. Despite it all, you are that little boy's world. He wants to please you always. What I have learned is most important in moments like these (my glasses are also a trigger) is to apologize. Openly, to my child, and state that I should have handled it better. Then I move on. It teaches her that I am human and I make mistakes and I fall from my graces...but I do it graciously and I remain strong. I hope it means she to can learn to accept her mistakes, take responsibility for her wrongs and then move on.

Inadvertent Parent said...

For some reason I can't reply directly to your comment, but thank you. I'm hoping that by him seeing that I'm flawed but trying, he'll learn that I don't expect perfection from him. I'll still love him when he gets it wrong and hopefully he'll learn how to respond when he doesn't react in the way he should.

hope said...

::sigh:: im a brute in comparison but I get what you mean. I go to bed with constant feelings of guilt re parenting. :/