There is one parenting concern that effects almost every parent out there. This aspect of parenting effects discipline issues, self-esteem issues, child-control issues, tantrums, whining, family dynamics… you name it. You can be almost 100% sure that when you’re in a conflict with your child, or some other negative loop, this issue is playing a part.
What is it?
Anger. Or, more accurately, how you feel about anger, and how you respond to it.
- how you feel about yourself and your parenting when you are angry with your child
- how you respond when you are angry with your child
- how you respond when your child is angry with you
- how you respond when your child is angry with/about anything else
In short, every aspect of interacting with your child is affected by your attitude to and response to that most troublesome of emotions.
If you haven’t got your own anger (and your attitudes to it) sorted out for yourself in a useful, constructive way, you are going to have no end of trouble with anger as it arises during child-rearing.
If you’re sitting there saying, “Well. This doesn’t apply to me. I’m never angry with my little darling. Sometimes I’m disappointed or sad, but never angry”… if that’s your attitude, you have some SERIOUS denial issues. Everyone gets angry. Everyone.
That attitude stems from the root belief that “Anger is bad and I shouldn’t feel it”, and it causes more parenting problems than I can count.
Let’s clear something up right away: Anger is not bad. It is not wrong. It is not a sign of a weak personality. It does not make you a bad parent.
Anger is simply an emotion, and (say it with me, people) emotions are neither right nor wrong. They just are. Where the rightness and wrongness comes in is in the expression of the emotion. But here we must clarify still further. Expressing anger is not wrong. Necessarily. What matters is how you express it.
“Easy for you. You never get angry, not really angry.” An abusive man once said that to a woman I know. Why did he believe that, when it was patently false? Because she never went into frothing, out-of-control rages. If she really felt anger, he reasoned, if she really got angry (like he did), then she, too, would go into wild, manic rages. He figured that because she didn’t become abusive when angry, she couldn’t really be angry.
Whether we agree with his reasoning consciously or not, a lot of us base our responses to anger on those same assumptions. That is our fear: Anger = Danger, Mayhem, Violence.
Which it does — in toddlers. The thing is, by the time we achieve adulthood, we should have developed the control over our anger such that we can be angry — really and truly furious — without losing control. You can be angry without screaming and hitting and biting and spitting and throwing things. A young toddler mostly can’t. An older toddler can, mostly. (Yes, they can.) And an adult? Of course you can.
Not only is anger not necessarily destructive, anger can be actively constructive. So few people understand this. Anger can be the catalyst for change, the motivation to take brave steps, the fuel for justice, pushing us those one or two steps further than we would normally go. Anger is a tremendous motivator, applied properly.
Yet we have this tremendous fear of anger. A fear so strong that we can’t allow ourselves to be angry in our children’s presence. We can’t allow ourselves to let our children know that we are angry with them. We cower from our own anger, and thus deny our children invaluable lessons of our good emotional modelling. And when our children are angry, we tend either to cower from it — cave into any and all demands just to appease it and make it go away (which, of course, only encourages poor expression of anger) — either that, or disallow it entirely (and thus create another generation of repressed adults). Neither are helpful, healthy, or effective, for you, for the child, or for your relationship with the child.
We have to get past this. We have to learn to deal with anger in a useful, constructive way. So that we can parent our children effectively. So that our children can learn to manage their anger by seeing us do it, by being allowed to be angry, by being taught to manage theirs as we manage ours. We need to learn to be angry, properly, constructively.
So we can all be happier!
Once again, daddy is dropping Noah off. And once again, Noah is managing the transition just fine.
Today, dad talked about Noah’s plans for the day, discussed on the way over. And then I could talk about what we were going to do today — making roads all over the floor with wide green painter’s tape, and putting up the little streetlights we made yesterday, so we can drive our cars all over. All part of our “transportation” theme for the month.
And Noah — obviously pre-directed by his skillful daddy — chats happily about what he will play with Tyler when Tyler arrives, and daddy gives Noah a cheerful hug…
…and there! Done!
Daddy’s gone, Noah’s here, without the slightest hiccup. Lovely.
Analyzing it in the kitchen a few minutes later, my daughter Emma put it nicely.
“It’s all about the parents’ expectations, isn’t it? The dads usually manage to convey, “I expect you to be happy, and I know you can do it!” But the moms are often saying, “I expect you to be sad… but please don’t!”
She’s very wise for sixteen, Emma.
I live in a lovely neighbourhood. Older homes of varying sizes, from small (mine!) to large. There are one or two monster homes, recent (and unfortunate) additions, but for the most part it’s a nice, tasteful mix. Homes have porches, so people sit on them in the evening and chat. There are young families, families with older children, a few retirees. There’s a river nearby, complete with grassy verge and footpath. Though my drive remains car-free, there is a fair smattering of nicer cars, beemers and such, mostly the quiet, understated kind.
And then there are the less understated. Some vintage, some brand-spanking-new. Now, I notice a nice car, sure, but I don’t NOTICE. Not like some of my charges.
A while back I had a little boy who was a true Car Guy. At two, he could identify a few cars by make, and had a clear eye for the good ones. The regular cars he didn’t much comment on, but let us pass something high end, and he NOTICED.
It wasn’t the colour that drew his eye. There are a few bright red and brilliant blue regular cars in the vicinity. No comment when we passed those. But when we passed the subdued grey vintage soft-top Mercedes? The one whose owner is outside, lovingly hand-buffing his beauty?
“Wow, Mary! That is a FANCY CAR!”
The owner doesn’t appear to notice. Probably too engrossed in the fondling.
“Yes, it sure is.”
“He’s making it all clean!”
“Well, when you have a fancy car, you want it to look nice, I guess.”
Tyler, wanting to be part of the conversation, interjects.
“MY daddy has a fancy car!”
I look at him. One wants to be kind. One doesn’t want to quash such sweet family loyalty. One doesn’t… oh, who am I kidding? I’ve been handed this one on a silver platter. But before I open my mouth, my small Car Guy speaks.
“No, he doesn’t. Your daddy drives a Volvo.” Junior is not being mean. He’s not intending to insult. He’s just stating facts. Educating Tyler, who is clearly in desperate need of guidance. “Station wagons are not fancy.”
Car Guy snorts into his shammy. And shoots Junior Car Guy a big grin. Because Car Guys, they know stuff.
I’m on holiday this week! No, I’m not going anywhere. And anyone who calls it a “staycation” can expect a smack upside the head. “Staycation.” Everyone knows “staycation” only means “I can’t afford a real vacation.” And you know what? I can’t. I’m good with that. My friends and neighbours may go jetting off hither and yon. I don’t. It’s a reality of my life which I have accepted with grace… and without cutesy-stupid euphemisms.
“Staycation.” Pfft. Such a weaselly word, a word for cowards. Be brave! Be bold! OWN your poverty!!!
“So it’s a staycation, huh?”
“No, I’m just staying home this week.”
Now, I am a very experience home holiday-er. Because I’ve done this for years and years, I have developed patterns. I’ve discovered I need a balance of play, inertia, creativity and productivity to keep me happy. “Productivity” boils down to “work”. Yes, indeed. I must work during my holiday, otherwise, on the final Sunday afternoon, as I’m facing down Monday morning, I get depressed. “I didn’t MAKE USE of my time! I accomplished NOTHING! My time off was a WASTE!!!”
Yup. I have to “accomplish” stuff on my holiday. I’m not quite sure where I got my work ethic. Lord knows there are no “Type A’s” in my family. Truth be known, most days my work ethic is pretty damned lackadaisical, but for whatever reason it emerges with an ironical vengeance during holiday-times, and it seems I’m stuck with it.
So, while I hit the library for books, and socialize more than normal, and indulge in manicures and pedicures (the home variety), and putz around on the Internet (even MORE THAN USUAL! I KNOW!!!), I also have projects. I GET STUFF DONE. Stuff that is difficult to do with a houseful of toddlers.
This summer’s project list includes:
- paint the attic
- re-paint kitchen cupboards
- remove 50 pounds of weeks from front garden
- finish sewing the purse I started six months ago
- finish the northwest corner of the back yard play area
- organize my craft room
As I close in on the half-way point of my holiday, I am about half through that list. Not too shabby!
(Lest you all be worried for my sanity, I will assure you that I’ve played this week, too, and have enjoyed a few blissful hours of plain old inertia. My plans for later this week include a trip to the library, to stock up on all the books I plan to read next week. My plans for next week include much reading on the porch while sipped tea or wine, depending on the time of day.)
However, THIS week has been all about the productivity. All that physical labour needs to be interspersed with less demanding productivity, though, and it was the most recent issue of Cook’s magazine that provided the inspiration. Muffins! I will make muffins! Not just any muffins, though! I would purchase a so-cool muffin-top tin, and make muffin TOPS.
Neat idea, huh? Emma was delighted. “Everyone knows that the tops are the best part of the muffin!” I wandered to our local cute-and-fun shopping area (the one that’s being torn up to bits), and located myself a muffin-top pan, brought it home, whipped up a batch of apple-oatmeal batter, and waited for our six delectable muffin tops to emerge.
And when the timer pinged? Out from the oven came six large, wide, flat disks. There was no mounding of the top. There was no crispy outer crust. Booooo… The explanation was sitting on the counter. The can of baking powder. The unopened can of baking powder.
They taste all right, these disks of muffin. But, “I wanted muffin tops,” I whine to Emma, “and instead I’ve made these… muffin cookies.”
Emma chews thoughtfully. “You know what you’ve done, mum?”
“You’ve made muffin BOTTOMS!”
She’s right. A magazine of expert advice, a shopping trip, a brand-spanking-new muffin-top pan, and, because of a teaspoon of oversight, I’ve made muffin BOTTOMS.
Guess I’ll stick with the painting for now…
I have pushed all manner of strollers in my life. Single, double, triple and quads. All-in-a-line, nested one-up/one-down, and side-by-side. Under $20 cheapo umbrella strollers from Zellers, and over-thousand-dollar
conspicuous consumption luxury models.
I like some better than others. I prefer all-in-a-line and one-up/one-down over side-by-side. Side-by-side doubles are much harder to manoeuvre, to get started, and to push once you’re going. I prefer the ones with three wheels, two large in behind and a smaller up front. Again, much easier to manoeuvre.
But though I have my preferences, a stroller’s a stroller. I don’t care whether they have plush seating, cup-holders, extra-large basket, super-duper suspension. They can be bright or bland, trendy or classic. So long as they hold the child safely and get us where we’re going, I don’t much care. I will grouse, quite a bit, if I’m somehow stuck pushing two children in an extra-wide, heavy-as-lead, side-by-side double with those two stupid wobbly wheels up front. But if you have one and love it, well, more power to you! It’s none of my concern what kind of stroller you push.
with one exception.
There is one kind of stroller that truly annoys me: the double-wide stroller whose primary purpose is a bike trailer, converted to sidewalk use.
I really hate seeing one of these bearing down on me on a crowded city sidewalk. I really do. Now, if there are two children in there, I can cede the necessity. I would argue that an in-line or one-up/one-down model is more considerate in the city, but for two children, I’ll cede you your sidewalk-hogger. And you know what? I figure that’s pretty gracious of me, given that your two kids are taking up more space than my four.
But when there is ONE kid in there? Annoys the crap out of me.
One kid, surrounded by his or her cup, and snack, and books, change of clothes, a few toys. One teeny rajah, master of all he surveys, taking in the vistas before in luxury and leisure, a cool drink at his fingertips. And the rest of us dodge and weave, making room for the double-wide with its Precious Cargo.
It’s just inconsiderate. Really.
Not always, but often, these kids are BIG. Three years old, four years, even older sometimes, perfectly capable of walking wherever they need to go. Perfectly capable of wearing a small backpack with their necessities, if they really are such, inside.
This is not a neighbourhood where a family will only have one stroller, and so if they need one that can be towed behind a bike, it must do double-duty on the sidewalk. These families often have three or more strollers. For their one child. Who, a good percentage of the time, should be walking anyway.
Why is it that one child should take up double the width (the dimension that most matters on a sidewalk) than my four? And why should I be the one dodging?
Outrageous, is it. Bah, humbug.
When I was newer at this business, I had my first doctor as a client. I was a little intimidated by this, truth be known. I’m a daycare provider. She was a DOCTOR.
And then one day I was giving her a piece of advice about something or other, can’t recall what. For the purposes of the story, we’ll say it was potty training. I was giving her advice, and then I sort of caught myself up short.
“But why am I telling you this” I said, a little sheepish. “You’re a doctor.”
She shrugged. “So? They don’t teach potty training in med school!” She shook her head, half amused, half exasperated. “I get this all the time. People expect me to know stuff about child-rearing. Why should I? I have one kid. She’s nine months old. That’s the extent of my expertise. Now, ask me about vaccinations or fifths disease, and I’ll have an informed opinion. But potty training, how to get your kid to eat veggies, what to do about tantrums? You know WAY more about that stuff than me. You’re the expert on that stuff, not me.”
Which gave me a bit of a paradigm shift, you know?
As the years have passed, as I’ve gained more experience and become more assured that yes, I really am an expert in this stuff, I’ve come around to her viewpoint. Now, she was a young doctor. A family physician who’s been in practice for twenty years will have a wealth of data that this young woman didn’t. But still, when it comes to hands-on toddler-parenting experience, they have only what they’ve gained with their own children.
Whereas I have child-rearing experience with dozens of the little critters.
So when I read an article about potty training which implies there is one way to train your child, I say, “pshaw!” — even though it’s written by a medical professional. It’s a valid way, for sure, but it’s not the only way.
The pendulum has done a full swing on this topic, at least where I live. When I was a young mother, common wisdom (and the Parenting Pundits) were
poo-poo-ing pissing on roundly eschewing the previously-popular early potty training. Potty training, we were now being told, if deferred till the child was ready, could be accomplished in a matter of weeks! Less than a month!
Consequently, that’s the way I do it.
Now though, I’m noticing a distinct swing back in the early direction.
And you know what? That’s fine. If you don’t attempt it before the child is physically ready — they gain control of the requisite muscles sometime after 18 months of age — there is no harm in a long, slow, gradual potty training. There is little doubt that an early start and a long process does get the child out of diapers somewhat sooner. If diapers drive you insane and you CAN’T WAIT to be done with them, you may well choose to do it this way.
But for me? Ms. Not-All-That-Patient? The idea of a long, slow, gradual potty training is little short of horrifying.
“Make sure that you have lots of time and patience,” says the article. “Toilet training happens gradually, over many months.”
Over MANY MONTHS? No, no, noooooooo… The very thought makes me wilt with dismay. I would be tearing my hair in sheerest boredom within a month, I’m sure. For me, that approach is utter torture. Utter.Torture. I would far, far, faaaaar rather keep them in diapers and deal with poopy bottoms for those extra few weeks or months.
With the start-late-do-it-quick way, you go from poopy bottoms to daytime dry in two or three weeks. Progress is quick and clear. Independence is achieved in record time. It suits me down to the ground.
But it might not suit you. Maybe it’s the thought of waiting those extra months to start training that make you wilt with dismay. Maybe you’re thrilled by the thought that “every pee in a potty is one less diaper to change!!!” That thought could be so totally motivating for you that the months spent monitoring incremental process are inspirational, not horrifying. It’s all baby steps to the goal. You LOVE the feeling that you and your child are moving toward the goal, gradually. And if that’s how you respond, well, early and slow is the way to go!
Does it matter to your child whether you start early and go slow, or start late and go fast? No. As long as you’re not pressuring them, guilting them, getting angry or punitive… as long as the process is a fun game, full of accomplishment, it rarely matters to your child how you get to the goal.
Despite what the article implies, early and slow is only one way to train your child. Even though it’s my preference, late and fast is not the ‘best’ way, either. Fast or slow doesn’t matter, so long as we reach the goal and maintain respect and a sense of accomplishment for child (and parent!). That is what I know, after 25 years of toddler-raising, and dozens of children happily potty-trained.
It’s just that I’m thirsty, RIGHT NOW, and RIGHT NOW there is only one glass in the sink. And yeah, it happens to be last night’s wineglass. And yeah, the sink is a mere three metres from the dining room, where a hutch holds all sorts of clean water glasses.
And yeah, I’m that lazy.