Monday, April 4, 2011

Wise as Serpents, Harmless as Doves

Image credit: knowhimonline at Flickr
Today was a rough day.  A *really* rough day.  The Ames and Ilg book, Your 6 Year Old, Loving and Defiant was terrifyingly accurate.  Their book, Your Five Year Old, Sunny and Serene?  Hysterically INaccurate.  He has been in serious meltdown mode for the last couple of days, and today was horrible.  He woke up early, didn't want breakfast, and threw a fit at lunchtime because his hamburger had pickles.  I took them off, but he refused to even taste it, saying that the flavor of the pickles had contaminated the whole thing.  I thought that was ridiculous.  He cried and cried.  I knew that his blood sugar was low and that at that point he wasn't quite capable of acting calmly and rationally, and that he really needed some protein.  Finally, I got him a pure hamburger, untouched by foul pickles, and he took one bite and then said that the cheese tasted funny, and refused to eat any more.

Food is not typically an issue.  Normally, the kids eat whatever they want whenever they like of the things we have.  But the waste, time crunch, frustration and the knowledge that he was truly hungry built up until I was furious.  We had wasted so much time that we weren't going to be able to enjoy the park, and I saw it as unreasonable pickiness.  In retrospect, he has been having terrible allergies lately, and it probably messed with his sense of taste.  In the moment, though, I was angry, frustrated and told him through clenched teeth that he was acting selfishly and that it wasn't fair to his sisters to have to miss the park because of him, and that he needed to eat.  He continued crying and refusing to touch it.

Despite nearly seven years of being committed to gentle parenting, I wanted to just smack him and force him to eat.  Every punitive recording in my mind was playing at full volume.  Then the voice of my seven year old cut through my heart.  "Mom, your voice sounds really mean.  Do you remember what you have said to us before?  You know, you won't really be happy as long as Joel feels so bad.  You said you care about our feelings."  She made it clear that making him feel worse would not resolve anything, and would in fact make the whole situation worse.  With a wisdom far beyond her seven years, she continued, "Did you ever act like that?  Did you ever cry and tantrum when you were a kid?  Why?  How did you feel?  What made you feel better?"

For the next several minutes, she coached me.  I was stunned at how perceptive she was, and deeply convicted by the things that she said.  Although the words were piercing, they were also kind and respectful and her tone was loving.  She was acting the way I wish that I was, using wisdom as sharp as needle-like fangs to bring about gentleness and peace.

I teared up myself, apologized to my son and made amends.  I thanked my daughter for saying the things that I needed to hear.  I also told her that I know that someday she will be an amazing mom.  My son drank some juice and apologized tearfully over and over as he calmed himself down.  As soon as he began to feel better, he began to act better.  The rest of the day improved dramatically.

I've often thought about the things we learn from our children, but this was the first time I have considered them as purposefully coaching methrough a situation like this.  It was pretty humbling.  I have mentioned before that the reason I post so often on gentle discipline is because I need the reminders.  It is hard to parent the way I believe God wants me to.  Most days, I feel like spanking would be a lot easier.  But when I hear the Holy Spirit speaking through my children, lovingly challenging me to live out my convictions, I am profoundly grateful that I don't.

Even with a commitment to peaceful parenting, I struggle.  I know myself well enough that if I gave myself mental permission to parent punitively, I would begin to use it as an excuse to act selfishly and pridefully, and I would miss out on things like my daughter's comments today.  I would be entrenched in an adversarial mindset and would not be open to anything that appeared to question my authority in a moment like that, regardless of how politely she stated it.  And I would lose a much-needed lesson from my little, wise and peaceful teacher. 

27 comments:

Megan @ Purple Dancing Dahlias said...

Thank you for sharing. Often times when I read your post I feel as though I could have wrote them. They are a great reminder and help to me. I am going to put you daughters words on my fridge as a reminder for when things get rough.

dulce de leche said...

(((Megan))) Thank you so much! It is so wonderful to feel understood. I am so glad that we are on this journey together. <3

cherieann said...

Thank you for sharing also!! i have tried hard to remember what it was like for me as a kid - i asked my father when i was very young what it was like when he was my age and he said he did not remember, and i was so surprised, i told myself as a little one to remember for when my kids asked me what it was like! lol - anyways, i was a picky eater and so was my little brother, who is autistic. My parents always thought I was making too much of it, but I was just that sensitive. I remember not liking the skin of apples. The texture literally would make me gag. The same with lettuce. Some tastes were just too strong for me to handle. One of those was pickles. I just could not handle it. And for me, if you put a pickle on a burger, even if you took it off, the juice of the pickle on the hamburger was too much for me as well. It wasn't just the pickle itself. All of this and more REALLY bothered and upset me. It wasn't me trying to be rebellious or trying to exert control. And if i was tired or upset, it would bother me all the more. I also remember feeling self-conscious and frustrated for being so sensitive. I didn't understand it myself. And my parents especially didn't understand or respect it. And how i wished that I had a normal pallet like everyone else and that most things I would like. I felt like I was missing out on liking things that others liked, I would watch them eat things with relish and I felt left out. And I wished for all that so much that many times I would cry. All I wanted was to be able to eat an apple whole. It looked like others had so much fun and for me, it felt like torture. It made me feel scared and overwhelmed to be so different and especially scared since i lacked the words to describe what it was like for me, and I could feel the impatience of others, especially my parents, for how sensitive i was to the textures and tastes of foods. i just thought i would share some of these memories with you, maybe they might help you understand what it could be like for him. :)

dulce de leche said...

Thank you so, so much for sharing that, cherieann! I am sorry that you had to go through that, but thankful that your experience can help others. <3

cherieann said...

in an afterthought, i wanted to add this: even today, as an adult in my 30's, i am still a super picky eater. there are times when i will order something and for some reason or another, something about it is very off and i just CANNOT eat it. i feel so bad about wasting the money and the food, but i cannot bring myself to eat it. i just know that if i do, i will not feel good, and i've always been the person that if i force myself to eat, that i have a tendency to feel nauseous and throw up. i can rush myself and push myself through all kinds of things, but one thing i cannot push it or rush at all is eating. my husband will make me something, and maybe part of it just tastes funny and i'm like, i'm sorry. i just can't eat it. if i can't find anything that passes "inspection" i would rather not eat, even if that means going hungry all day. can you imagine it being like this and then getting pregnant? the sensitivity just increased! one of the things i just could not eat pregnant was melted cheese. if it was cheese like a cheese dip, i was fine. but if it was shredded melted cheese, like on a hamburger or nachos, sorry, could not eat that at all. why? i still couldn't tell you. i wish i could change it about myself, sometimes i feel like a stuck up snobby princess. but whenever i go against this feeling and force myself to eat something i am sensitive about, i REALLY regret it afterwards. btw, i finally did reach a point in my adult life where i could eat a raw apple with the peel. at least, until i got pregnant, lol. i am very grateful for the people in my life who are patient with me about this sensitivity and don't make me feel like i am a horrible person. i am very disciplined in many areas of my life, but i have learned to make my peace with this part of myself and that maybe in certain areas, it is okay to be this sensitive. :)

dulce de leche said...

Thank you again! I really appreciate hearing this so much. I usually try to be sensitive to any likes/dislikes with the kids, because I don't believe that food should be a battle issue, ever. Hearing your perspective reinforces that and gives me more food for thought (sorry about the pun). :)

dulce de leche said...

BTW, I told Joelito about your comments and he smiled very big and agreed!

cherieann said...

I appreciate you being sorry, but I am grateful for how the LORD has taken me through it all. It is making me so mindful of how I treat my children and others in my life. It made me put all of this to memory so I wouldn't forget what it was like.

I am always so touched by the stories you share. I have been talking to my husband for so long how I want our family to be where we can all speak up and keep each other accountable in a righteous way, our kids included. And this story is just what I have pictured happening, where I need a reminder, and my kids speak up, in a righteous way, and are not afraid to keep me accountable in love. And after hearing your story, I am even more encouraged that it can truly be like that, and that my desire for it to be like that is from the LORD. <3

cherieann said...

glad to hear Joelito liked them! i remember having a hard time as a kid, that my thoughts were WAY beyond what I could physically express with words. and that was a very frustrating thing. So i thought, hmmm, maybe i should tell her how similar it is with me, and maybe those are some of the words he would use if he could. :D

dulce de leche said...

<3 <3 <3 Much love to you!

Jenny said...

What a beautiful post, Dulce. I really enjoyed reading it. I have those days as well. How wonderful to have your daughter there to coach you through it.

dulce de leche said...

Thank you for the encouragement, Jenny! <3 I appreciate hearing that I am not the only one who has those days.

Staci said...

<3<3 Your children are so incredibly lucky to have you for a mom. There are so many parents who would not graciously accept help like that from their children. You are always an inspiration to me.

dulce de leche said...

(((Staci))). Thank you so much for the kind words! I mess up a lot, like with the shaming this day, but I am so grateful that grace is for mamas, too. <3

Eleni said...

It is so obvious by your daughter's comments that you are an amazing mother. Your children are very blessed to have you.

dulce de leche said...

(((Eleni))). Thank you so much. I still have so much to learn. I am incredibly blessed to have them for children, for sure!

the cooler MAT group said...

What a beautiful and inspiring post. Yes, it's hard sometimes making a commitment to gentle parenting, but it's obvious that it's worth it. Thank you for giving me a glimpse of what it might be like in the next several years. :)

dulce de leche said...

Thank you! It really is worth it. I am so grateful for all you gentle mamas here who encourage and teach me. <3. Thanks!

mama k said...

"It is hard to parent the way I believe God wants me to."

YES!!! And I too know that if I gave myself permission to parent more punitively I would not be able to maintain a healthy relationship with them. (How do ppl do that anyway? ahem)

My boys are hard to parent. I have accepted that and am learning to rely on God to make me up to the challenge. They are spirited, energetic and INTENSE! I am an introverted, low energy person who needs lots of down time.

I am having a particularly rough week and so needed to read this today.

dulce de leche said...

(((Mama K))). I am sorry it has been a rough week. I understand completely about being a person who needs down time and intense little ones. I suspect that God deliberately arranged my family's temperaments so that I could grow more. Somedays I don't want to grow, though. I just want peace and quiet. And afterall, they need to grow and adapt, too, right? :)

Chantilly Patiño said...

Great post comadre! I know my parents' generation hardly thought twice about spanking and it still has a hold on society, not to mention yelling. I have to catch myself sometimes too, when I find that I'm getting frustrated that my daughter refuses to do as I ask. She's only 2 &1/2, but still, I'm proud that I've never spanked her once. What I'm not proud of is that I have raised my voice to her on occasion. It never helps...all I can say is habit. I grew up in a dysfunctional home...but I'm determined that my home will be different and so far it is miles away from the childhood I had and only improving! I love you blog and your peaceful parenting experiences that you share! Thanks for all the little reminders...we need them too. =)

Young Mom said...

I post on disicpline to remind myself as well. It is almost 2 years since we commited to change our parenting, and the times I want to smack them are less and less.( It was such a gut reaction for so long!) I used the child training methods that had been used on me, and now when I look at my sweet little 18 month old and I am so grateful that I have never spanked her. My oldest was getting her hands smacked starting at 7 months, and we spanked her until she was 2 1/2. It breaks my heart to think about it.

dulce de leche said...

(((Chantilly))) (((Young Mom))). Thank you so much. It is sooooo hard to erase the patterns from childhood. You ladies are doing an awesome job of teaching your children about peace and healing. <3

Lori Ann said...

Wow, as a newish Mom to just one child, just turned one, this means a lot to me. Mostly, because I'm trying to parent gently as well but sometimes it helps to see someone "further in," and hear their stories of the fruit it's bearing (like was so clear in your daughter's reaction). Thank you.

dulce de leche said...

Thanks so much for saying that, Lori Ann. <3. I love seeing the peaceful fruit in their lives and how it is transforming me, too. :)

Claire said...

I'm going to save this article on my computer so if anyone asks me why I parent the way I do I can say - 'because I want to have children like this! There's no guarantee I'll have experiences like this one, but if I parent punitively and shamingly, there wouldn't even be a chance!'

dulce de leche said...

(((Claire))) I am so grateful to be able to learn from you! It really is about the long-term results with GBD, and I forget sometimes. That is why I write--to remind myself of how and why I want to parent. <3