Monday, February 16, 2009

Wha'cha gonna do about it?

I hope everyone had a great Valentine's weekend. We celebrated at home. Carlos grilled ribeyes and lobster tails (yum!) I made twice baked bleu cheese potatoes, and we had individual desserts--key lime cheesecake for Carlos, raspberry for Joel, carrot cake for me and chocolate strawberries for Ariana.

Poor Ariana got one of the worst shiners I've seen when she and Joel accidentally collided. He added a little color to a bump he had acquired earlier in the week. Ouch. We definitely need to get out to the park or some place where they can run freely.

Another reminder of the need to get the wiggles out was from Joel today. This morning he got into one scrape after another (fortunately, no literal scrapes to add to his collection of bruises!). He knocked over a vase that was a gift brought back from Bulgaria by a dear friend. He squabbled with Ariana, threw some things that were not meant for throwing, and capped it all off by ripping the petals off Ariana's treasured Valentine's rose from Carlos.

After consoling Ariana and sharing a fresh, fully-petaled rose with her, I finally stopped and really looked at Joel. I could see his spirit shrinking and crumpling with each scolding. He was miserable.

Some parenting philosophies would insist that punishment is necessary, that if we "let them get away with it", our children will turn into monsters that exploit every opportunity for wrongdoing. Other beliefs, including mine, feel that punishment gets in the way of our relationship, and that a combination of connection and guidance will help our children become healthy, caring people.

The sticky thing is that even we non-punitive parents fear the bogeyman of permissiveness, the passive parent who shakes her head helplessly and does nothing, leaving the poor child (and innocent bystanders) to cope with the unpleasantness of an unguided, floundering child who is trying to meet his needs in inappropriate ways that result in pain and anger for everyone.

Unfortunately, when we don't impose negative consequences, it can appear that not enough is being done to correct the behavior. Last fall, some very pro-spanking friends visited. Joel hit their little girl. I was mortified. I took him and held him with me and talked with him privately, but I was sure that inwardly my friend was thinking that I was letting him get away with it. Truthfully, I was surprised by the hitting and didn't have a set plan in place for dealing with it, other than getting him away in order to protect the other child.

Today, I knew what to do, though. I pulled him into my lap, and held him close, and spent the next couple of hours plastered to him. After a few minutes, I could feel the tension leaving him. We had a wonderful time snuggling and playing, and once his love-cup had been refilled, he was able to tackle the hard job of being three with peace and joy. He even dressed himself competently before I asked so that he would be ready to go when we went out in the afternoon. The next several hours were so pleasant. He waited quietly while I met a friend for coffee, then sat still and spoke charmingly.

Was he rewarded for bad behavior? No. My presence, attention and love are not rewards that my kids must earn; they are needs that I want to fulfill.

How many times have we had days that started off with a combination of poor choices and circumstance, that wound up spiraling into a whirlpool of frustration, discouragement and aggravation? Worst of all is the dull, throbbing pain underneath of knowing that someone you love is displeased with you. I've had those days, and I could see it in Joelito. Showering him with love helped him to deal with it in a positive way. I've been blessed with the same grace before, and know how powerful it can be.

I wrote this to fix into my memory the importance of breaking the suction of that whirlpool with forgiveness, unconditional love, and compassion. Some days I forget that I have the power to change them, both for myself and those around me.

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