It’s been a heck of a parenting week. I’d like to blame the weather (impressive). I’d like to blame my own parenting deficits (unimpressive). I’d sometimes like to blame my kids’ wiring (button pressing).
I know blaming, while a fun thing to occupy the one section of my brain not focused on the whining, fighting, push-back, anger, silliness, mild defiance, heavy-duty defiance, and inexplicable smell of man stink on my three-year-olds, isn’t going to do much other than launch me into The Scribble.
The Scribble is something I inherited from my mother and her flair for dramatic parenting. She was angry a lot. Every behavioral infraction was met with the same degree of her rage. When we were lucky, that rage was coupled perfectly with a dripping sarcasm. Things were not always clearly defined, so I often got yelled at for not reading her mind, or, as she put it, not looking around and seeing what needed to be done. As I recall, much of her anger came at us about keeping the house clean and making dinner. She was exhausted from working, from receiving all validation and identity from her work and her volunteering, from waking up at 4am after going to bed at 1, from bulimia. She saw every minute we three kids weren’t “working” (on homework, housework, or religious stuff) as lazy, as an affront to how hard she worked.
Once she came home from work and I had washed the floors, unasked. I was trying to help. I was trying to look around and see what needed to be done. I had used a mop. She walked in and saw the washed floor. “Which scrub brush did you use?” she wanted to know.
I told her I had used a mop and got a four-minute sarcastic lecture about how she’d have to redo the floors, that I’d created more work for her, that hadn’t I been paying attention?
I know now, at almost-40, that these were (and in many ways still are) her demons. Not mine. God knows what was going on at work or in her malnourished body. I was a convenient (and hapless) target.
That Scribble is a snare. It grabs you. It feeds you anger and self-righteousness. It throws your anxiety and worries around your loved ones like a Vegas magician throws scarves. It deflects, misleads, tricks. (It also causes for some lame analogies!)
The Scribble is hard to escape.
I heard my mother’s escalation and sarcasm as I dealt with my own Wild Things last week. I broke down and sobbed a few times after they went to bed. I felt that Scribble over my head.
I read Setting Limits with Your Strong Willed Child. I was relieved that not only are my kids normal, but the strong willed behavior they exhibit is generally short-lived and limit testing. I have no frame of reference because we weren’t allowed any leeway…no negotiation, no wild behavior (not even outside), no loud noise, no moving in anything other than a careful way (unless we were told to MOVE towards a task.) Apparently my boys desire to run and romp and play and roughhouse and turn the music up and giggle and be silly and talk over each other and interrupt me is…
Never has there been a holier word.
Now, the key of course is how to manage that behavior, how to find places to romp and play, how to stop it when needed. Tempering. It’s all about tempering.
My big mistake, as I think my mother’s was, was correcting the child and not the behavior. It was taking the behavior personally. Extrapolating that misbehavior was (a) always a sign of disrespect and (b) a harbinger for lock-ups to come.
So I made changes. I took deeper breaths. I stayed unemotional. I stopped cajoling. I shut up more. I let them enjoy being my monkeys…we just found ways to do it, and time to do it TOGETHER.
The house is much much happier. As am I. Although I am raw from it all.
Please note this was not a situation that has been escalating for years. I think I worried because I was seeing a lot of the silliness and defiance due to some cabin fever mixed with their realization that the new baby is actually here to stay, rather than just a novelty. It was a perfect storm.
These behaviors are saved for me, for home, for the safe place.
They are normal.
Bonus: They went to the dentist for the first time ever (yes, I’m behind on that by about 10 months). The dentist and hygienist told me that they have rarely seen such well-behaved and kind little boys, especially at that potentially scary first visit. We all celebrated.
Maybe that Scribble can just be erased…or flossed away.