The S.O. and I decided early on that we were not supportive of corporal punishment and agreed that we would not be implementing spankings on our children. I was spanked as a child and he was not, so we have had opposite experiences on this. The Princess is only two so we haven’t actually gotten very far into our parenting journey, but boy have we learned a lot in the couple of years we have been doing this. Over our first year I started to get an idea of what my core values were as a mom. I began to develop a solid direction of what kind of parent I wanted to be and what kind of parent I certainly didn’t want to be, I just didn’t know how to put it into practice. One of the most helpful books that I have read to date is Parenting Young Children: systematic training for effective parenting. I give credit to a dear friend for sharing this book with me, she has influenced me as a mother more than she can ever know. (The all time best book she ever recommended was Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. I swear this is my frigin’ bible. We are raising our two children on the recommendations of this book!)
As parenting challenges have popped up I have had my resolve tested. When Princess has been in the middle of a melt-down screaming and kicking tantrum I have had to force myself to step back and take a deep breath. In the most challenging of moments I can feel my mothers silent judgement over our hands-parenting style boring down on me from 3,000 miles away. I have literally had to walk out of my daughters room a time or two to remove myself from the situation, reminding myself that I am in fact thirty years old and she is at the mere age of two. I have had thirty years experience in handling my emotions so when I am feeling overwhelmed and frustrated its all the more reason to have a little extra patience with her, she has a limited capacity for self control. My goal as her mother is not to get immediate obedience. I can hear a few shocked gasps… but it is true. I am not looking for instant compliance. I am focused on the long haul and what matters more to me than having a child as well trained as a service dog is teaching her to simply cooperate. I want her to learn to manage her emotions in a healthy manner, to take a deep breath and express her feelings with her very impressive vocabulary rather than scream and stomp and flail around like an epileptic. I want her to learn to consider others feelings and I want to instill an attitude of team work and empathy towards others. And just as equally important, I do not want her to cooperate out of fear.
How does this translate into everyday life? It doesn’t always, or at least not always seamlessly, but I do see some fruits from our labor. She is two after all, and she can throw a two year old sized fit, but she can also catch herself in as she’s ramping herself up to a mega sized melt down and through gritted teeth screech; “I am getting fffrrrrustred, Mommy! I need a MOMENT!!!!”. (I love this girl). We are teaching her that its okay to be mad, its okay to get frustrated, everybody feels sad sometimes, and when she’s happy she should share it! What’s not okay is acting out her anger in a hurtful way.
Our most recent challenge has been bedtime. As our little girl is growing so is her imagination and suddenly she is worried about barking green dogs in the corner of her room and monsters in her closet. I have told her a million times that these things are just pretend. “We are real, the green dog is pretend. He’s just pretend. Do you understand?” she replies confidently with a “Yes”. I thought I was making progress with this until she started complaining about the Pretends out side of her window. This grew over the past months into needing us to chase the Scaries out of her bedroom before every rest time and begging us to go outside and ask the Pretends to go away. My poor girl… Since she started sleeping in her own room around age of 6 months she hasn’t slept in bed with us once. Until now. She started waking up screaming in sheer terror and we would race across the house to find her standing in her doorway as if she had seen a ghost. Its disturbing and it makes me feel so bad for her. Needless to say we started putting her in between us every night that she would wake like this. It didn’t take long before she realized that she could just come get into bed with us without being invited and just as quickly as she initiated her new habit the small semblance of a good nights sleep we knew disappeared. Something had to give and fast because we were growing grumpier by the day. The S.O. came up with the idea to set her up a camp site next to our bed. Brilliant. We told her that she could come over anytime she was feeling nervous but she had to crawl quietly into her sleeping bag and go to sleep. If she woke us up we assured her we would return her to her bed. This has been successful about half of the time over the last month. Some nights she still clambers over top of us, kicking her way under the covers and then spends the rest of the night thrashing around between us, or even worse, begging for bananas at three a.m.
Along with the night waking, the further she got behind on her sleep the harder it was to get her into bed in the first place. Nap time was falling apart. Something had to be done. I remember from an episode of Nanny 911 (probably the only episode I’ve ever seen) that the Nanny recommended to a family that every time their child got out of bed they would silently and unemotionally put the child back into bed. The child was returned to bed 72 times that first night. Seventy two times. So I gave it a whirl during a nap time recently. She was giving it all of her effort to push the limit and I desperately needed her to take a nap. I felt the frustration mounting, dare I say I was even starting to feel some anger. Please, just go the hell to sleep! I was shocked to catch myself getting so upset with her. I work long hours at my job and often work through the night with no rest. When I come home the next day exhausted and dead on my feet, my only solace is the hope that both kids would take at least a two hour nap. Justified or not, I felt like I was going to snap. I walked out of the room, head in my hands wishing I could call in some backup. I recognized at that moment that I had three choices. I could scream and yell and illustrate every measure of impatience, I could give up and let her run amuck, setting a precedent for any other day she felt she didn’t need to rest, or I could change my approach completely and employ a new tactic. I silently, unemotionally and gently picked her up and placed her back in bed. She was so mad at me. She screamed and yelled and begged me not to make her take a nap. I was thinking to myself that all she needed in life was to just get a decent nap. She was so obviously behind on sleep that she was morphing into a completely different child, one that I am not sure I liked as much. I pulled up the chair next to her bed and without looking at her, I would put her back into bed every time she crawled back out. She gave up after only a few tries and fell asleep while sobbing into her pillow. While she slept I pulled my Sleep Bible off the shelf and started reading about what Dr Weissbluth recommended for this situation.
I have heard other friends talk about putting locks on their kids doors or holding it shut as the poor kid screams and kicks the door until they collapse from sheer exhaustion. To me, there is something inherently wrong with this. This seems like its taking advantage of my power as a parent and giving into my inability to deal with my own frustration. I would be concerned that this would not foster trust or instill cooperation, but instead send a message of dominance, impatience, and fear. Since we decided long ago that we wouldn’t spank her into compliance I find myself sometimes grasping for some non-physical method to gain cooperation. I don’t have anything to compare this non-physical disciplinary approach to because all I know is the style of punishment I was raised by. As I read through the pages in the book I was relieved to learn that he recommended just what I was trying; quietly, unemotionally, consistently place her back into bed. He mentions crib tents, which is out the window even if we would consider it because she’s not in a crib any longer, and to me there seems to be little difference between locking her in her room and barricading her into her crib. Dr Weissbluth also touches on the option of locking the door although he makes it clear he only recommends it as the very last resort.
As bedtime approached that night the S.O. and I agreed that we would implement the return to bed tactic. The book recommends only one parent per night and says not to switch back and forth. I would take the first night since I had already initiated the idea at nap time. I explained to her at bedtime that if she came out of her room I would put her back in bed. We kept our new routine of petitioning all of the Scaries out of the room, turning on the night light and turning up the sound machine. We rocked and read and soothed just like any other night. When we finally walked out of the room though, there was to be no more entertaining of her stall tactics. She simply must get back on track with her sleep. I had naive hopes that after nap time that day she would blissfully lay down and drift quietly off to sleep having returned to the sweet little sleeper that we once knew. Boy was I ever wrong…
She was furious with me. She charged out of her room over and over and over. Twenty one times over. She was so upset, and so was I. She couldn’t see the tears streaming down my face as I picked her up and silently returned her to her bed nearly two dozen times. She was screaming so loudly at me at one point that she threw up. That really killed me. Had we thought for one moment that this deterioration of her bedtime routine was solely based in fear, I would never force her to sleep in her room. It had become evident over the weeks though that this was a new game of “stall the bedtime”. It simply had to stop. Twenty one return trips later she finally laid still and fell fast asleep. The total time if took to go through this excruciating exercise was 20 minutes. Twenty eternally long minutes. If I remember correctly that was also the first night she slept through the night in over a month. The next several nights required a few return trips to bed, but never as many as night number one.
This may not seem like a monumentous enough occasion to blog about but for us this was a defining moment in our journey of parenthood. We succeeded in setting a boundary and holding a line with exactly the kind of approach that we were striving to utilize. We didn’t lose our tempers or raise our voices, we didn’t cave and let her run the show. We didn’t lay our own heads on our pillows that night feeling guilty for losing our patience and being too short with her. We had devised a plan and we has successfully executed it. It felt empowering to feel such a sense of self control. Asides from feeling tearfully sad at her cries, I never once felt an overwhelming swell of frustration or anger. I felt completely in control. I wasn’t in competition with her for authority and I didn’t have to be mean spirited or ill tempered to get the desired outcome. I was feeling so accomplished at that moment that I could have given the S.O. a good ol’ college chest bump. “It worked! We did it!” It was a good feeling to know that we had the power to redirect the recent pattern of behavior and correct the failing sleep habits. We kept our cool and corrected the behavior without having to resort to corporal punishment, and that was a great feeling.