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One of my resolutions for 2016 is to become a more respectful parent. (More to come on my resolutions.) In the last few months, my 16 month old son’s emotions and behaviors have seemed to be spiraling out of control, in spite of my generous administration of spankings, stern lectures, time outs, and cuddling. My boy is one of those people who is all in. He approaches life this way: Need to go to the kitchen? Better sprint as hard as you can- don’t worry about tripping and falling. Feel like giving someone a hug? Make sure they know you love them by squeezing them so hard their lungs compress. Got something to say? Say it loud and say it proud, y’all! (I could really learn a lot from his zest for life.)
I knew when he was in the womb that he was going to be spirited, but I was completely unprepared for the never-ending sleeplessness, irregular schedule, refusal to separate from me, inability to play independently, insistence on nursing frequently and around the clock (yes, even as a toddler), and overall toddler dictatorship. My husband vented to me the other day, “I HATE having to parent this way. All I do is spank and yell at him all the time. It sucks.” He’s right. It does suck to feel like you’re coaching from the opposing team’s bench.
I have been asking God since I gave birth to show me how to nurture and shape my son’s spirit so that he can reach his full potential in Christ. I recognized early on the qualities that could make him an amazing tool in the Lord’s hand: tenacity, intensity, decisiveness, and an abundance of energy. I can easily imagine my son doing great things one day. The thing is, these qualities are the very same ones that fray my nerves, test my patience, and reduce me to tears almost daily. I reach my boiling point several times a day, and spend much of my time restraining my reactions to his misbehavior.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was the incident at church this past Sunday. Immediately after the closing prayer, my boy crawled under the pew in front of us faster than I could snag him and grabbed someone’s car keys. From our original pew, I explained that the keys didn’t belong to us and that my son wasn’t allowed to play with them. Then the wrestling match began. I’m bigger and stronger than my son (for now), so I won. Naturally, he didn’t like losing, and plopped down on his bottom and proceed to let the fury and rage loose, right there in the middle of the church during prime social hour. I just stood there, telling him I was sorry, he could be upset, but I still couldn’t allow him to play with someone else’s things. A kind older woman approached us and felt sorry for my son. She reached down to pick him up. He screamed even harder and started slapping at her. I could have dug a hole and buried myself. Sadly, this isn’t unusual behavior. I’m just fortunate enough to rarely have eyewitnesses.
The two things about that memory that make me cringe the hardest are 1) now everyone knows I am an incompetent mother, and 2) I worry that people are labeling my son unfairly as a beast. God is working with me regarding my own “incompetent mother” label. The upside to being in over my head is that I am forced to constantly rely on Him to guide my parenting. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9. As for my son and his labels…I feel like it’s one of my jobs to ensure that he has the best shot possible in life, without the restrictions of stifling labels. Therefore, it was time to stop persisting with the failing experiment of my current parenting style.
Enter Respectful Parenting. Janet Lansbury came up on my Facebook news feed one day (https://www.facebook.com/janetlansburyElevatingChildCare) , and something (a nudge from the Holy Spirit, I presume) made me click on her article. I don’t remember what the article was about, but I do remember thinking this was a weird hippie parenting trend for pansies who are afraid to stand up to or spank their children. Yet, I “liked” her page, and began reading more of her work. At my wit’s end, I bought the electronic version of both of her books, “Elevating Child Care: a guide to respectful parenting” (affiliate link http://www.amazon.com/Elevating-Child-Care-Respectful-Parenting/dp/1499103670) and “No Bad Kids: toddler discipline without shame.” (affiliate link http://www.amazon.com/No-Bad-Kids-Toddler-Discipline/dp/1499351119/ref=pd_bxgy_14_img_2?ie=UTF8&refRID=11ESJ3VS0QZV6D1DCT7C) I initially rolled my eyes at much of it, but as I continued reading, the messages began to resonate with me. The idea of setting firm, healthy limits without bullying my child was foreign and amazing. The concept of respectful parenting is based on awareness of our child’s perspective. By communicating authentically and allowing for expression of emotions, you can better connect with your child and help them find inner discipline, problem solving skills, confidence, etc. As hesitant as I was to buy in to it, I decided to give it a try two days ago.
By 3:15pm the first day I was texting my sister-in-law (supermom of three spirited kiddos), “I’m seriously amazed at how different today has been. I’ve been frustrated maybe four times. That’s down from like, constantly. Not a single all out tantrum. That’s down from like ten. I will tell him in a matter of fact tone, ‘I won’t allow you to do that.’ And a lot of times he just walks away. What in the world.” She responded, “I need to know more.”
Even nap time was radically different. Naps at home usually involve what can only be described as a physical fight, with screaming and spankings and arching and kicking, before my son succumbs to exhaustion and passes out in my arms. (I recently cut his nursing back to two feedings per day: at bedtime and upon awakening in the morning. In days past, I could usually count on nursing to help calm him down and get to sleep.) That day, I verbally acknowledged his feelings, telling him when he would start to push away from me, “You want to get up and play right now, but I can’t let you because it’s time to rest.” I sang to him as always, except this time I didn’t have to pretend the shrieking wasn’t affecting me because there was no shrieking. There was almost zero resistance. He relaxed into my body and drifted off to sleep. What’s more impressive is that he remained asleep for almost two hours, instead of waking up after 45 minutes begging to be nursed back to sleep. The second day was similar.
My husband noticed the difference in our son’s reactions, and soon he was attempting to implement the respectful parenting principles. As ridiculous as he thought they were, he couldn’t deny that they were effective.
I stumble a lot as I try to wrap my head around this new way of interacting with my son. I’m excited about the path we are on, though, and I have no doubt this will be an interesting and positive journey as I search for my own footholds in climbing the sometimes treacherous cliff of motherhood. I feel hopeful that we are on our way to a healthier, more respectful relationship with our son. My prayer tonight for myself and all who read this and can relate to being at their wit’s end as a parent, is that the Lord will impart the wisdom we need to parent to our full potential and the way He sees fit. All glory to God.
Have any of you heard of Respectful Parenting? What is your experience with it? And what was your most recent or notable “dig a hole and bury yourself” moment as a mom? [Share your thoughts by clicking the comments link at the top of this post.]