(Photo courtesy of Barbara W, Flickr Creative Commons)
Last Thursday I had to excuse myself from E.’s bedroom. “Necesito un descanso,” I told her. I need a break.
What I didn’t tell her was why.
But, I could feel the anger swirling in my stomach. My muscles were tight. I needed to step away. I needed to take a few deep breaths. I needed a time out.
“Was that okay?” I asked myself.
Processing the situation later, I realized, “yes, of course! It’s always okay, when you sense you’re about to lose your temper, to take a break.”
I also realized that there was more going on.
Because in parenting there’s always more. So much more.
Today I’d like to share with you a few of those realizations I had, in case you’re the parent of a toddler and new baby and you need some encouragement and perspective as you transition to life with a new child.
Let me first finish the story.
E. had been banging on her bedroom walls during playtime and it was getting annoying – to me. I had asked her, calmly and as unruffled as possible, to stop, but the banging continued.
Each time I came back into her room (I was nursing J. and then needed to clean the bathroom) to ask her to stop, her response to me was, “Mami, sentar?” (“Mom, will you sit down with me?”) I’d respond with “no, I can’t right now,” to which she responded with a vehement “NO, MAMI!” and a glare in her eye.
Here’s what E. taught me.
1. It all begins and ends with me.
Parenting is first and foremost about us, not our children. Our fears, our triggers, our unresolved baggage.
Parenting is not first and foremost about our children’s sins. It is first about ours. Yes, our children are in need of our gentleness and careful attention to help remove the childhood specks from their eyes. And we first, and continually, need to remove the adult logs from ours, so we can genuinely help our children, and not harm them. (Source)
What do I need to change? I thought. Me? How can I help myself? (See point #2.)
2. Grief is complicated and doesn’t look like what I thought.
I did not expect to be struggling with sadness and grief and yes, anger, four months after having my second child. (I thought I knew what I was doing. Ha!) Sure, I knew that the addition of a sibling to the family is a major transition and with it comes both great joy and deep mourning.
Mourning the established routines and rhythms of your family pre-baby.
Mourning the one-on-one time with your first-born.
Mourning any sense of control you thought you had.
But, now that J. is sleeping more and our days have a more or less consistent schedule, I thought the mourning period was over. But, it wasn’t.
Not for me, and not for E. And, it wasn’t looking like anything I had envisioned: she’ll probably be angry at the baby, I predicted.
But, angry at…me?
And, I confess, I haven’t been okay with her anger (I thought I was truly okay with all her emotions), or my own. I may be giving my daughter physical safety (food, clothing, routine, structure, time to play), but what she really needs from me right now during this period of grief is emotional safety. Is mom really okay with my sadness and anger and uneasiness? Can I really grieve the way I need to? Does she really, truly, no strings attached, love me? Whatever “NO, MAMI!” or stink eye I throw her way?
3. I cannot parent from guilt.
I came to realize that lately I have been parenting out of guilt, feeling like I need to placate my child in order to avoid her big emotions because I am the one who brought a new sibling into her world.
She didn’t ask for a brother. She didn’t ask for her life to be turned upside down.
But, guilt never did anyone any good, and E., like any astute toddler, picked up on my “guilt vibe” and it was making her uneasy.
I realized that no matter how much one-on-one time I spent with her it would never be enough. Our children will always want more from us. And, I can’t go back to how things were before.
I realized I was trapped, desperately trying to make E. “be ok” again, as if she were a victim. But the thing is she is already okay. She has always been okay. She is competent. She is resilient. My daughter is strong.
“You have to lead with confidence here and stop trying to avoid her unhappiness/expressing her displeasure with your choices.” (Lisa Sunbury, RIE associate).
What my daughter needs from me is to know that despite the upheaval to her world, her mother remains the same. She needs a confident, unruffled leader. I have not been that for her because guilt has gotten in the way.
4. Let go of my own agenda.
Why won’t she just play while I clean the bathroom? I muttered to myself. I just spent 30 minutes of one-on-one time reading with her; isn’t that enough? This is her play time, whens she can play however she wants. I thought if we really bonded during snack time, she’d play while I work.
Well, you see, play, in order for it to be play, is self-initiated. No one can force or bribe or coerce or get another person to play. RIE is not about tricks to get a child to play. I have to let go of my agenda of what my daughter’s play, or choice not to, looks like. I have to let go of my agenda so that my daughter is free, free to choose how she spends her time: screaming in anger or singing cheerfully.
5. What is my child telling me?
Young children’s testing of limits and destructive play (banging on the walls or ripping up books) don’t constitute misbehavior stemming from malicious intentions. Rather, they indicate a deeper issue that needs to be addressed. In fact, if we only address those surface behaviors we often get caught in a battle of the wills, and more importantly, we miss what our children are desperately, in the only way they know how, trying to tell us.
And E., what was she telling me? What did she want me to hear?
As I cleaned the bathroom last Thursday, E. stood at the door to her room and once again said, “Mami, ven. Mami sentar.” (Mom, come and sit here.)
“I will when I finish the bathroom,” I told her.
“Mami, quiero estar contigo,” she whispered. (“Mom, I want to be with you.”)
That is the heart of discipline. The heart of parenting.
So, to conclude, I will simply say that since processing my situation with E., and consequently making some changes over the past week, there have been lots of ups (and several downs). I’ve seen how clearer, more confident communication and boundaries on my part have freed her to play, to feel at peace. I’ve also seen that we both need more time to grieve and heal. And, E. needs her mom to continue to accept that, to accept it all.