For a long while now I have been reading and practicing (or trying to) gentle parenting. In the throes of sleep deprivation and one too many evenings of solo-parenting, I have to say I’m possibly fairly far removed from ‘gentle’, but for the most part I try to see the world through the eyes of my children. I am constantly learning, every day, how to be a more empathetic, calm, and peaceful mummy to my loud, bright, inquisitive, energetic twosome. I don’t want to rule over them, to bend them and break them in order for them to fit my schedule or my wants or my expectations, I want to raise them with a strong sense of self, and the confidence and security to be themselves, while also being sensitive and respectful of others.
Having read articles and blogs by amazing people like Tracy Cassels, Sarah Ockwell-Smith and Alfie Kohn, the brief (and unsuccessful) use of Supernanny-esque time-outs was rapidly replaced with attempts at understanding the reasons behind the behaviour, rather than trying to remedy the behaviour itself. It’s a process I’m constantly learning about, and my children continue to teach me and surprise me and guide me through this sometimes difficult journey.
This evening, I witnessed the effects of removing love (as happens with techniques such as time-out or the naughty step) while we were on our way home with our very tired three year old. The Princess is approaching the end of her second week of afternoons at school, and despite only attending for 2 hours each day, she is shattered. This new routine is obviously a huge deal for her both emotionally and mentally, and by 4pm she is reaching the end of her tether. Today, having already been to the supermarket straight after school, we realised we had forgotten to buy milk, and had to pop to the petrol station before getting home. The Princess had made her tiredness known by saying “Shut up Daddy, go away Daddy” throughout the entire conversation The Boyfriend and I were attempting to hold, in an increasingly loud voice, these two orders being the absolute worst and rudest things she knows. For now. I’m sure by next term she will have added to her repertoire. Anyway, the aforementioned chant quickly changed to “I want to come in, I want to come in, I want to come in…”, on arrival at the petrol station. The Boyfriend, over-tired himself, parked up while saying, “I am actually going away now”, got out of the car, didn’t hear The Princess’s pleas of “Daddy! Daddy!!”, and walked off.
The Princess watched her daddy leave without her, her face crumpled and she sobbed and sobbed. The tears and cries for Daddy didn’t stop when I went to comfort her, my hugging and hair-stroking could not provide the reassurance and security she needed. I explained to her that daddy just needed to be as quick as possible in the shop but that he should have told her what he was doing, and we came up with a plan to remind him to explain things to her before he does them, so that everyone understands what’s happening. She calmed down and once daddy was back in the car and I told him what had happened, The Princess was happier. I think the Freddo bars that The Boyfriend dished out aided this process a little!
This was all done completely unintentionally, of course, The Boyfriend simply forgot to explain to The Princess that he needed to be as quick as possible and it would be simpler for her to stay in the car with me, he hadn’t noticed how upset she was becoming, and he certainly didn’t realise just how his actions looked; The Princess says something she knows to be rude, we express our dislike, and after requesting to go into the petrol station with daddy, he ignores her, denying her request, not responding to her cries, and walks away.
As upsetting as this was for everyone, it did give me an insight into the effect on the child when love is withdrawn. And it’s horrid. To watch the confusion, the desperation, the fear in my daughter’s face as she was ignored and left by her daddy, hurt me deeply, I’m sure it hurt her much more. Thinking of her dealing with these emotions while alone and hurting as a punishment for something, makes me feel sick. I never used to think of time-outs as a particularly harsh punishment, but they never sat quite right with me, and didn’t work for the short time we tried to implement them, but I now know how emotionally devastating this act of withdrawing love can be.
We all ended the day – an unusual evening with all four of us being together – with hot drinks and cuddles in bed together, the tension and upset of earlier washed away in a fun-filled bath, The Princess asking her daddy for cuddles and tickles, Pea shouting at my breasts to satisfy his need for milk IMMEDIATELY.
It’s hard at times, this parenting thing, but it’s also a gift, it’s an opportunity to learn empathy, to learn humility, to learn respect, and to learn that three year olds have an awful lot to teach us.