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power & parenting

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

i find myself thinking about power and parenting a lot lately. often i think about it when it's too late, when i've already exercised my power in ways i wish i could avoid. or in the midst of exercising it inappropriately - in yes-you-will-brush-your-teeth / no-i-won't-brush-my-teeth standoffs and don't-you-ever-push-your-brother-like-that-again talks.

as much as i remind myself that it's perfectly okay that the monster is asserting autonomy, testing limits, having different priorities and interests, exploring his own issues, having strong feelings, etc etc etc, too often i find myself raising my voice, counting to 3, threatening, bribing. i don't feel great when i do this, it's not my idea of great or even effective parenting, but i know it's also not the end of the world. i do make an effort to avoid these reactions and to remember to play and to parent unconditionally.

what i really don't like and upsets me in myself is when my anger, however expressed, doesn't seem to bother the monster in the slightest, or is sometimes even intentionally provoked. when i yell that Hitting Is Not OK, Did You Hear Me? it drives me absolutely crazy that he doesn't feel bad. my impulse is to continue exerting my power until he feels it. until he's sorry. or sad. or something. and it is not really about the scuffle of the moment but about his preschooler inability to give me the response i'm looking for. the remorseful I'm Sorry Mom. or even the fearful I'm Obeying So You'll Stop Being Mad.

i hate this impulse in me. i suppose it's partly a common impulse - i think - and it is also, as a dear friend recently reminded me, heavily conditioned by the prevalence of yelling and rage and Avoiding Mom's Anger during much of my childhood. most of the time i catch myself when i start slipping into this kind of anger - i don't insist that the monster feel bad or scared. but the impulse is there and when a bad morning is followed by a bad afternoon and a bad evening and a bad next day, it keeps poking me, coming closer and closer to the surface.

thankfully, we've recently come out the other end of a rocky transition into our new lives here, and the monster is generally happy and lots of fun to be around. like any kid though, he has his moments. and i need to figure out how to deal with them. for now, when i'm starting to lose it, i generally try to err on the side of 'let's just have a big hug'. i at least know that it can't be harmful, but it's also not getting us any closer to avoiding the standoffs and the scuffles. in the long run, it's not a great pattern either, dispute - anger - mom feeling guilty and not knowing what to do.

my partner f. is right when he insists that it is okay to get angry, and to show that anger. it's authentic. it's not applying Parenting Technique A or B, it's just getting angry that the kid is driving us completely nuts or doing something absolutely unacceptable. but that still doesn't help me figure out how to act in those moments. what i want to do is leave the situation, walk out of the room, hold a grudge for a while. this is not the kind of model i want to be for him.

so what would the kind of model i want to be for him do? in those hot, flushed, angry moments?

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