Thursday, June 10, 2010

Middle School All Over Again

Middle school hallways reek of insecurity. It’s the one emotion that does not dissipate by the end of the year because most of the students still don’t know who they are. They are trying on different roles to see where they fit: jock, cheerleader, emo outcast, intellectual, class clown, flirt. They change who they are to fit the crowd they are hanging out with that day. Mostly, they look confused. It’s fascinating and sad to watch all at the same time, and it’s one of the reasons I love and hate teaching 8th graders.

Adults aren’t really that different, or at least I’m not. Though I’m pretty secure in who I am, and thank God my middle school days are far behind, new situations leave me floundering at times. I don’t mind change and in fact thrive on it, but I feel a little iffy until a situation is familiar.

Parenting is the one huge life change where I actually feel pretty secure. Though there are only about one million ways to parent, Dennis and I did tons of research beforehand and knew when we held Wren in our arms what would work for us and what wouldn’t. That isn’t to say we haven’t modified our plans, but we had the basics ironed out early on: no spanking, no crying it out, extended breastfeeding, cautiously and modified vaccinating, things like that. They can be divisive issues for people, but they shouldn’t be. Families need to find the fit that works for them so they’re not the kid who desperately wants to play violin in the orchestra but is playing football trying to fit into the jock role instead. Those kids are not happy.

There is a place I flounder though, and I’ve been trying to write about it for weeks. For some reason, it doesn’t come out right or I’m afraid it will seem defensive. It’s the issue of who we are in front of people and how we’re perceived as parents. For the most part, I have a hugely supportive community of people around me. However, I still experience the insecurity of being honest about how we parent; it’s don’t ask, don’t tell all over again, but with parenting as the central issue. I don’t have to defend anything we do because it works for us, but when the inevitable, “you’re co sleeping, still breastfeeding, not getting Wren the MMR vaccine yet, homeschooling, not spanking, you want to VBAC” comes out of someone’s mouth along with a shocked/judgmental look, I do go into defense mode. The decisions Dennis and I make not only work for us but have been researched and proven; plus we pray and seek guidance, and have never felt like the way we parent is off course with what it needs to be. I wish people considered all of that before speaking.

Not talking about how we parent is one thing, and sometimes easier depending on the company we are around. However, tonight I will be faced with a different issue: people seeing how I parent. Wren is going to come to the school to stay with me until grades are submitted and I can run out the door screaming, “Summer’s here!” I’m excited about this. I always love having her right by my side. However, it will be past her bedtime, she will be in an unfamiliar environment, and she’s teething . Plus we’re working on weaning. Does that mean she’ll have a tantrum? No. If she does have a tantrum, is that acceptable for an 18 month old? Absolutely. I’m not worried about her acting her developmental age. I do feel slightly insecure about how people will react to how I respond to it.

For some reason when kids act out, even if it is developmentally appropriate, adults want to see an expected reaction. They want spankings; they want time-outs. We don’t do that. We don’t punish, we discipline. Discipline, or teaching, for us is about two questions: how can our relationship with our child be strengthened and not damaged during this encounter, and how can we teach Wren what she needs to learn? So, we acknowledge how she feels, empathize, and work through the fit. Guess what? They end a lot faster that way. Do we avoid them completely? Not so much. We miss a lot of them though, and the ones we have are usually quick, relatively painless, and Wren is offering hugs when they’re over.

Honestly, this has even helped slow down the hitting. I think the hitting was such a fascinating venture for Wren for awhile because of my reaction. While I didn’t hit her back or force time-outs, I didn’t try to talk to her about it or acknowledge the feelings behind it. She was being forced, by no choice of her own, to give up nursing, something she had been doing on demand for 18 months. Suddenly, I expected her to shift gears because I’m pregnant, and she felt mad, hurt, and confused. Instead of realizing all this, I lectured her and asked questions like, why me or what’s the point in doing that, questions an 18 month old finds funny. This week, I looked her in the eyes and told her we give love. Sometimes I still had to walk away after that to reinforce that she couldn’t smack me after that, but it stopped. Last night, she hit me, I said love not hits, and she hugged me. Over. No drama. No repeat. It was nice.

I know, however, if Wren throws a fit tonight and I take my usual approach, I will be considered weak and unable to “handle” my daughter. Though respecting kids and disciplining as opposed to punishing is not a new approach-check it out in Discipline Without Distress by Judy Arnall and in this article
-it still isn’t mainstream. And I know how other people will react because I used to be one of them.

When I saw my friend’s daughter throw a fit upon having to leave a friend’s house, continue the fit all the way home, and finally collapse into a drama-induced nap, I was appalled. I was also not yet a parent. Dennis and I discussed later how our friends weren’t parenting, their child was a tyrant, and their future looked very bleak from our perspective. Where was the spanking they were supposed to administer? Where was the explosive reaction from the parents that I so often saw accompanying these fits? What I didn’t realize was that these parents did exactly what we would have probably done in that situation, or at least the future us. They acknowledged how their child felt and let her feel it. She didn’t hurt anyone; she eventually calmed down. She completely forgot about the whole thing later, and the relationship between parent and child was not harmed by the parent trying to prove a point. Nothing they did escalated the fit, and it actually would have probably been worse if they had punished her for being disappointed. By saying it’s okay to be upset, they let her work it out on her own.

This way of parenting feels good for us. It has never felt right to even think about trying anything else. With that in mind, we’re just going to be who we are. I don’t want to be the attachment parent pretending to be the corporal punishment parent because it’s what others want or expect from me. I’m not shifting who I am to suit the group I’m with that day. I’d rather just be me. While I admit that Dennis and I are far from having it all figured out, we are pretty in tune with what feels right for us. Plus, my child is happy and seems to like me just the way I am, most of the time, and that matters more than anyone else.

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