“People are constantly saying:
Oh, its a boy thing.
Oh, its a stage.
Oh, everyone goes through that.
They mean to be helpful, but I am feeling lonely and inadequate. If everyone goes through this, why does it feel so insurmountable? If everyone goes through this, why am I the only mom I know without a dramatic scene? Is every mother really sitting at home Googling ‘how to safely restrain a child’?” -Jillian Lauren, Everything You Ever Wanted
I have been dwelling in self pity all day. Because I can’t seem to focus on my work, I am back here, on my blog. It is partly because my left eyeball has been throbbing all day. The morning’s punch can’t be easily forgotten and although no bruising or swelling occurred, that tiny, angry fist landed right on my eyeball. My vision is blurry. Luckily, he hit my bad eye. I don’t actually use that one.
We signed up for the Echo Parenting Class on Nonviolent Parenting. We had our first class last week. During the class, I sat their self-righteously thinking I am already a good parent, I wonder if I’ll get anything out of this. I get it, don’t spank, don’t belittle, don’t injure your child’s mind, body, or soul. I KNOW this. I whispered to G that we only really needed 6 hours to complete our foster parent licensing requirement for the year, so we could bail after a few classes. But really, I NEED this. I am a jerk. We use that word a lot in our house. Mostly, because we don’t want to call our children assholes. When in reality, most (if not all) toddlers are assholes. Of course, we are careful not to label the children as “jerks” and instead say things like “that was a real jerk move, M.” I feel relatively strongly against saying “that is not okay” that I here uttered so often when I am around other parents and their children act out. It is too general for my M. He needs to know specifically. He already gets confused between, when actions are unsafe and when actions are unkind. I need to tell him which is which.
I am proud of the non-jerk way in which I maintain my cool 99% of the time with the kids in their worst moments. I can’t even start to tell you how hard it is to speak gently to a 2 year old who his kicking me while simultaneously trying to pry my eyeballs from their sockets. Let me tell you, it isn’t easy. Luckily, I get a ton of practice. But I have my moments. Today, although I didn’t say or do anything in particular that would count as hurtful by any definition. But, I think my body language this morning was communicating all of my frustration and impatience. And I think that is also a “jerk move,” as we say in our house.
At this point, though, I don’t know how to react to the punches. I feel torn, it isn’t okay. At home, we do a lot of “time-in” but usually that is just time for him to take out more of his aggression and frustration on me before he can settle down. Someone, maybe his therapist, maybe the pediatrician, recommended to us to give him something else to punch/hit. Hit a pillow, or a drum! how fun! Except, I can tell you this is not a need to pummel something. It is an urge to injure me. He doesn’t want to hit a pillow, he wants to break the skin on my arm with his teeth.
So I am left with this conundrum, how should I react? I’ve read in some attachment based adoption literature that I should be leaning into his fists and teeth, letting him know there is no way for him to drive me away. I can tell you though that it is instinct to dodge teeth and fists and feet and fingers when they are angrily coming towards me. So maybe that leaning-in reaction would have worked if I could keep myself from dodging and flinching.
“Time-in” is supposed to be a magical solution for attachment challenged children. Of course, we weren’t supposed to be offering it as a consequence but as an opportunity to regroup and calm down. Well, it quickly turned into a consequence in our house. Not to mention, the time it takes for M to calm down in a time-in could be up to an hour. And we could be out of a time-in for 5 minutes before he needed another time-in. There has been days where he spent significantly more time in time-in than not. Maybe its working? The biggest problem is we have two kids, M2 has insecure attachment issues and leaving her alone is like punishing her. So, I can really only resort to time-in when G is home as well.
Then there are the people that tell you, to stop the hitting, connect the language. Say things like “ow! that hurts mommy!” Oh my GOD. He thinks that buttons on pants “hurt”, that the sun “hurts”, that the tag on his t-shirt “hurts”, the buckle on his seatbelt “hurts”. That kid thinks feeling “hurt” is a normal every minute experience. He thinks that it “hurts” when I hold him. Telling him I am hurt must make him feel like, welcome to my world lady.
All 20 hours of this parenting class will be worth it, if I can just find some better ways to handle his aggression. I am constantly reminding myself. He is not giving us a hard time, he is having a hard time. I am trying to model empathy so that he can learn empathy. I am trying to model patience so that he can learn patience. I am trying to model gentle hands and gestures so that he will learn them as well. I have to learn how to quit being a jerk. Every time I slip up and tell him to be gentle through a clenched jaw and with tense movements, those are the jerk moves he remembers. Those are the lessons that are sinking in.