Friday, 1 April 2011

Between the sunshine and the storm

Outside, the sunshine and the storm are shaking hands.
It feels a bit like the inside of me. Some days are beautifully sunny. We have fun, we laugh, we hug, we play and make.
Other days, our wills go in different directions, like winds blowing apart and creating a storm. A vicious circle starts that often ends in an adult version of a temper tantrum.

I'm not proud of it, but more than that, it's not the person I want to be or even think I am. It's like looking at a stranger lost in a wave of emotion. It's above all not the mum I want to be. It brings back painful memories of behaviour like a stuck record, impossible to break through and change. I hear the ever repeated phrases of my own mother coming out of my mouth, and a widening gap develop between me and my child. She, the spirited girl, is defiant. She dodges any control I try to impose on her. She is not a child to be controlled. I've reached a point where it's not just her behaviour that worries me, but my own too, and where I have to admit that it's not some outside influence creating defiant behaviour, but that it's my own making.

Something has to change and today marks the first day of this change.

I've read a lot about what is happening. In transformational analysis, I learned that communicative interaction is shaped by our experience and that you have to know your buttons and make an attempt to overcome them. I always saw myself as an obedient, shy child with a fraught mother-daughter relationship, who was ever keen to please. Until my dad described me as the same defiant child that I now see in front of me. And then memory kicked in. Memory of anger, slammed doors, frustrations, and my defiant behaviour being ignored so it would go away (which it didn't). Suddenly I realised that I find myself trapped in the communicative patterns that I myself was brought up in. A different level of empathy with Cubling materialised. She is me. I am her. I know how she feels. 

I found myself parenting through threats and rewards, through coercion even. It is most certainly not the way I ever planned to parent my children, so what had happened? How come I hear my own mother speaking through my mouth (who in turn was speaking with her mother's words)? Even though my parents didn't do a bad job at parenting, it's just that I want to do a better one because even though I turned out ok (I hope anyway), my confidence levels were always low and I wasn't a particularly resilient child, so I'm keen to at least try to do things differently.

Another cause for the current situation is that when I realised that Cubling was a spirited child, all the advice was to set clear boundaries and be consistent. I believed it and was convinced this was the way to go. Just that Cubling couldn't care less about boundaries, her curiosity and intensity takes the better of her, it is quicker than any consideration for "boundaries".
To put it bluntly, trying to control her curiosity and intensity is impossible. Boundaries only lead to confrontation, anger, defiance and evasion. She now lies. She insists I tell the untruth when I don't. Those weapons are pretty effective because there's nothing I can do about it - the ultimate control is hers.

As for me, levels of stress have sored and many a day I was unhappy. There was a gap between wanting to enjoy this precious time of maternity leave and being the parent I want and hope to be and the reality of being so stressed out that I wished I wasn't just at home.

Something has to change. And though it's hard to change behaviour patterns that are so deeply rooted that they go back to my own childhood, I believe that change is possible. So:

On my weekly trip to the library, I addressed the stress issue first. Found out that you need to identify your triggers, your buttons that stress you out. I've done some watching of myself, some reflection of what causes my frustrations.

As to Cubling, I asked her to tell me when she didn't like the tone I was using to speak to her. And she does, she is not fearful to tell me that she doesn't like me to be annoyed, tense or angry. Her telling me, and putting a name to the underlying emotion of my words, helps me to understand what is happening - both to me, and how it affects her. It also helps me to change.

I resolved not to use any threat, reward or coercion to control her actions. Instead, I listened, explain reasons and consequences (and only allow natural consequences) and ask for her cooperation when I need her to do something.

Today, I managed the first full day without a single shout, without a single attempt to control Cubling. And we had a fabulous day. We were a team. There were only smiles.
It was actually rather perfect.

(Moss and squirrel, because Cubling likes them)


Aussie Mum said...

Well done you! I wish I could be so strong - I too often resort to shouting.

talking to Hattie said...

You know already you are being too hard on yourself. I was complaining to my husband the other day about my moodiness in front of our toddler, and how I believe with all my heart that a mother should be emotionally consistent. My husband agrees to an extent but also pointed out it is poor preparation for the real world. I am his ultimate female role model and as unpleasant as it is to admit, we are moody creatures lol. Obviously there are limits, we cant let all of our emotions hang out there, but when they slip out, its probably teaching them that its ok to be expressive.

Kat - Housewife Confidential said...

Walking a very similar path at the moment x



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