When I wrote this post earlier this month I was surprised by the powerful response it received. You commented, you shared, you emailed, you reached out. Some of you saw yourself in the child, others saw themselves in the mother. Many of you stressed that we can not possibly know the context of this moment and must be careful before we judge another.
And you're right. I don't know their story.
So I decided to start with a few assumptions and see if that changed my take on their dynamic. For the sake of this discussion I assumed that there were some stressful extenuating circumstances – that their day had started bad and gotten worse, that there was a family crisis going on at home, that the child had been acting out in a big way for weeks, and that the mother was suffering from some emotional trials of her own.
While I am sensitive to this new story and my heart goes out to the family I created in my mind, it didn't change much for me.
Even in this new context I don't think it is okay to shame or disrespect a child. Period. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Pretty simple, except when we try to apply it to how we parent. Then it gets messy.
Because, quite simply, we often don't treat children with the respect that they inherently deserve.
If I told you the same story but instead of a mother and child it was a husband speaking to his wife would you excuse the behavior? What if it was an adult talking to their elderly parent? Would it be okay then? Would we say "Maybe they were having a hard day." and see their behavior as acceptable? Or would we expect them to find a way in which to heal their own hurts so that they could treat their partner or parent with the respect that they deserve? I think – and hope – it would be the latter.
Children have been demoted to the bottom of the worthy-of-respect continuum in our culture. We force them to do what we think is important; we tell them we know better than they; we believe that losing our cool is somehow more acceptable in the context of childhood.
And I wholeheartedly disagree. We can be the grown-up and hold that place of responsibility without disrespecting our kids. I just know we can.
Truth be told, I sometimes yell. Sometimes I even swear. (Yes, around/at my children). I've slammed doors, pounded my fists on the carpeting, and thrown things down dramatically in frustration. Yes – there have been moments when I've been bossy, rude, and/or disrespectful to every member of my family. Now you know. I can be a bitch too.
Yup, sometimes I totally and utterly lose it. And my losing it likely either more or less dramatic than yours, depending on your personality and your context. Maybe for you "losing it" means striking your child or letting a distressed baby cry without you coming. Or maybe "losing it" means saying something snarky to your partner when they come home, snapping at your child, or drinking too much at the end of the day. Maybe "losing it" means saying words that hurt more than hands – angry, shaming words. Words you can never take back. Or maybe it means being less gentle than usual when you put your child in their car seat. Chances are, you lose it now and then in your own way.
And whether you lose it once a year or dozens of times per day is beside the point. Because we are all imperfect. And always will be. And within that imperfection, we all starting at our own perfect place. Because from where we now stand each and every one of us can strive to do better at this job we volunteered for. We can be mindful and choose to do right by our children, just a bit more than we did yesterday.
What would happen if we decided to simply do better?
I strive to parent peacefully. Almost every day. And I don't know many other families who don't use punitive strategies with their kids in an attempt to control behavior (punitive being everything from loss of privileges to time-out to spanking). Pete told me recently that I'm always a more patient parent on Tuesday night – after hanging out with another NVC (non-violent communication)-parenting mom. Because she inspires me. And it transforms how I engage with my kids. I learn new strategies just by being with her once a week.
A very different mother/friend called me for parenting advice last week. She was in a challenging time with her little one and needed a perspective shift. We do things differently and she had a hunch that my ideas might help them through this challenge. I offered some gentle-parenting strategies and a few days later she called to say how their dynamic had transformed because of our discussion. Literally within minutes of hanging up the phone. She was applying the principles we talked about (within the context of her own parenting style) and seeing her connection with her child deepen. I was amazed.
And those two mamas in my world made me wonder – what would happen if we could open a conversation here to elevate our experience as parents? I think we could all realize real change. You, me, anyone we invited into the conversation.
Ten weeks, ten posts, ten different strategies to lovingly apply to your relationship to your child.
Are you in?
But before we begin, let's take a moment for gratitude. Because gratitude takes what is before us and shows us the shiny bits. The best parts of our imperfect reality.
Your kids – what do you appreciate? Tell me what their sparkle is.
Edited to add: To follow this series through, just click on the category "Non-Violent Parenting" at left and you'll be all set.