In addition to things heating up at work, they've been pretty hot at home too. I've been really struggling. I think toddler parenting is not my forte. I'm trying to accept this. I feel like I've been rather an overachiever at parenting so far, in my own way, never letting my kids CIO to sleep, extended nursing, and generally doing a pretty good job of being the kind of parent I imagined myself being. But I'm yelling a lot more than I'm comfortable with. I had a kind of come-to-Jesus meeting with myself about it the other night. I need to get a grip, remember that the people who are driving me up a wall are TWO, and do my best not to yell. Not expecting perfection, mind you, just trying to make life a little more livable for myself and the kids. In order to have any hope of accomplishing this, I need a major attitude adjustment.
OK, so the easy part is reminding myself of their developmental level. All of a sudden lately, they are speaking so clearly and articulately, that it's hard to remember that they are really still babies. When someone says to you, "mama, can I have corn holders please for my corn" at the dinner table, it's hard to turn around, when you've searched the kitchen and are unable to find them, to discover that that very same person has thrown himself on the ground and is kicking and screaming and throwing his dinner all over the room because HE REALLY WANTED CORN HOLDERS AND YOU HAVE RUINED HIS LIFE BY NOT DELIVERING THEM. I always think of toddlerhood and teendom as similar stages, and this is a perfect example. Just like teens who can act and sound and look like full-fledged adults one minute, but then want to play video games and sleep with a teddy bear the next minute, these kids are only playing preschoolers on TV--they're actually at least 60% still babies. I need to lower my expectations for their behavior a LOT. I think I can do this.
Then comes the harder part. I need to figure out how I am going to deal with defiance, violence, and general difficult behavior. I'm not talking "no, I don't want to put my shoes on right now" (though that happens ALL the time), I'm talking hitting, biting, throwing heavy objects at people's heads. I've gone back to my parenting books (which I kind of gave up on for a while, feeling like trying their techniques was NOT helping me, see a mom of twins' a funny article about parenting books here) to get an attitude adjustment. My break helped me see the issue: there are two basic schools of thought about toddlers.
- Toddlers have a basic desire to please you and to participate positively in family life, but they are frequently overwhelmed by emotion and normal developmental challenges, which spills over into tantrums and defiance. Parents need to coach their toddlers to deal with behavior problems and act a trusted allies in "emotion coaching" (term from Kurcinka), to raise responsible and empathic adults.
- Toddlers are untamed humans who need to be firmly guided into an understanding of social norms, as well as made to expand their awareness of needs to include the rest of the world, instead of just them. Tantrums are a normal course of the painful and difficult process of letting go of a completely self-centered world-view, and parents need to kindly but firmly enforce family and social expectations, such as manners, to raise responsible and empathic adults.
Do ya see my problem? Frankly, both of these world-views make a heck of a lot of sense to me, and if I had my druthers, I would really like to believe number 1. I would really like to believe that my kids, in fact, everyone's kids, were born with a strong core desire to do good and to happily work with their families for the greater good. However, experience is starting to make me feel more like number 2 is a better description of reality.
Deciding whether I believe 1 or 2 is a huge issue for me. It means the difference between verbal and physical redirection and time-outs. It determines how I approach the day, how much I work to mold the world and our family to their moods and desires and how much I use "tough love" to teach that "if you're feeling screamy, you stay alone in the living room while the rest of us eat dinner," instead of one of us going with Screamy to play in the playroom. And I so want to believe 1. And I think 1 might help me be less yelly, though it won't help with burnout, which I concede is a big part of my yellyness.
My mom says that not only do I not yell too much, but I don't yell enough. She has told me, and this has been echoed by quite a few other people, mostly of her generation, something along the lines of "they will keep pushing your buttons until they find one that works. When you respond relatively calmly to everything, you aren't showing them where the limits are." I do think we have plenty of limits (perhaps, if I listen to 1., too many, and we're not setting them up for success). And my mom is not someone anyone, including her by her own admission, would hold up as a parenting genius. How many thousands of dollars have I spent on therapy to work through her parenting? But it's not just her, I have heard this from quite a few people when I gently but firmly say "no, we do not hit," and gently redirect the hand. The alternative--grabbing the hitting hand and dragging the offender to the corner and yelling "NO HITTING!" doesn't seem like such a great alternative, but I admit that in moments of frustration, that's what I've done. And at 2.5, the number of moments of frustration is increasing.
So I don't know. I have to keep thinking, and keep watching my kids to decide whether I have baby bodhisattvas or young wildebeests. Either way, I need to get a grip on the yelling, and I'm working on that. I need to sleep more, and I need to take breaks even though I feel like we are already separated too much with me working 3 days a week.
I dunno. The main thing I need to do now it to get to my CSA and pick up my share for the week. Can you say TOMATOES!