Respecting The Little People Of Our World
Practicing gentle parenting doesn’t mean we allow our children to walk all over us. Practicing gentle parenting is about respecting our infants/toddlers and children as equal human beings with the basis of still providing them rules and guidelines in a respectful way.
I am not about to begin a debate about parental shaming. Today I want to discuss an example of how easily it is for "us" big people to forget "we" have "all" the power and strength when it comes to caring for "little people" in the world. We have two ways we can handle certain frustrating moments with our children. We can choose to lose our shit, by being overbearing, yelling, forceful, demanding and dominant, or we can choose to be gentle and respectful with our children.
I choose to practice gentle parenting. I won't say I don't have any regrets, as I surely have messed up here and there in not always keeping it together. But one thing I am proud of, is that my daughter doesn’t know what certain expressions and statements mean, like “you’re going to get it when we get home”, or "You are in so much trouble" or “do you want a spanking”. Those words are not something she’s heard from us.
Our daughter (2.6 years old) and I were at a local playground this morning. She was humming a tune, and digging with a shovel among the smooth pebbles, attempting to make a rock castle. She became distracted, with concern, as we overheard a mom with her little girl around my daughter’s age say “get over here now please”. As the little girl hid in some bushes, she began yelling “No No No”. In these moments as we have all felt before, the mother understandably, grew impatient. She raised her voice louder and louder, “Come here right now!” Her daughter barricaded herself even further into the bushes as her mom questioned her, “Hailey did you poo in your diaper?” , then proceeded with "if you don't come over here right now, you are going to get it". The little girl continued to hide crouched between some bushes, responding angrily, and some what fearful of her mothers punishment, yelling “NO NO NO”.
It was clear and rightfully so the mother was frustrated as she had one baby clung to her chest, and another avoiding her reach. My daughter and I looked at each other with empathy, sensing the mother’s frustration, and the little girl’s anger, fear and embarrassment. Her father stood by the mom’s side chatting with a neighbor, with a coffee in one hand and a smoke in the other. I could feel this mothers frustration like a volcano on the verge of exploding.
So she reached down into the bushes and grabbed her toddler by the pant leg. With her daughters pant leg in one hand and her baby in the other she reached up further and yanked onto the waist of her pants, dragging her over the dirt, screaming through the bushes. She gave her husband a piercing look that delivered the message loud and clear, “a little help please”. The father grabbed his daughter by the arm pulled back her diaper to see if she had pooped or not, and then gave her a quick pat on the bum, a hug to make things better, and then sent her off to go play as her diaper was unsoiled. Within seconds she wipes the tears of anger and embarrassment from her cheeks, and ran off to the swing. My daughter looked at me with sympathetic eyes, and an expression of clear distraught, and disapprovingly asked “mommy she doesn’t like that, why did her mommy and daddy do that”.
Now I’m no expert but I can say this much, if my 2.6 year old daughter realizes another member of her toddler society is not being respected and questions what she feels is wrong, then perhaps this is not the most respectful way to handle this situation. We have all been there, where in the after math of complete parental frustration, we become our biggest critic's knowing we could of handled things much better or at the very least, differently.
Believe me, I understand those frustrating moments, and I have only 1 child. I have been surviving on extremely limited sleep for the last 2.6 years, as our daughter rarely has ever napped since birth, and her night time sleep has been most parent’s nightmare. On average our daughter sleeps way below the Pediatricians normal range for a toddler, 9 to 14 hours of total straight or combined sleep a night. Our daughter averages 8 hours of combined sleep a night, waking typically two to three times a night. I only recently gently weaned her as I breast fed up until she was 2.5 years old. So I understand long nights of nursing every hour during the first few months of infancy, and nursing her into toddler hood for comfort. I can relate to the torture of sleep deprivation and how that plays on our patience, frustration levels, and irritability. We have co slept with her, because although since the age of 1 years old, she starts off her in her bed, by 12:30am or 1:00am she has her first waking of the night, and by the time she wakes a 2nd and 3rd time, getting in and out of bed is exhausting.
Every parent has there challenges. I never pass judgement, I view parenting in our own family, and that of others as a constant learning opportunity to strive to be better, and do better for our children. Our challenges have been a regular thing for us going on 2.6 years. There has been countless times, both my husband and I feel the frustration in being so exhausted, and for us, our greatest challenge is practicing patience at all times. By respecting our daughter, that means we talk to her, we let her know that it’s time for everyone to get dressed, we offer her independence or our support, but she's respected in having a say in her little person choices. We say things like, let’s go do it together, or it’s time to brush our teeth, would she like to do it by herself, or does she need/want any help. When it comes time for a bath, I ask if I can help her get undressed, or would she like to try doing it her self. We ask her and prepare her for when it is time to change her clothes, always respecting her, and her body. We explain things to her before we are about to go somewhere. We prepare her for any change in our plans. It doesn’t need to be complex, but she seems to transitions smoothly when we explain day to day activities to her.
In the example of observing the mother at the playground today, I saw an opportunity and a learning experience for both my daughter and I. I am not saying our way of doing things is better than this particular mom. All I can offer is that in that circumstance, which we have been there numerous times, when our daughter has pooped or peed in her diaper/pull up, we choose to honor her privacy. Respectfully asking her discreetly, away from others, if she has to use the wash room, or if she would like us to change her pull up if it’s dirty. I know I certainly would be extremely embarrassed if someone asked me publicly if I pooped my pants. What would be even more humiliating, is if they proceeded to man handle me, by unwanted touch/grab/tug of my limbs, without permission/consent, and pull open the back of my pants and look down the privacy of my backside to see if I was lying to them when I responded No.
When our children are having a difficult time, I don’t believe in blaming it on a tantrum or meltdown, or accusing them of misbehaving or acting up. I believe it’s simply a difficult moment they are experiencing, out of fear, lack of trust, hunger, a soiled pull up, or being over tired. It is in those moment’s I try my best to remain calm, for her benefit, as well as my own sanity. I wait it out with her during her frustration, so that she knows it’s ok, we are here, she is safe, and even when she may appear unruly, we love her and reassure her of our love for her, because it is in those moments of her difficult time, she needs us the most to remain present, and calm, and gentle with her.
I don’t believe I am a perfect parent, I don’t believe we have the perfect child, but I do believe in respecting our daughter as a little human being. I believe in progress not perfection. I can only hope she will grow up respecting others, old and young. I can only hope that society begins a fundamental shift towards more gentle and respectful parenting. In practicing gentle respectful parenting, we will see a brighter, caring, more compassionate generation of children and adults in the years to come.