I locked eyes on her, like a famished lion stalking a tired antelope. She returned the glare.
We both knew someone had to blink. Someone had to release their shoulders and concede. But it wasn’t happening in this moment. Oh hell no.
She sat on the ground, her untied shoelaces mocking me. The contents of her bookbag strewn about as carnage from a furious storm.
If she would only get her crap together so we could catch the mother lovin’ school bus … I thought.
If she would only let me go get my darn stuffed puppy and markers … she thought.
And thus we found ourselves on the brink of a bubbling, violent volcano.
These are the moments you don’t see on Instagram. The ugly, infuriating, truthful snapshots of a messy life where little people have opinions, grownups have crammed agendas and no one is on the same clock. While I find these occasions overshadowing the sunny times more and more as my children age, I think moms speak about them less and less. I’m just as guilty! I put the good out into the universe because it’s cute and I want to remember my girls like that. I think we all want to view the time that’s passed through a clean, filtered lens, editing out all the untidy down days. But if I’m really being honest, the frequency at which I post to Instagram is way down, and the standoffs are way up.
After losing my shit to a particularly hot degree one night a few weeks back, I decided to checkout the book Screamfree Parenting, by Hal Edward Runkel. I am a yeller. I have a small, whisper of a wick of patience that, once lit, dissipates very quickly. It’s disappointing, too, because in my mind I’m this peaceful, supportive Mother Earth type. But outwardly, I’m more of the hell hath no fury type it turns out.
But can we be real for second? They want us to yell, right? Every time they ignore you, snap at you, spill their water by trying to drink it with no hands, fight with each other, express their distaste for the dinner you prepared after working 8 hours, ask the same question 20 times, hit each other, leave their clothes on the floor, splash water out of the tub, scream when you comb their hair, knock folded laundry off the bed, speak to you while you’re in corpse pose, refuse to get ready for school, or just act like wild, farting baboons,they are essentially filling out the card, licking the stamp and sending an invitation to go 100 percent ape shit on them. What really gets me is, depending on the day, the same things that make me want to freak the frick out on them, are the same things I get nostalgic about. (Being a woman is wild ride, man.)
But if Hal had a front row seat to my screaming, he would tell me that all of the negative noise is halting my efforts to create the well-rounded ladies I so desperately want to send out into the big world. The concepts of the book are reasonable and simple: 1) Take a pause and calm yourself down before interacting with your children, and 2) respect their space and place. There’s a lot more to the book but for the sake of this post, these principles pretty much sum it up.
When I lose it on my kids based on something they did, I am actually telling them they need to, “Calm me down,” according to Hal. I am holding them responsible for my mood, which is way too heavy for a 4 or 6 year old. And also, the author asks, what does that say about your self control? [Insert feelings of inadequacy.] It’s essential that you let your little one have their meltdown while you go to a happy place in your mind. You can’t react to their frustration. It’s theirs. Let them feel it and have it.
He also spoke about places and spaces. Now, to be fair, I was multitasking and tired during these chapters, so I’m a little fuzzy on the differences between the two, but he spoke at great length about a child’s bedroom. We tell them it’s “their room” but then we dictate how they should clean it , arrange it, maintain it, and on and on and on. Hal suggests resisting all urges to take a trash bag in and pitch everything out of a fit of rage (my words) and instead offer to help your child clean should they feel so inclined. You should also knock and ask them if you can come in. If they say, “no,” then you will have to come back at a later time. This spacial theory goes for all decisions. You have to let your kids fail so that they can learn how to make decisions and live with the consequences, good or bad. You should always listen and offer to help, but never hover and never micromanage. Inspire your children to motivate themselves. This goes for homework, friends and social engagements, volunteering, and all of the other 8 trillion tiny decisions we want to just go ahead and make for our children so they can be as amazing as we, their parents, are.
And finally, Hal reminds his readers that you must put on your own oxygen mask first. You can’t help someone else when you’re gasping for air.St Bernard of Clairvaux, a French monk and notable thinker, had a theory about the different degrees of love. The first degree was love for self’s sake. The second, was loving another for self’s sake. The third was loving another for another’s sake, and the fourth degree was loving self for another’s sake. Hal suggests that we must adopt the fourth degree of love. We must care for ourselves and make time for ourselves so that our children don’t feel the pressure or responsibility to do it. We must make ourselves a top priority to show our children how much we love and respect them.
And that’s it, basically. Those are his secrets. I must admit the room thing had me like whoa, but there is some really good stuff to work with here.
So, what would a Screamfree Parenting scenario look like?
Say, for example, your child won’t tie her shoes. She knows how to tie her shoes, which makes the entire situation baffling, and, for a little mustard on top of that shit sandwich, you have 3 minutes to get to the bus stop. As she cry/screams that she just can’t get the laces right and her sock feels funny and she’s tired and she didn’t want Fruit Loops for breakfast and all of the other world-ending dilemmas she’s facing, you should simply make noise, like an ‘uh huh” to acknowledge that she’s speaking, all the while repeating Adele lyrics to sooth the flames in your soul. Then say something calm and supportive like, “Gee, I hate it when my sock feels funny. What are you going to do about that?” And then stand back and watch her magically work through the situation. When she sees you aren’t reacting and she’s distracted with working through the problem in her mind, forward progress will be achieved. Thank you, Hal.
Now, I’m about 2 days off the book, and I would put my success rate at about a 15 on a 100-point scale. The problem is that this book assumes you’re working with rationale children and rationale adults. But there are just certain scenarios where no one is being rationale and the clock is ticking and you’re dealing with a room of punks. Practice makes progress, I suppose, but we’ve been on a roll with Titanic-size tantrums around these parts lately and I might need something a bit stronger than the Screamfree protocol.
Any other great parenting books out there?